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1 John 1:3 by Robert Dean
Series:1st John (2000)
Duration:1 hr 7 mins 41 secs

Interpretation; Fellowship and Life; 1 John 1:3


If you are operating on subjectivity then that is going to skew and distort your understanding of reality. Yet, today very few people realise how subjective they are, not only in interpreting what is going on around them in the public arena but also in terms of their own lives. Too often people don't even understand the terms so we will take a minute to define the difference between subjectivity and objectivity. Subjectivity emphasises the perceptions, experiences, background and emotions of the person who is doing the perceiving. So when they interpret something they do it in terms of their own emotions, experiences and frame of reference—which means a very limited frame of reference because they are operating on subjectivity. Objectivity emphasises the fact that the event, the reality, is interpreted in a way that is uninfluenced and not distorted by personal professions, background, experiences or emotions. In order to be objective, though, a person has to have an external vantage point or a frame of reference by which to evaluate what is going on and to be able to identify one's own subjective experiences, background and emotions. If we don't have that external objective vantage point then we can't get outside of ourselves.

As a result of what has taken place historically and philosophically in our culture, for the last 100-150 years western civilisation, and American culture specifically, has become more and more self-oriented. The one defining characteristic in a Freudian and post-Freudian worldview is the centrality of the self and our own perceptions. We developed in the 60s and 70s basically a narcissistic culture, a culture that looks at life really in terms of me, how it affects me, who I am and what I do, and we have lost that external vantage point. The more self-oriented we become the more divorced from reality we become. The more we interpret thing sin terms of self and in terms of our own self-centred, self-oriented perspective, the less we understand things as they actually are. This is characteristic of any society or culture or people group that has rejected the concept of an absolute that exists outside the realm of human experience.

There has to be something outside of that human experience, something that is absolute, that becomes a reference point for being able to understand everything within that human experience. If that outside absolute is rejected and denied then there is nothing to give perspective. This is exactly what has happened since the early nineteenth century as our culture has continued to reject the existence of an absolute which would define meaning in life, meaning is thought, meaning and value is thought by means within the human experience as opposed to something outside. That is what is called relativism. Everything becomes relative to something else. So relativism goes hand in hand with subjectivity. Western civilisation has been marked by an increasing rejection of the existence of the God of the Bible and the existence of an absolute objective frame of reference for understanding and evaluating events in our lives. We have seen massive shifts in the way people think today as opposed to 150 years ago. The results of doing away with an external absolute are tragic and they reverberate through every single area of our lives in ways that many of us are not aware of. They impact our view of politics, law, finance, education, literature, art, music, theatre—every aspect of human endeavour has been impacted by this shift. In some ways these transformations are overt and obvious to most people, but in other ways the changes are much more subtle and complex. The more these aspects of our culture become reshaped according to the subjective rules of perception the less people are able to understand what is going on around them because they no longer have an external frame of reference to objectively evaluate the events that are going on in their lives. The result is that we interpret everything from the big picture to the small picture from a subjective and limited framework that is divorced from reality. In fact, we lose the ability to objectively look at and evaluate our own lives.

One result of this is that an event can happen and the perceptions and interpretations of that event are as opposite as day and night. The same thing can happen in understanding the Bible. Interpretation, whether it is the interpretation of the events in our life or the interpretation of events on a national scale, historical scale, political scale, whether it is interpretation of a poem by Wordsworth or a novel by Dickens, or a legal document such as the US Constitution, or whether it is interpretation of the Bible, it is interpretation, if the rules of interpretation are the same and they don't vary because the object of what is being interpreted differs. The problem today is that we have a battlefield taking place over the nature of interpretation. As American civilisation has continued to advance down this road of subjectivism the distance between those who interpret life objectively and those who interpret it subjectively is becoming wider and wider so that a tremendous chasm is appearing between those who believe that there is an objective external absolute standard for evaluating truth and reality and those who don't. And what is amazing is that some people who don't understand this at times operate on one side of the chasm and at other times on the other side of the chasm. But in a real sense it is this distinction between understanding that there is a reality, an objective external reality, upon which everything is evaluated, or whether we evaluate things subjectively, that makes the difference between someone who is conservative politically and someone who is politically liberal. It is the same underlying issue that makes a distinction between somebody who is a religious liberal and a religious conservative and it ultimately comes back to this foundational concept of whether or not there is an external, objective, absolute vantage point by which all things are evaluated.

The problem here is the perception of knowledge. That is, the field of knowledge that is called epistemology—the study of knowledge or how we know what we know. When you end up like we have as a culture in epistemological relativism it affects everything else. This is at the core of almost every issue in life.

In the late eighteenth century Immanuel Kant came along and said you basically can't know things as they are, you can only know things as you perceive them. In other words, there is no longer any objective external knowledge possible, according to Kant, only how you perceive it. So one person may perceive it one way and another person may perceive it another way and to each that is the truth. Truth has now become relative. There is no longer an objective, external absolute that is real in and of itself. Reality is determined by the person who is perceiving it. That makes reality continuously in a state of flux. This kind of epistemological relativism is not new to the 19th or 20th centuries. You can go back to ancient Greek philosophy and ancient Egyptians and see that throughout history there have been various systems of epistemological relativism, but in terms of our history Kant's philosophy began to have a radical impact on intellectuals in Europe and in America at the academic level so that by the mid-1800s the ripple effect in this change in the way people looked at reality began to impact every area of human endeavour. It had an impact on history, the new philosophies of history—the Hegelian philosophy which gave birth to the Marxist philosophy. Without Kant and this shift there never would have been a Karl Marx or a Charles Darwin, or the subjectivism of Freudian transpersonal psychoanalysis; this shift that reality is determined by the internal subjective impressions of the self as opposed to some sort of objective reality.

It impacted art so that instead of realism where things are painted as they are there is impressionism where the artist is painting as the artist perceives it. All of a sudden there is a shift from an objective standard to an internal subjective standard. So art changes and gives birth to impressionism, abstract art, cubism, and various other manifestations of modern art. It impacted literature and the interpretation of literature. Much of late 20th century literature is extremely subjective and depressing because there is no longer any external reality and therefore no longer any hope. It impacts interpretation of every kind of literature from poetry to law. Interpretation has become subjective so that the meaning of literature becomes fluid because the ways it is looked at in the 1960s is going to be different from the way it is looked at in 1990, and whatever the meaning you find in it is valid because that is how it means something to you. So now you are divorced from any sort of absolute or standard and it no longer matters what the author intended to communicate, what matters is what it means to you. This has tremendous implications. It impacted the study of the Bible and it impacted the study of law.

1 John 1:3: "… that you may also have fellowship with us." What exactly does he mean by fellowship? That is crucial for understanding this passage and this epistle. He is setting up a flow of logic here and he is saying basically that we apostles have fellowship with God, and we want you believers to have fellowship with us. The logic is that if believers are in fellowship with the apostles then they are also going to be in fellowship with God. Ultimately what he is going to do is base all of this on having right doctrine, and flowing from that right doctrine right behaviour or application. It is not just a matter of right behaviour; that's moralism, simple morality—go out and do right. It has to flow from a right belief system.

Fellowship comes from the Greek word koinonia [koinwnia], and it has the idea of partnership, sharing something, sometimes it is translated "contribution," as when one church would contribute financially to needs in another congregation. There are those who want to equate fellowship with salvation but that is not what the New Testament teaches. The word that John uses that is a synonym for fellowship for fellowship is "abiding." That is the synonym that John prefers to use for fellowship, and that implies a continual relationship with Christ. So fellowship begins with fellowship with God and the relationship to man is secondary. That is why we emphasise the fact that it goes through right doctrine. If you believe the wrong thing about God and Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and salvation, you can't have fellowship with God. Fellowship with God is the foundation, so when the Bible talks about fellowship it starts with and surrounds the person of God. It is a God emphasis and not a people emphasis.

Acts 2:42 NASB "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." This describes the priorities of the first church in Jerusalem. It looks in the English that there are four things here, but there are only two things there: doctrine and fellowship. The last two, breaking of bread (the communion service) and prayer are appositional to the noun fellowship. So that fellowship is defined further by the communion service and prayer. In the communion service and with prayer, who are we having fellowship with? With God. So their priority was that doctrine and fellowship with God was exemplified through prayer and the Lord's table. So the first time that we run into this word it is not talking about social interaction among Christians, it is talking about Christians understanding and participating in their relationship with God. It is understanding the blessings and benefits of the relationship with God and living their life in accordance with that. That is what fellowship is.

Romans 15:26 NASB "For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution [koinwnia] for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem." Why did they do this, just out of the goodness of their hearts? No, because they understood that all believers are members of the body of Christ and we participate in the same benefits and blessings of salvation, and as result of our relationship with God it is to impact how we relate to one another. But the starting point is the emphasis on God, not the emphasis on man.

2 Corinthians 6:14 NASB "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?" That is an important concept to understand because there we have three words that are going to be fundamental to understand 1 John 1—fellowship, light and darkness. There is opposition there, light and darkness don't go together, so that means you can be in fellowship or out of fellowship, it is not simply a relative term or eternal salvation.

2 Corinthians 9:13 is another passage related to giving NASB "Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for {your} obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all." That is referring to the fact that the Corinthians sent a generous gift to the church in Jerusalem that was going through a famine.

2 Corinthians 13:14 NASB "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all." The fellowship that comes from the source of the Holy Spirit. Fellowship in 2 Corinthians 13 & 14 is specifically identified as a ministry related to God the Holy Spirit.

Philippians 2:1 NASB "Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit..." Once again we see that fellowship is part of the ministry of God the Holy Spirit in the believer's life. Once we make a decision to quit walking by means of the Holy Spirit then we begin sinning, and when we do we are grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit and we can't benefit from the fellowship which comes from the source of the Holy Spirit. When we sin it breaks fellowship.

Philemon 1:6 NASB "{and I pray} that the fellowship of your faith [participation of your doctrine] may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake." There fellowship is related to Philemon's doctrinal understanding first and its application then should flow from that.

There we see that fellowship is not social life with Christians. Christian fellowship is based first on a relationship with God, based on right doctrine, and it results in right behaviour. Christian fellowship, therefore, is not sitting around and having a good social time with other believers, but Christian fellowship is that which is specifically centred around the person of Christ. The meaning of koinonia has to do with a joint ownership, a joint partnership, and it relates to the joint benefits which we all share as part of our spiritual life. We participate in that when we are abiding in Christ.

The danger in Christian fellowship is that too often we have a tendency, especially in our age because of the cultural emphasis, to put an emphasis on people over against God. We are more concerned about what people think about us than what God thinks about us. We are more concerned about what people think than about what God thinks. We are more concerned about our relationship with people than we are with our relationship with God, and it is more difficult to analyse our relationship with God because God is not physical, not here, not present; and people are. It takes more to discipline ourselves to put a focus on God and put the emphasis on God than on people. We have to be wary of the fact that those who emphasise Christian fellowship as a means of sanctification, for it is not. Our Christian friends can be either a source of cursing or a source of blessing, depending on whether or not they are walking by the Spirit.

We can either advance or grow in the spiritual life but it is not based on people, it is based on our relationship to God, so God-emphasis must take priority over people emphasis. But there is a role and a place for other believers. Ultimately, then, Christian fellowship is that which is based on doctrine and issues in right behaviour.