Real Fellowship

1 John 1:3-7 

Where’s the one place you can completely be yourself – without any masks or pretensions – without worrying what anybody thinks about you?  For most people it isn’t church.  In fact, for most people, the one place they put on their most artificial mask and worry more about what others think is church. 

And with good reason.  I know that many churches are critical and judgmental – they are impersonal and uncaring.  I’ve been to some churches where no one dared admit sin because they would be the topic of discussion at water coolers around town the next week if they did.  So churches don’t always have the best reputation of being a safe, caring, accepting place.  But that’s not the way God intended it.  When God imagined the church – when Jesus established the church – it was a family – a family where you were loved and cared for and accepted for you are.  And if the church isn’t that, it isn’t the church.

Acts 2:42-47  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 4:32-35  All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

“Together…have all things in common.”  That’s family language.  This isn’t an institution with by-laws – this is a family with a heart for each other.  3000 strangers from everywhere in the known world, suddenly thrown together and molded together in one enormous family.  Hard to imagine the logistics of it all – 3000 people – where did they stay, where did they meet, how did they provide food for that many?  But what we do know is that a bond was formed, and an attitude was established that whatever they faced, they faced it together because they were family.

There is a word in those passages that started ringing in my ears, and I realized it was echoing from nearly every other book in the NT.  I started looking around to see if I could find a common thread or a pattern.  It is the word, “together” and I found it connected to nearly everything the church is and does – “together” –come, meet, eat, yoked, joined, built, heirs, members, refreshed, share, held, bound, live, caught up, work, chosen – 45 times the NT writers describe something about how the church functions – it is “together.” 

And the church’s focus? Another common phrase in the NT – “One another” – devoted to, honor, live in harmony with, love, accept, instruct, greet, agree, serve, bear with, forgive, kind and compassionate to, speak to, submit to, admonish, encourage, build up.

But those passages and those ideas are linked together by an even more important word: fellowship.

Fellowship is a word we use pretty loosely.  Potluck dinners after church, social time before services, a church picnic on the lawn.  We equate fellowship with food, fun, conversations and more food.  We’ve trivialized the word.  But fellowship – real fellowship – is the heart of the NT church. 

It’s a familiar Greek word – koinonia – and you will find it 20 times in the New Testament, translated by a variety of English words – fellowship, contribution, participation, sharing, administration, partnership.   And whenever it is used, it is never in a casual sense of eating fried chicken or chatting about a football game.  Koinonia is always a word that indicates a serious, committed relationship exists.  If we have fellowship, it means we’re in this together.  If I am in fellowship with you, it means I’ve opened my home, my heart and my wallet to you.

Fellowship in the NT is so much more than we have practiced or experienced in our life as a church.  It is experiencing life together.  That’s why we talk about the Glenwood church being a place where we can come and grow in God’s family, because fellowship is at the heart of being a family.

I really appreciated Rick Warren’s definition and description of what fellowship is all about in his book The Purpose Driven Life.  In that book he suggests four dimensions of experiencing life together:

Authenticity

In real fellowship people experience authenticity.  Authentic fellowship is not superficial, surface-level chit-chat.  It is genuine, heart-to-heart sharing.  And it only happens when people get honest about who they are and what’s happening in their lives.  I’m not talking about coming forward at the invitation and telling everyone in the church the most intimate details of your problems.  But everyone of us needs a person or a small group of people with whom we can open up and be transparent.  We need a place where we can share our hurts, confess our failures, reveal our fears, and ask for help and prayer. 

Church is often the last place some people would think of doing that.  Instead, we put on our masks and erect walls and put on this air of “I’ve got it all together.” And we shut people out – the very people that God said are our brothers and sisters with whom we should be able to entrust our lives.

John wrote in 1 John 1:3-7, “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. // We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. //  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Hear two things loud and clear in what John writes: 

1)  Real fellowship is only possible when it is in relationship with the Father and the Son.  If you’re looking for intimacy and connectedness anywhere else, you’re only going to find cheap substitutes. 

2)  Real fellowship is only possible in the light.  The world tries to convince us that people only like us when we hide our faults and shortcomings – when we conceal our sin and failures.  But if you want fellowship that really means something, it’s going to be with people who love you even when everything is out in the open, exposed by the light. 

John goes on to say that when we deny our sins we’re only deceiving ourselves.  But when we confess our sins, God faithfully forgives them.  There is a freedom that comes with authenticity – not worrying about hiding your faults, not putting on a façade to keep people from seeing who you really are – and knowing that you are loved and valued just the way you are.

When we are in the family, we can be ourselves with each other.

Mutuality

In real fellowship people experience mutuality.  Mutuality is simply the art of giving and receiving.  We depend on each other.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:25, “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a  church:  every part dependent on every other part.”  As a whole we’re a pretty self-sufficient lot.  Most of us think we can handle our problems without help from anybody else.  We think asking for help is a sign of weakness.  But that’s the way God designed the church.  We are designed to need each other, to depend on each other – when I am weak, I call on you – when you are weak, you call on me.  There is the give and take that goes with being a family, of having brothers and sisters you can call on.  Do you have someone in your life that if you needed them at 3 a.m. you could call them and know they were glad you called?  And is there someone who knows they can call you at 3 a.m. and you will be glad they called on you? 

In the NT, the word koinonia frequently is used to describe Christians sharing their material possessions.  In 2 Cor. 8, when Paul writes about the Macedonian Christians begging him “for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”  There’s our word koinonia“sharing.”  And when Luke writes in the book of Acts about the Christians “having everything in common,” he’s using that same root word koinonia.  A very tangible part of having fellowship with each other is that mutual dependence upon each other.  That when needs arise, we know that we have family who will take care of those needs.

The Bible calls us to mutual accountability, mutual encouragement, mutual serving, and mutual honoring.  When we are a part of the family, we are in this together.

Sympathy

In real fellowship people experience sympathy.  And if you’re thinking, we’ll all get together and cry on each other’s shoulders, you don’t understand sympathy.  Sympathy is not feeling sorry for one another, it’s feeling with one another.

Warren used the word sympathy, but perhaps an even better word might be the identical synonym, compassion.  (Sympathy – Greek roots; Compassion – Latin roots).  Compassion isn’t feeling pity, sympathy isn’t offering advice, but both involve entering into a struggle together. It doesn’t create a superior/inferior attitude of “I’ve got it together and I will lower myself to your level,” but of walking alongside each other and facing struggles together.

You know Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 12:26, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  There is nothing like feeling that there is somebody who is there for you and who understands what you are going through.

And it’s not simply a matter of having someone jump in and fix your problems – some problems don’t have an easy solution – compassion is the experience of sharing the weight of the problem together.  It’s what Paul was describing in 2 Cor. 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, // so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

Or in Galatians 6:1-2, “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

When we are a part of the family, we never have to go through the storm alone.

Mercy

The family is a place of grace, where mistakes aren’t rubbed in, but rubbed out.  We all need mercy.  You can’t have fellowship without forgiveness.  One of the very first things I begin pre-marriage counseling with is the importance of forgiveness – the person you are marrying is a sinner and will need to be forgiven, frequently – which is a good thing since they are also marrying a sinner who will need to be forgiven, frequently.  And in marriage, if you aren’t willing to extend mercy and forgiveness freely and frequently, you won’t have much of a chance of survival. 

The same is true in the church.  The only kind of people we let into this church are sinners – and there are going to be times we say the wrong things, do the wrong things. Unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) sin against God and against each other – and we will need to be forgiven.  And if you and I can’t extend mercy and forgiveness to each other, freely and frequently – this church won’t stand much of a chance of survival.  And the reason we can do that is that we have a model – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

That’s what makes us a family – not just that we are quick to overlook each other’s faults – but that knowing full well what those faults are, we choose to forgive and love each other in spite of them.

What I’ve said this morning applies to the church as a whole, but I have seen it experienced best in our Life Groups. Life Groups are where we meet in small groups in each other’s homes and share our lives. We eat together and build relationships, we study together and grow in the Lord, we pray together and support each other. It is where we have the opportunity to do all these things with people who know us best – warts and all – and love us anyway.

People who have nothing in common having everything in common.  Caring for each other as if our lives depended on it – and you know – they do.

No comments (Add your own)

Add a New Comment


code
 

Comment Guidelines: No HTML is allowed. Off-topic or inappropriate comments will be edited or deleted. Thanks.