Light, Fellowship, and Unity

“This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1John 1:5-7).

What does John mean that God is light? One answer would be that God is truth. This comes from verse 6: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the TRUTH.” He might have said, “When we walk in darkness, we do not live according to the LIGHT.” But he puts truth in the place of light. So it seems that truth is virtually the same as light. God is light means that God is the source and measure of all that is true. Nothing is truly understood until it is understood in the light of God.

What is the main value of light? Negatively, it helps you avoid danger. Positively, it helps you reach what you are after. When you walk in the darkness, you may stumble over a log, or step on a tiger snake, or fall off a cliff, or hit your head on a low-hanging branch. Darkness is full of threat, it frustrates your ability to attain your goal – but light changes all that. It exposes dangers and frees you from their lurking power. It opens the way to your goal. It is full of hope and promises the glad attainment of your goal. Our goal of ultimate and eternal joy is secured in God because there is no darkness in God. Verse 6 gives the negative side of the application: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth.” What does it mean to walk in the darkness? 1 John 2:8-11 gives some real clear indication, it says that…”he who hates his brother is in the darkness and he who loves his brother abides in the light.” Walking in the light means being a loving person and walking in the darkness means being a person of hate. The reason this is called walking in darkness is that the only way people can desire things more than God is if they are blind to the light of God. To choose gravel over diamonds you have to be blind.

Now verse 7 gives the positive side of the application of verse 5. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Walking in the light is the opposite of walking in darkness. It means seeing reality for what it is and being controlled by desires that are in harmony with God’s light. If God is light, and in him is no darkness at all, then He is the bright pathway to the fulfilment of all our deepest longings. He is the deliverer from all dark dangers and obstacles to joy – He is the infinitely desirable One. There is a walk, a lifestyle that results from the miracle of new birth when we are given eyes to see the light of God, and 1 John is written to describe what that lifestyle looks like, up close and personal. Walking in the light is the condition of fellowship not only with God but also with other believers. God loves unity…“The group of believers were united in their hearts and spirit… In fact, they shared everything. ” Acts 4:32 (NCV)
“Live in harmony with one another.”  Rom.12:16a
The New Testament gives more attention to the unity of the church than to either heaven or hell, which I believe highlights its importance. God desires us to experience oneness with each other – unity is the heart of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ’s body. Without unity there is no fellowship and without fellowship there is no church. The Tri-unity (Trinity) is unified and God wants us to be unified too. Our Heavenly Father, like every parent, enjoys watching His children get along with each other. Jesus, in His final moments before being arrested, prayed passionately for our unity and the Holy Spirit is the one who unites us in love. Nothing is more valuable to God than His church. He paid the highest price for it, so it is worth protecting. Part of our responsibility as followers of Christ is to preserve and protect the unity of this fellowship.

“Make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We need to think of ourselves as agents of unity, commissioned by Jesus Christ to promote and preserve the fellowship among believers. One way we can do this is by being realistic in our expectations. Once we discover what God intends real fellowship to be like, it’s easy to become discouraged by the gap that exists between the ideal and the real in our respective churches.   Still we must passionately love the church in spite of its imperfections. Longing for the ideal while criticizing the real is immaturity. On the other hand, settling for the real without striving for the ideal is complacency. Maturity is learning to live with the tension. Therefore, “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Ephesians 4:2).

Believers are going to disappoint you and let you down (just as you will them) but that’s no excuse to stop fellowshipping with them. They’re family, even when they don’t act like it, and you don’t just walk out on them. People become disillusioned with the church for many understandable reasons. The list could be quite long: conflict, hurt, hypocrisy, neglect, pettiness, legalism, and other sins. Rather than being shocked and surprised, we must remember that the church is made up of real sinners, including ourselves. Because we’re sinners, we hurt each other, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.  But instead of leaving the church, we need to stay and work it out if at all possible. Reconciliation, not running away, is the road to stronger character and deeper fellowship. Divorcing your church at the first sign of disappointment or disillusionment is a mark of immaturity. God has things he wants to teach you, and others too.  Besides, there is no perfect church to escape to. Every church has its own set of weaknesses and problems…you’ll soon be disappointed again.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, the German pastor who was martyred for resisting Nazis, wrote a classic on fellowship entitled, Life Together.  In it he says…”Disillusionment with our local church is a good thing because it destroys our false expectations of perfection. The sooner we give up the illusion that a church must be perfect in order to love it, the sooner we quit pretending and start admitting we’re all imperfect and need grace. This is beginning of real community.
Every church could put out a sign “No perfect people need apply.” This is a place only for those who admit they are sinners, need grace, and want to grow.
Bonhoffer went on to say, “He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter… If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even when there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we keep complaining that everything is paltry and petty, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow…”

The fabric of our fellowship is woven with the blood stained threads of Christ’s sacrifice, therefore it is infinitely precious and worthy of preserving. What awesome privilege it is for us to be members of one another in this glorious ever-transforming Body of Christ!

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