The Word of Life Is Communicable
and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, (1:2b–3a)
For John, that which was manifested to him—the Word of Life—became the basis for his proclamation of truth. His privileged life in the presence of the Lord Christ was not a private experience to elevate him above others who were not so blessed, as if he were somehow one of God’s “favorite sons.” Rather, his privilege became the platform for his responsibility and mandate, as an apostle and eyewitness, to bear witness (testify) of the truth (John 20:30–31; 21:24; cf. 1:41–42; 2 Cor. 5:14–15) and proclaim the gift of eternal life in Him (cf. Ps. 145:11–12; 1 Cor. 2:2; 9:16) to those, including his readers, who had never seen Jesus. Because of his widespread reputation as one who had been with Jesus as an apostle (cf. John 1:14, 16–18, 37–51), John was a true and credible witness (John 19:35–37). Other New Testament books written by apostles or their associates also present eyewitness accounts of Jesus and the truth of the gospel. The other Gospels do that (cf. Luke 1:1–4), as does the book of Acts (cf. 1:1–3) and the epistles (e.g., 2 Peter 1:16–21).
The apostle John knew that the matter of communicating the Word of Life was not an option but a command. The content of the message was not to be hoarded but its unchanging truth declared far and wide. Commenting on this passage, John R. W. Stott provided this key perspective:
The historical manifestation of the Eternal Life was proclaimed, not monopolized. The revelation was given to the few for the many. They were to dispense it to the world.… He [Christ] not only manifested Himself to the disciples to qualify them as eyewitnesses, but gave them an authoritative commission as apostles to preach the gospel. The author [John] insists that he possess these necessary credentials. Possessing them, he is very bold. Having heard, seen and touched the Lord Jesus, he bears witness to Him. Having received a commission, he proclaims the gospel with authority, for the Christian message is neither a philosophical speculation, nor a tentative suggestion, nor a modest contribution to religious thought, but a dogmatic affirmation by those whose experience and commission qualified them to make it. (The Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964], 61, 62–63, emphases in original)
The Word of Life Is Relational
so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1:3b)
John proclaimed the Word of Life so that (hina, “in order that”) all believers would realize they have fellowship (an authentic partnership) with Jesus Christ and fellow believers (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:42, 44–47; 1 Cor. 12:26–27; Eph. 4:1–3; Heb. 10:25; 12:22–24). The word rendered fellowship, the familiar Greek term koinonia, signifies a mutual participation in a common cause or shared life (cf. Gal. 2:9; 6:6; 1 Tim. 6:18; Titus 1:4; Philem. 6; 1 Peter 4:13; Jude 3). It is far more than a mere partnership of those who have the same beliefs and are thus drawn together. Rather, it is the mutual life and love of those who are one in spirit (1 Cor. 6:17; cf. Eph. 5:30–32).
The aim of gospel preaching is to produce faith that rests in Christ (John 6:29; Acts 20:21). Those who believe savingly in Jesus enter into a genuine union with the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul wrote,
God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:9; cf. Gal. 2:20)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14; cf. John 17:21)
Even sinning Christians who lose the joy of their fellowship with God never lose the reality of that eternal life from Him (1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1; Heb. 12:10), given them through their union with Christ (Rom. 6:3–5; Eph. 2:5; Col. 3:2). Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24; cf. Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5). The new birth produces new life, so that believers are regenerated into everlasting fellowship with the triune God (cf. John 3:5–8).
3 It is clear that John wishes to create a sense of solidarity with the reader at the beginning of the letter by differentiating between two groups—“us” and “them.” The boundary between the two groups is the message (“word,” v. 1) that John proclaims. Only those who accept John’s teaching that Life manifested itself in the human Jesus “may have fellowship with us.” As noted in the introduction, there has been considerable debate over the identity of the “we” in 1:1–4. These verses include eleven first-person-plural verbs (“we do x”) and seven occurrences of the pronoun hēmeis (“we/us”). Some scholars interpret “we” here to be the entire Johannine community or a group of orthodox teachers within the community, making these verses a rallying cry to defend the “corporate tradition” against the Antichrists (see Introduction). This view does not, however, adequately account for fact that the pronoun “you” (hymeis) is also used four times in these verses to distinguish the reader from the author. Since “1 John is probably not a missionary tract for unbelievers but a communication with those who belong to the church” (R. A. Culpepper, The Gospel and the Letters of John [Nashville: Abingdon, 1998], 255), “we” (the author) and “you” (the audience) must be co-members of the Christian community who are different in some way. The point of difference seems to be that “we” have heard, seen, touched, and witnessed Jesus, while “you” have not. “We” must therefore refer to the collective group of witnesses to the life of Jesus, of whom John claims to be a member. This witness puts John in a special category with those whose testimony cannot be refuted, a status the Antichrists do not enjoy. Only those Christians among “you” who accept John’s witness may remain in fellowship with him.
3a The Greek word koinōnia (GK 3126) is translated “fellowship” in the NIV. While the English word “fellowship” is used to describe everything from a deep friendship to a potluck dinner, koinōnia refers to a bond of partnership in a common enterprise or experience. Luke uses this term to refer to the sharing of possessions in the early church (Ac 2:44; 4:30), and Paul speaks of the koinōnia he enjoys with the Philippians due to their common commitment to the gospel (Php 1:5). To have koinōnia with someone means to share a sense of community with that person. Brown, 170, therefore refers to koinōnia as “both the dynamic esprit de corps that brings people together and the togetherness that is produced by that spirit.” John hopes that his audience will be united with him on the basis of their common faith in Jesus.
3b The second half of 1:3 elevates the basic distinction between “us” and “them” to absolute terms with ultimate consequences. John’s word gives him fellowship “with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ”; logically, those who refuse to accept John’s witness put themselves out of fellowship with Christ and God and therefore render themselves ineligible for eternal life. Ironically, the Antichrists, by focusing too much on their present experience of Christ through the Spirit and rejecting John’s witness about Jesus’ past, have placed themselves out of fellowship with God.
1:3 / Verse 3 summarizes what has been said in vv. 1–2 and then moves on to a new affirmation. The author (and the apostolic community he represents, hence the we) proclaims this message about the Word of life, in order that those who hear it might join “the circle of salvation,” i.e., those who have fellowship with God (which, according to John 17:3, is eternal life). It is essential to be in fellowship with the author, because the author is in fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. The Elder’s opponents, the secessionists—those who have left the community (2:19) and are antichrists (2:18), false prophets (4:1), deceivers (2 John 7), and liars (2:22)—are not in fellowship with the author, and they no longer have either the Father or the Son (2 John 9; cf. 2:22–24). They are outside the “circle of salvation.” It is evident here that fellowship (koinōnia) is not simply a matter of love and hospitality (though for the Elder it is also that), but is primarily a matter of eternal life and death.
1:3. John proclaimed what he knew about Jesus so that you also may have fellowship with us. Since John made it clear in 2:12–14 that the readers of this letter were already believers, he was not referring to the fellowship with other Christians that begins at salvation. Rather, he was referring to the ongoing fellowship of people who are already believers. They needed to be sure of who Jesus was and of their salvation. If they doubted their salvation, their fellowship with the Father and Son would be limited. If Christians are not in fellowship with God, they cannot be in full fellowship with other devout Christians. Christian-with-Christian fellowship is rooted in fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. Apparently, the false teachers had called into question the salvation of the readers, so John was reaffirming their faith.
3. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
These are the points John communicates:
After the parenthetical comment, John resumes the thought of the first verse and repeats from the second verse the verb proclaim. John emphasizes proclaiming the message which he and the other apostles had received from the Lord. He builds his argument by repeating clauses from verse 1. But note that he reverses the verbs, for he says, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard” (italics added). Also, this is the third time that he uses the verb to see. What is John saying?
By reiterating the same verbs, John seems to warn the readers against false doctrines that deny the human nature, physical appearance, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. John testifies that he has seen Jesus and has heard his voice. John wants his readers to know the core of the apostolic message: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has appeared in human flesh.” As an eyewitness and earwitness, John is able to testify to the veracity of this message and proclaim what he has seen and heard.
John states the purpose of his letter in this verse. Says he, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.” He states a parallel purpose near the end of his letter: “I write these things to you … so that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13). The purpose is to invite the readers to the fellowship of the apostles who are eyewitnesses of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus.
The invitation serves two ends. First, John seeks to shield the readers from the doctrinal attacks of false teachers and to strengthen them spiritually within the fellowship of the apostles and disciples. When people have fellowship, they share their mutual gifts, goals, and goods (compare Acts 4:32–37). The apostles shared their spiritual gifts with members of the church. And second, John invites the readers of his epistle to join the eyewitnesses in their fellowship “with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
In the last part of verse 3, John reveals the focal point of his introduction: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This focus is significant, because in his epistle the name Christ is the official title of Jesus. Except for one instance (1:7), John always uses the combination Jesus Christ (rather than the terms Jesus or Christ) or the clause that Jesus is the Christ. He wants his readers to know that the human Jesus is indeed the heavenly Messiah, that is, the Christ.
John also considers the name Son significant. In his first epistle this is a key word. John emphasizes the basic confession of the church: “Jesus is the Son of God.” Throughout his epistle he mentions the fellowship of the believer with the Father and the Son (1:7), the redeeming work of the Son (1:7; 4:10), the mission of the Son (3:8), God’s testimony about the Son (5:9), the gift of the Son in terms of eternal life (5:11, 13), and last, the coming of the Son (5:20). Especially in chapter 5, John explains the significance of the word Son.
1:3 The apostles did not keep this wonderful news as a secret, and neither should we. They realized that the basis of all fellowship is found here and so they declared it freely and fully. All who receive the testimony of the apostles have fellowship with the Father, with His Son Jesus Christ, and also with the apostles and all other believers. How wonderful that guilty sinners should ever be brought into fellowship with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ! And yet, that is the very truth which we have here.
His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus and Christ are one and the same Person, and that Person is the Son of God. Jesus is the name given to Him at birth, and therefore speaks of His perfect humanity. Christ is the name that speaks of Him as God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. Therefore, in the name Jesus Christ, we have a witness to His humanity and to His deity. Jesus Christ is very God of very God and very Man of very Man.
3 Once again John speaks of what we have seen and heard. We should not overlook his emphasis on being an eyewitness nor the fact that this is linked with proclaim to you. It is impossible to make good sense of this if we think of we as meaning ‘we Christians’. It must mean only those believers who actually saw Jesus in the flesh. These proclaim what they saw to the rest of the church. Something of John’s aim follows: so that you also may have fellowship with us. He immediately goes on to speak of our fellowship as with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. The basic idea in fellowship (Gk. koinōnia) is that of possessing something in common, i.e. of partnership or sharing. It is often used of business affairs (cf. Lk. 5:10). Christian fellowship means sharing the common life in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It binds believers to one another, but the important thing is that it binds them also to God. We should not miss the fact that the fellowship is ongoing. The apostles had fellowship with Christ and thus with God. Then they brought others to believe and thus brought them into the same fellowship (a process which carries on to this day). The fellowship in question is fellowship … with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. Thus, early in the letter Jesus Christ is linked closely with the Father. One of John’s strong emphases is on the high place of Christ and he loses no time in bringing it forward.
1:3. The objective John had in mind in writing about these significant realities was that you, the readers, may have fellowship with us, the apostles. Since he later, in 2:12–14, made it perfectly clear that he regarded the readers as genuine Christians, his goal was obviously not their conversions. It is an interpretive mistake of considerable moment to treat the term “fellowship” as though it meant little more than “to be a Christian.” The readers were already saved, but they needed this letter if they were to enjoy real fellowship with the apostolic circle to which the author belonged. In the final analysis that apostolic fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.
Probably the false teachers denied that the readers possessed eternal life (see comments on 2:25; 5:13). If so, and if the readers would begin to doubt God’s guarantees on that point, their fellowship with the Father and the Son would be in jeopardy. This, of course, is not the same as saying that their salvation would be in jeopardy. As believers they could never lose the gift of life which God had given them (cf. John 4:14; 6:32, 37–40), but their fellowship depended on walking in the light (1 John 1:7). The danger to the readers was that they might be allured into darkness by the siren song of the antichrists. How seductive their godless appeal was emerges in this letter. John’s aim, therefore, was to furnish his readership with a necessary reaffirmation of the basic truths of their faith so that their fellowship with God would be sustained.
That we may have fellowship (v. 3). This word fellowship is an important one in the vocabulary of a Christian. It simply means “to have in common.” As sinners, men have nothing in common with the holy God. But God in His grace sent Christ to have something in common with men. Christ took on Himself a human body and became a man. Then He went to the cross and took on that body the sins of the world (1 Peter 2:24). Because He paid the price for our sins, the way is open for God to forgive us and take us into His family. When we trust Christ, we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The term translated “partakers” in Peter’s epistle is from the same Greek root that is translated “fellowship” in 1 John 1:3.
What a thrilling miracle! Jesus Christ took on Himself the nature of man that by faith we may receive the very nature of God!
A famous British writer was leaving Liverpool by ship. He noticed that the other passengers were waving to friends on the dock. He rushed down to the dock and stopped a little boy. “Would you wave to me if I paid you?” he asked the lad, and of course the boy agreed. The writer rushed back on board and leaned over the rail, glad for someone to wave to. And sure enough, there was the boy waving back to him!
A foolish story? Perhaps—but it reminds us that man hates loneliness. All of us want to be wanted. The life that is real helps to solve the basic problem of loneliness, for Christians have genuine fellowship with God and with one another. Jesus promised, “Lo, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). In his letter, John explains the secret of fellowship with God and with other Christians. This is the first purpose John mentions for the writing of his letter—the sharing of his experience of eternal life.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2309). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Morris, L. L. (1994). 1 John. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1399). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Walvoord, J. F., & Zuck, R. B., Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 883–884). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.