THE CHURCH LIFE
This fellowship is what brings in the proper church life. We do not necessarily have the church life by merely coming together as believers in Jesus. The church life depends on the believers in the Lord Jesus being in the fellowship. It is not simply that the believers love each other. The church life is the flowing of the living Jesus; it is the fellowship revealed to us in 1 John 1. John nowhere in this Epistle uses the term church, but what he writes about is in actuality the church life. Nowadays the term church is commonplace, but its practicality is not much in evidence. What John writes about the fellowship is simply the church life, even though this term is not found here.
We may be in the church, but are we actually in the church life? If we are not in the flowing of the Lord Jesus within us, we are not really in the church life. We are like one of the overhead lights which is not receiving the current of electricity. It is in the building, but it is not receiving the electricity. We may think that as long as we are here, we are in the church life. This is true only positionally; in actuality, we are in the church life only when we are in the flow of the Lord Jesus.
Suppose you sit in the meeting, evaluating what I am saying. You have heard some negative criticism, so you pay close attention to my words, trying to figure out if what I say is heretical. As you sit there on guard, thinking you are protecting the church from heresy, you are like one of the lights with no electricity getting through. Or you may sit in the meeting, sure that you are in the church, but fast asleep! While you are sleeping, you are not receiving the heavenly electricity. Practically, you are out of the church life until you wake up and turn the current back on! Or part of the time you are in the meeting you may be in the practical church life, but after some minutes you may be out of the flow and therefore temporarily out of the church life. Perhaps what I am saying sounds extreme, but I want to point out to you that the church life is living and real.
IN GOD’S PRESENCE OR IN HIS ESSENCE?
When there is this flowing within us, we are brought not only into God’s presence but into His very essence. The term “in” is used over and over in 1 John. We are in God, and He is in us (2:5, 6, 10, 14, 24, 27, 28; 3:6, 24; 4:4, 12, 13, 15, 16; 5:20). We like to say that we are in God’s presence, but the word presence is not found once in 1 John. The fellowship brings us not only to God but into Him as well. Consider how great a difference there is between being in God and being in His presence. As I am speaking before you, I am in your presence. We are face to face. For me to be in you, however, is another matter entirely. I cannot get inside you. For us to be in God, on the other hand, is possible, because God today is the Spirit. He is like the air we breathe. We are in the air and can also have air in us. We are in God and He is in us, not by striving but by letting the Lord Jesus flow and keep flowing within us.
God Himself, as 1 John tells us, is both love (4:8) and light (1:5). When we are brought into Him, we are brought into love and light in their essence. God’s reaching out to us is grace and truth, as the Gospel of John tells us (1:14). Now this fellowship brings us into the source of grace and truth, so that we are no longer just superficially experiencing them. Instead of grace coming to us outwardly, we experience God Himself as love. Rather than objectively knowing some aspects of truth, we experience God as light.
THE SOURCE OF GRACE
Paul also made this distinction between grace and love. In 2 Corinthians 13:14 he wrote of “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (Gk.). These three are linked to show that they are mingled and practical. Second Corinthians is a book on grace. When Paul was suffering, pricked by a thorn in the flesh, he prayed three times that the Lord would remove it. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). From this experience of Paul’s we can see that grace is present with us to do something in our behalf. First Corinthians 15:10 also indicates that grace acts for us. “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
To be in the realm where grace does things for us is to be somewhat superficial. If we are brought into the fellowship, that is, into God, we shall find the source of grace, love, which is far sweeter and more intimate. Even on the human level, we have experienced this distinction. Our family may do something to help us when we are in a low situation. At first we may consider that this is their love for us, but actually their doing is only the expression of their love. If we appreciate only their outward doing, without recognizing the love behind it, we are being too superficial toward them. When we realize the love which motivates their doing, our appreciation will be for themselves alone rather than for their kind deeds. The accompanying sense of sweet intimacy indicates that we are appreciating the source of their gracious doing, which is love.
Many of us acknowledge the Lord’s help in difficult circumstances; His supply of strength in our weakness; His intervening in hard places; and the many other evidences of His care for us. What we are appreciating is merely His grace. If we are brought deeper into the inner circulation of the divine life, this fellowship will bring us into God Himself, who is love. We shall turn from our appreciation of what He has done for us to treasure Him as the source of grace. Eventually we lose our interest in having the Lord do things for us. We care only to remain in this love, whether or not there is any outward expression of it.
Suppose someone, in order to express his affection for me, buys me a Bible. I am pleased to have such a beautiful leather-covered, gilt-edged edition. I admire it and carry it around to show others what a lovely gift I have received without having paid even a penny for it. My thoughts seldom turn toward the giver; I just enjoy his present. Such is our appreciation of grace rather than of the source of grace.
Suppose, for another example, your wife always expects presents from you. You must bring her flowers, buy her a new outfit, and even get her a car for herself. She seems to have little interest in you as a person and no tender feelings of love for you. What kind of wife would that be? How much better it is to have a wife who appreciates you for yourself! Instead of looking for presents, she is content to enjoy your love and satisfied in the assurance that you care for her. You may give her things because you love her, but she does not regard those things as highly as the love which prompted you to buy them.
There are perhaps many of us who appreciate what the Lord has done for us and how much He has given us, yet we lack an appreciation of the source of His grace. This lack results from our not being adequately in the fellowship. Once we are in the fellowship, we are brought right into God Himself. We no longer see much of grace; we see the divine Person as the fountain. We no longer have much interest in whether we have this or that good thing; it is enough to have God Himself as love, the source of grace.
(Seven Mysteries in the First Epistle of John, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)