1 Thessalonians: Real Fellowship/Community 1

Next two posts: examples of real fellowship/community
in 1 Thessalonians.

  • What does real Biblical community/fellowship look like?
  • What do we do to partner with our Father
    as He grows it here in this local church?

I pray that the Holy Spirit speaks to your minds & hearts about

  • the importance of believing that Biblical fellowship/community is important (but most believe that already) & also
  • investing time & energy & awkwardness & prayer & risk
    into fellowship/community. Both are needed.

Next post I hope to draw out of 1 Thessalonians
some action steps for us to take, specific/practical ways
to partner with the LORD as He grows fellowship in a local church…

But for this post, let’s look to 1 Thessalonians
for some characteristics Of Biblical fellowship:
What Does It Look Like? We won’t hit what we aren’t aiming for.

1 Thess. 1:2: “
We always thank God for all of you and
continually mention you in our prayers.”

1 Thess 1:5: You know how we lived among you for your sake.”

Selfless/sacrificial/generous…constant prayer for each other…

1 Thess 2:7-8: 
“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children,
8so we cared for you.
Because we loved you so much,
we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God
but our lives as well.”

Think of how a nursing mother cares for her child…
that was a picture of the fellowship between these Christians…
staggeringly beautiful…

They weren’t merely a missionary project
they shared the Gospel & their lives,
words & actions, testimony & their time.
A lifestyle of fellowship, not an event here & there.

1 Thess 2:11-12: 
“For you know that we dealt with each of you
as a father deals with his own children,
12 encouraging, comforting and urging you
to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

Not just like a nursing mother caring for her children,
but also like a father disciplining, comforting & urging them
to grow to maturity in Christ…

Yes loving them as they were (as-is condition),
but also pointing them to will-be conditioning;
urging them to grow/mature/obey Christ,
not stay in sin/accept it casually.

1 Thess 2:17: 
“But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned
by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), 
out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.

It wasn’t convenient for them to meet…but they made every effort.
They longed/deeply desired to meet together, not blasé/indifferent.
Thought about each other when they weren’t together.

I know you’re busy, dear Christian…& perhaps you’ve attempted
to have real Biblical fellowship/community in the past…

But can you say, before the LORD,
that you are making every effort to have your hearts knit together
with other Christians in your local church,
making every effort for the sake of Jesus to work thru the hurdles
of schedules, personalities, and past wounds?

These. 3:1-5: 
“So when we could stand it no longer, 
we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens.
We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service
in spreading the gospel of Christ, 
to strengthen and encourage you in your faith
3so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.

For u know quite well that we are destined for them.
In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you
that we would be persecuted. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith
I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and
that our labors might have been in vain.”

Very few Christians in the world, much danger in their missionary work, but still Paul & Silas gave Timothy to bless the Thessalonians.

Purpose of fellowship: strengthen & encourage faith in Jesus Christ
to survive & thrive in trials
(not just hang out casually, though that is a blessing too).

Honest/real: told them to expect/prepare for persecution, not an easy life.
Cared about their faith, concerned that they would sin
in their beliefs & actions…
Considered sin serious & seriously worked to help them avoid sin
& repent of sin.

1 Thess 3:6-10: “But Timothy has just now come to us from you 
and has brought good news about your faith and love. 
He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us
and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution
we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 
For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 
How can we thank God enough for you in return
for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 
10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again 
and supply what is lacking in your faith.”

Wow. Faith & love, belief and action—both matter.
Longing to see each other.

Paul & Silas were encouraged in their trials by hearing about
the Thessalonians maturing faith in their trials;
they shared not just their struggles,
but what the LORD was teaching them in those struggles,
how he was growing them, how they were learning to trust in &
apply God’s Word in their lives…

Their goal/desire/prayer is to see the Thessalonians
standing firm as Christians, not watering down.

Their fellowship increased their joy in worshiping God!
Seeing the Thessalonians mature & thrive
lead Paul & Silas to more joyful worship of God, seeing that He was at work in the Thessalonians trials helped them praise the LORD & trust that He was at work in Paul & Silas’ trials!

Their continued prayer was for more opportunities
to serve & strengthen the Thessalonians…
I am humbled by how little I pray for the LORD to give me
more opportunities to pour my life out for Him & other Christians.

What a painting of Biblical fellowship in 1 Thessalonians!

1 Thess 3:11-13:
“Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus
clear the way for us to come to you. 
12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other
and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 
13 May he strengthen your hearts
[will, choices, desires]
so that you will be blameless and holy
in the presence of our God and Father
when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

Praying for God to make a way for them to see each other–
we need to ask Him to part the Red Sea of our schedules
as we face an ocean of practical responsibilities on one side
and tyrannous distractions bearing down on us from the other side.

Praying for God to increase their love for each other–
only He can grow such cross-centered compassion.

Praying in light of eternity, praying with the end in mind:
standing mature before Jesus–the goal of fellowship.

These 4:1-2: 
“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, 
we instructed you how to live in order to please God, 
as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus
to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you
by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”

Again, not just affirming each other the way they are,
but encouraging them to grow, mature, become more faithful
as Christians, not to earn Christ’s mercy but to thank Him…

Thess 4:9-10: 
“Now about your love for one another 
we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God 
to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family
throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters,
to do so more and more…”

Thess 4:18:“Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Encourage each other with the Truth of the Lord Jesus’ return for us
and the guarantee of His promises to us.

1 Thess 5:11:“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, 
just as in fact you are doing.”

Encourage & build each other up by reminding each other of
Who God is and what He has done/will do for His people!

1 Thess 5:25-27: “Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 
26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 
27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read
to all the brothers and sisters.”

Ask each other to pray for each other (same as the beginning of the letter!).

The LORD transformed a group of former idol-worshippers
into that kind of fellowship/community…wow.

How? More about that next post. But please consider this:

As I’ve recently learned, true Biblical fellowship/community
is not simply about connecting people together who have like interests,
who are in the same stage of life,
people who’d already connect organically if there were no Gospel.

True Biblical fellowship/community is a connection
thru the Gospel, Trinity & Bible
between people who may have nothing/little else in common.

That’s a miracle that makes the world take notice.

A motley crew, as it were, of forgiven & adopted & reborn sinners sacrificially caring for each other as family
because of the Savior Who died & rose again for them,
because of Jesus Who broke down the wall of hostility
between them & the Father (2 Corinthians 5.),
and between them & each other (Ephesians 2:11-22).

The early Church contained people of different
ages, backgrounds, languages and cultures.
And by God’s grace, He transformed them to treat each other
like what we just read about.

That same LORD is the LORD of this local church, my friends.

Ultimately, having Biblical fellowship/community in a local church
is not about having more events, more things to attend.
Up to a certain point, events are helpful.

  • But let’s remember the stereotypical junior high dance:
    everyone’s at the dance,
    but no one is talking, no one is mingling.
    Guys are on one side, awkward, nervous,
    girls are on the other side of the gym.

That can easily happen over years in a local church,
even with many events & a full calendar.

  • We can share the same space without sharing our lives,
  • we can only talk with those who are (externally) like us,
    or those we like,
  • we can talk a lot (sports/weather) but never leave
    the shallow end of the pool & talk about what matters.

What is really needed is a heart-change,
the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to realize the importance
of investing time, energy, risk & prayer into fellowship/community…
& then doing it.

Are we truly awake to the importance of community/fellowship here,
amongst the people sitting around you in this local church?

Are we awake to the point that we’ll pray…
that we’ll step out of our comfort zones,
that we’ll rearrange our already crowded schedules?

Are we awake to the Truth that the health of our love for each other
reflects the health of our love for the Lord Jesus? (Matthew 25:40,45)

Are we awake to the Truth that the health of
our sacrificial commitment to each other
can affect our ability (or inability)
to spread the Gospel in this city (John 13:35)?

Let me close with this: 12 players on a basketball team…
ever wondered why the gym doesn’t thus have
12 basketball hoops set up, one for each player?

Why don’t they all just shoot/dribble at their own individual hoop
for the entire practice?

If they did that, they would improve their skills somewhat…
The consistent dedication of time in practice is critical.

But it isn’t enough. They must also practice…together.

To only practice individually,
they will lose nearly every game they play against
other teams that do practice together, that work on actual plays—
fast break, pick & rolls, passing; teamwork!

The individual practicing group, by sheer talent alone,
may win a handful of games in a season.

But they’ll never make the playoffs,
& they’ll never win the championship.

They’ll lose much more often than they win.
It will be obvious to everyone watching that they simply
don’t practice together as a team,
as individually talented as they may be.

Do you see how this applies to Christian fellowship/community?

We must practice Christianity—Bible study, prayer, confession of sin, praising God, investing time & money & energy,
learning to sacrificially serve, evangelism—
we must practice
(like doctors practicing medicine—we’re never done [until heaven],
we never master the Christian life).

“Train yourself to be godly,” Paul said to Timothy.
But we must train together. We must do all those things together,
or else we aren’t a team,
we’re just a group of individuals occupying space;

we must do those things together,
or else we will lose at life much more often than we win.

The early Christians in Acts 2 dedicated themselves

to the apostles teaching, to prayer,
to fellowship and to the breaking of bread.

They were dedicated to these things—together.

  • The Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost
    when they were…together in the room.
  • The risen Lord Jesus appeared to the scared disciples
    when they’d locked themselves in a room…together.
  • Then they fearlessly left the locked room & went, together,
    to fulfill their mission.

We must practice, and practice together.
There simply is no other way…

Next post we will discuss practical next-steps.

For now, please pray.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to help us
see the importance of fellowship & be willing to invest in it.

Fellowship like 1 Thessalonians won’t happen with prayer only,
but it will only happen with prayer.

Closing Challenge

Mike Leake: “A biblically growing church will grow in love.
It will grow in holiness. It will grow in missional labor.
And those are messy.

Consider just one of these—growing in love.

Do you realize how painful and difficult and sloppy it is
to grow in such a thing? I grew in love with my wife
not only by watching movies and going on dates
and doing fun couples things.

I grew in love with my wife by confessing sin.
Going through painful times together.
Dealing with tangled webs of personal brokenness
and coming out the other end holding tear soaked hands.”