32. Being Together

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

32. Being Together

Acts 2:44,46  All the believers were together and had everything in common…. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.

A change around: Back in Study 26 “Building People” we focused on the subject of people in the church in the context of vision. Here I want to expand on that and focus ‘church’ in the context of people. We have previously considered this verse near the end of Acts 2 but I just want to emphasize this word ‘together’ and what is implied by it, noting also the fact that they were together every day. Now I know this was the embryonic church and it was full of excitement, no doubt at the wonder of the new thing that was happening and, indeed, I have been around and been part of the birth of a new local church – and it is exciting – but the sense that comes over in these verses just seems to highlight and emphasize the different culture of which we are part today. I know that the experience of church for some is simply an hour on a Sunday morning each week – and that’s it!   It is possible that there is an hour prayer meeting or maybe a fellowship group once a week or once every two weeks, but it seems our ‘church experience’ is so often far from what we find here in Acts.

Modern Culture: Now I can almost sense the angst rising up in some as they want to scream out, “But we’re so busy!”  Now I assume this is a purely Western experience that comes out of affluence, the ability to travel and the amazing provision that is here within modern culture. Last year we visited a couple of friends who had moved out of our district several years ago and we were doing a catch-up visit. “So what do you do with yourselves up here, John?” I asked with a slightly foolish condescending attitude, that now they were living in this rural area they probably found it hard to fill their time. For the next half hour John listed off and explained the ten activities that they were now involved with each week, things outside their church experience (which they still maintained). I sat dumbstruck and chastened. They had fuller and more interesting lives than we had – but their life WAS FULL.

I watch the families of our three children and observe the many things the grandchildren get involved with. I watch other young families and see how one or other of the parents is constantly taxiing the children from one football practice to an art group to a ballet class to tennis lesson, and so it goes on. It is little wonder that to focus on these strange Christians in Acts 2 is almost embarrassing. It is another world. The tragedy for us – and it seems we don’t realize this most of the time – is that this merry-go-round of activities (ours and of the children) saps our energy or we fail to see these things in the light of the potential of the kingdom of God.

Modern Relationships: The world of text, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. etc. seems to suggest a world of communication, a world of relationships but more and more studies indicate that the truth is that these communication methods are purely superficial and although they do give a feeling of connectiveness it is very shallow, and many (at a point of vulnerability) confess that they have very few real friends. So why is that? Is it that real friendship means sitting down and spending time, face-to-face sharing open-heartedly, and that in reality we can only have a limited number of real friends with whom we do open up and share our hearts?

A Modern Agenda: So here is a suggestion. First, recognize the value of real relationships with other Christians – we’ll come to that in a moment. Second, pencil into your diary or wall calendar or phone calendar, specific times when you will purposefully not let anything else get in the way so you have value times with a limited number of church friends. (Yes, it may be that this is a ‘fellowship group’ or ‘house group’ but be careful what you do at that!)

Biblical focus: To make sure we don’t let this become just some social exercise, let’s remind ourselves of the New Testament teaching that reminds us of this ‘togetherness’ thing. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” (Rom 12:10) “Live in harmony with one another.” (Rom12:16) “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.” (Rom 15:7) “agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you.” (1 Cor 1:10) “encourage one another.” (2 Cor 13:11) serve one another humbly in love.” (Gal 5:13) “be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph 4:2) “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,” (E;ph 4:32) “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21) “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” (Col 3:16) “encourage one another.” (1 Thes 4:18, 5:11) encourage one another daily.” (Heb 3:13) “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Heb 10:24) “Keep on loving one another.” (Heb 13:1) do not slander one another.” (Jas 4:11) Don’t grumble against one another.” (Jas 5:9) “love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Pet 1:22) “Offer hospitality to one another.” (1 Pet 4:9) “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” (1 Pet 5:5) We should love one another.” (1 Jn 3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 4:11,12 2 Jn 1;5)

Christian Community: Now there is sufficient to say here that we will continue this in the next study on ‘Fellowship’ but with what we have considered here in this present study may we make one or two closing comments. The New Testament teaching is laden with instructions that indicate the expectation of a community, of relationships of a nature that shows in the church a whole variety of interactions that God expects of us. Obviously these cannot happen (and therefore we miss out and our lives will be stunted) if we never meet with one another. An hour on Sunday morning is not adequate. As to all the things we take our children to, or get involved in ourselves outside church, what brilliant opportunities to make contact with others outside the church and build relationships there which create, in turn, opportunities to share Jesus and show others the love of God. Enough to ponder on for the moment.

42. Two

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 42 :  The Strength of Two

Eccles 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I find there are times when I am challenged by my casual approach to Scripture. When I first looked at these verses, I thought, “Whatever made Solomon jump to thinking about companionship?” and it wasn’t until I looked again at the context that I realised that these verses flow on in small section that starts, Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone” (v.7,8) and yesterday we considered the frustration  of that man as he worked with no one to hand it on to. But now Solomon thinks on and essentially declares, “It’s not good to be alone.”

He lists the benefits of not being alone. First two working together can achieve far more than two individuals working alone. Second, if one stumbles and falls, it is good to have another alongside to help you up. Third, when it’s cold at night, it is good to have one to warm you. Fourth, when you come under attack it is good to have another alongside you to stand against the attacker with you.

Yes, these are the obvious benefits of not walking through life alone. It may refer to friendship, it may refer to having a partner in business or it may refer to having a spouse. There are many circumstances in life where two together are better than being alone, yet sadly in our day, I believe loneliness is growing. With the fragmentation of families there are individuals separated off from the group and that makes the loneliness even harder. In a permissive age there are those who have been encouraged to express their difference but who have found that doing that has isolated them from many others. I was part of a conversation only yesterday that was talking about tattoos which have become very common, and yet despite that, they still act – in many people’s eyes at least – as a brand that separates out and declares that this is a certain sort of person who is wanting! So many things in modern life, it seems, separate and divide and cause loneliness.

Possibly one of the most obvious ways in our modern society is what used to be called ‘courting’. How alien that concept seems to have become in a world where it seems it is common to not even wait for the third date to end up in bed. Yet sexual intimacy has proved to be elusive for many. Sex isn’t necessarily intimate; it can be purely exploitive, and we feel used. The excitement of once-forbidden fruit lasts only a while and then the couple realise they are miles apart; there is inner loneliness, even though there is outer closeness.

The advice I used to give to young people, and still do if they are willing to listen, is develop your relationship in three slow stages. First of all get to know each other by just being with each other, talking and sharing and finding out about each other, i.e. build the social aspect of the relationship first. Second, if the couple are Christians (and if they’re not I have no hope for their long-term relationship, and if one is and the other isn’t, generally, don’t walk this path together) then develop your spiritual relationships together – read the Bible together, pray together, go to church and worship together, and seek God’s will together and serve God together. Then, and only then, if these two facets of your relationship together indicate you are compatible, you talk about life-long commitment and only when you are committed for life, do you develop the physical side of your relationship.

Our modern society is full of young people who are essentially lonely, even though they go to clubs together, bed together and whatever else together. I have been there and I have seen it and that is how it is for so many young people who are desperate for closeness, desperate for real intimacy, desperate for trust and desperate to find real love, which is all about commitment as well as feelings, and yet the way that the world proclaims is not bringing home the goods!

I said as an aside earlier, and you may not have liked it, that I have no hope for a long term relationship without God. Yes, there are married couples who have lived it out for decades without God, but increasingly that is becoming a rarity with the pressures of modern life. Solomon’s enigmatic final phrase hints at the truth: A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” What is the third strand? God, of course!  With God genuinely in your relationship you have a real fighting chance of have a good life together ahead.

But why do Christians get divorced, I hear you ask, before I finish. Consider Jesus’ words: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” (Mt 19:18).  If we have allowed ourselves to get into a place where we have been hardened (and it may only be one in the partnership) so that we are no longer open to hear God’s counsel, either directly or through a counsellor/leader, then yes we will end up divorcing, but that is a path where we have hardened God out of our experience, which is why just now I spoke of having God genuinely in your relationship. These are serious matters in these days of anguish and loneliness.