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).
The Christian Proclamation (vv. 3–4)
The message John and the other apostles received was not only for themselves. Rather, it was for the whole world, as Jesus commanded (cf. Matt. 28:19–20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). Here was a striking contrast with the Gnostics and, by extension, with any other kind of exclusive Christianity. The Gnostics wanted to establish a fellowship of the intellectually elite. The apostles by contrast were attempting to proclaim to the world what they had received.
John uses three words in describing how the gospel is shared. First, he says we “testify” to what we have seen and heard. This word (martyrein, v. 2) is an important word in John’s Gospel. Originally it comes from the courts of law and denotes the bearing of testimony to that which one has seen. In the Gospel Jesus is said to have borne witness to the Father because he has seen the Father and is willing to reveal him (John 3:31–32; 18:37). In the same way the disciples are called to bear witness of Jesus because they had experienced him firsthand during his three-year ministry (John 15:27). Second, John says we “proclaim” to you what we have seen and heard. On the surface this verb seems much like the other, involving a verbalized testimony to what has been seen and heard. But it also suggests something else. It suggests a commission from Christ, authority. Thus, as Stott says, Jesus “not only manifested Himself to the disciples to qualify them as eyewitnesses, but gave them an authoritative commission as apostles to preach the gospel.” Finally, as John says in verse 4, we “write” these things that our joy might be full.
This then is the way in which the gospel has come to us and must be passed on. The apostles bore witness to what they had seen and heard of Jesus, proclaimed it authoritatively on his commission, and finally preserved it in the writings that have since become our New Testament. Today believers are to take their writings and, having through them entered into the experience of the apostles, proclaim the Christ of the apostles to the world.
The Twofold Objective (vv. 3–4)
But why is this done? Why this enormous effort, beginning in eternity past, prepared for in the Old Testament writings, focused in Christ, seen by the apostles, preached by them, and recorded by them in the New Testament? And why should we be a part of it? John concludes the preface by stating this objective: “that you also may have fellowship with us” and “to make our joy complete.”
John speaks of fellowship rather than salvation in these verses, perhaps because the fellowship had been so recently broken by the Gnostic schism. Properly understood, however, the word includes the full meaning of salvation, as the accompanying phrases indicate. There is salvation on the horizontal dimension. It is an overcoming of hostility between man and man. There is also salvation on the vertical dimension, between God and man. Indeed, John indicates that it is only when the latter is established that the first becomes possible. Why is it that human beings experience friction with one another? The answer, as James writes in his epistle, is sin (James 4:1ff.). And how can sin be conquered? Not by men, certainly, for all are sinners. It can be conquered only by Christ, who died once that fellowship might be restored between man and God and who now lives in order to communicate the power of God in overcoming sin to those who follow him.
Those who are already Christians must take the words of John seriously. He says that the purpose of this great plan of God for the revelation of himself to men and for their salvation is fellowship, and that on the horizontal level. How then can believers be content with that which disrupts their fellowship? Or how can they be content with an evangelism that wins men to God but fails to draw them into a vital and visible relationship with one another?
Finally, says John, we have written “to make our joy complete.” There is a textual variant at this point in which “your” is substituted for “our” in John’s statement. Either would be correct, and in fact there is not much difference. Yet “our” is dramatic; for it is John’s way of saying that his joy is their joy—it was also John the Baptist’s testimony (John 3:29)—and that the apostle will have full joy only when the Christians to whom he is writing, as well as all who would come after, enjoy fellowship. This is real joy, but it will not be perfected in our or any other lifetime. Therefore, verse 4 may rightly be understood as pointing forward ultimately to heaven.
If believers will ultimately be one in heaven, however, why should they not be one while here on earth? And why should there not be a joy in true Christian fellowship, as there certainly will be later? Clearly Christians are to recognize and work toward a vital fellowship here as well as pray for and anticipate that day in which that which began with the revelation of God in the historical Christ and which was preached and believed on by millions in this world will be consummated.
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.
3. That which we have seen. He now repeats the third time the words, seen and heard, that nothing might be wanting as to the real certainty of his doctrine. And it ought to be carefully noticed, that the heralds of the Gospel chosen by Christ were those who were fit and faithful witnesses of all those things which they were to declare. He also testifies of the feeling of their heart, for he says that he was moved by no other reason to write except to invite those to whom he was writing to the participation of an inestimable good. It hence appears how much care he had for their salvation; which served not a little to induce them to believe; for extremely ungrateful we must be, if we refuse to hear him who wishes to communicate to us a part of that happiness which he has obtained.
He also sets forth the fruit received from the Gospel, even that we are united thereby to God, and to his Son Christ in whom is found the chief good. It was necessary for him to add this second clause, not only that he might represent the doctrine of the Gospel as precious and lovely, but that he might also shew that he wished them to be his associates for no other end but to lead them to God, so that they might be all one in him. For the ungodly have also a mutual union between themselves, but it is without God, nay, in order to alienate themselves more and more from God, which is the extreme of all evils. It is, indeed, as it has been stated, our only true happiness, to be received into God’s favour, so that we may be really united to him in Christ; of which John speaks in the seventeenth chapter of his gospel.
In short, John declares, that as the apostles were adopted by Christ as brethren, that being gathered into one body, they might together be united to God, so he does the same with other colleagues; though many, they are yet made partakers of this holy and blessed union.
 MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 17–19). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Boice, J. M. (2004). The Epistles of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 25–26). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 427–428). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Johnson, T. F. (2011). 1, 2, and 3 John (pp. 26–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, p. 156). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 237–238). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (pp. 161–162). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.