The Privilege of Fellowship
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” ~ Philippians 2:1-4
I’ve been going to church since I was born and yet, it took years of walking within my own struggling church as an adult, to realize the preciousness of fellowship. Stumbling with Christian community through disappointments, rather than giving into my inclination to run, has finally started to loosen a white-knuckled grasp on my expectations. Expectations of what I believed the local church should look like.
It took watching others serve tirelessly with humility and sacrifice…”steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:58) Watching as they committed to go directly through uncertainty and hardship while trusting God, which in turn, helped encourage me to go directly through uncertainty and hardship while trusting God. And it brought a surprising result. It created a stronger bond and love within me for my church body.
Should it have been surprising to me? If, as we studied at our women’s conference in October, an individual Christian is transformed profoundly through suffering - wouldn’t experiencing adversity with Christ and the Body produce the same effect on the whole? Romans 5:3-5, “...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given us.” Suffering. Endurance. Character. Hope. The hard was painful but it has brought much good.
Suffering. Endurance. Character. Hope. The hard was painful but it has brought much good.
Thank God for men and women - rooted and pressing on - who wouldn’t neglect God’s command to meet together. Staff, leaders, members, and volunteers not willing to give up on the saints in the place where God assigned them to use their gifts (1 Cor 7:20). People devoted to give and not just receive. This is the wonder of covenant community.
“Being in full accord and of one mind”, my church unintentionally mentored me. The Holy Spirit greatly used this witnessing of faithful, yet imperfect, covenant over the years (alongside the Word) to convict me of my own complaining and consumerist attitude. I’ve come to realize that at times, I’ve had this fleshly desire to piece together a church of my own liking. In much the same way as I’d interact with social media, I wanted to pick who I saw and what I heard. A self-designed church.
Two things happened that brought to a head all that God was already teaching me about fellowship. The first was the FCC’s women’s retreat. 45 women attended, most connected only by their mutual faith in Christ. Not necessarily knowing one another personally, yet already one through salvation.
This retreat was different from ones I've attended in the past. There seemed to be little, if any tension or conflict. The phrase I kept hearing throughout the weekend was “I can’t believe there was no drama”. This, of course, is rare in a group of sinners that are living in the real world. We know there will be discord to work through again but for now, we’re thankful for peace.
A lot of things contributed to the unity we enjoyed but what I noticed before and during retreat was “one anothering”. Loving one another (1 John 4:11), welcoming one another (Romans 15:7), serving one another (1 Peter 4:10), being kind to one another (Eph 4:32), encouraging one another (Heb 10:25), worshiping with one another (Eph 5:19), comforting one another (2 Cor 13:11), instructing one another (Rom 15:14), showing hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9), confessing to one another (James 5:16), praying for one another (James 5:16). Glory to God!
Real fellowship is formed by being in Christ and it is formed by this alone. It is a necessary, powerful, eternal partnership lived out primarily in the local church body. It’s true family, all sharing the same heavenly Father - not based on anything other than life granted to us from God through faith in Jesus Christ. We are sovereignly picked, placed and purposed in order to glorify God and become more like Christ. How can we possibly have the opportunity to live “one another's” without continual fellowship? Close, vulnerable, consistent relationship?
Real fellowship is formed by being in Christ and it is formed by this alone. It is a necessary, powerful, eternal partnership lived out primarily in the local church body
The second thing to grow my appreciation for fellowship was an old but new-to-me book I recently picked up. It’s called “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Reading his first chapter, entitled “Community”, wrecked me. I can’t possibly write all that he explained but I want to leave you with a couple of quotes and encourage you to read it for yourself. Bonhoeffer knew the joy of Christian fellowship and the grief of losing it. He was imprisoned by the Nazis and sadly, spent his last few years outside the community he so loved. We cannot take this gift for granted.
“But if there is so much blessing and joy even in a single encounter of brother with brother [sister with sister], how inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who by God’s will are privileged to live in daily fellowship of life with other Christians! It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”
Understandably, in a broken world, there may be times when you have no choice but to walk away (please be sure to have genuine, biblical reasons with Godly counsel and much prayer); but, if God has placed you in community with a local church, pray for authentic gratefulness. The blessings are abundant. Bonhoeffer wrote, “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”
...if God has placed you in community with a local church, pray for authentic gratefulness. The blessings are abundant.
This Sunday we take communion at Faith Community Church. As you participate, think on this visual representation of fellowship that God has given us at His table. Forgiven sinners, humbly coming as one, to the foot of the cross. All level, all held by God, all celebrating our reconciliation through Christ - together.