“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”Acts 2:42
Fellowship (Koinonia) was a distinctive characteristic of the early Christian church.Not only was it routinely practiced, they were devoted to it; they made fellowship a priority.Even though the Christian life should not be lived in isolation, the dilemma of many new converts is that finding a comfortable place of worship, a place to fit in, is clumsy and embarrassing.Pastors of our local Christian congregations would find this issue less difficult to overcome if they would practice it among themselves by meeting regularly for fellowship and prayer to celebrate their common beliefs.
As a new convert, C.S. Lewis experienced this feeling of awkwardness:he wrote that the idea of being a church member was “wholly unattractive.”He continued:“Though I liked clergymen as I liked bears, I had as little wish to be in the church as in the zoo.It was, to begin with, a kind of collective; a wearisome ‘get-together’ affair…”
To resolve the awkward experiences of new converts AND improve the “get-together affair” of current members, we must have a grasp of the meaning of the doctrine of fellowship and its implications and demands on our lives.
Fellowship is first of all, a “relationship,” not an activity.Any activity which occurs in a Christian community is born from a common relationship which we share with each other in Jesus Christ.True fellowship can never be experienced in the secular society with non Christians.That idea was foreign to the apostles in the New Testament.
Fellowship does not happen because we work for the same company, live in the same neighborhood, our kids attend the same school, or our skin is the same color.While these kinds of things may be reason for friendships in a secular society, they are divisive in the Community of believers when they become a prerequisite to inclusiveness.Fellowship is the outcome of our relationship with Jesus.“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.”I John 1:3
Therefore, Beloved, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” I John 1:7
GospeLines Prayer:Father, continue to impress upon my heart the difference between friendship and fellowship; remind me that fellowship is eternal, and friendship, while gratifying, will leave me hungering and thirsting for more.Thank you for showing me in your Word that You are the root of real relationships.
Imagine someone saying to you, “I raised you to be an extraordinary person. Anyone can fall in love, but it takes something special to use a scalpel to save someone’s life. Imagine my disappointment to find out you’re just ordinary.”
Have you experienced the sting of similar words? The quote above was dialog from Grey’s Anatomy, a popular TV show.
As human beings we are all capable of saying and doing things that are hurtful. And while we say “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” that’s an untruth! The pain of those words lingers for a very long time.
But mercy, mercy me, things ain’t what they used to be when mercy triumphs over judgment. The character on the show is quite judgmental, and yet she is not perfect, not without sin.
No matter how difficult it is, we need to give mercy away.James 2:13 (Amplified Bible) says it best:
"For to him who has shown no mercy the judgment [will be] merciless, but mercy [full of glad confidence] exults victoriously over judgment."
GospeLines Prayer: Father, many of us are too quick to judge. We see things through a narrow prism and don’t see the big picture the way You do.
Our words and behavior significantly impact those we “say” we love. How many examples have You shown of us mistreating one another or our pets, yet they somehow still love us despite ourselves.
It is by Your grace and mercy that we do find comfort and the victory. When our spirits are broken and our world shattered, we find strength in You.
Ah, mercy, mercy me, things ain’t what they used to be. Your love covers a multitude of our sins.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”Acts 2:42
In the previous study we saw that the word relationship describes believers in fellowship or community:Any activity which occurs in a Christian community is born from a common relationship which we share with each other in Jesus Christ.The idea that fellowship can be experienced in the secular society with non Christians was foreign to the apostles in the New Testament.
The second distinctive of biblical fellowship which defines the Christian community is the concept of partnership:this is a critical component to the promotion of the gospel and the building up of the saints!Let me show you why.
1.“If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”I John 1:5
The root of our partnership with each other begins and ends with our partnership with Jesus.Many will say, “I am a Christian,” but their reluctance to partner with others could be evidence of a secret void in their partnership with God.
2.As partners in the fellowship/community of Christ, we share in an enterprise and calling in which we are to work together to obtain a common goal for the glory of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.Paul said to the Philippians, “I will know that you stand firm in ONE spirit, contending as ONE man for the faith of the gospel…”(Phil. 1:27)
3.Moreover, as partners we do not compete against each other, brother against brother, pastor against pastor, church against church.Paul reminded the Galatians that everyone has their own specific calling, Paul preached to the Gentiles, Peter ministered to the Jews.“For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter…to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry…to the Gentiles…and they gave me the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.”Galatians 2:7-9
4.Finally, partners are dependable and trustworthy.As Paul wrote to Philemon, he spoke of his deep love for Onesimus, once a runaway slave, but now better than a slave:“So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”Philemon 17.We are all partners involved in the same godly enterprise!Let us treat each other as trustworthy, and never give reason for our own testimony to be doubted through some misrepresentation or gossip toward one of our partners in Christ.
Two distinctive characteristics of biblical fellowship:Relationship, which we wrote about previously, and Partnership which is addressed in this article.No one ever said fellowship was easy, because the body of Christ cannot experience fellowship without BOTH relationship and partnership.We would love to separate the two because relationship seems like the easier of the two.If partnership sounds like work, that’s because it IS.But without it, we will never know the power of true biblical fellowship in Christ.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, when will I learn that the easy path is not always the safest, and the difficult way is seldom without huge rewards?Please give me such a hunger for fellowship that I will take the risk of becoming a true partner with ALL my brothers and sisters in Christ, not just the ones who are easy to know.Amen and amen.
Have you ever thought about the people who will stand before the throne of God at Judgment?Scripture tells us that there will be "sheep and goats" (Matt 25:31-34, 41, 46).
But, among the "goats," who will be there?I can think of 5 varieties of "goats."
The "There is no God" goat.This one's pretty simple: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16).If that's not clear enough, 2nd Thessalonians 2:11 should add a little clarity: "...all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness."
2.The "I'm a good person" goat.This one's a little tougher. Consider the young man who came to Jesus in Mathew 19:16-30.He asked, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"
Jesus answered, "...keep the commandments" (There are 613 in the Old Law).If you want to gain eternal life through your good works, you must keep all the commandments from birth until death.Only one man has ever done that - Jesus.
Jesus will say to many who did great works (but did not accept Him as Lord and Savior): "I never knew you... Away from me." (Matthew 7:22-24)
Like Israel, who pursued righteousness but did not attain it.Why not?Because they pursued it by works instead of by faith.They stumbled over the "stumbling stone" - Jesus. (Romans 9:31-33)
3.The "I know about Him but I don't accept Him" goat.They were told but didn't listen.It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for anyone who hears but does not listen (Matthew 10:14-16).These goats have seen the miracles; but, because they still refuse, their fate is sealed (Matthew 11:21-25).It would have been better if they had not heard (2nd Peter 2:21)
The "He's not the only way" goat.Jesus was very clear when He said, "No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)Either we believe that the bible is the Word of God or not.If it is, Jesus is the only way.
5.Finally, the "I know Him... I'm just not ready" goat.This is the saddest of all the goats.They know Him for Who He is... They believe he is the Living Son of God.They know he is the only way to salvation and eternal life; but, they're just not ready to ask Him into their hearts as their Lord and Savior.They're not yet ready to live their life for Him.Philip P. Bliss said it in song in 1871 and it’s still true today...
“Almost persuaded” now to believe; “Almost persuaded” Christ to receive; Seems now some soul to say, “Go, Spirit, go Thy way, Some more convenient day On Thee I’ll call.”
“Almost persuaded,” come, come today; “Almost persuaded,” turn not away; Jesus invites you here, Angels are ling’ring near, Prayers rise from hearts so dear; O wand’rer, come!
“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past! “Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last! “Almost” cannot avail; “Almost” is but to fail! Sad, sad, that bitter wail… “Almost,” but lost!
Brothers and sisters, time is short.Don't be a goat.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
The New Testament Church didn’t just have fellowship, they made it a priority.They devoted themselves to it.Our modern ideas of fellowship are so watered-down that we have forgotten the importance of it.
We have previously noted two distinctive characteristics of biblical fellowship in this column: relationship and partnership.(If you have missed these first two articles, please write to email@example.com).
Another distinctive quality of fellowship is companionship which is first VERTICAL (toward God), and second HORIZONTAL (toward others).We can appear to be experiencing fellowship by our activity and presence in the worship service; we may appear to be in fellowship by seeking out and befriending other Christians who think like us and share our viewpoint on most matters.But if we are not in obedience to God, if we are not walking in the light, if we are not being fed by the Holy Spirit, there is no fellowship!That’s why there are so many divisions among carnal Christians, whether inside or outside the church; where there is no true companionship there is strife in the body of Christ.
THE VERTICAL DIMENSION OF COMPANIONSHIP:
1.Listen to and obey the voice of God.“O my people, hear my teaching…”Psalm 78:1
2.Accept the admonition of the Lord.“Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you; O Israel if you would listen to me…”Psalm 81:8
3.Anticipate the reward or consequences of your actions.“Blessed is the man who listens to me… whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord.But whoever fails to find me harms himself…“ Proverbs 8:34-36
THE HORIZONTAL DIMENSION OF COMPANIONSHIP:
1.We need the help of others.“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:If one falls down, his friend can help him up.But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”Proverbs 27:17
2.We are all members of the same body.I Cor. 12:12-18
3.Our varied gifts require everyone’s participation in the mission of Christ to be effective.Eph. 4:11-16
4.Sin and deceit in the world necessitates our companionship in places other than just worship services.“Encourage one another and build up each other.”I Thess. 5:11-12.
One of Satan’s most effective strategies in our world today is the dark lie of relativism: “There are no absolutes of truth, of good and evil, right or wrong.”Close companionship in the body of Christ, constant encouragement to each other will make us more courageous, more effective in fighting against Satan.On a bad day I, too, need a reminder that the Bible is our anchor for truth:
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”Isaiah 5:20
GospeLines Prayer:God give me companions who I see more than once per week, to keep me strong with scripture, to encourage me to walk in the light, to remind me that I am not alone in the battle against good and evil.Together, let us experience fellowship that will arm us to stand strong against Satan’s attack, whether subtle or blatant, whether it comes from the left or the right, from the court house or the church house, the workplace or the streets.Let us be ready!Amen and amen.