33. Fellowship

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

33. Fellowship

Acts 2:42  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship

1 Cor 1:9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

2 Cor 6:14  Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

2 Cor 13:14  May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

1 Jn 1:6,7  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another

More than Social Interaction: I am sure I must have written about ‘fellowship’ before but I am not going to search back and so, instead, I will try and come at the subject from a fresh perspective. It seems the natural flow on after having been considering the early believers meeting together every day. Our first verse above speaks about how they “they devoted themselves …. to fellowship.” Now a dictionary definition of ‘fellowship’ is ‘a friendly feeling that exists between people who have a shared interest,’ but in a spiritual context I believe that really doesn’t go anywhere near what ‘fellowship’ is for a Christian. In Study No.29 on ‘Life’ I testified about the presence of ‘something’ that is there between two believers, even when they can’t speak the same language. It is of course the life of God, the Holy Spirit.

A Definition: Fellowship occurs, I suggest, in the interaction between two believers in the dimension of the spirit as the Holy Spirit in them both witnesses to His presence in them. There is often not something conscious but at a deeper level than mere surface conversation, there is this touching of heart to heart, spirit to spirit. Does it always happen between two Christians? I suggest not, because there has to be an open-heartedness to one another and that, for a variety of reasons may not always happen.

What holds back Fellowship? You might think that the presence of the Holy Spirit in each believer would mean that automatically fellowship takes place. Certainly surface conversation might take place but I think there are various things that will stop that deeper level, that open-heartedness occurring. For example where a believer is deeply into sin and deception, I believe their inner protective barriers will be up, even at the sub-conscious level, defending what they are doing, justifying their stance in life.  On the other hand, where a believer has been deeply hurt in life there will be a protective barrier that is difficult to come out from. I know of (and I am sure there are many, many others who are similar) a lady who was a battered wife until it came to a head, went to court and the court ordered the husband away. She finds it almost impossible to escape the past and the effects it is having on her life even today – but there is a way and it is happening slowly. In both of these two illustrations I have just given, there is a defensive barrier, there for different reasons, which hinders true fellowship taking place. In the former one the person is trying to hide their sin, but there are also people whose failure has gone public, and they now struggle with guilt and the fear of public (Christian) hostility towards them, real or otherwise.

Koinonio: Now perhaps there are some, feeling slightly frustrated because they want a more theological approach than I have given here so far, so let me add in this paragraph in passing. The Greek word in the original is koinonio, which has hints of ‘sharing’ or ‘giving to one another’ about it.  It is used in the NIV in Lk 5:10 for ‘partners’ referring to the four famous fishermen called by Jesus, indicating a closeness of relationship there, formed by business. It seems clear from Gen 3 that before the Fall there was this close open relationship between God and the couple, but this was lost by their disobedience resulting in fear and a defensive need to hide away from God (see Gen 3:8-10). That loss of fellowship with God has been restored by the salvation that comes through His Son, Jesus Christ, hence our second verse above: God … has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ.” 

So often in the New Testament, we are said to be “in Christ” and of course we have already referred to the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, or Christ in us. Is that why Paul referred to, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”? (2 Cor 13:14). Clearly in each of these instances, where there is reference to our fellowshipping with God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, it is a contact of the most intimate kind being spoken of. At a spiritual level, what we said earlier about hindrances to fellowship is born out in John’s words: “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” Living in the light must surely mean living free from wrong in its many different forms that we referred to earlier.

Making Fellowship Possible: The fact that we live in a Fallen World and are often scarred by it, and we ourselves trip over our own feet, so to speak, and get it wrong, mean that actually many of us struggle with defensiveness and therefore know little of true fellowship. Fellowship can be built or restored, I suggest, best in small groups. Now many of us (leaders of such groups) maintain groups where fellowship is avoided, and we do this by focusing on Bible Study or prayer. Now please don’t jump defensively at me for, yes, I believe both are essential to Christian discipleship in such groups, but I would like to suggest that THE greatest priority for such small groups is helping bring about fellowship. Why?

A very practical reason. You cannot love someone fully if you don’t know them and so often in modern church life we hardly go beyond the surface in getting to know people. When fellowship truly takes place it means people have been able to truly open their hearts to one another and this fellowship is evidenced when there is a sense of security. Jesus clearly created that with his disciples, so are we following his example? (see how free Peter felt free to speak out.) How do we bring that about? How do we create security so that our people can come out from behind their masks, be real, fellowship with one another, recognize mutual frailty and become open in new ways to the grace and changing power of God?

Creating A Secure Group: Leaders of such a group will maintain a new order: God first, the people second, and only then spiritual disciples (Bible Study, Prayer etc.). Leaders of such groups will come with a blaming-free attitude that says, “How can I bless you?” not, “How can I blame you?” Such leaders see that people need to feel secure before they can open up and face their failures, their frailty and their faults. There are two rules that need to be spoken out from the creation of such a group. The first is, “You can say what you like within this group and it will never go outside the group.” Second, “You can say what you like within this group and no one in this group will be shocked or point accusing fingers at you.” When that is understood AND operated, then people start feeling secure and can open up and share the worst sides of their life.

Our response when they do, MUST NOT be to appear shocked,  for each of us has the potential for all kinds of failures and if we haven’t struggled with this particular one so far, it is simply that we have been fortunate enough not to have been tested by it. Our failures (hopefully rare) are ours and before God they are all the same. We come together as redeemed sinners, i.e. children of God, loved by a Redeemer who is more concerned to bless than to blame. This is not to say he doesn’t hold us accountable, for he does, but Jesus’ objective, clearly seen in the way he responded to the tax-collectors and ‘sinners’, is to restore us to a good place before his Father, where we are overcoming those things and eventually not repeating them.

If someone opens up in our group and confesses something of major significance, there are three questions to be asked in gentleness and full of grace: (i) “Have you told the Lord about it yet, and would you like to with us now? (i.e. you give them opportunity to confess it to heaven and receive God’s forgiveness now), (ii) may we pray for you now? (looking to bring God’s love through prayer ministry – see a later study), and (iii) what can we do to help you?” (i.e. is there some practical way we can bring God’s grace to your life situation to help bring change?)

And So?  You might like to read these last paragraphs again and check your attitude and respond accordingly. We are not talking about tolerating or accepting sin, but we are talking about accepting the sinner, because we’re all in the same boat together. Loving them in such a way that they have the courage, within the sense of security we are creating, to honestly face themselves and God, enables them to come to a place of repentance where they receive forgiveness, cleansing and healing. They will not be able to do that while you point fingers!

Final Testimony: I have, in the past, lead Parenting Groups in the local community and by creating this sort of group have had new mothers opening up in tears and confessing how, in the middle of the night when their partner left the crying baby to them, they ended up roughly throwing it onto the bed in desperation – and the group talked it through with understanding, empathy, tears and compassion and enabled change (and this wasn’t even a Christian group!). In another group of mixed maturity Christians (i.e. including some very new in their walk with Jesus), I often felt more like a father-confessor as new believers opened up on things that would shock the Pharisees – but they were enabled to do it, and the love of the group enabled them to face it and change. Perfect love not only casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18) but it enables honesty, confession and transformation. May that be us.  

(Here again at the end of this Part we present an overview of this series)

Part 1 – Falling Short?

  1. Wonderings about Church
  2. Concern for People
  3. Challenged by Scripture
  4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’
  5. Problems with Religion and Revival
  6. Appearance & Performance (1)
  7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Part 2 – A Different People

  1. Different
  2. Believers
  3. Supernatural
  4. Repentance and Conviction
  5. Needing to be ‘Saved’?
  6. A People of Faith

Part 3 – Making of Believers

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

  1. The Significance of Vision
  2. More on ‘Why Vision?’
  3. The God Focus
  4. Spiritual Expressions
  5. Building People

Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

  1. Clear your Mind
  2. A New Creation
  3. Life (1)
  4. Life (2)
  5. Being Together
  6. Fellowship

Part 6 – thinking about Leaders

  1. Led
  2. Local leaders – overseers
  3. Local leaders – shepherds
  4. Local leaders – elders
  5. Local Leaders – The Nature of the Church (1)
  6. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction
  7. Gifts of Ministries – to plant
  8. Gifts of Ministries – to build up
  9. The Servants – Deacons
  10. The Nature of the Church (2)

Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

  1. Uniqueness
  2. Another quick look at ‘Vision’
  3. Power – for Life Transformation
  4. Power – for Life Service
  5. Power – for Living
  6. The Need for Faith
  7. More on Faith.
  8. Obedience
  9. Finale – the Church on God’s heart

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