How central is Christ to our lives? How near is He? How immediate? A man used to walk down the street and every once in a while he would throw his elbow back. People asked why? “I was just checking to see if Jesus was still there.” Is Jesus that near in your life? A man picked up someone walking along a road in the night. “Aren’t you afraid?” he asked. “Why should I be?” the man replied. Jesus is seated between you and me right now and the whole back end is filled with angels.” It’s just a story, but is Jesus that near in your life? I like a statement from 700 AD somehow translated into English:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I arise.
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Keeping to my intent to speak from 1 John, I searched out Jesus in that letter and found 31 references to him that I divided into six categories:
- He is the Savior of the world (4:14), his blood purifies us from sin (1:9), he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (2:2), we are forgiven because of him (2:12), and he laid down his life for us (3:16).
- He is worthy of our belief and belief is God’s command (3:23), it leads to new birth (5:1), God has testified about him (5:9), and it is a serious mistake to reject Jesus (2:22).
- His nature is spectacular because he is from the beginning (2:13), the Righteous One (2:1), came by water and blood (5:6), showed us what love is (3:16), and is greater than he who is in the world (4:4).
- His gift to us is so unusual because he gives us LIFE (2:23, 4:2, 4:15, 5:11, 12 – five times), he gives us himself and he is in us (4:4), because he is in us, our lives become like his (2:28, 3:6), and we actually live through him (4:9, 17).
- His actions from heaven are life-changing every day because he intercedes for us with the Father (2:1), protects us from the devil (5:18), continues to destroy the devil’s work (3:8), makes us overcomers (5:5), gives us understanding (5:20), and makes it possible for us to be in God (5:20).
- He is coming again (2:28), we shall be like him when he appears (3:2), and we will see him as he is (3:2).
I asked myself how I could relate all this to fellowship and Christ-centered communion.
My attention was drawn to1 John 1:5 – “Our fellowship is with Jesus.” How could I demonstrate this kind of communion? I turned to the gospel of John, chapter 17 for an interesting look at Christ-centered communion, a necessity to exponential fellowship. This prayer of our Lord shows his desire for exponential fellowship with people, a fellowship embracing two words that appear again and again – glory and know. This prayer gives us three looks at this fellowship.
- Fellowship begins in the mysterious ways of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (17:1-5). Look, first, at the word glory as it appears in this prayer’s opening. We must be struck by its appearance five times. This fellowship within God himself is a fellowship of glory (1, 4, 5). That, admittedly, is difficult to understand.
In the first chapter of John’s gospel, the word glory is immediately important; “We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son” (John 1:14). In this gospel, from chapter 1 to chapter 11, glory is used fourteen times and a story of the origins of fellowship unfolds. Those eleven chapters conclude with Jesus’ statement to Martha just previous to the raising of Lazarus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (11:40). From John, chapter 12 to 21, the vocabulary of glory becomes even stronger. The word is used another nineteen times as the story of this deep fellowship goes on to even embrace his death and resurrection.
What is this glory? In a You Tube presentation, John Piper describes a way to explain God’s glory to a four year old. (That seemed like an appropriate place to begin for me). It is like seeing Mt Kenya first from a distance. It’s like making a circle with thumb and index finger and looking at Mount Kenya through the circle. A four-year old can do that. But when that four year old is taken to Mount Kenya itself and stands at the base of it looking up, its true size is instantly clear. In the same way, we can talk about glory from a distance but we are overwhelmed by it up close. One man has said, “The glory of God is so brilliant and radiant it would consume you like fire. It would be like trying to get close to the sun. The sun is so brilliant and radiant that it would evaporate you, vaporize you. That’s the power of God’s glory.”
I want to divert to some Old Testament characters. Take Moses for example (Exodus 33:18). Not satisfied with his closeness to God, he said, “Now, show me your glory.” God responded to that presumptuous request by saying, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But, you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Take Ezekiel as another example (Ezekiel 1:26-28). The prophet saw God’s glory in a vision. Yet, he could not describe the glory in his writing. He could only say that glory was like this and that. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t describe the glory of God. He could only describe what it appeared to be like.
So it is with God. No matter how we describe him, his glory is always more than our descriptions. No word can contain Him – not the highest praise, not the deepest thought. God’s glory is always more than we think it is. (That means there’s always more for us to find).
In 1 John, we have learned that he is LIFE, LIGHT and LOVE. But he is explosive LIFE, exceptional LIGHT, and extraordinary LOVE. Yet, we are invited into a fellowship that rises from this glory of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a fellowship that begins in that glory and proceeds from that glory. It is an exponential fellowship.
But we need to look, secondly, at the words related to knowledge because this fellowship with Christ is a fellowship that links glory and knowledge. Jesus says, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus whom you have sent” (John 17:3). This may sound to us like mere head knowledge. But this knowledge always refers to an intimately warm and caring, personal, and interactive relationship. It is heart knowledge. It is experiential in nature, not explanatory; it is relational in nature, not rational. It involves God’s glory.
We were created to know God. The best thing that can happen in our lives is to know God. Nothing gives God more pleasure than our knowledge of Him. “I desire…the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,’ says the Lord in Hosea 6:6. Jeremiah helps us put this knowledge of God together with our knowledge of glory: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories glory in this, that he understand and knows me” (9:23ff).
Though impossible to know God fully, we can know him adequately. Even Moses was told that he would see God’s goodness, mercy, compassion – evidence of his glory. Even Ezekiel was blessed with sights that he could not explain, but by a voice he heard clearly. God spoke to him. What God revealed was evidence of his glory. They could know him.
We, too, can know him adequately – by what he shows us and tells us. This is more than knowledge as we know it today. We live in a time when “knowledge has been, first, institutionalized, then secondly, computerized, and, thirdly, miniaturized. But all the life has been squeezed out of it” (Eugene H. Peterson and Marva Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000). We are bombarded with a flood of words but we have only a drop of reason with which to handle the flood. We end up drowning in information but starving for knowledge (Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1994).
The fellowship that is exponential is not reliant on such knowledge. The knowledge presented in this prayer is not measured by its quantity of information. It is measured by its quality of information, not by its breadth of knowledge but by its depth of knowledge. It is a participatory, relational type of knowledge that results in fellowship.
Ultimately, this intimate, relational knowledge is a knowledge of God’s LIFE – his glory. It is what describes Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is what turns the so-called trinity into a unity. It is at the core of biblical fellowship.
Well, that was fellowship at its beginning – fellowship as experienced by God himself even before people were created. But, now that fellowship extends outward.
- This fellowship is what Christ had with his disciples (17:6-19). Notice that glory is present again. In verse 10, Jesus says, “glory has come to me through them.” That is puzzling. How? The disciples had become what only Jesus could make them –his disciples. And, his glory rubbed off on them.
The same is true of us in our fellowship. We are who we are because He is who He is. I have always been interested in the contrasts of human identity worldwide. John Mbiti summed up African identity as “I am because we are.” That contrasts with a western identity that says, “I am because I am.” In America, we have changed it to: “I am because I think,” or “I am because I shop.” Explaining these differences once to a college class, I was struck for the first time with the blessed thought: our identity as Christians –“I am because He is.” So many times, our fellowship is African in nature: it’s about who we are. So many times it can be Western in nature: it’s about what we think. It needs to be about who Jesus is: We are because He is. Exponential fellowship is about God’s glory not our own.
Now, keeping to my intent, knowledge is present again in this section (6-8). Glory and knowledge belong together in this study of fellowship. Once again, this is intimate knowledge . Jesus was in warm, close fellowship with his disciples. How? He prayed for them (9). He sought their protection from the evil one (11. 15). He sought their unity (11). He wanted them to be blessed with a full measure of joy (13). He set himself apart for them – sanctification (17). He trusted and sent them out (18-19). This list sounds like a special kind of agenda for fellowship. Intimate knowledge leads to intimate fellowship. When we know one another as Christ knows us, exponential fellowship is possible.
Ultimately, this intimate, relational knowledge is the knowledge of God’s LIGHT – his glory. Jesus was their light on God (vs.6). “I have revealed you to them,” he said, “Now they know” (7). By contrast, our fellowship is often about ourselves – the revelation of ourselves instead of God. We end up knowing what each other has said, but may never gather what God has said.
So, this second look at fellowship is that of Jesus with his disciples. Let’s go on to the third look.
- This fellowship is what Christ wanted to see extended to all believers (17:20-26). How does glory play in this part of the prayer? John 17:20-24. This glory is expressed in oneness that goes back to the oneness of God in verses 1-5). He repeats this prayer for unity four times in this section: “I ask…that they may all be one” (v.20), “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us” (v.21), “…so that they may be one, as we are one” (v.22), “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (v.23). Jesus prays that all who believe will be included in all the operations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The exponential fellowship we seek is related to God’s glory described in terms of oneness. Unfortunately, we seek glory in the wrong kind of oneness – people like us, small groups, associations, organizations, denominations, conferences. But there is a glory of oneness made possible by God. Up to this time, the fellowship had been with his disciples; now it would become worldwide. His glory had brought glory to the disciples. Now that glory could bring glory to us.
What does this section say about knowledge (20, 25, 26)? Notice that this intimate knowledge leads to belief. It is not our thinking that convinces our heart; it is our heart that convinces our thinking. The French philosopher Pascal is famous for saying, “God has so willed that Divine truths should not enter the heart through the understanding, but that they should enter the understanding through the heart. For while one must know human things to love them, one must love divine things to know them.” This knowledge is intimate in nature not ideological in nature; it is relational, not just rational (21, 26). It is knowledge related to the knowledge of God.
Ultimately, this intimate, relational knowledge is the knowledge of God’s LOVE – his glory (26) like it had also related to His LIFE and His LIGHT. .
Charles Colson, one of President Nixon’s right-hand men who went to prison for Watergate corruption, was later converted to Christ and began visiting other prisoners. One day, he visited a man on death row who lay tightly curled up, dirty, unshaved, and speaking to no one. His cell was a dirty mess. Undaunted, Colson told him the gospel and asked him to simply say the name Jesus. The prisoner did so. A week later Colson returned to find the man sitting in his chair, clean, and shaven, with a cell that was swept clean. When he asked what had happened, the man said, “Jesus lives here now.” The man went to the electric chair for his crimes but his last words to the executioner were these: “I’m going to be with Jesus.” (Selwyn Hughes, Every Day with Jesus, 1998, Day 347).
We go back to the question we started with: How central is Christ in our lives? Do we throw our elbows back to see if he is there? Is he sitting right next to us in his glory? Can we say, like that prisoner, that our dwelling place is now the dwelling place of Jesus? Can we say, like John, “Our fellowship is with Christ?” John’s statement was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Can our statement also be inspired by the Holy Spirit: “Our fellowship is with Christ?”