Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Following is another sermon post from recent correspondence.


A New Command

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

While prayer and reading God’s Word are absolutely necessary in order to grow in our relationship with the Lord, there is a third key to our Christian walk, and that is fellowship. Fellowship, in the context of our Christian perspective, is a good and right relationship with our fellow Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was Christ Himself who taught us that we should look at those who follow His Way as family. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) Now, if Christ Jesus, God clothed in flesh refers to us as brothers and sisters, how much more so should we, mere mortals so finite and insignificant to our infinite God, look at Christ’s followers as our own family.

That we were made to partake in fellowship is readily apparent. Right from the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone. (Genesis 2:18) There is a deep, undeniable need within all of us to interrelate with one another, to know and to be known, to love and to be loved. This is, in fact, a reflection of our even deeper need to have fellowship with our Lord. As we interact with each other in love and kindness, as imperfect as our love is, we can catch small glimpses of what God’s love towards us looks like. I think that is one of the reasons He created us with such a desire to gather together, so that we, through our fellowship, could gain some understanding of God’s infinite love. Even Christ Himself showed a great emphasis on fellowship. Christ was not a cold, distant teacher, nor was His ministry out in the wilderness like John the Baptist.

Jesus spent time with and among the people. He ate and drank with them. You could even say He was the life of the party at the wedding in Cana. Among the first things Jesus did in His ministry was gather a group of men together, his disciples. These followers of Jesus were in constant fellowship with each other and they were with Christ wherever He went. From Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain, to their last supper, to the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples were there supporting Jesus as best as they could. They only left Him when they were driven off by a violent mob.

It is important that we all are able to partake in some sort of fellowship. I sometimes dislike the over emphasis on Sunday morning church, as there are so many people who don’t live out their Christianity during the rest of the week, but Sunday gatherings are a perfect place to get the regular fellowship we need. I appreciate church bodies that emphasize small group studies, or cell groups, or home groups. Those are different names for basically the same concept. On a regular basis those smaller groups, generally made up of members of the church, get together for a Bible study, or a time of prayer, or just to have a good time and play games. Some groups have food, often potluck style, and some don’t. While the groups vary greatly in style, the important thing is that they are Christians gathering together for their mutual benefit. While the avenues open to each of us for fellowship depends greatly on our personal situation and schedule, the important thing is that we are regularly interacting with one another as part of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

There are several important reasons why we need to partake in fellowship. With our times of fellowship, we gain a group of people with which we have accountability with, making sure that we do not go astray from the core of our faith. We also gain other great examples of how to live the Christian life. We gain support in hard times, and really so much more. The first of those reasons, accountability, has some rather visible potential consequences if we lack it. Without accountability in our faith, it is easy for us to slowly drift away from the core of our beliefs, as there would be no one to let us know when our thinking has gone awry. Our ideas and beliefs may shift over time so as to excuse our behavior or our vices, or just because of our pride in believing, that we know better than everyone else, until the religion we practice really doesn’t match up with the true tenants of Christianity.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (II Timothy 4:3-4)

We all can benefit greatly from having solid Christian examples and role models in our lives, though it is especially beneficial for those who have been Christians for a shorter time or are simply younger. Christ Himself is the ultimate and perfect example for us to emulate, but it is certainly nice to see how our brothers and sisters in Christ behave in regular day to day situations. Truly, it is our down to earth, day to day behaviors that are really important in our Christian walk and thus should be exemplified. For instance, I know a man who, with his wife of course, regularly opens up his home for people to come for a time of fellowship with food and prayer. They have successfully raised four relatively well behaved kids who, from what I have seen of them, are models of the ideals of kindness and a servant heart. When his parents were of such an age that they could no longer live alone, instead of keeping them in an “old folks” home or assisted living center, he took them into his own home and continues to look after them there. These, among many other possible examples, are all simply life style choices with which we can greatly encourage each other by being able to see such things in one another's lives. I certainly believe that those simple lifestyle choices, living for Christ day to day by displaying loving kindness to those around us, have a much longer and more widespread positive influence for the Kingdom of God than any well phrased sermon or evangelistic event or massive prayer meeting.

On the more practical side of fellowship, when we fall on hard times or are struggling with something we have a group of people ready and willing to help us out and comfort us. And just because I call it practical doesn’t mean there’s not a Biblical precedent. Really, the Bible is a very practical text with many real life examples. Teaching us to look out for each other is a good display of just that. “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!... And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10,12)

I could continue on with more reasons for fellowship, but what it comes down to is another way that we find ourselves close to God. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20) In fact, the Bible has some harsh things to say about those who would call themselves Christian and yet reject fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20-21) Of course, we must not fall into the trap where we only socialize with other Christians, a “holy huddle” so to speak, for we are certainly called to reach out to everyone. “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:47)

Gathering together to love one another and grow in our heart-felt knowledge of God’s love for us, and ultimately reflecting that love out towards the rest of the world is essentially what our purpose here on earth is. The book of Acts contains several beautiful pictures of the first century church doing just that. I leave you now with a one of those verses.

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)

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