I John 1:5-10

With his exciting talk about the very word of life being a “fingertip reality” (a phrase I’ve borrowed from my friend Ray Anderson), John has set us up to hear the words of fellowship and joy. But few of us could ever have guessed where he goes immediately after this.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you. . .” Yes, John, you’ve already told us that the message is that Jesus is the word of life. We’ve got the picture. . .or so we think. John goes on to surprise us. The message is that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.”

Did he completely change the subject or is this just a subtle rephrasing? To understand, we are forced to read on. (We’ll discover as we go through I John that this is part of his writing style: forcing us to ask a question and then read ahead to find the answer.) What we quickly learn here is that John has just switched on a powerful spotlight and aimed it directly at us. If we claim to walk with God while actually walking in darkness, we’re simply liars.

If, on the other hand, we walk in the light as the Lord himself does, we have fellowship . . .Hmm, how would you finish that sentence? It seems obvious that the next words have to be, “. . .we have fellowship with him.” But that’s not at all what John says. “ . . .we have fellowship with one another. . .” What??? God is light and if we walk in the light of God’s character, we are in fellowship with one another. Does he mean we and God have fellowship with one another or that we light-walkers all have fellowship with each other? Remembering verse 3, we should make the tentative conclusion that John means both. We are united both with God and with one another.

That shouldn’t seem strange to us, coming as it does from a disciple of the One who taught us to love God with all our hearts and one another as ourselves. This is one love, not two

But the sentence is not yet completed. If we walk in the light . . .”the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” One side of the coin is fellowship and the other is the forgiveness made possible by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. There can be no fellowship without forgiveness and spiritual cleansing, both from God and from one another.

We still don’t know what the image of “light” is meant to convey here. John is about to take care of that. If we claim to have no sin (no, I’m not going to mention our president), we make God a liar because he has already declared us to be sinners in need of justification and salvation. But if confess our sins, we are forgiven and cleansed.

The light must be honesty about who we are. If we’re honest about that, we’ll confess our sin and receive from the grace of God all his forgiveness. If we’re phony, God will not deal with us and we’ll live from one broken relationship to another.

Now, if all that is perfectly clear after just one reading, you’re a genius. John doesn’t write with the Greco-Roman logic that marks much of Paul’s writing. Instead, he writes in spirals, seeming to wander away but soon returning to each subject he raises. There is no shortcut to reading I John. You simply have to dwell in the text attentively until you recognize the connections.

i promise you it’s worth every ounce of effort.


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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