Elevating Community 5: Christian Fellowship (1 John 1:1-10)
In the last four posts we have been digging into the Bible to understand how true Biblical community/fellowship is different from non-Cristian friendships;
HERE we looked at 2 Timothy 1 and learned, among other things, that the deep fellowship that Paul & Timothy had was just that—deep. It was focused on sharing their tears and strengthening each other’s faith in the Lord Jesus. They didn’t just talk about the weather, they encouraged each other to follow the Lord Jesus whether it’s easy or difficult…they didn’t just hang out, they strengthened each other to hang in there as they took up their cross each day to follow Jesus as their King.
HERE we looked at two of the reasons why it is difficult to cultivate true Christian fellowship/community: in Acts 2 we read that the early church was DEVOTED to fellowship—it was a choice they made daily, not a hobby they had weekly or monthly; they didn’t fit community into their schedules but fit their schedules around their community. Many of us simply are devoted to other things & not to growing deep w/other Christians. They were also devoted to the Apostles’ teaching (God’s Word!), to eating meals together regularly, to celebrating the Lord’s Supper regularly, and to prayer. Oh how the 21st century American church has very different priorities; may God help us be like the 1st century Church.
We also looked at a few passages that show that suffering with other Christians for the Gospel—for telling others about the grace & Truth of Jesus—is needed to truly have Biblical fellowship. Suffering together for Christ = growing closer together in Christ. Soldiers in battle are closer than soldiers behind a desk (and certainly closer than civilians on a couch). The Bible describes the Christian life on earth as war—not against non-Christians but against the spiritual forces of evil that try to stop us from glorifying God by telling non-Christians about the Lord Jesus and the manger, the cross and the empty tomb! (Why in the world would God have given us spiritual armor in Ephesians 6 if Christianity is just a stroll in the park with a few good deeds along the way? We don’t face nerf darts but fiery darts from the devil. And our inner desire for sin isn’t just trying to gently persuade us it is trying to master and control and chain us. ). One passage we did not look at on the 27th is
Philippians 3:10: 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…
Paul wanted to suffer with Jesus, wanted to follow Jesus into hard times, not because Paul enjoyed suffering but because the suffering would knit Paul even closer with the Savior. The same happens to Christians when we suffer together as we follow Jesus sacrificially—the Holy Spirit knits us closer to each other as well. We won’t have to learn about how to have community & fellowship, we will RUN to have community & fellowship with each other because we will need to in order to survive the hard parts of our mission—telling others about the manger, cross & empty tomb…
HERE and HERE we looked at the importance of opening our hearts to other Christians, of letting them in. This is risky and dangerous—by opening our hearts to Christians we are making ourselves vulnerable, we are exposing ourselves to more hurt and pain. And so, among other passages, we looked at Genesis 45 and 50 as a portrait of what it looks like—and that it is possible with the help of the LORD!—to open our hearts to family after they have hurt us deeply. We looked at Joseph, who knew that only God can get revenge (and revenge can be walking over those who hurt us or simply walking away from them bitterly); Joseph spent hard time in a prison he didnt choose—he didnt want to be in a prison—unforgiveness—that he did choose.
And so this post, by the grace of God, we will finish our five posts on what Biblical and real community & fellowship is. I will be giving you a bunch of different thoughts/Bible passages, almost a list of bullet points for you to pray about & act on as the LORD leads you:
- On one hand, we don’t choose to have Biblical community with other Christians—God has chosen us for community. This is essential.
We are utterly immersed in a culture of choice—what do you want, have it your way, build your own this, pick the options/features that you want, etc. etc. And unfortunately we bring that into the family of God:
- Do I choose to tithe finances or not?
- Do I choose to serve or not?
- Do I choose to be in a small group/Bible study or not?
- Do I choose to attend this morning or not?
- Do I choose to open wide my heart to others or not?
- Do I choose to keep attending this local church or do I choose to attend another church that can meet more of my needs/has what I am looking for/appreciates me/makes decisions I agree with?
In all of those scenarios we do the choosing, we are in charge, decisions are made based on what I want/how I feel and not on what God has said! Oh loved ones we have brought our idols into God’s family and hidden them in the (external!) pockets of politeness.
But may the LORD help us see that we do not choose community for us as much as the LORD chooses us for community! Christian community is HIS idea, His command, part of HIS design/plan for His people! We must look at Biblical community this way, as God choosing us for community and not merely us deciding if we have time right now for real fellowship—it is not optional in the sense that a sunroof is an option on a car; Biblical community is more like a transmission—the vehicle doesn’t run without it.
2. On the other hand, real Biblical community and fellowship can only happen when we make the choice—it will not happen on accident; God will not upload community into us while we sleep.
Remember Acts 2:42-47: The early Christians devoted themselves to fellowship—devotion doesn’t happen on accident but by choice. People don’t accidentally fall into marathon training, they don’t wake up one day and say, “WOW—I didn’t realize that I have been faithfully training for a marathon over the last three months!” At some point a choice is made.
1 Samuel 18:1-3: “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.”
Jonathan made a covenant—made a choice—to have deep friendship and community with David. This alone doesn’t guarantee that we will have real Christian fellowship, but at some point a decision must be made. Many friendships are merely dating—as long as things go how I want we will continue to hang out together, but as soon as things get rocky I have a trusty escape hatch. But real community is closer to a marriage—a decision, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, especially when we are sick of our brother or sister in Christ!
3. Christian community is difficult if we mainly focus on cultivating fellowship instead of mainly focusing on our mission—glorifying (spreading the fame of) the LORD.
There are some local churches that do community really well, but some of them are so focused on creating community that they sometimes aren’t honoring/glorifying God by the spreading of the Gospel! In all their community events,
- does carrying a cross ever come up in conversation,
- are sins ever grieved, mourned and confessed to each other,
- do people pray for an increase in holiness of character & not only an increase in comfort?
In our pursuit of community, a local church can become a cruise ship where our needs are met instead of an aircraft carrier where His mission is carried out. Again, when community becomes the main goal, when anything comes ahead of loving the LORD with our whole hearts, minds, souls and strength, that new thing/goal, no matter how noble, becomes an idol. Non-Christians can have really deep friendships, but they aren’t spreading the fame of Jesus Christ and His grace & Truth through their friendship. We must focus first on growing closer to the LORD and honoring Him even as we strive to get to know each other.
- For example, let’s not wake up in the morning with the goal of “having fun.” Give the day to the LORD and ask Him to help you do what needs to be done that day for His glory and in the power of the Holy Spirit and in obedience to His Word and with a cheerful heart—putting Him first, others second, and ourselves a distant third—and I bet on many days, at the end of the day, we’ll look back and say, “That was a blessed day, I had some fun today!” We didn’t aim at “fun,” or even at something good/important like “rest;” we aimed at honoring the LORD, and HE will make sure over time that we get the fun, rest, satisfaction, etc. that we need. “Seek FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you…”
- My main goal in my marriage to my wife is not for me to “be happy,” is not for me to experience a certain quality or quantity of desirable goals (e.g. get respect, have space to pursue my dreams/hobbies, have my needs met, etc.). My main goal in my marriage is not about me or what I get—it is about honoring the Lord Jesus and glorifying Him, loving my wife as Christ loves the Church, giving Himself up for her (Ephesians). If He helps me die to myself each day , put my wife ahead of myself, and glorify God over the long haul by giving my wife & children an imperfect picture of Jesus dying for His people, then by the end of my earthly life I will look back on my marriage to my wife as phenomenal, a true Biblical success. I will have gotten something better than respect in my marriage—I will have given praise & honor to the LORD through my marriage.
- And so it is with cultivating community—we don’t make that the main goal, but we make honoring the LORD & spreading His fame the main goal—community will then flourish over time from that as we interact with other Christians inside and outside the church building and ask God for help in worshiping HIM and showing Who He is by the way that we sacrificially interact with each other.
4. Christian community is difficult because many of us don’t have real fellowship with God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
1 John 1:1-4: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.
1 Corinthians 1:9: God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
2 Corinthians 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.
Fellowship—KOINONIA—means “to share in, participation with” [not just spectators but participators]. Koinonia can be translated “an associate—[to associate!]—to share, to distribute, to be a companion.” Not just driving on the same highway but carpooling together to a common destination! Coining means “Communicative, generous, a partner.” THAT’S fellowship—all of that should describe our relationship not only with other Christians but the GOD of the universe!
Loved ones, do you have fellowship like that with the Lord Jesus Christ, with God the Father, with the Holy Spirit? Do any of those words above describe your relationship with Almighty God? Do you know Him, or just know about Him? Is He only a 2D list of bullet point adjectives, or is He the 4D King of your daily and eternal life? Do you worship Him, adore Him, ENJOY Him?? Do you pursue Him as your portion and treasure and refuge and Papa? Do you feast on Him as your Bread of Life, are you quenched by His Living Water? Do you repent & confess to Him, does it grieve you when you sin against Him and do you fly to Him and lay your sinfulness at the foot of His cross for forgiveness and cleansing? Do you shift your schedule around Him or shift Him around your schedule? Loved ones, that and nothing less is what He created us for–fellowship with Him!!! But we cannot have Biblical fellowship with other Christians if we are not growing to have Biblical fellowship with the LORD…
5. Christian community is difficult because we have consistent and unrepentant sin in our lives.
1 John 1:5-9: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
The sin we tolerate/justify in our own lives is killing community in every local church—vertical AND horizontal fellowship. An NFL football player might say, “What I do Monday—Saturday is my own business; I’ll be there on Sunday—game day.” But teammates know that what their teammates do Monday—Saturday affects their ability to play on game day, and in that sense their actions over the entire week matter to–affect!–everyone on the team. Similarly, EVERY DAY is game day for Christians—we have no off days from Christ’s mission for us. Sin that we tolerate and pursue and justify and don’t repent of and mourn and fight against, such sin affects our ability to have real fellowship with God & other Christians and thus it affects our ability to carry out our mission.
- Oh loved ones, consistently walking in darkness shows that we don’t have fellowship with God!
- We must walk in the light in order to have fellowship with one another!
As we close, please allow me to paint a scenario for you as an example of what this looks like on a Tuesday in our busy schedules…
You finally get your workday done, errands done, chores at your house done, maybe put the children down to bed, and you know you have to be in bed yourself soon because you have to wake up early and do it all again the next day. You have about 30 minutes before bed and, if you’re like me, you have your bag of spicy cheetoes, a can of ice cold sparkling water, and you’re ready to watch just a little Netflix, nerd out on a documentary, read just a little bit of sports, read just a little bit of a favorite book, etc. This is MY TIME, you think, I’VE EARNED IT!
And then the name and face of a Christian pops into your mind. You experience the gentle but clear nudge to call them, to reach out to them, to delay (and open yourself up to possibly cancelling) your cheetoes-catered date with yourself and a t.v. show, knowing that if you call the person might not pick up (in which case you leave a voicemail and get excited to watch your show AND have your conscience soothed!) but also knowing that if you call the person might really be in need and not only will you have to cancel your self-date but you may get to sleep even later than you intended, knowing that if you call the person they might think you’re weird for calling them (because we reach out to people we don’t know well in addition to reaching out to those we do know well).
SO MANY thoughts pop into your mind–justifying not calling, justifying the importance of taking care of yourself so you can take care of people tomorrow, this person never reaches out to me, in fact NO ONE ever reaches out to me, I’m always giving/it’s time for me to get, etc. etc. etc. The thought of one more ounce of self-sacrifice reveals the gallons of bitterness that have been accumulating in your heart like Martha.
THAT’s what I’m talking about—that is where the rubber meets the road in terms of cultivating community. Biblical community will often not be convenient, will often not be comfortable, will often not be safe. But it is WORTH it.
Ever gotten a phone call, out of the blue, from another Christian who says something like, “I think God put you on my heart today. You keep popping into my mind and heart I’m simply calling to see how you are doing and if there are any ways that I can be a blessing to you.”
Wow. Deep down you think, “You are contacting me not to get but to give?” (though it isn’t wrong to reach out to other Christians for help, for encouragement, for prayer, etc. That too is a part of Biblical community!) But you think, “You are asking how I am doing and you are willing to give time to actually listen as I let you see some of the cobwebbed crawlspaces of my life?”
Even better—you think, “GOD nudged you to contact me? GOD cares for me so much that He would prompt you to reach out to me? God is alert…God is attentive…to ME?” Wow…Double blessing—real community reveals not only horizontal love from other Christians but vertical love from our heavenly Father.
In a way all you have done by calling is act like the widow—you have put two small copper coins in the relational Heaven’s Box—a tithe of time for community—and it is easy to think it isn’t that big of a deal, it doesn’t matter much. But in the hands of Jesus, when done as an act of worship to Him, when done to point others to Him, such small acts are big, have huge ripple effects in the life of other’s and in the advancement of the Kingdom of God, like small ripples that come before the massive tsunami/tidal wave. Our fives loaves and two fish on our own won’t accomplish much (and this is where non-Christian friendship stops—it can only go as far as our own abilities/powers); but in the hands of Jesus, when we give our five loaves and two fish to HIM and cultivate Christian community in HIS name and for HIS glory in the power of His Holy Spirit according to the Truth of His Word, His bigness and power does with our smallness and weakness what only He can do.
Loved ones, a local church without Biblical fellowship is like a dismembered body—all the parts are there but they are separate, torn apart, dismembered. A local church like this is a crime scene, not a community. May God help us, on the foundation of the Bible, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and for the glory of the LORD, to do our part to invest in true Christian community, no matter the cost.
- Most people, even those who aren’t farmers, hope each year that the harvest will be good. We all want wheat and corn and soybeans and other crops to grow abundantly—we like what we get from those harvests, what those harvests mean for us!
- But harvests in the fall only happen when seeds die in the spring! Seeds must be buried and then die—not stay safe in the comfort of the shell but die and be buried and be split open so that the harvest can come, so that the seed can be transformed into its full maturity and potential and GROW!
Loved ones, most of us like the IDEA of Biblical community, most of us hunger for this type of fellowship, but are we willing to DIE for it;
- Are we willing to come out of our comfortable shells and bury our plans/designs for our lives so that the Holy Spirit can grow/transform us to reach our full maturity and potential, not just as individual parts but as the One Body of Jesus Christ?
- Are we willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus as He cultivates true Biblical community between us His people?
We must die in the spring—and keep on dying and staying in the soil even when we see NO EVIDENCE that community is growing—in order for there to be a harvest of community in the fall.
Are you willing? Are you willing for God to make you willing, or do you just like the idea of community?
- I love the idea of flossing, but I almost never do it! One of the most uncomfortable times for me is going to the dentist when they ask if I floss; I feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar with chocolate chips all over his face! But many of us want to “draft” behind those who are in community (like cyclists in a pack) and reap the benefits without doing as much of the work; we want a program to sign up for when real community is a cross to carry.
Oh please look at the beginning of many of Paul’s letters in the New Testament–notice how the Holy Spirit has inspired him to look at other Christians (who came from very different backgrounds, cultures, languages, economic status, ages, etc.)—
Romans 1:7: To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:1-2: Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
2 Corinthians 1:1-2: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:1-4: Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 1:1-2: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then 12 times in 12 verses—verses 3—14 of Ephesians 1—Paul uses the words “us” “we” or “our” to describe Christians.
Philippians 1:1-2: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1:1-2: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
Oh loved ones how do you consciously or subconsciously look at other Christians here or elsewhere each Sunday morning—
- “us” or “them”, brothers & sisters or just strangers you don’t know and don’t have any desire to know?
- Siblings for whom you have a responsibility or strangers who should learn to take care of themselves only?
- Do you act in the church building the same way you act in the grocery store, keeping your head down, getting what you need, glad for the people who serve you but feeling no responsibility to serve them, smiling politely but getting out quickly and on with your day/plans?
For Biblical community to happen here we must ask the LORD to help us see other 21st century Christians the way our spiritual ancestors saw 1st century Christians—as literal family, brothers and sisters, whom we will spend eternity with (might as well start getting to know them now!). Biblical community isn’t just “trying harder” but also is “seeing differently”—this is part of what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 5 when he said that from now on we do not look at anyone from a worldly point of view but we see those who are in Christ as new creations, those who have received Jesus as their Savior for the forgiveness of their sins. He said we used to look at Jesus just as another scruffy carpenter, but we don’t do that anymore. Similarly, we must see other Christians as new creations, as spiritual siblings, as teammates and co-workers and fellow soldiers in a glorious and dangerous mission. Every Sunday morning is a family reunion, not a trip to the mall where we shop for our needs, a family reunion, not a vacation in a hotel where we are surrounded by strangers who we have no interest in knowing and where we keep to ourselves…
Some say, “But I’m not an extrovert! Community is easy for others!” Maybe, but Biblical community is not just for certain personality types but for all who are in Christ!
Redwood trees have relatively shallow roots but they are planted so close together that their roots intertwine with the trees next to them–that’s why they can grow so tall and live so long (Nancy Leigh DeMoss devotion).
God intends His people to be “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor” (Isaiah 61:3). We can only reach our full potential as our roots are intertwined in Biblical community and fellowship.
So what is our next step? We must pray and then keep acting prayerfully. My deep prayer is that the Holy Spirit uses these last five posts to trampoline us into 2017 and that if the LORD blesses us to be here one year from now, that He would bless us to look back at 2017 and praise His name for the ways that He cultivated and grew real Biblical community at this local church and throughout Mankato!
So pray, repent, read the Bible, listen to the Lord Jesus, and follow Him by making the choice to open wide your hearts to other Christians in this local church–let’s pursue each other, not wait for others to pursue/approach us! We must be intentional–this will not happen on accident/while we sleep. If you have any ideas on practical events we can have to help community grow, please let me know! But big planned events ultimately will not lead to real community alone; it will take individuals getting together week in and week out in the power of the Holy Spirit and on the Word of God praying for each other, contacting each other, sharing joys & hurts, sharing meals, praising God together, reading His Word together, etc.
This is difficult and dangerous—one of the most vulnerable things you can do is open wide your heart because it leaves you wide open to being hurt. It’s the only way you can truly have Christian fellowship, have deep relational joy, but it’s also the only way to get deeply wounded. We cannot protect ourselves from pain without insulating ourselves from joy. Sealing up your house in the winter from the cold is good but it also breeds more germs and leads to sickness—there is no airflow in the house to bring in fresh air! Oh what a risk community is!
- I love dogs and cats. I often feel like a pet-grandpa: I love to play with them and spoil them…and then give them back to their devoted owners to walk on cold January mornings. 🙂 When a dog rolls over on its back so you can rub its belly, what a blessing, what a sign of trust and friendship! A dog in the wild would never do that—it would make itself much too vulnerable to attack. And yet for a beloved pet, doing that is one of the best ways to grow closer to its owner or another human—both pet and person are blessed through the pet’s willing vulnerability.
The Lord Jesus washed the feet of His disciples KNOWING that in a few hours they would desert Him. Wow. Community comes from serving other Christians pre-emptively, knowing that there is a high chance that eventually they will hurt you or desert you or not come through for you in your time of need. But Christ is our example here, as always. May we go in His example and His strength…