Title: A Firm Foundation
Text: I John 1:1-4
FCF: We often struggle emphasizing the individual nature of our faith and failing to practice its communal nature.
Prop: Because the apostles’ testimony was of the truth of Christ, we must be united to them to have our joy completed.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to I John chapter 1. Today we begin our study of I John and I can’t tell you how excited I am to do so. Although I am not a prophet, I anticipate the book to be incredibly encouraging. The tone of the book throughout is a father defending his children from false doctrine and encouraging them to look for God’s grace in their lives as a testament for their fellowship with Him.
Last week we concluded by saying that it is out of true doctrine that right living is produced.
And so, it is no surprise that John begins his epistle with doctrine. True Doctrine. Therefore, the sermon today will focus primarily on doctrine. I am uneasy about that… because for some of you it will be difficult to pay attention… but to give you encouragement to pay attention, let me just remind you what we already said. True doctrine produces right living. And both true doctrine and right living produce a confidence of being in fellowship with God.
I am in I John 1. I’ll begin reading in verse 1 from the CSB. If you are following along in the pew bible it starts on page 1372. If you don’t have a bible of your own – please take a pew bible home with you today.
So. Much. To. Cover today. So let’s get to it.
I.) Partnering with the apostles in doctrine means partnering with God and with Christ , so we must believe and continue to believe the apostles’ testimony.
a. [Slide 2] 1 – What was from the beginning,
i. John jumps right into the letter. So much so that it is difficult to know what he is talking about at first.
ii. He basically begins in the middle of a sentence, loops around a time or two and then tells us the beginning of the sentence.
iii. Not only that, but in Greek, these first 4 verses are one 1 sentence. The Grammar police are probably getting their megaphones out to yell “RUN ON SENTENCE”
iv. In Greek, such a sentence although complex, is not in any way abnormal or even taboo. In fact, John in these first 4 verses demonstrates a pattern he will continue throughout his letter, stating truth and then rewording it to say the same thing in a different way.
v. The trouble is when we try to translate all of this into English.
vi. The NET actually adds an entire phrase at the beginning of the verse “This is what we proclaim to you:” I did not feel comfortable adding that much to scripture to smooth this out, so I did not select the NET for today’s reading. But, what they add is certainly right. John is describing to them what he intends to proclaim throughout the entire book of I John.
vii. And whatever it is that he intends to proclaim, it was or has existed from the beginning.
1. There is disagreement as to whether this is talking about the gospel – and therefore this is the beginning in the sense of the incarnation of Christ.
2. Or it could refer to Christ Himself – and therefore this is a way of describing eternity past. He existed already when everything else started to exist.
3. My preference is on the second one. I believe that John is relaying not a message but a person. The person is the message, but the person also brought a message – as we will see next week in verse 5.
viii. John’s purpose then is clear. He wishes in this letter to proclaim, declare, and present Jesus Christ – who has always existed and thus he stands outside of creation as a being that is not dependent on it.
b. what we have heard,
i. Who is we? John refers to the communal body of eyewitnesses of Christ’s life. Primarily him and the rest of the apostles. This doesn’t mean they are writing with him per se. Many of them are already dead. However, it does mean that John is writing with the authority of all the apostles. Himself being one.
ii. But what does it mean that they have heard?
iii. It is not simply an ethereal Christ who existed before everything that John wishes to proclaim.
iv. It is also a Christ who spoke to the apostles. Even though this is 60 years later, the timbre of His voice, the softness of his encouragement and the harshness of his warnings still echoed in the ears of the aging apostle.
v. With vivid remembrance the apostle recalls The Son’s spoken words. Not just that they were spoken, but what they were and what they meant.
vi. The entire gospel message of Christ, John says, he heard from the lips of Christ Himself.
c. what we have seen with our eyes,
i. But this Jesus did not come as a whisper in the night. He was not a ghost or mirage.
ii. He did not hide himself from John and the other apostles as if they heard Him in their heads.
iii. Oh no. With their very eyes, they saw the incarnate Christ.
iv. They saw him sweat, eat, walk, sit, pray, heal, preach, die, and raised. They saw him ascend to heaven. With their very eyes – they beheld the wonder of the incarnation.
d. what we have observed
i. But it was not a mere passing glance. They did not look upon him as if to merely mark his existence.
ii. He did not appear to be a human, looking as if he was one. Oh no.
iii. The word “observe” here in the CSB means to view attentively, to contemplate, to gaze upon or to discern.
iv. They studied Him. The Apostles spent three years studying him – attempting to truly see Him for what He was – and mostly failing.
v. John beheld Him with His glory on display, transfigured before his very eyes.
vi. The apostles could not have been tricked to think that they beheld a Spirt-disguised as a man. Oh no. For a man He was. They gazed upon Him in wonder.
e. and have touched with our hands,
i. But He was not a persuasive mirage. He was not a convincing illusion.
ii. The apostles touched him with their hands.
iii. John Himself, lay his head upon His breast at the last Supper.
iv. They ate with Him. Their feet were washed by Him.
v. They put their fingers in his scarred hands and side.
vi. He has always existed – but the apostles touched his human hands, saw his human eyes and heard his human voice speaking the message of God.
vii. And it is that message that John wishes to move to next.
f. concerning the word of life –
i. John in his gospel calls Jesus the Word. The Message. The Message of God.
ii. And here in his first epistle, John calls Jesus the message of life.
iii. Is this the message that brings life or is the message that there is life in Him? Both. Both are true. He is the Word. He is the message of God. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
iv. He is the Word of Life. And He is what John wishes to proclaim to His readers.
v. But this concept of life is something that John will continue to expound on in His letter. Because it is not simply an expectation of life that goes on forever with God in heaven.
vi. Instead, John’s theology of eternal life, is rooted in being alive. What I mean by that, is that John is not so concerned about the duration of being eternally alive, so much as he is concerned with the eternal reality of being eternally alive.
vii. Therefore, eternal life for John – starts now. We are made alive with Christ and thus we will ever be alive.
viii. Christ’s message gives us life – not sometime in the future – but now.
g. [Slide 3] 2 – that life was revealed,
i. And the reality of that present life now is that that life was revealed.
ii. That life came from heaven.
iii. To Adam God said that in the day you eat of the fruit you will die. Adam did not die that day physically – but that day Adam was separated from the life-giver – God Himself. And then God killed something in Adam’s place as a sign of the future substitutionary sacrifice that would come.
iv. Through Jesus God brings life. Life through His obedience. Life through His death. Life through His resurrection.
v. Adam brought death through sin – but Christ brought eternal life through righteousness.
vi. In Adam’s death, man was condemned to depravity as sin infested and infected every part of creation. In Christ’s life, His righteousness invades and overcomes every part of creation, until sin is destroyed and death is no more.
vii. Christ truly brings life.
h. and we have seen it
i. And the apostles saw that life. They saw it grow.
ii. First in Him… Christ… who was raised from the dead. The first fruits of many brothers.
iii. Then in themselves and in one another. They saw that life overtake them. They saw their sin and the death it produced being killed off in their hearts by the power of God’s Grace in the person of His Spirit.
iv. They saw the gospel go forth and God powerfully recreating thousands and then seeing them repent and believe and continue to receive grace.
v. This they saw. They saw life. Real, spiritual, life.
i. and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father
i. To the extent that their purpose has become to bear witness, to testify and boldly declare to any who might hear that Jesus is that eternal life.
ii. That eternal life-giving power was not given to Him, but it IS Him. Eternal life, that is Jesus Christ, has always been with the Father.
iii. But He came… in flesh – look at what he says next…
j. and was revealed to us –
i. He came to unveil… to release… to set loose this eternal life, on us.
ii. He came to make what always has been with the Father – apparent to His elect.
k. [Slide 4] 3 – what we have seen and heard we also declare to you,
i. All this that the apostles have seen and heard
ii. They now desire greatly to declare to the readers of John’s epistle.
iii. His little children.
iv. Real people, in real churches, overwhelmed by the confusion of false teachings.
v. Their faith is shaken. They feel like outsiders. They are afraid and alone – fearing – that they have missed the truth.
vi. John and the apostles are writing to declare to them these truths about the Word of Life – WHY?
l. so that you may also have fellowship with us;
i. We see here John’s first purpose in writing this letter. Although he couches it as a message declared, it is certainly why he is writing the letter he is writing.
ii. In our introduction I said we should keep our eyes out for purpose statements such as these. This is the first.
iii. And what is that purpose?
iv. That you may have fellowship with us. That word fellowship – we looked at that same word when we studied Acts 2 and saw how the early church were knit together with one another. We saw that word when we studied the Lord’s Supper and how we become partners with Christ on the cross when we partake of the bread and juice. And here, John earnestly desires that this message that he presents to his readers would – not bring fellowship as if for the first time – but rather, that they would HAVE fellowship. That they would have unity with them.
v. This is something that is not a one-time concept but rather a continuing and amplifying concept.
vi. &nbnbsp; Our doctrine continues to produce greater and greater unity – not the other way around. Why?
m. and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
i. Because we are only united to one another when we are united to God by Christ.
ii. We cannot truly be partnered together unless we are united to Christ and in Christ to the Father.
iii. This is what John desires greatly of his little children. That they would be united with the apostles, who are united with The Father and the Son.
iv. And that growing unity comes through a growing understanding of who Christ is and why He came.
n. [Slide 5] Passage Truth: - So John takes great pains here to emphasize the object of their preaching rather than their preaching. It is because the object of their preaching is far more important than their act of preaching. Christ – the word of life –who He was before His incarnation, who He was at His incarnation, and who He still is – This Christ is the basis of their testimony. They simply relay what they saw and what they heard. The truth of Christ becomes the bedrock for all John is about to tell his little children.
o. Passage Application: But his purpose is not to give them a systematic theology of Christology alone. Instead, his purpose is that they would have unity with him and the apostles through confessing this doctrine. In John’s mind his readers cannot continue to access God and His Son if they refuse to access Him through what he and the other apostles had revealed of Him. Because that is not Christ at all. First, John says, they must be united to the doctrine of Christ as he and the other apostles have proclaimed. Then, when they have and continue to have unity in a greater and greater degree to the apostles and their teachings – then and only then will they be united to God and Christ. There is no wiggle room. Christ altered in any way from the apostle’s testimony, is no longer Christ.
p. [Slide 6] Broader Biblical Truth: We may be tempted to conclude that the only doctrinal conviction necessary to have fellowship with the apostles and therefore part of the actual universal church, is that someone adheres to the truth of His two natures fully God and man, and that he brought eternal life to His people. But there are two very good reasons to not limit ourselves to this doctrinal proof from a holistic bible perspective.
i. Other apostles add to this test. We see teaching in scripture that adds to this doctrine as a test for true fellowship in the universal church and the apostles teaching. Paul says that if someone adds works to the work of Christ they preach a different gospel. Peter says that if their character is void of godliness they are false teachers. And in various other places and in various other ways, it becomes clear in the New Testament and even in the bible as a whole that the dual nature of Christ and His life giving power is not the sum total of essential doctrine required for fellowship with the apostles teaching, because that was not the sum total of their teaching.
ii. The second reason not to limit ourselves to this doctrinal test is that John never suggests that this is the only test for every believer everywhere. Remember that I John is a polemic against false teachers who are attacking the incarnation and the human nature of Christ at this time. Of course John is not going to open every doctrinal test there is to be sure his readers are of the fellowship. His concern is the doctrinal trial that his little children are currently in.
iii. So for us - we dare not see I John as the end all for doctrinal tests by which we know we have fellowship in the universal church. Instead, we see John’s test as one test. A test that was most needed at this time for these people to whom he wrote. And for us this test is necessary too. There are still those who believe that Jesus was neither a man fully nor God fully. There are still those who say he emptied his divinity and filled that cup with humanity. These are doctrinal aberrations and someone cannot be an inheritor of the fellowship of faith if they hold to these teachings. Like Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses. However, holistically, we also have to understand that this is not the only doctrinal test someone must pass to be unified in the apostles teaching. Therefore it is not the only test a person must pass to be a member of CBC. It is one test. But not the only test.
iv. But what IS the complete test? I firmly believe that this is why confessional churches exist or should exist. And why we at CBC should consider being a confessional church. Do you know why we have been going through the New City Catechism for over a year now? Because every single point in the Catechism represents a teaching that cannot be altered or disputed. A teaching we must cling to if we are to claim to be in fellowship with the faith of the apostles and therefore in fellowship with God and His Christ.
v. Of course any kind of confession or list of doctrines we cling to is subject to the scrutiny of scripture – it is subject to reform. After all a confession based on scripture is not in itself scripture. But it does serve as a quick guide, a GPS pointing us to where the doctrines necessary for fellowship may be found. It locates us in the right neighborhood of truth. From there we can discover on our own. It also limits us from human and ungodly interpretations and cultic heresies.
vi. And the church has been forming confessions and creeds since as early as A.D 120. And the church has been defending and preserving confessions and creeds since Jesus ascended. Because that is exactly what John is doing here. He is defending 1 line of the testimony or the confession of the apostles.
q. Broader Biblical Application: So how does this apply to us? There is a big push today for unity in the church. The new Pope, which even Roman Catholics don’t like all that well, has made many inroads to yoke up with various faith groups. Most recently Islam. And this sentiment has shown up in evangelical churches across this land too. So many desire that the splintered church of Christ come back together. That we must stop all this division and be unified. To some degree, this desire is valid. There are some things that divide us that ought not to. Issues of preference and practice ought to be discarded for the sake of unity, and once persecution is more pronounced – perhaps we will see our churches coming together. But John makes it very clear. Without unity in doctrine, there can be no unity at all. What unity has light with darkness? Rather it is doctrine that unifies us. Confession that brings us together. When we agree on what God has clearly revealed in His Word to us, we are united… Such unity is mostly despised by those advocating for unity. But this is the only unity that can exist. First in the heart of an individual, and then collecting those individuals who are confessing what God has revealed.
[Slide 7(blank)] So after that rather bloated first point, the next point will seem rather quick, but I assure you there are treasures to mine here as well.
II.) Partnering with the apostles in doctrine produces complete joy for all, so we must believe the apostles’ testimony.
a. [Slide 8] 4 – We are writing these things so that
i. In the very next phrase of John’s writing here, he includes the second statement of purpose.
ii. In fact, what is probably most accurate is that the previous statement has led to this fuller and greater purpose beyond even the unity of the readers and the writer in Christ and in God.
iii. What greater purpose could there be?
b. Our joy may be complete.
i. The word “our” here is disputed. Some early and reliable manuscripts have your. So if you are reading a KJV or NKJV you probably have your. Other early and reliable manuscripts have our.
ii. So what is the difference between them? Well if it is your, John is declaring this message so that they may be united with him and the other apostles and that their joy may be complete. This implies that John’s joy is already complete since they are joining him and the other apostles in their unity and fellowship with Christ. However, we know that John in II and III John talks about getting greater joy from hearing that his children are walking in the truth.
iii. Therefore it seems more likely that John desires our joy to be complete. But that leaves us wondering who is our?
iv. Up to this point the plural has meant the apostles and John. And indeed, that could be what John means. That his and the other apostles joy would be complete knowing that the readers are walking in fellowship with God with them.
v. However, It seems as though this “our” may be referring to the whole assembly of those united to Christ and the Father. So this “our” is the apostles, John, and the readers after growing in fellowship with the apostles and John.
vi. And this joy that John desires is a full, fulfilled, or complete joy. A joy cup that is so full one more drop cannot enter in it.
vii. John says, that he is writing these things so that all of us may enter into that full and complete joy together.
viii. The only end point for joy – the only way our joy could possibly be complete is in the eternal kingdom when we are all united together with the Lamb. Truly and completely we are one and therefore our joy is complete.
ix. Thus verse 1 of I John starts in eternity past – with the Word of Life – Jesus the Messiah – and verse 4 of I John ends in eternity future with all of the church of Christ united to Him forever.
x. It is perhaps one of the most moving and most beautiful introductions to a biblical letter that I have ever read.
c. [Slide 9] Passage Truth: John’s truth point, is essentially the same with one major addition. The message he is relaying is the truth about Christ and is intended to unify his readers to fellowship with himself and other eyewitnesses and so be unified to God and Christ. What is added then is the measureless benefit of true unity and fellowship with Christ which is a joy that cannot be added to. A complete joy. A righteous happiness, contentment, and comfort all found in Christ. This is John’s hope. He hopes that his letter produces unity which will lead to the complete joy for all who are united to Christ by faith.
d. Passage Application: So John sets up his readers to listen and listen well. Because their fellowship with God and promise of future joy depends on it. They must confess in belief what the apostle has said and what he is about to say.
e. [Slide 10] Broader Biblical Truth: Holistically, we know that the bible teaches that it is only by grace alone, through faith alone of Christ alone that we can have confidence, that blessed hope, of entering His presence on that day and being washed pure, white as snow, and married to the Lamb. It is only in our union with Christ that we are made acceptable to God, but more than merely acceptable – a son, and if a son, an heir. That is true joy then, to formerly be a child of wrath- destined for destruction and to be transformed into sons and daughters of God through Christ. That is true and complete joy. And that is what those who partner with the apostles’ testimony have hope in.
f. Broader Biblical Application: And so we must be convinced of this very thing – that the doctrine communicated by the whole of the scriptures alone, delivered by Spirit of God who inspired faithful men to write His words, this doctrine is how God unites us to Himself through faith in Christ His Son made possible by the grace of God to quicken us from death and birth us anew into the life of His Son. Who is the Living Word of Life. And the only path to true and complete joy is in that unity. So then, we must desperately cling to the doctrine that has been given to us and not deviate to the left or the right. We ought to be students of the Word. But we cannot be students of the Word as if it matters little what others have said before us. In other words, the bible is sufficient for all that we face, but not our personal interpretation of the bible. John doesn’t quote one old testament passage of scripture as he relays to his audience the essential truths of Christ and His incarnation. He does not tell them to search the scripture and determine for themselves what to believe. Relying on scripture alone doesn’t mean your interpretation of scripture alone. John says it in verse 3 – coming to the right conclusion about doctrine, confessing that truth is what lets you have unity with the apostles. Therefore we ought to study the history of doctrine – what did the earliest of the early church believe? To what creeds and confessions did they cling? Now if we find something in that creed or confession that is untenable by scripture after a thorough investigation then we should discard such teachings. But we must understand that the burden of proof for casting aside confessions of the church that have been held for hundreds of years, that burden is on us – not them. We must work backward and forward. Forward from scripture, establishing our own beliefs and checking those against what others before us have said. And backward to scripture understanding what others have said and testing every conclusion by the Word of God. It is only then that we can know what we MUST confess as the apostles’ doctrine. We cannot rely on our own brilliance to determine what the bible says and ignore what has been transmitted from generation to generation.
[Slide 11] Translating all of John’s prologue into a solid application for us this morning is not impossible. What is John really saying and how does it apply to us?
We have a LOT of work to do friend. If we are to work forward from the bible to establish everything we ought to believe and then compare that to what the church has said over the last two thousand years. If we are to work backward taking what the church has said is true and comparing that to the whole counsel of God’s Word. If we are going to do all of that… We need to stop being lazy! We need a passion to pursue the apostles doctrine. Through this book and how the church has interpreted it for 2000 years.
I fear that after 2000 years, the church has concluded that they have solved every problem, they have understood every doctrine and there is nothing more to understand. The logical problem is that from generation to generation, although we can borrow and glean from the previous generation, true doctrine is not transmitted through the mind but through the heart as God communicates it through His Spirit interacting with His Word in our hearts and as we disciple one another.
Communal and personal doctrine work in tandem. What happens when our doctrine is not personal? What happens when we take away communal doctrine in the form of confessions? What happens when we assume that our statement of faith is good enough? That having it down on paper is the same as having it in our hearts?
I think we are seeing what is happening. The state of Christianity is what is happening. The Christian church is truly shaken by EVERY wind of doctrine.
What is the solution to being blown about by every wind of doctrine?
4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to16 the measure of Christ’s full stature.17 4:14 So18 we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.19
Paul’s words in Ephesians sound extremely similar to the words of John. How do we avoid being blown around by winds of false teaching? Unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God to the point that we attain the full stature of Christ.
AKA – Doctrine. Life changing, life giving, life sustaining – Communal confession of true Doctrine.
Friend if there is no love in you for this kind of doctrine… not stuffy old raw knowledge – but life changing and life-giving confession of true doctrine – if you are not hungry for righteousness producing teaching from God about God – then you are ready for a cataclysmic fall.
Wherever you are friend, be found knowing and believing and confessing true doctrine. Cling to what you have heard and keep plumbing its depths. Because it is this life-giving doctrine that unites us to the apostles’ testimony, and to God and His Son, and will ultimately complete our joy propelling us to being more of what God wants us to be today – and exactly what He wants us to be when He brings us into that new kingdom.