MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY MARCH 10, 2002

(20th in a series on Christ’s church)

 

            What does the Bible have to say about how we in Christ’s church should relate to one another?  That question will guide our thinking this morning as we continue to examine the biblical designation for the church, the family of God.  That biblical title for the church most fully captures how we are to relate to one another.  Last week, we saw that the New Testament is saturated with this emphasis of the church as a family.  Further, those biblical texts indicating the church is a family do not use that metaphor in a merely warm, fuzzy sentimental way.  Indeed, we saw from the teaching of Jesus that the church of Christ is actually MORE of a family to believers than our blood or genetic families are.  The spiritual bonds brothers and sisters in Christ share are much stronger than the bond our families of origin share.  If, for the cause of Christ we are severed or separated from our family of origin, Jesus promises he will provide us with an even better spiritual family. We saw that being in a spiritual family means having the same spiritual Father and as believers, our spiritual Father is God.  We were also reminded what a glorious privilege it is to call God, our Father and how virtually unique that understanding of Him is to the New Testament.  In addition to sharing the same spiritual Father, those in Christ also share the same spiritual brother, Jesus.  We spent some time considering what a wondrous thing it is to have Jesus as our older brother who looks out for us. Finally, we saw that those in the family of God do the will of their Father.  The family tie we have in Christ through the Holy Spirit influences us to live in a manner consistent with our spiritual lineage.

            This week, we continue to look at this concept of the family of God in the hope of shedding more light on how we are to relate to one another biblically, focussing on one particularly important element of Christian family life, fellowship.  Fellowship, as we will see is a very strong biblical word that communicates something very deep and precious.  Today, we hear this word “fellowship” used in many ways.  We have a “fellowship hall” downstairs.  We have lunch with a believer or play volleyball with a group of believers and when its over say, “we had fellowship.”  This morning we want to put that word and what it conveys under a microscope and see what biblical fellowship is as part of our family experience in Christ.  To do that, we want to ask two questions about this biblical truth of fellowship.  The first is, “What does fellowship look like in the Bible?”  The Bible gives some powerful examples of fellowship with which we must compare our understanding of fellowship.  The second question is, “What brings about this kind of fellowship among believers?”

            Before we answer those questions, let’s first simply define what fellowship is.  The New Testament word in the original language translated “fellowship” is koinonia.  The word literally means “common,” “mutual” or “shared.”  If two people have koinonia, it means they have something in common; they share something together.  We see this meaning expressed in texts like 2 Corinthians 6:14. Paul says, “Do not be bound [or yoked] together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship [koinonia] has light with darkness?”[NASB] Paul is saying that because there is no commonality, no mutual values shared by the darkness—Satan and his crew, with the light of God--there is no fellowship, no koinonia between those two spiritual realms.  Therefore, there should be no yoking together between believers and unbelievers in formal relationships like marriage and other partnerships.  Like oil and water, there is no fellowship between light and darkness—no sharing, no common ground.  In Philippians 3:10 Paul says of Christ, “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”[NASB]  Paul wants to know Christ and he knew that meant sharing in, having in common the sufferings of Christ—being persecuted for his sake.  He wanted to share Christ’s sufferings—to experience them because he knew that in order to know Christ it is necessary to share in the sufferings of Christ. We see this idea that fellowship or koinonia means to share, to have in common.

            That’s the definition of the word, but “fellowship” like many other biblical truths cannot be adequately understood by simply defining it.  So, let’s first ask the question:  what does fellowship among God’s people look like in the Bible?  There are several examples of fellowship or koinonia we could look at but let’s turn to Acts 2:42 and following.  This text gives us a slice of life within the church after Pentecost.  Speaking of these believers, Luke writes, “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.”[NIV]  That’s snapshot of what early church life was like in Acts and we all can see it’s a far cry from what is experienced in most parts of the church today.

            This concept of fellowship saturates this text.  We see this first in verse 42 where the church “devoted themselves to …the fellowship.”  When someone devotes themselves to something in the way these words in the original convey, it means they do something in a very strong way.  There is tenacity, zeal, an earnest determination.  They put all they’ve got into it.  A more literal translation of this phrase is “they were continually devoting themselves.”  That is, they were always living with this level of energy and intensity toward each other.  As it relates to fellowship, they were continually, with great intentionality and zeal giving themselves to the fellowship.  That is, they were constantly sharing, constantly celebrating their common bond with each other.  We see this sharing throughout this text.    They shared their money.  Verse 44 says, “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”  If someone in the church was in financial trouble, others would sell something they had and give the profits to those in need.  Most of these people didn’t have savings accounts—there was very little liquidity.  The money they had was tied up in their possessions.  So when brother Mordecai down the street needed $50.00 to pay back taxes, you, as his brother, sold a pair of your goats and gave him the cash.  This is a far cry from loaning someone a few bucks until payday when they can pay you back.

            This is a profound level of sharing.  This doesn’t mean the Spirit will always lead believers to do this, but it does indicate an intense level of sharing among the brothers and sisters.  Not only did they share money, they also shared time.  Verse 46 says, “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.”  They would come together for worship every day—not just on Sundays and Wednesdays—every day.  And after they had met as a larger group for worship, they would split up into smaller groups and stay together as they would eat together and worship together in their homes.  They not only shared money and time, they also shared their homes and their food with one another.  This fellowship was not only intense it was comprehensive.  They shared just about everything with one another.

            Now, think about this for a moment.  The church at this time was about 3000 people strong.  These 3000 people were nearly all Jews at this point but there is no reason to assume that these 3000 people had any more in common on a human level than any other group of 3000 Jews in the first century.  These were 3000 people, many of whom were doubtless complete strangers with one another, who came from different socio-economic backgrounds and from various age groups.  Yet, when the Spirit comes on these people they can’t get enough of each other.  They are selling their livestock for each other—they are almost inseparable.  They share—this is fellowship—New Testament style!!  This is what biblical fellowship looks like.  It is an intense and comprehensive sharing with one another of money, time, energy, shelter and food. 

That’s what this snapshot reveals.  This is our model, our example of fellowship.  This feels like a family doesn’t it?  Isn’t this what families do?  They share their money and time and homes and food with one another.  The only difference between families of origin and the family of God is genetic families have generally known each other much longer.  This kind of fellowship seen in Acts 2:42 occurred among many people who had been, before Pentecost, complete strangers. The Spirit comes on these people and BOOM! --instant family.  Do we see how strong, how compelling, how revolutionary this kind of fellowship is?  Do we see how the Holy Spirit has taken this disparate group of people and turned them into an instant and intensely close-knit family? They are “a fellowship” in the full-orbed biblical sense of that word.

            What is it that drew them so powerfully together to the point of sharing their money, their time, their homes and food so comprehensively?  Or, to ask it another way, “What brings about this fellowship among believers?”  The answer is seen in the definition of the word koinonia--“share” or “have in common.”  What brought these disparate people together as an intensely strong fellowship was what they all shared together—what they had in common.  And what they had in common was Jesus Christ and an impassioned love for Him.  We know from our own experience that it’s what people have in common that brings them together.  That biblical principle is something we see all the time in life. 

            In political conventions, you get a bunch of Republicans or Democrats together and the place is filled with people from different socio-economic backgrounds—blue collar/white collar, educated/less educated, rural/urban, black/white/Hispanic.  All these diverse people come together around a shared political ideology or a shared candidate or a shared goal to move the county in the same, shared direction.  These commonly shared values bring people together.  You go to a Twins game and at the “dome” you see Twins fans from practically every walk of life and yet they are all together and in one place and they are brought together by their mutual support of a baseball team.  What we share together brings us together. 

Now let’s move one step forward.  Another related biblical principle seen in our own experience could be stated like this:  the strength of our fellowship with others is determined by the significance of what we share.  That is, the more important the cause or person or event is, the more power it has to bring radically different kinds of people together. For instance, left wing Democrats who are socially liberal, who enthusiastically support entitlement programs and big government and right wing Republicans who are socially conservative and who argue for smaller government have almost nothing in common politically—they are at opposite ends of the political spectrum.  But there are a few events occurring in public life that will bring even those two polar opposite groups together and we’ve seen that lately in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11.  The most liberal member of congress stood shoulder to shoulder with the most conservative member in their support of the war against terrorism.  All the sudden, something far bigger that what had separated them politically brought them together.  Now, that togetherness is starting to fray as the “importance” of 911 begins to fade with the passage of time, but that only proves the point. The strength of our fellowship with others is determined by the significance of what we share and some things are so important that they make strong bonds that will unify even people who have intensely different backgrounds and ideologies.

            We see this in Scripture as well.  In Genesis 11 in the tower of Babel narrative, the story begins with, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech”[NIV].  The whole world’s population had something very powerful in common—one language.  This most basic building block for human relationships was something they all shared.  You know the story, the people assemble together and say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”  They were motivated by perhaps the strongest sinful impulse in us—idolatry and self-worship.  They wanted to make a name for themselves.  That prideful impulse strikes at the very core of the sinful heart of fallen humanity. 

So here, you have this group of people who share these intensely powerful common denominators—language and their mutual, sinful pride.  God looks down at these people who share these incredibly important bonds and makes an utterly breathtaking statement.  If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse the language so they will not understand each other.”[NIV]  What does God do to destroy this evil, idolatrous “fellowship” of people?  He takes away one of the things they share.  He won’t take away their idolatrous hearts, but he takes away their shared language.  As soon as what they shared was removed, the fellowship imploded and they quickly scattered.  The people were able to have a strong and productive fellowship because what they shared, language was very important. 

So why was this fellowship so strong in Acts chapter two that it caused the believers to constantly share their money, their time, their homes, and their food?  Because what they shared was the Lord Jesus Christ and a common, intense love for Him.  The reason their fellowship with each other was so strong was because they all had a shared, common fellowship with God.  We see this idea of believers having fellowship with God in many texts.  In First Corinthians 1:9 Paul writes, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”[NASB]. We have been called to mutual fellowship, to be in community with Jesus.  First John 1:3 says, “…indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”[NASB]  Do you hear that we are bound in fellowship not only with Christ but also with the Father?  Second Corinthians 13:14 brings the third Person of the Trinity into this.  Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”[NASB] 

Those who are in Christ have fellowship with all three members of the Trinity.  We are bound in love to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  And our fellowship with them is what has the largest impact on the strength of our fellowship with one another. We see this truth in spiritual terms in John 1:6-7.  John says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him [Christ] and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”  Do you hear how our fellowship with one another is contingent upon the strength of our fellowship with God?  That’s what John is saying.  The point is:  The strength of our fellowship, our sharing with each other is dependent upon the strength of our fellowship with Christ.  Now that we have that as an understanding, listen to John 13:35 where Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”[NASB]  The reason our love for one another will clue the world into the fact that we belong to Christ as his disciples is because our love for one another is reflective of our love for Christ.  The more we love Jesus, the more we will love one another. The world will know we are His disciples because our common attraction to Him will pull us together in a way only He can do.  Do you hear our fellowship with each other is dependent upon our fellowship with God?  God is what brings us together. 

We are like those tiny iron filings that are pulled so strongly to a magnet.  If there is no magnet around, the iron filings just lie wherever they happen to be—there is no particular attraction to the other iron filings.  But introduce a magnet into the picture and all those iron filings immediately group together in very close proximity to one another because they share the same attraction to the magnet.  It’s the strength of their attraction to the magnet that brings them together.  That is what made these believers spend so much time and energy and money on one another in sacrificial expressions of love.  They loved Jesus immensely and the mutual love and fellowship they had with Christ naturally caused them, like iron filings to a magnet, to be powerfully drawn to each other in fellowship.

If it’s true that the strength of our fellowship is determined by the significance of what we share and what draws believers together is Jesus Christ and their shared love for him, then what does that say about what the strength of our fellowship should be?  It says that the depth of the fellowship we share should be profound, utterly sublime given the significance of Christ and our love for Him.  The apostle John says in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.  Anyone who does not love remains in death.”  John says one way you can tell if you are spiritually alive and not spiritually dead is if you love the brothers (and sisters). This element of our Christian experience is so essential, so foundational—it actually serves to confirm to us the most important eternal truth we can possibly know—whether or not we are saved or lost—whether we have been genuinely converted by the Holy Spirit.  That’s how powerful this love, this fellowship should be—it is a litmus test of whether we will spend eternity in heaven or hell.

The question is, if this family fellowship is so essential and should be so powerful in our experience, why is it you seldom see this full-orbed biblical fellowship today—here and in other places?  There is only one answer from what we’ve seen.  That is, if our love for each other is rooted in our love for God and we don’t love each other very much then….we must not love God all that much either.  First John 4:20-21 says, “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love [agape]God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”  There again is the connection between our vertical love for God and our horizontal love for each other.   If the strength of our fellowship is determined by the significance of what we share and our fellowship with one another is largely superficial, then it follows that we must not believe the Triune God to be all that an important thing to share.  If we find ourselves enjoying our strongest “fellowship” with people with whom we have in common things like, having kids the same age, being in the same profession, having the same favorite sports team, sharing the same past-times—rather than with those people with whom we share a common bond in Christ, what does that say?  What does that say is the most significant thing in our lives? 

When outsiders are in our midst and they are not compelled to say, “Those people must be Christ’s disciples because look how they love one another” what does that say about our love for Christ?  If we, as those tiny iron filings can exist quite comfortably with relationships to each other marked by superficiality, indifference and sometimes outright animosity, then what does that say?  What does that say about how strongly we are drawn to our supernatural magnet, Christ, who is certainly more than strong enough to pull us all together as we are drawn to Him?  We must see that this pale, counterfeit fellowship which we so often have with one another is one of the clearest and most pathetic signs of our lukewarmness.  The superficiality that marks our relationships within the body of Christ when those relationships should burn white hot with holy passion because of Who it is that draws us together is a profound indicator of our sickness.  Its one of the more powerful indicators of our tremendous need for a Holy Spirit wrought revival that will cause us to repent of lovelessness for God and for each other.

If we are in Christ, we are a family and the New Testament both in its teaching and in the book of Acts we repeatedly see this powerful truth.  May God give us the grace to repent of our lovelessness and live in true, biblical Christian fellowship as the family of God.

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