As a pastor, I often wonder whether my sermons make a difference in anyone’s life. Do hours of preparation and thirty minutes of delivery change anyone’s mind, feelings, words, or actions? Even more importantly, are those changes made in the right direction?
First John 1:3 offers a simple test for effective Christian preaching. “We proclaim to you,” John writes, “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.” According to this verse, the test of effective preaching is fellowship.
But what precisely is fellowship? In his commentary on the three letters of John, I. Howard Marshall writes, “‘Fellowship’ renders a Greek word which literally means ‘having in common.’ Two or more persons can be said to have fellowship with one another when they have something in common.” In the New Testament, Marshall continues, “fellowship has two aspects. There is the element of participation in some spiritual gift or in Christian service, and there is the element of union with other believers as a result of common enjoyment of some spiritual privilege or common sharing in some Christian activity.” In other words, fellowship refers to a shared purpose or a healthy relationship.
In 1 John 1:3, fellowship clearly refers to relationships, both human and divine. John speaks of fellowship “with us” as well as “with the Father and with his Son.” Notice the order of these relationships. John lists human fellowship before divine fellowship. Why?
First, in the church to which John is writing, schism is a pressing issue. According to 1 John 2:18-19, several church members had seceded from the church and were teaching false doctrine. As if this was not enough, they evidently were attempting to lure other members away from the church too. Staying in the church—remaining in relationship to other believers—was thus a mark of orthodoxy or “right belief.”
Second, by listing human fellowship before divine fellowship, John reinforces an important truth about the sociology of evangelism. We come to faith through the actions of others. And to a large degree, we grow in faith because of the actions of others. God is the ultimate Evangelist and Discipler of believers, but he uses the efforts of ordinary Christians such as you and me to accomplish these important purposes.
And third, John teaches us that Christ and his church are ultimately inseparable. In modern America, many people love Christ and hate the church. They are spiritual, but not religious. But in Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” If you love Christ, you must love the church, which Christ loves and died to save.
The test of effective preaching, then—or any form of Christian communication for that matter—is relational. When you and I speak to others, do we draw them closer to one another and to God, or do we push them farther away?
 I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 104.