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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 24, 2015
Fellowship: Life Within the Church
Change is a normal part of life. Some changes are good, some are bad, and some are neutral, but all of them can add stress to life. We are glad to see our children getting taller and stronger, though it does mean buying them more clothes. Some of us are noticing more character wrinkles etched into our faces and our hair is changing color – for some of us, that color is gray. As you get older your perspective changes and instead of counting the years from birth, you start thinking more of how many years you may have until death. Some have had the joy of adding members to your family this past year. Others have had the sorrows of family members passing away. There is constant change throughout life. Some we like. Some we do not, but all change can add stress to life.
There is also constant change in our church family. We have seen some new people come, and we have seen some old friends move away. I lost count a long, long time ago of the number of people that have been added to our church family and how many have moved away. I do know that the numbers would be many hundreds if not thousands over the last 25 years. I also know that there are only 7 people left that were here when I first came. The informal survey we did a month or so ago showed at least 1/4 of the people attending have been here two years or less. I am sure that in the coming years we will continue to see some families moving away while new families become part of our congregation.
These changes in the our church family put a strain on a very fundamental aspect of the ministry of the church – Fellowship. This morning I want to explain to you the nature of true Christian fellowship as well as talk about its importance and how we can carry out this fundamental purpose of the Church. We are currently in the midst of a sermon series on the purpose of the church which we have summarized at Grace Bible Church as Glorifying God by Making Disciples of Jesus Christ. We carry out the task of making disciples by Communicating New Life in Christ (evangelism); Caring for New Life in Christ (fellowship); Cultivating New Life in Christ (edification) and Celebrating New Life in Christ (worship).
Fellowship is how we care for one another in Christ. It is basic to the Christian life. Fellowship is what provides a sense of stability, a sense of belonging, of being needed and of being loved. Fellowship is basic, and yet it is often (if not usually) misunderstood. That may surprise you since we so often are involved in things that we say are fellowship. We have “fellowship” with each other before and after the worship services. We have special “Fellowship Sundays.” We have women’s “fellowship” and a monthly men’s breakfast for fellowship. We have other special “fellowships” throughout the year. So what is so hard to understand about fellowship?
The problem is that there are so many things that substitute for true Christian Fellowship. Many of these things are fine and nice things to do, but they do not necessarily accomplish the purposes of true Christian fellowship.
True Christian fellowship is used by God to help us change into what He wants us to be. The so called “fellowship” that exists in most churches, including this one to some degree, not only does not move people to greater Christ-likeness, but sometime even hinders that needed change.
True Christian fellowship is based in a personal relationship with God that then extends to other people. The result is personal interaction that God uses to change lives. False fellowship is based in trying to maintain relationships with others. The result is superficial interaction with others and a lack of conformity to Scriptural principles.
In order to understand true Christian fellowship, it will be helpful to first see what often passes for “fellowship” but which in fact is not true Christian fellowship.
Gastronomical: There are many that think that Christian fellowship revolves around food. They take note that the early church went from house to house breaking bread, so they think “alright – food!” Now sharing in a meal with other Christians may be a great environment for true Christian fellowship, but food is not essential. True fellowship is certainly a lot more than cookies and church punch or a church supper. We laugh about it, but many churches get a better turn out at a church potluck than a church annual meeting. Even worse are the cases where more people show up to the church B-B-Q or Sunday School Picnic than morning worship service. True Christian fellowship can include food, but it is not gastronomical.
Opinionated: There are others that think Christian fellowship is a setting for them to share all of their opinions with others. True fellowship often does include the exchange of opinions and ideas, but that exchange will be done with godly attitudes in an orderly manner for the purpose of promoting righteousness. Too often the exchange of opinions in what is said to be “fellowship” is more like a forum for people to simply say what is on their minds. Proverbs 18:2 tells that A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” Opinions are shared in true Christian fellowship, but it is not opinionated.
Sports Minded: Then there are other people that view fellowship either in terms of what sport they are currently personally active in, or in how well their favorite professional or college team is doing. Now again, I am not saying that true Christian fellowship could not occur in the context of a sports team, but in my observations, this has been rare. When Scripture says that you are to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men,” it is not referring to benching the guy who is not paying attention to the coach, or saying “good swing” to the guy who is trying but striking out, or sending in the pinch runner for the guy who sprained his ankle. All those things may be good and appropriate to do, but they do not qualify as true Christian fellowship. True Christian fellowship is not about discussing the Mets, Yankees, Nicks, Giants, Jets, Rangers, Islanders, Syracuse or any other sports team. Christians can enjoy sports, but true Christian fellowship is not sports minded.
Social: Others think that “fellowship” has to do with being social with other people and in specific with other Christians. Webster tells us that being social means to have “pleasant companionship with one’s friends.” Yes, true Christian fellowship requires being involved with other Christians and hopefully that will usually be a pleasant time. It is wonderful to laugh and enjoy one anothers’ company, yet true Christian fellowship may be at its best when things may not be pleasant. Too often when we get together with our friends our talk centers around peripheral issues. We are more comfortable with subjects that do not require us to expose much about ourselves or speak of who we really are. We prefer that people do not know the things we struggle with or fear. Even in our prayer requests we see this. It is easy to ask for prayer for some physical ailment, but how many would ask for prayer because they are struggling with God. We all want people to think we are like the Apostle Paul at the end of his life – “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith,” and not like the father of the demoniac who cried out to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Christians should have “pleasant companionship” with one another, but true Christian fellowship is much deeper than just being social.
Intellectual: There are some people who take note that the early church met together from house to house to concern themselves with the Apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42). They strive to be like the Bereans who proved to be more noble than other groups because they were diligent in searching the Scriptures. Certainly Christians are to heed doctrine and be good students of the Word, but if in our diligence in doing that we get the idea that Christian fellowship is the intellectual exercise of our Bible knowledge, then we miss a large part of what true Christian fellowship is all about.
I remember a time when I was a very young boy that our church had an event that included long tables filled with food and all sorts of games and contests that afternoon. We were having a great time, and then we all had to go into the church building to listen to the preacher give a sermon. I recall that I was not too happy about having to go inside. Now I am certainly not against preaching nor am I against having fellowship events that include a sermon or Bible lesson such as our Annual Thanksgiving Fellowship and even our Men’s Breakfasts. However, I strive to be very careful that the teaching at such a fellowship event is done to enhance the fellowship instead of take away from it. True Christian fellowship does involve doctrine and the sharing of Biblical knowledge, but it is much more than being intellectual.
Partisan: Finally, there are those that think of fellowship as the chance to get together with other people of like mind to discuss how right their position is and how incorrect any other position would be. This could be good if they were talking about the fundamental doctrines of the Faith such as the Nature of God; the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, the Nature of Salvation, etc. However, more often than not, the issues are not even related to the Scriptures, and if they are, they tend to be side issues, or issues that are unclear, or issues that really center on personal taste.
This “P” stands for partisan, and it is the final letter in the acronym, GOSSIP.
Gossip breeds and grows in improper fellowship. At best, these substitutes for true Christian fellowship suck the strength out of the church. They leave the church lacking in unity and failing to be effective in the tasks God has given her. At its worst, this improper fellowship and the gossip that it breeds leads to factions and divisions. An obscure or personal issue can then become the cause of a church split. During the years I was growing up I saw churches faction & split over all sorts of things. Some were power struggles by individuals who wanted to control what went on in the church. Some times it was by people whose basic attitude was that of a spoiled child – “if you don’t play it my way, I will take my toys and go home.” Churches have even split over silly things such as the color of the carpet and draperies. One pastor told me how he had a split at the church he was pastoring over the donation of a chandelier.
I hate to say this and I wish it were not true, but I have yet to know of a church where gossip was not a problem to some extent. I know this church has had problems with it in the past. When Christian’s turn against each other over matters that are of no eternal consequence and over issues revolving around someone’s hurt feelings, then there is improper fellowship taking place. And when the church starts dividing over those issues, then gossip is taking place.
Gossip is idle talk and spreading of rumor about the private matters of others behind their backs. As a general rule, if you would not say it to the person, you should not say it when they are not there. That does not mean you cannot get advice about how to deal with a problem your having with someone, but if you are not part of the solution, then you become part of the problem. All of us are pre-disposed to gossip, yet it can be dealt with fairly easily if there is true Christian fellowship. False fellowship breeds gossip. True Christian fellowship suppresses it. True Christian fellowship is also a foundation we must have if we are to reach our community for Christ.
So far all I have told you about are things that substitute for true fellowship. Fellowship that is Gastronomical, Opinionated, Sports Centered, Social/shallow, Information based or Partisan.
If these things are substitutes, what then is the real fellowship?
The Common: koinovV / koinos
Fellowship comes from the Greek word koinwniva / koinonia Perhaps you have heard the word before. The root of that word is koinovV / koinos which means “common,” and koinovV / koinos was at the heart of Greek society. The Greeks were in contrast to oriental thought. They put an emphasis on the individual with personal life and rights, yet the individual lived by and for society. The Greeks said, “If the individual is not to perish, he must be firmly bound to the koinovn / koinon ” – the common property of all. We express this idea when we say that “no man is an island unto himself.” Koinovn / koinon, the common, was the root idea of what held Greek society together. It included common or public property, governmental functions, and shared goals of the community.
This idea of having things in common is also true within the Christian community because we share things in common with each other. We have:
*Same God: Ephesians 4:6
*Common Salvation: Jude 3
*Common faith: Titus 1:4
* and in Acts – all things in common (Acts 2:44; 4:32)
All things were held in common because, as one writer put it, “The egotistical striving is submerged by readiness to renounce earthly goods in obedience to Jesus’ commands (Luke 12:33; 14:33; Matthew 6:19ff) for the sake of helping Christian brothers in need” (Acts 2:45,) 4:35).
Fellowship: Koinwniva / koin nia
The word koinwniva / koinonia specifically refers to this common sharing. Remember that this word is the Greek word we translate into English as “fellowship” or “communion.” It means “to share with someone in something.” Christians do share in common with one another in many things.
*Fellowship with God (1 John 1:3,6)
*Fellowship with the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9)
*Fellowship with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14 & Phil 2:1)
*Fellowship in the Gospel (Philippians 1:5)
*Communion / Fellowship of the blood of Christ (1Cor 1:16)
*Communion / Fellowship of the crucified Christ (Gal 2:20)
*Fellowship with other believers (1 John 1:3,7)
But what does it mean in practical terms to have fellowship with other believers? What is it based on? How can you know if it is true Christian fellowship or something else?
Fellowship in 1 John 1:1-7
John begins, 1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life — 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
John was an eye witness to Jesus Christ. He saw, heard, and physically touched Jesus. John then continues, 3 “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us. . .” John is telling us what he had seen and heard so that we could have fellowship (Koinwniva / koin nia) with him and the others that were first hand witnesses to the life and work of Jesus Christ. I hope you catch the idea of sharing in common here. John has knowledge of Jesus Christ, and he is telling us about Jesus so that we can share with him in what he knows of Jesus.
John goes beyond just sharing information about Jesus and brings the foundation of True Christian fellowship into center focus for he continues in verse 3, “and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” True Christian fellowship must begin with a foundation of a common relationship with God the Father and God the Son. If we do not share the same faith and trust in God, then there is absolutely no basis for true fellowship with each other.
John was also dealing with enemies of the Gospel that made false claims of having fellowship with God and therefore with Christians. There are similar enemies still around. John combats this claim in verses 5 & 6, 5“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;” In other words, just because you say you have fellowship with God does not mean that you do. The proof will be in your life. If you are walking in the darkness, that is, living in a manner opposite of God’s commands, then you do not have fellowship with God. And if there is no fellowship with God, then there cannot be real fellowship with Christians.
John states in verse 7, “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.” It is those that walk in the light, that is, they are being obedient to doing what God wants them to do, that have fellowship with each other. True Christian fellowship is based in fellowship with God, and fellowship with God will result in a manner of life that is obedient to God. It is then and only then that there can have true Christian fellowship. This is the fellowship that brings about the things I mentioned earlier that Christians share in common such as a relationship with the triune God and one another because of our salvation is by faith in the atonement of Christ. There is even a partnership that exists in sending missionaries out to serve the Lord. In Galatians 2:9 Paul talks about the “right hand of fellowship” that he and Barnabas received when they were sent out to be missionaries to the Gentiles.
True Christian fellowship is definitely something that exists on a spiritual level – not gastronomical!
To simplify 1 John: If I have fellowship with God, then I share in a relationship with Him. He is my heavenly Father, and I am His child. I walk with Him.
If I have fellowship with Jesus Christ, then I partake / share in His crucifixion (Romans 6) and His Resurrection (Romans 6 & 1 Cor 15). I am in relationship with Jesus. He is my Lord and Savior who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). I am submissive to His will.
If I have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, I share in a relationship with Him. He lives inside me to convict, teach, guide, and empower me, so I yield myself to Him.
If my fellowship with God is correct & true, then I will be obedient to Him and do the things He says, for that is walking in the light. I will no longer allow myself to be controlled by my thoughts & feelings but by the Holy Spirit. I share in common with God the correct order of the universe. He leads and I follow. Those people who walk in the light share in common this same relationship with God and that is the basis of true Christian fellowship.
Fellowship expands as you walk in the light, that is, as you do what God says, for you will then put into practice all the practical aspects of being in relationship with other believers. You will put into practice all the one-another verses. Here are some of them.
In honor preferring one another (Romans 12:10; Phil 2:3)
Like minded with one another (Romans 12:16; 15:5)
Not judgmental of one another (Romans 14:12)
Edify one another (Romans 14:13)
Admonish one another (Romans 15:14)
Care for one another (1 Corinthians 12: 25)
Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1)
Kind to one another, tenderhearted (Ephesians 4:32)
Submissive to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
Subject to one another (1 Peter 5:5)
Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
Confessing sins to one another (James 5:16)
Praying for one another (James 5:16)
In Summary “BE INVOLVED WITH ONE ANOTHER”
With this in mind, we can easily see how it fits with edification and encouragement that I talked about last week. I want to build up my brother and sister in Christ. I want to encourage them to keep the goal of the high calling of God in view. I want to inspire them to living in a godly manner. I want to comfort them with the hope we have in Jesus.
Earlier I mentioned several things that were not true fellowship, yet those same things can be part of true Christian fellowship if the one another verses are being practiced.
Partisan: If it is dealing with the fundamentals of the faith. The basic doctrines of Christianity.
Recreational: Sports are great for fellowship, if the “one another” verses are being practiced with a spiritual emphasis. Go out with the people after the game and talk deeply with them. Use sports as a spring board into true Christian fellowship and not a substitute for it.
Appraisal / opinionated: Sharing your opinions can be part of fellowship as long as it is in the context of the “one another” verses. I am not there just to give my opinion, but to appraise what is being talked about and shine the light of the Word of God on the subject. We seek to speak the truth of God in love. Lets face it, the only opinion that really counts is His!
Intellectual: Part of fellowship is using our minds, but again it is in light of the “one another” verses. It is not just an exchange of head knowledge. Knowledge must be applied with Godly wisdom to the life of the individual so that he or she is changed and becomes more like Christ.
Social: Part of fellowship is social, but it is not shallow social gatherings. It is more than “pleasant companionship with one’s friends.” There is a spiritual overtone as the one another verses are put into practice. The fainthearted are encouraged, the weak are helped, the unruly are admonished, and all of this is done with patient love to move people into greater Christ-likeness.
Eating: Food is not at the center of fellowship, but it can provide a good context for fellowship. Inviting someone to your home for a meal can be a demonstration of loving Christian service, as long as we make sure that we are doing it with the Lord in mind. Then direct the conversation around the table to the things of God and how each person is doing in living their lives to the glory of Christ.
These different things done properly by putting into practice the one another verses will result in true Christian fellowship which is a PRAISE to God. If done without the practice of the one another verses, the result will be improper fellowship which leads to GOSSIP.
True Christian fellowship is based in a relationship with God that extends to other people. It is prompted by the Holy Spirit and results in personal interaction that God uses to change lives into the image of His Son. If you put these “one another” verses into practice, I guarantee that both your life and those you interact with will change and become more Christ-like. It is becoming more like Jesus Christ that keeps a church alive, keeps it moving forward, and attracts others.
False fellowship is based in trying to maintain pleasant relationships with others. The result is superficial interaction with others and a lack of conformity to Scriptural principles. This will stagnate any church, and if continued, it can kill it.
Do you have true Christian fellowship or the shallowness of some substitute? Is your “fellowship” PRAISE or GOSSIP? Plan to get together with some other Christians this week or even today and talk about more than the news, weather and sports. Get deep with one another and do what the early church did in Acts 2:42. They not only devoted themselves to the Apostle’s doctrine, breaking of bread and prayer, but they had fellowship too. They were busy helping each other become more like Christ. Don’t “do lunch” – instead, have lunch and “do the one anothers.”
Sermon Notes: Fellowship: Life in the Church
Care for New Life in Christ
Fellowship is basic, and yet it is often (if not usually) _________________
Too many things are ______________ for true Christian fellowship
True Christian fellowship is used by God to help us ____________into what He wants us to be.
Sports Minded __________________________________________________________________________
The Common – koinovV / koinos = Common
Christians have in common:
Common ____________: Titus 1:4
Early Christians held all things in common (Acts 2:44; 4:32)
koinwniva / ___________= Translated as fellowship or communion – “to share with someone in something”
Fellowship in 1 John 1:1-7
The foundation of our fellowship is a common _________________with God the Father and God the Son
A claim to fellowship could be ______________
Walking in the light is the _____________of true fellowship with God & other Christians
One Another Verses:
_________for one another (James 5:16) Summary “BE INVOLVED WITH ONE ANOTHER”
True Christian Fellowship
Appraisal / opinionated ___________________________________________________________________
Caring for New Life in Christ
True Christian fellowship is based in a relationship with God that extends to others in promoting _________
False fellowship is based in trying to maintain _______________relationships with others
Don’t “do lunch” – instead, have lunch and do the _______________
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “fellowship” is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about the “fellowship” in your family and with your friends.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What changes have you experienced in the last year? How have you dealt with the stress of those changes? How does the continual change in the congregation affect you? Have you fallen into the trap of false ideas of fellowship? Gastronomical? Opinionated? Sports Minded? Social? Intellectual? Partisan? What is gossip? Have you gossiped about others? What damage / hurt has that caused? Have you corrected it yet? Define true fellowship? What is true fellowship based on? What is the goal of true fellowship? Do you have relationships in the church in which true fellowship occurs? How will true fellowship help combat gossip? Do you practice the “one anothers” with the people at church? Make a list of the “one another” verses. Which of these do you do well? Which of these do you have a hard time doing? Which of these do you resist having people do to you? Select those that are most difficult for you and develop a plan to put them into practice. Tell someone else about your plan and have them hold you accountable for it.
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