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Part 21 of series: What is the Christian Life?
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I began this series by looking at the sad situation that motivated John to write his first letter. Poor theology plus unloving behavior had led some members of his church to depart, leaving behind their former brothers and sisters in Christ. Koinonia, fellowship with God and God’s people, had been broken. John wrote in order to keep others in his congregation from joining the separatists. He reminded his people about the “Word of life” revealed by God. If they held fast to this word, they would experience the fullness of the Christian life. That is to say, they would “have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). John wrote to preserve and protect the koinonia so central to Christian living.
It is especially striking to consider John’s admission that his joy depends on his relationship with his church. If John knew Jesus personally, if he walked with Jesus and was his “beloved disciple,” and yet John’s joy was incomplete apart from fellowship with other Christians, how much more will this be true for us. Comprehensive joy is always a corporate experience. Although God can surely give joy to the heart of a solitary Christian, complete joy requires a rejoicing community. Joy is even better when it is shared.
Yes, in fact, I could be. The next day I loaded my backpack with all the provisions for an overnight stay at Sherwin Lakes. But this time I didn’t go alone. My six-year-old son Nathan accompanied me for his first backpacking trip. With him as my partner, I didn’t hike as quickly, that’s for sure. I didn’t see as many sights as I had seen when walking alone or have the leisure to appreciate them without distraction. But my joy was even more supreme than it had been because it was now shared. I could show Nathan the cliffs that had stirred my soul the day before, and he could marvel at them with me: “Dad, they’re just hunormous!” Nathan helped me to get pleasure from natural trifles I had overlooked just a few hours earlier: pine cones, water bugs, and sticks just right for throwing. Every aspect of that trip thrilled my son, whether we were gathering wood for the campfire or bundling up in our sleeping bags. My joy was more complete than it had been the day before because it was magnified through fellowship with someone I love.
That’s the way it is in the Christian life. I’ve seen it again and again. A mother leads her daughter to Christ, but isn’t overwhelmed with tears of joy until she shares her good news with the members of her small group, who add plenty of their own tears to the gladsome puddle. A man returns to church after a long illness and is welcomed back with jubilation by those who had been praying for him so faithfully. His personal joy becomes their shared celebration. The biblical command to “rejoice with those who rejoice” is not some burden to be borne, but an invitation to more abundant living (Rom 12:14, NIV).
The Christian life is intimate fellowship with God and God’s people. It touches and transforms every aspect of our lives, beginning at the moment we believe in Jesus, and continuing into eternity. The more we experience true koinonia, the more our lives will be characterized by joy.