"Our Fellowship": What is it?

These words, "our fellowship," are found in 1 John 1 but as they have been used by some with a very different and limited meaning attached to them from that which, as I understand it, the Spirit of God gives them there, it is before me now to say a passing word on the subject of that fellowship.

The basis of fellowship amongst the men of this world is, I think, extremely simple. It is because the world "loves its own," and "as face answereth to face in water, so the heart of man to man."

But there is another fellowship referred to, as I have said, by John, and it is equally simple. Scripture (as it does of everything) gives us the true witness as to this other fellowship, as it does also of the first, but the light of the Spirit is needed to understand both.

All present "fellowship" involves men in relations and associations outside the sphere of this world altogether. We see therein hidden and spiritual agencies at work. Man is no free and independent agent in this world, although he may delight to think and speak of himself as the "lord of creation." In his inmost heart he knows that if he once was, now he is not, nor is he the originator of the present scene of contrariety through which he moves, and wherein he is filling up his little day. At some time or another all of us must have admitted in secret, if not publicly, that we have to do with powers superior to ourselves. These are evidently, for all of us, those of good or of evil. God is at the end of the one, and Satan at the end of the other. Fellowship has reference to these two; that is, it cannot be limited to persons and things, but embraces the sources of both. Hence in it lies present good or present evil, flowing from a source beyond the sphere of time, because the sources of good and evil are not of and cannot be limited to time. The issues of good and evil and of fellowship are stereotyped in eternity. Their future is there.

The Father and the world, Christ and Belial, spirit and flesh, the believer and an infidel, light and darkness, life and death, God's living temple (naos) and idols - all these come before us when the question of fellowship is considered. There are thus only two fellowships recognised of God in this world, and as to any likeness of the one to the other - there is none. They are as opposite as light and darkness, and as life and death.

Permanence is about to be given to that condition which is spoken of now as a fellowship, and to the persons and things which belong to and characterise it. It is to be fulfilled to the letter: "Let him that does unrighteously do unrighteously still: and let the filthy make himself filthy still: and let him that is righteous practise righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still." (See Rev. 22 N.T.) This passage I quote to show what is about to be made permanent. That which we seek now, and that which the best of seekers (in the energy of the new nature) only obtains partially, we shall be in the full good of then. (See 1 John 1:3-4.)

I only draw attention here to these things. God, and God alone, can make clear to anyone the momentous issues that lie in the word fellowship, and give everyone to see clearly the end thereof, which surely is an important matter. Our fellowship - how will it end? It is clear that "none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself." Good and evil fight for mastery in this world, and because they do there never will be amalgamation. To good or to evil, and to one or the other fellowship connected with them, but not to both, every person does certainly belong, for God recognises but two.

The origin and present basis of the fellowship which is according to God is found in God Himself. Hence its stability. God has been pleased in Christianity to fully reveal Himself. Christianity has displaced for Him Judaism on the earth, wherein He could not be fully known, since He had not revealed Himself in it. Now He has, and He has revealed Himself to man. The man who knows God is thereby brought into the fellowship, because outside it is the sphere where God is not known. This comes before us most clearly in the First Epistle of John, which is the epistle of fellowship. It is the epistle of fellowship because it insists on the fact that God will have sharers now in His own joy and in what suits Him, and that too outside of all that is in this world. Outside this fellowship is "the world," the whole moral scene which is opposed to God, "all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." It is very important to keep these distinct. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness" (or in the wicked one). "We know that the Son of God is come." This last is Christian knowledge. God is revealed. Having spoken in times past to the fathers by the prophets, He has in these last days spoken to us "in [the] Son." God speaks.

The basis and constitution of the fellowship is in God Himself. There is progress in the understanding of what it is by those who are brought into it. There are in it "babes, young men, and fathers," but these are all brought into it (and once for all) by the one reception of the truth of the gospel. God is made known, and the fellowship being thus introduced, they grow "in the knowledge of God." But God is made known for the "obedience of faith among all the nations." (Rom. 1.) If in Athens the Athenians of Paul's day erected an altar "to the unknown God," it was the privilege of the apostle to reply, "Whom ye ignorantly worship, HIM declare I unto you." In the reception of the truth people pass from darkness to light. "God is light," says the apostle, and "if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." All who know God then being in the light, no fellowship (so called) which has smaller dimensions than these, or which sets up such dimensions or barriers, can be of God.

To know God now is to know Him as He has been pleased to reveal Himself - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. There could be no fellowship with God apart from this, and there is no other for God. In past ages no one could know Him in any other way than that in which He was pleased then to make Himself known. To Abraham it was as God Almighty (see Ex. 6:3); to Israel it was as Jehovah; to us it includes both of these, and also the further revelation of Himself as Father, as the Son knows Him. (See John 10:14-15, N.T.) "No man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." "I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God." In resurrection He declares the Father's name afresh, and unto His brethren. (John 17:26; Heb. 2:12.)

I have called the First Epistle of John the "epistle of fellowship." Let me draw attention to a few points which, I think, will make what I mean clear. I would first say that the Spirit in the gospel leads men to Christ, and that then Christ is the Revealer of, and the Conductor to, the Father, and I believe that it is thus that God is known, and that we are brought into this fellowship.

John writes his epistle that we may have fellowship with him, and this fellowship of the apostles was "with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." What do we get then in this fellowship?

1. The FATHER and the SON are known in the power of the SPIRIT. "Ye have the unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things."

2. LIGHT is walked in and enjoyed, in contrast to the moral darkness which exists all around us.

3. RIGHTEOUSNESS is practised in the midst of a scene of unrighteousness. (Chap. 2:29 - 3:12.)

4. LOVE, the display of God's nature, is delighted in and enjoyed. (Chap. 3:14 - 5:3.)

5. Finally, this fellowship on earth is the sphere of ETERNAL LIFE. (Chap. 5:6 to the end of the epistle.)

I add one word more. The fellowship which exists among men in the world is fully recognised by the apostle. "The whole world lieth in wickedness." John is later than Paul, and he has in view the fellowship which came in in what we call Christianity, and which no breakdown of the Church (as set here in responsibility) can touch. Paul gives us, in 2 Timothy 2, the way in which the breakdown is met by individuals, who, notwithstanding, remain in the good of what John sets forth later as the fellowship which existed in "the beginning."

The Second Epistle of John is written to warn saints about those with whom THEY ARE NOT to have fellowship, and the Third is written to exhort them as to those with whom THEY ARE to have fellowship.

I do not know any portion of the Word so occupied with the question of what I may call divine fellowship, and with what belongs to and is found in it, as the three epistles of John. Its coming into the world in Christianity is involved in the apostle's introductory words of his first epistle: "That which was from the beginning." God is seen there coming forth to establish what suits Him. He is the Originator and Establisher of it in the making known of Himself in Christ. He forms a sphere for man which suits Himself, and two things characterise this sphere. It is exclusive of everyone and of everything that is contrary to Him who is revealed in it; and it is inclusive of all that are born of Him, and of everything, therefore, in this world which is agreeable to Him. It is a condition of blessing for the earth with God as its centre, wherein all is in moral conformity to Him from whom all in it is derived. The first in it being the apostles, they make it known.

May the Lord lead us so into the reality of this holy fellowship to which we are called, that as saints we may be very great helpers one of another in it. H. C. Anstey.