The book of the Bible known as 1 John is normally described as the 1st Epistle of St. John, but it actually reads much more like an address or a sermon than an actual letter. The prologue, in particular, contributes to this homiletical tone. Indeed, the first four verses of this book very definitely function as a commentary on the prologue to John’s Gospel. You need to be familiar with that great text “in the beginning was the Word…” in order to understand what John’s doing at the beginning of this epistle, or homily. Verses 1-3 form a single sentence in Greek, echoing the style and content of John 1:1-18. The theme of glory is not pursued here, but instead it stays focused on the word-made-flesh, the eternal life in Christ, and fellowship (union) with God. I’ll get back to that in just a minute.
Sticking with the analysis of the text for a moment, normal sentence structure in English is S-V-O, but this is O-SV (the subject & main verb being “we proclaim” in verse 3). Attention, thus, is focused heavily upon the object of the apostolic proclamation rather than the act of proclaiming it. John wants us to meditate on Christ, with him, especially the true humanity of Jesus. As can be gleaned from later in this epistle, there was already a heretical sect that denied that Jesus had come in the flesh, the divine becoming truly man. From the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel, Jesus has been heard from, seen, and even touched, revealing or manifesting the Gospel of salvation. As surely as Jesus walked this earth, died, and rose again, so is the certainty of the truth of the apostles’ preaching.
The purpose of this proclamation is two-fold in this prologue: that we might have fellowship, and that the apostles’ joy may be complete (or full). The joy is simple: how beautiful are the feet of those who carry good news! The angels rejoice over the repentance of but one sinner! The proclamation of God is gospel – good news. It is a joy to speak of Christ, especially to proclaim him to others who may then turn to him and live.
It is the fellowship that takes a little more attention to understand. There are many kinds of fellowship – that of a club or organization of acquaintances, people who share a common interest or activity; that of a group of close friends who share common ideals or goals or purposes; that of a family who share their very lives with one another; and of course there is fellowship with God wherein we share not only this life, but eternal life together. It is this highest fellowship, unsurprisingly, that John writes of here. But what I should especially like to point out is the order of fellowship as he describes it. First that you, the hearers or readers, would have fellowship us – John and the other apostles – and second that our fellowship is with the Father and the Son. Typically today we tend to speak of fellowship or communion with God first, and church membership second; but John gives it to us the other way ‘round. We have fellowship with the apostles, and thereby have fellowship with God.
This highlights the absolute necessity of local church membership, but also goes beyond it. When John writes “that you too may have fellowship with us” he is connecting the dots from the individual members of local congregations to himself and the other apostles. The fellowship of the Church is not just about belonging to a congregation, it’s about belonging to the apostles, the apostolic faith, the catholic church. This is critical, which is why it’s found in our creeds – we believe in “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints…” Fidelity to the local church, and responsible obedience to our pastors is well and good, but John’s insight takes us further than that – an independent church just won’t do. This also bears out later in the epistle – there are people who have departed from the congregation and apparently started their own fellowship or sect. Perhaps these are the same people who were denying the humanity of Jesus, too.
This verse has been one of my quiet favorite verses in the Bible for several years. It captures, in beautiful and gospel-driven terms, the reason I moved from non-denominationalism into the Anglican tradition, where catholic Christianity can be affirmed. We do not just seek fellowship with God as individuals and call it sufficient, we do not just seek fellowship with a local congregation and call it sufficient, but we seek fellowship with the communion of saints, the Church built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone.
In this fellowship, on that foundation, with the proclamation of the word of life, truly, our joy may be complete.