July 07, 2011

Fellowship: Part I

A friend of mine recently asked his facebook community what they thought the difference was between Christian fellowship and Christian Socializing.  There were a variety of answers, but the question was a great one and it got me to thinking and searching, and so a new post series on True Biblical Fellowship!


The crux of the question seems to be, "Is there anything inherently distinguishing about Christian Fellowship that sets it apart from socialization?"  The following several days is a cursory look at Scripture and some systematic thoughts deriving from that study.


First, Chrsitian Fellowship must be Biblical.  This might sound simplistic, but what is meant is that the idea of Christian Fellowship needs to come from the Biblical testimony, not our 20th or 21st century connotations of the term.  There are a lot of ideas regarding what fellowship is and ought to be, but it seems that a gleaning of postmodern believers seemed to have lost the incomparable richness that the Biblical idea of fellowship communicates.  There are several 'essences' to Biblical Christian Fellowship that jump out at me.  As I continue, there might be a few added, but for now, I will deal with each of the following one post at a time: The Generative Essence of Fellowship, The Purpose of Fellowship, and The Display of Fellowship.


Part I:  The Generative Essence of Fellowship


So, the first question is, "Does the Bible talk about a distinctive type of fellowship pertaining only to the life of faith of the redeemed?"  The answer: Yes!


There are two great portions of Scripture almost entirely dedicated to this idea of Fellowship, and with these Scriptures we get a pretty powerful indication of what God's idea of Fellowship is.  The first portion is Ephesians 4:1 -5:21.  


" 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
   “When he ascended on high, 
   he took many captives 
   and gave gifts to his people.”
 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.                                        25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.                   29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.                                                                                                                                                                         Ephesians 5                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.   8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:   “Wake up, sleeper, 
   rise from the dead, 
   and Christ will shine on you.”   15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.       21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
I don't even know how to process all of that into a single post without it becoming overwhelming.  I'll capture a thought from 4:16 though using Pauls own summary from another portion of the same letter, Ephesians 2:20-21:
"21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
The first main point I want to emphasize (at long last) is that Biblical Christian Fellowship is supernatural.  I believe many Christians today live with a faulty notion that suggests any attempt of two Christians to gather together and hang out or simply "do life together" is the Fellowship that God gave us in the Spirit.  
The testimony of Scripture says that God is working to build something in which He indwells (lives) in order to accomplish His purposes.  We' will look at those purposes tomorrow night, but for now, think about how potent this idea of Fellowship becomes when we bring it to the alter of God's glory and remove our very insignificant (in comparison), albeit well-intentioned, agenda of like-minded socialization based on our attempts to hang out with one another.
Fellowship is a God-given, Spirit-driven, Christ-empowered blessing for the redeemed of the Lord to accomplish what could not be accomplished by well-intentioned human beings.  It changes our lives and the lives of those included.  Furthermore, the world witnesses it and God is given glory now, and He will be given glory because of it when He appears on that glorious day.  Because of what - among other things?  FELLOWSHIP!! 

Now look at the second portion of Scripture.
Philippians 2:1-18
 1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
 6 Who, being in very nature God, 
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 
7 rather, he made himself nothing 
   by taking the very nature of a servant, 
   being made in human likeness. 
8 And being found in appearance as a man, 
   he humbled himself 
   by becoming obedient to death— 
      even death on a cross!
 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place 
   and gave him the name that is above every name, 
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
   to the glory of God the Father.
 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me

Notice the end of verse 11.
There are three gifts through which the Spirit drives our Fellowship: 1: The Church (v.1), 2: The Word (v.2a), and 3: The Spirit Himself (v. 2b).  The only way to experience true Biblical Fellowship is to submit to Christ by submitting to one-another in accountability to these graces.  Notice that true Biblical Christian fellowship, by nature as well as name, must resemble the Lord as the obedient humble and holy servant.  This should truly rein in some common ideas of what fellowship is among young believers today.  Maybe among some older ones as well.
Throughout the New Testament, Paul, Peter, John, and James say to "carry one anothers' burdens", "build each other up into all maturity", "put on compassion, humility, patience, etc", and to "do the hard work" of accountability and guarding. Anyone can socialize, but only those indwelt by the Spirit can experience the special provision of fellowship.
Again, notice the end of verse 11.  As with all things in our lives, the object is to bring glory to God.  Fellowship is not a singular entity of our faith reserved to our agenda so that we can have fun.  We are so much more blessed when we live in community the way He desires and our desire for it becomes so much greater day by day.  Truly.
Call your Image Bearing Friends today and plan some Image Bearing Fellowship.  Then surrender your will to God in this area and Ask Him to bless it powerfully the way He promises to in Scripture.  If you need to repent of making it something other than the God-given, Spirit-driven, Christ empowered thing that it is, then do so and expect even greater things to come.  Let's live Image Bearing Fellowship so that others will glorify God, and HE will change our lives.  See you tomorrow for part two!

With you for His glory