A New Start: A Place Where I Can Grow!
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” 1 Cor. 12:12-14
There is a line from the Psalms that has stuck with me through the years that occasionally pops back into my head and kind of keeps me grounded and remembering where the blessings of life really come from.
It’s the simple words of “... and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). How often have I whispered these to myself through the years!
It’s very good for me to be reminded that all the blessings of life I enjoy are benefits given to me by God.
Which is why the Psalm begins with: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” Vs. 1
The Psalm, of course, goes on to list the many benefits and blessings that belong to a child of God:
“Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Verses 3-5
The important thing to realize is that these benefits are only available to those who are in a relationship with God, as was the case with the children of Israel in the Old Testament.
While all can and should be in a relationship with God, only those who are experience the benefit of sins forgiven, diseases healed, lives redeemed, desires satisfied and youth renewed.
My point is that most benefits in life are limited to those who sign up to participate. Life is full of such opportunities.
Think about it for a moment. There are benefits limited to marriage and family life. There are benefits limited to those committed to an honest day’s work, and so on.
How many reward programs are out there that provide benefits to those who sign up in exchange for loyalty?
Among such benefits are even those associated with belonging to a church family such as ours.
The Benefits of the Local Church
You see, there are benefits that are realized only when you are committed to a local fellowship like ours.
One such benefit is this incredible sense of belonging and of being part of a local community; a place where everybody knows your name and where you can enjoy friendship, social interaction and spiritual fellowship. What a tremendous benefit we enjoy?
Another benefit – which we talked about last Sunday – is enjoying the presence of God in the gathering of the two or three in the name of Jesus of which Jesus has said: “There I am in the midst of them.” (Mtt. 18:20).
While you don’t need buildings to do this you will need intentionality; meaning, randomly bumping into a Christian won’t trigger the presence of God as it would when we gather intentionally in the name of the Lord to worship, pray and receive the Word.
Whether you do that in a building or under a tree doesn’t matter as long as it is the intentional gathering in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The inspiration for this idea of benefits associated with the gathering of Christians comes to us from the Early Church in Acts 2.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
So you see the benefit of community life and enjoying the presence of God.
The Benefits of Unity Despite Diversity
You also see a third benefit, namely: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Vs. 44
So what is this benefit? This is not about putting their money into a common fund but about their incredible ability to get along despite great differences.
How is that a benefit? Imagine how being on the same page would benefit in them learning how to get along with each other.
The Jerusalem Church was one of the most diversified and interracial congregations in the New Testament.
They were an incredibly diverse group of people who never should have stayed together had it not been for the glue that made this all possible, namely the work of the Holy Spirit in their midst.
This was an incredibly eclectic group. Just take a listen to who was all there:
“Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.” Acts 2:9-11
While many of these were no doubt travellers who flew in for the festivities at the Day of Pentecost, by the time the outpouring of the Holy Spirit happened, I bet many lingered on and on and ended up becoming part of this diverse multinational congregation which had exploded from 120 to 3120 people.
Imagine what life must have been like in that pressure cooker that resembled the United Nations?
None of them obviously lost their cultural identity or gave up their mother tongue when they became followers of Jesus. None of them became Jewish Christians or Messianic Jews.
You know what they became? Egyptian Christians, Median Christians, Cappadocian Christians and on and on and on.
Imagine what church life must have been like. How incredibly rich and beautiful yet also challenging and filled with tension. A foretaste of heaven with real challenges on earth.
Instead of splitting into cultural churches (the Arabs here, the Cretans there), they came together in this incredibly diverse melting pot.
The Struggles of Diversity
Not that they were without their challenges and difficulties. Life was anything but naturally cohesive. In their diversity there were many issues and struggles that they had to overcome.
“Who’s not to say that we are being overlooked while you are being catered to? Who’s not to say that decisions are made by your people alone that benefit only your people? How come you are giving them what we never had?” And so on and so forth.
If you think that I am only speaking rhetoric, this actually took place early on the life of this church.
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the Word of God spread.” Acts 6:1-7
Wisely, they chose representatives from the groups who took on the responsibility to make sure none were overlooked.
The point is that they had friction points and I am sure they rubbed each other the wrong way more than one on occasion.
If you look at other early church congregations such as the Ephesian Church or Corinthian Church you would find similar struggles with issues ranging from various beliefs, lifestyle, personalities and style.
As Iron Sharpens Iron
Working out these differences over time, it began to mold and shape their character.
As it says in Prov. 17:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”, meaning, that daily interaction in close proximity influences personality and shapes character.
It’s like the smooth stones on a beach. What do you think made them so smooth and silky? I assure you they weren’t made that way, but became that way after millennia of friction with other stones as forces of nature exerted pressure and influence, smoothing out the rough edges.
You and I both know that sometimes it isn’t easy living with people. We also know that opposites attract which, while initially appealing, can easily later on become a source of grating and aggravation.
It’s crazy how God has programmed us with this incredible need to belong which ends up being the very source of some of our greatest struggles and frustration.
So on the one hand God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18), and yet on the other hand, the potential is there for having overbearing bully-husbands or quarrelsome naggy wives, neither of which is good.
One a bully and the other a dripping tap. Not good.
If that is true in our primary relationships, it is also true in all our secondary relationships many of which are inside the church.
So we want to belong, we yearn for fellowship and we love close proximity with our spiritual friends and yet sometimes they just rub us the wrong way and it drive us nuts.
Now before you go blaming the devil or before you go running away from trouble, have you considered that friction and sparks may just be God’s refining process in your life?
By the way, if you do run away, where are you going to go? You think there is a perfect church somewhere out there with perfect people or that Television Church will give you what you need? Don’t think so.
As Smooth As Stones
This is God’s process of molding and shaping you while taking off the rough edges and making you as smooth as stone.
Living stones, Peter calls them, that then fit snugly and nice into the wall of God’s temple that has your name on it.
“As you come to him, the living Stone, you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.” I Peter 2:4
To become snug, smooth and nice stones that fit into your destiny requires all those sharp edges, grating qualities and prickly things that can so easily scratch up and hurt others to be sanded away.
None of us come out of the waters of rebirth as smooth stones but instead with jagged edges, rough patches and ill-fitting qualities that need to be sanded down.
Where do you think that happens except in close proximity to others?
God has intentionally designed the church to be diverse with many different types thrown together, not to drive us crazy, but to help us take off the rough edges.
The Corinthian Church
“The body is a unit though it is made up of many parts.” (1 Cor. 12:12) Paul said this to the Corinthian congregation where personality cults, charismatic manifestations and lifestyle issues tore away at the fabric.
He reminds them that this diversity was actually God’s idea, where His intention is to have a diverse community live in harmony so as to not only shape character but provide a credible witness to the community.
So it says: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Cor. 12:18), and that diversity is actually what it means to be one body.
Can you imagine a body with only feet, hands or ears? It wouldn’t be a body.
“If they were all one part, where would the body be?” 1 Cor. 12:19
A body with only feet would be like a church with only seniors or a church with only Mandarin speaking people or a church with only professionals.
When I pastored Church in the Village at Shepherd Village in Toronto we saw this reality. It was a church in a Christian nursing home that was made up of only old people.
While these folks needed to gather for fellowship and could no longer attend their home churches and thus needed Church in the Village, the common complaint was that it felt like a church full of feet.
They were missing the arms, the ears and the eyes of children running, youth in their exuberance and young families bouncing their babies.
Paul says, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” 1 Cor. 12:17
That is what was happening at Church in the Village and happens at any other church where everyone is the same.
The Corinthian Church, the Ephesian Church and the Jerusalem Church all teach us that there are many parts but one body.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Cor. 12:21-25
That is what I call a highly functional church and a slice of heaven!
The Oil That Keeps The Motor Going!
To get there means living the way Paul told the Colossians to live:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Col. 3:12-15
Isn’t that great advice? That’s the oil that keeps the motor going!
Having compassion, humility and showing kindness, gentleness and patience, as well as being quick to forgive and slow to anger is not only the stuff that keeps the congregation humming. It is also the raw material of smooth, non-jarring stones!
That’s the benefit of belonging to a church like ours.
Of course you can be a Christian on your own, flit from church to church without ever making one your home; you can have all the Television Church you want; you can easily become anonymous in a mega church.
But where would the personal growth and character development happen if not among a group of people who rub shoulders week after week, who learn to get along among differences, and who show support even when it’s not in their best interest?
We want to be people who have learned to be compassionate, humble, kind, gentle and patient.
Where do you learn that except in the pressure cooker of a diverse local church?
Our Doors are Open!
If you are looking for a place that will help you become smooth as stones, then Scott St. is your place!
Not all are going to think the same, not all are going to express themselves in similar ways; we are going to have different personalities and certainly come from diverse backgrounds.
But we are going to come together, learn to get along with God’s grace, and show the world not only a basket full of smooth stones but also a foretaste of life in the Kingdom to come.
Our doors are open for you to benefit from a dynamic and diverse community that will help take the edges off.
Anybody here this morning saying, “Yes, I want to be part of that?”
A New Start: A Place Where I Experience God’s Presence
“So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” 1 Cor. 14:25
Lots of Competition
Competition in the market place is fierce! So many offerings… so many opportunities…so many things to do and places to go on a Sunday.
You are presented with many opportunities and ways that you can spend your Sunday. You could go fishing, golfing, family events, sports events and a myriad of other leisure activities including just lounging around.
Competition for your time, energy and resources is fierce. You could go to many places, be at various events, and find a million ways to spend your Sunday.
In the midst of this are congregations like ours doing their best to draw as many people as possible into their fellowship, sensing that same competition, and often times seeing the result of competing interests in attendance and consumption rates.
There is a sense that we are competing against many other offerings and opportunities.
There is a sense that peoples’ attention is being drawn into many different directions and that in many quarters church is becoming more and more optional.
The Church’s Unique Offering
All of this begs the question of what does the church have to offer that no one else offers? What does the church give that no one can?
Is there something unique about the church that cannot be had anywhere else in this world?
And is that something so essential, so ‘must have’ that I simply can not live without it?
That’s the question this morning! You find the answer to that and you will find the unique purpose of the church.
The Three Legged Table
Last week we talked about the three-legged table (where Laurence literally brought a coffee table to the platform with one of its legs missing and the moment he placed a book on it the whole thing tipped over).
The point of that was not the danger of wobbly furniture but that a church without fellowship, without being a place where everybody knows your name, is like a three-legged table: It can stand but it’s awfully wobbly and you can’t put any weight on it.
One thing the church offers is fellowship…community… a place to belong…a spiritual home…a family of God. In other words, a place called home where everybody knows your name.
The inspiration of that comes from the first century church where a place of belonging seemed absolutely essential in their minds.
This is why it says in Acts 2 things such as:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
So does offering fellowship give us the competitive advantage?
I’m not so sure. Other groups are also offering a sense of community as well. If you think that the church is the only group that offers a sense of belonging then you need to think again.
Behind where we live is a large family home where it looks as though the kids have moved out but the parents are still there.
Without fail most Sunday mornings the family comes together for an outdoor brunch that can last all day and by the sounds of it attracts upward of 25 people with kids.
They don’t need the church for fellowship. They get that in their family.
Around the corner from where we live is the local Lions Club with lots of opportunities to get involved in good causes and where everybody knows your name.
Down the road on Vine St. are soccer fields where kids not only play but soccer moms and dads hang out together.
Around the corner from the church is a bar where most evenings you will see a bunch of cars parked outside and people hanging together.
My point is that fellowship can be experienced at many different places.
“Yeah, but it’s spiritual fellowship we offer and it’s spiritual friendships that we’re talking about.”
Yes, that’s true. Like Jonathan and David, we are a band of brothers and sisters that walk in each other’s shoes and provide encouragement in the spiritual journey and thus offer spiritual fellowship.
Our Fellowship Is Spiritual
With that we are actually coming closer to the uniqueness of the church and to that which cannot be had anywhere else.
We offer a spiritual fellowship that not only is uniquely designed to help us in our spiritual walk but that also draws in the presence of God in a way not experienced anywhere else.
Do you realize that our fellowship is spiritual? It is based on our common interest and connection with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who indwells us by His Spirit.
Our fellowship is spiritual. You are alive in Christ and I am alive in Christ and together we nurture and stoke the spiritual flame so that it remains strong and does not go out.
Spiritual friendships… where we are a band of brothers and sisters coming together in a spiritual fellowship; where we pray for each other, encourage and love each other, and inspire each other even as iron sharpens iron.
Spiritual fellowship, that’s what I am talking about!
Not social only, not cause-based only, and certainly not only cultural or historical.
Where but here do you get spiritual fellowship? You do not get spiritual fellowship down at the Legion Hall, the local watering hole in the local arena or gym.
You do not get spiritual fellowship by participating in a great cause or with a network event somewhere out in the marketplace.
Only in the church will you have the opportunity for spiritual fellowship.
The Reality of the Presence of God
As important as that is, it goes a step further because spiritual fellowship attracts the presence of God in a way not seen elsewhere.
I find it amazing how when the church first started there were all kinds of references to the presence of God among them. It seemed like every time they had fellowship God was present.
This sense of God’s presence stems from a promise Jesus made; actually, from a couple of promises:
Not only did Jesus promise that “where two or three come together in my name there I am in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20), but he also promised that this would be replicated a million times over simultaneously without ever exhausting the presence of God!
He would do that by pouring out the Holy Spirit among the believers, and this would not be seen anywhere else in this world.
Listen to what Jesus said about this:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:16-20
He is in us, we are in Him, and where two or three come together in his name and for that purpose, His presence would be in their midst unlike anywhere else.
The world will not see him the way he is seen among us!
Let me be clear and tell you that God’s presence is everywhere and there are many moments in life where you experience the presence of God without anybody else there.
You will find Him in nature. You will find him in your prayer closet. You will find him in the circumstance. You will find him in another person.
But nowhere near as you would as when two or three are gathered in His name! There is a release of the presence of God that is unique to that gathering.
That divine presence in our midst gives us benefits that you will not find elsewhere.
The Benefits of the Presence of God
Let me give you a couple of examples of this.
a) In Acts 2 it’s all about God’s presence resulting in effectiveness
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:1-4
Obviously, there was a lot happening there at once and some of it no doubt unique to the fact it was the first time that God showed up in a brand new church. We don’t have the time to unwrap that.
Notice the correlation between them being together in one place praying, the uniqueness of the presence of God in that place and the subsequent ability to engage a skeptical secular audience with the claims of Jesus.
That effectiveness in witnessing would never have happened. They were a bunch of ‘scaredy’ cats hidden away in an upper room until they had such a God-encounter that they become incredibly effective witnesses.
The presence of God makes us effective.
b) In Acts 4 it’s all about God’s presence and us becoming fearless
“Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:23-24, 31
Notice the correlation between gathering and praying in the name of the Lord, a strong sense of God’s presence and how they were fearless and bold.
God’s presence not only makes you effective but also makes you fearless!
c) In 1 Cor. 5 it’s all about God’s presence and personal life change
Without getting into the sordid and sensational details of the particulars, notice the correlation between them assembling in the name of the Lord and God’s presence being there: “When you are assembled… the power of our Lord Jesus is present.” 1 Cor. 5:4
That in turn brings about conviction over personal failure leading to eventual life change!
In 1 Cor. 5 it was all about the presence of God allowing eyes to open so as to eventually be restored and rejuvenated.
d) Lastly, in 1 Cor. 14, it’s all about the presence of God causing unbelievers to come to faith in Jesus.
This is something we would call power evangelism where the presence of God leads to conversion without a whole lot having been forced or said.
“So if the whole church comes together and…. an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” I Cor. 14:23-25
Again, there is a ton of stuff that I would need to unwrap to do justice to this passage, which is not really the intent of this morning.
What I want to point out is how the presence of God among us will cause even nonbelievers to “fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
No arm-wrestling someone into the kingdom, nor having the best argument, but allowing for the presence of God to be in our midst so that searchers and skeptics alike will so sense God’s presence that they will say, “God really is among you.”
This is What We Offer!
That will never happen in any other social gathering. It won’t happen in the legion hall, at the local watering hole, on the golf course or soccer field.
That only happens in the church! As we are competing with so many other things in our days, the only thing we have to offer that makes us unique from anyone is the presence of God.
We come to our gatherings in the name of the Lord expecting God’s presence to be in our midst.
In that atmosphere we sing our songs of worship with passion expecting God to open the windows of heaven.
We pray our prayers with earnestness expecting God to answer from above. We pray for our sick expecting God to heal them. We pray for strength expecting to be made fearless.
We speak our prophetic words expecting secrets to be laid bare and sinners to come to repentance.
In fact, we go about the business of gathering in the name of the Lord expecting saint and sinner alike to say: “God is really among you”.
That is what we offer the world: God is really among us. So we are not a social club nor a historical society, a fraternity nor are we about a meaningful cause.
What we offer – and what you cannot get anywhere else but in places like ours - is the fact that God really is among us.
Taste and See That the Lord is Good!
If you are looking for God’s presence, then you have come to the right place. This morning we invite you to taste and see that the Lord is good!
There is a wonderful little chorus this morning that captures in song what I want to convey to us today:
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see You, I want to see You.
To see You high and lifted up, shining in the light of Your glory,
Pour out Your power and love, as we sing holy, holy, holy!
A New Start: A Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
The Divine Plumb Line
I have to admit that in some of my darker moments I wonder if what we are doing today is the way we were meant to do it.
Who’s to say we are not way off course with the whole thing? We could be doing it in ways never intended by the original architects and designers.
What I am talking about is this business of how we do church. The church, after all, is 2000 years old and an awful lot can go wrong in 2000 years.
A degree or two off course over 2000 years will have you end up in the wrong harbor.
So who’s to say that we’re anywhere near doing church the way it was meant to be. For all we know, we could be way off course.
The good news is that a record is preserved of how church was done in its earliest days among the original architects.
In other words, just like in days of the Prophet Amos, we also have a plumb line that we can go back to and compare things to.
“The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel.” Amos 7:7-8
So when it comes to the biblical church, to the church of how it was done at the beginning, we can look at walls “that have been built true to plumb.”
In particular, a cornerstone passage is found in Acts 2:42, which describes how they assembled themselves at the very beginning of the church age.
“They devoted themselves to apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
Wow, really? You think this is it? This is the plumb line that we ought to compare ourselves against?
Don’t you think that is just a little naïve and simplistic to suggest that as long as we live out Acts 2:42 we will be true to the intent of the original architects?
Acts 2:42 is far more complex and comprehensive than what first meets the eye.
That verse provides you with four cornerstones that lay the foundation not only of the early church but the foundation for any biblical church regardless of the times, cultures and local dynamics.
As long as a church is anchored to these four pillars, things will bode well for that church.
The four pillars of: biblical learning, intimate fellowship, passionate worship (which is what breaking of bread was) and spiritual disciplines (such as prayer).
How that’s done matters less than that it is done. It does depend somewhat on culture, the times in which we live, the place we live, the type of people we are and thus so much of how that is done remains fluid and ever changing.
Nonetheless, these are the four cornerstones of the biblical church: teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer.
The Three Legged Table
Even if one of these is missing, it will mean that whatever you may have will not be an accurate reflection of a truly biblical church.
It would be a like a three legged table – it’ll stand until you lean on it.
A church without teaching the truth of God’s Word is a three-legged table, as is a church without passionate worship, or a church without spiritual hunger, or a church without intimate fellowship.
This morning, I want to focus on this business of intimate biblical fellowship. A church without fellowship is a three-legged table!
How can there be a church without fellowship? Oh that’s easy:
Ø There are churches where everyone is a spectator and it’s like going to a show.
Ø There are churches where you get lost in the crowd; it’s like going to a stadium.
Ø There are churches where everyone is related or so connected that unless you are born into it you will never be a part of it; it’s like going to a reunion only to realize you are not part of the family.
Ø There are churches were fellowship is so shallow and superficial that all it consists of is a smile, a handshake and a “God bless you”, which may be nice but it’s not fellowship.
Biblical fellowship goes much further than this. Notice how it says that “they devoted themselves…to the fellowship” which is far more than a handshake, a smile and a hug.
Marvin Vincent provides a most insightful definition of what this means. He talks about biblical fellowship as something that is about “a relation between individuals which involves a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest and in each other.”
I have to tell you, that’s one of the best definitions of biblical fellowship I have seen.
Let me break it down into its parts.
“A relation between individuals which involves a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest and in each other.”
Biblical fellowship is based on relationship. Strangers cannot have fellowship. People whose names you don’t know let alone who they are, are not in fellowship.
This idea of a relation between individuals implies community, a coming together and a being together.
It’s not being in a room full of strangers no matter how nicely you smile at one another.
2. Common Interest
“A relation between individuals which involves a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest and in each other.”
There is a reason for the coming and staying together, namely, a common interest where we share something in common.
And you may wonder what that might be?
Looking at our diversity this morning (some young others old, some born here others born elsewhere, some blue collar others white collar, some with English as their mother tongue others another mother tongue) – with all this diversity – as near as I can figure it out, the only thing we have in common is our relationship to Jesus.
We’ve all had the same experience, we share the same salvation; the blood of Jesus has washed away the sins of everyone who’s called on His name.
That is our common interest. Whatever fellowship we have is based on that.
Which means no exclusions zones, no outsiders and insiders, no inner circle and outer circle, no us versus them and no voting bar in the Kingdom of God.
“He has destroyed the barrier, the diving wall of hostility.” Eph. 2:14
“Through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
As long as you are a part of Christ, you are part of this fellowship!
Even if you have nothing else in common, if you have Jesus in common then you have everything in common.
So that’s the second step toward biblical fellowship. The first step is that it requires a relationship based on this idea of common interest.
This leads me to the third aspect of biblical fellowship. Not only relationship and common interest, but also active participation.
3. Active Participation
“A relation between individuals which involves a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest and in each other.”
This is key: Biblical fellowship consists of participation in each other and in our common interest.
Participate, folks. You’ve got to participate. Participate implies getting involved, getting to know, developing relationship and friendship, communication, dialogue and interaction.
Biblical fellowship means interacting with one another because of our common interest in Jesus Christ.
You need to hear that the basis for biblical fellowship is our relationship with Jesus. It’s not our language, culture, common ancestry nor the
demographic and or social economic makeup.
As important as these things are and as much as there is a natural tendency to drift toward those similar to you, nonetheless, the basis for biblical fellowship is our mutual participation in the life of Jesus Christ.
The Ephesian Church
Over in Ephesians 2 Paul teaches extensively on this. He’s talking to a group of people who were traditionally divided among cultural lines resulting in non-association and separation.
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” -- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise.” Eph. 2:11-12
They had an ‘us versus them’ and ‘insider versus outsider’ mentality, which Paul captures in words such as, separate, excluded, foreigners and aliens. And all of it based on the fact that in the natural they had nothing in common and should never have been under the same roof.
The only reason they were together was because when they all came to Jesus they were made one people and thus this “barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” was torn down!
Because of Jesus’ work of “reconciling both of them to God through the cross by which he put to death their hostility” (Eph. 2:16), he now tells each and every one of them “you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” (Eph. 2:19)
Because of that, they were to fellowship, associate, cooperate and interact with one another!
None of this has to do with uniformity; it had everything to do with commonality in Christ.
The Jerusalem Church
All you need to do is look into the Jerusalem Church to realize intimate fellowship, despite incredible diversity, is very possible.
They were as radically diverse as any group has ever been:
“Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs.”
This was like the UN with so many nationalists that it should have blown apart. Yet because of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing diverse people to the foot of the same cross meant “they devoted themselves to the fellowship.”
So not only was this possible but this was preferred. The church should look like the United Nations.
It should never be an old white man’s club but should consist of people of color, various ages, various classes.
On the Day of Pentecost racial barriers fell down.
Perhaps that is reason why the word ‘devoted’ was used because it refers to a willful, conscious decision to fellowship.
That sense of commitment to fellowship came about on the Day of Pentecost because of the great work of the Holy Spirit in diverse lives and hearts making sure that everyone participated in that common interest of Jesus Christ. All of a sudden, this created a level playing field at the foot of the cross making them brothers and sisters.
The Glue That Makes it Stick
The Holy Spirit applied the blood of Christ to each heart without which they never would have stayed together.
The blood of Jesus applied to our heart is the glue that makes us stick together. You take that away and we have no reason to stay together.
In fact, let me say to you that every time there is a church split it’s because people have lost sight of the primacy of the blood of Jesus that binds us together.
The same with every time you have factions, fractures or people leaving.
Work out your differences, give permission for your differences, be tolerant of your differences, and even learn from your differences.
Fellowship, despite your differences, just like they did in Jerusalem.
A Truly Live-In Church!
That’s the other thing. Our common interest in Jesus demands that we participate in each other’s lives.
We’re not multiple ships passing in the night nor are we solitudes keeping to ourselves who happen to have Christ in common.
We don’t just come from our cocoons; participate in celebration, worship and remembrance of the blood of Jesus, only to return to our cocoons.
Folks, this is not a drive-by church. We do not place our religious orders at the screen, pay with our tithe at the first window, and pick up our religious order on the second window, only to drive away.
A truly biblical church will never be a drive-by church but a live-in church in the sense that we participate in each other’s lives.
Or at least we better. I guess, that is the question here this morning, isn’t it? Do we participate in each other’s lives?
I know we all have our little circles, you know, those with whom we have an historic attachment. But what about those beyond your circle and those beyond your comfort zone and age group?
What about those who are new to this church or those desperate to connect? Those who are alone and don’t have ready-made circles?
Do you realize that all it takes is for someone new to show up once, maybe twice and if they don’t connect they are gone?
Not only are they gone but they will tell their friends who will tell their friends and before you know it, word on the street has it that this church is hard to break into. They and their friends will never come back.
Do you also realize that the Number One reason people stay in churches is because they have found a warm, loving and accepting community where everyone is drawn in and no one is left alone?
We do not want to be a drive-by church. We want to be a live-in, stick around, and get to know your neighbor church.
How You Do it is Up to You
How we do that is entirely up to us. Nothing is set in stone. Depends on what works here.
Ø Hanging around Sunday morning after church? Great, let’s do it (just make sure you include everybody)
Ø Potlucks, BBQs and other social events? Great idea. Bring a lawn chair, a dessert. Stick around and meet people.
Ø A little get-together at your place where you throw some new and old people together? Hey, more power to you.
Not only does it say that they “devoted themselves to the fellowship” but it also outlines how they did it: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Acts 2:46
In their culture, at that time, this worked for them. In fact, the language suggests spontaneity. It wasn’t legislated, nor a program or special emphasis.
It just happened spontaneously and organically in a way that made sense to them.
You cannot mandate fellowship. You cannot say everyone into small groups or everyone open up your homes or on the count of three everybody pair up with someone else.
How you do it is up to you, as long as you practice fellowship.
Yes, you need to practice fellowship. Give yourself that extra push. Make the decision that you will fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Maybe you need to stop waiting for others to come to you and instead you go to them.
Maybe you need to elbow your way in somewhere.
Maybe you need to find someone new to you and invite him or her over for lunch or a coffee.
Maybe you need to go beyond the same old “us four and no more” and reach out to someone not from your comfort zone.
Friends, this church will only be built and grow as each of us determines in our hearts to be committed to the fellowship of what this is!
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.