I jumped on the whole social-networking bandwagon far too late. I spent what seemed like an eternity deleting annoying email messages from people who wanted to be my Facebook friend. How juvenile. I felt like I was back in elementary school.
Then one day my wife Donna took the plunge. It was a life-saver for her. Our son, Ryan, was just months old and during those few moments when he slept Donna was able to reconnect with old friends (and other new moms).
Convinced that Facebook would be worth my time (I’m still not sure that it is), I signed up a few weeks after Donna. Thus the race began. Who had the most friends? To my shame, I even announced my shiny new Facebook profile publicly during a Sunday service in an effort to bolster my friend-count. (In case you’re curious, we’re still within single digits of each other in spite of all my public pandering.)
In hindsight, there’s not much point in being “friends” with someone you don’t communicate with or have much in common. After the initial conversation: “Hi, it’s so good to hear from you again”, you’re left with an empty statistic.
This whole Facebook friend thing got me thinking about real friendship—fellowship, to use a biblical word. What is it that brings us together? We Christians often have next to nothing in common, yet we get together regularly to worship and to just be with each other. What binds us together? What’s the glue?
. . .
1 John 1:3 has three main points. Here’s my paraphrase:
- We told you what we witnessed,
- Because we want you to be in fellowship with us.
- Our fellowship is also with the Father and the Son.
The first point summarizes the first two verses. The second point expresses John’s desire to be in fellowship with those in his churches. The final point is the qualification to that fellowship. The glue.
A Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. Among men there is strife. “He is our peace,” says Paul of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:14). Without Christ there is discord between God and man and between man and man. Christ became the Mediator and made peace with God and among men. Without Christ we should not know God, we could not call upon Him, nor come to Him. But without Christ we also would not know our brother, nor could we come to him. The way is blocked by our own ego. . . . Only in Jesus Christ are we one, only through him are we bound together. (23-24)
That understanding of human relationships is not intuitive, but it’s profoundly true. I have fellowship with my Christian friend only and precisely because of our common bond to Jesus.
. . .
At first glance, it’s a bit shocking that John gives so much emphasis to the concept of fellowship. Usually our relationship with Jesus is expressed in terms of salvation or deliverance. How does “fellowship” fit in? Stott brings out the importance of the idea of fellowship in place of salvation:
“The purpose of the proclamation of the gospel is, therefore, stated in terms not of salvation but of fellowship. Yet, properly understood, this is the meaning of salvation in its widest embrace.” (The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary 68).
Beautiful words: fellowship is salvation at it’s widest embrace. Salvation is a restored union between Creator and creation. Fellowship is how that restored union is expressed between fellow creatures.
. . .
John had a good reason to speak so much about fellowship. There were people who had arrived at his churches teaching things about Jesus that were not true. John wrote to remind his believers that authentic fellowship only exists via the Creator. If the false teachers were not united with God through Jesus Christ, then there is no real fellowship between them and you. Harsh, but true.
What does that mean today?
- John is not suggesting that we avoid friendship with unbelievers. The example of Jesus is quite the reverse.
- John is not suggesting that we become an ingrown Christian clique. Why put our light under a basket?
- John is saying that the deepest level of connection between any to humans can only happen when mediated through a common bond with the Father, as revealed in Jesus.
A relationship with another human being can only go so deep until there is a mutual friendship with the Creator. We can also look at it from a positive perspective. If we want to increase the depth of our relationships between each other, we must start by increasing our common devotion to Jesus.
Has this been your experience?