Living Out Your Fellowship With Other Believers
One of the most important words in the Christian vocabulary has been the word, "fellowship.” It was a vital part of the daily life of the early church--something to which they continually devoted themselves (Acts 2:42). In fact, without it, a believer's spiritual growth will be seriously hindered (Hebrews 10:24-25). Today, however, the word has lost much of its biblical meaning. It has been reduced to mere activity--without the key elements that God intended for our mutual benefit and growth. The purpose of this study is to examine what the Scriptures say about biblical, authentic fellowship--and to challenge you to pursue it as a lifestyle.
I. Before you can live out authentic fellowship, you must understand it.
It is not just an activity centered around coffee and doughnuts, or parties, or meals (though food is an integral part of it--Acts 2:46). Rather it is a relationship--based on our common union with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3-4).
In order to function the way God intends, you must understand your core identity. Contrary to what our culture emphasizes, you are not a self-contained, self-sufficient entity. You are a member of Christ's body! That means you are not independent, but interdependent. As in a human body, when an organ becomes diseased or infected, the whole body is affected, so it is in Christ's body. Your spiritual well-being affects other members--just as their well-being affects you. In Christ's body, there is no such thing as a spiritual "lone-ranger!"
II. Authentic fellowship starts with your own relationship with God.
At salvation, you are placed into union with God (1 Corinthians 1:9). Your union with God makes it possible to enjoy communion with Him, which is the very reason for which God redeemed you (Philippians 3:10). But communion with God is not automatic. It requires your dependence on the Lord and discipline in following His Word (John 15:1-7; Philippians 3:12-14). The bottom line: Your daily pursuit of communion with God directly affects your practical fellowship with other believers (1 John 1:7).
The Problem In Relationships Is Usually THE Relationship!
When believers fail to get along as they should, when problems go unresolved and tensions mount. When they are not increasingly sensitive to each other's needs, more often than not it is an indication that something is amiss in their relationship with God. On the other hand, when believers are walking in the light (i.e. properly responding to the will and character of God as revealed in Scripture), the inevitable effect is they will be pursuing practical fellowship with other believers.
III. Authentic fellowship with God enables you to pursue the practice of authentic fellowship with other believers.
According to 1 John 1:3, fellowship is both vertical and horizontal. When we are saved, we are brought into fellowship not only with God, but with all others who share this same salvation in Christ (Ephesians 2:14-16; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
“All believers share a common life in Christ, whether or not we recognize it. We are in fellowship with literally thousands of believers from every nation of the world. Although we have never met most of them, yet we are in fellowship with them. We disagree with many of them over various issues of faith and practice, yet we are still members of the same Body. Even though we struggle to like some of them, that does not alter the fact that we share together a common life in Christ. Neither our attitudes nor our actions affect this objective sense of koinonia (fellowship). We are in fellowship with all other believers, whether we like it or not--or even recognize the fact. This objective truth of koinonia is meant to provide the foundation for the experiential aspects of fellowship. The realization that we do in fact share a common life with other believers should stimulate within us a desire to share experientially with one another. This is the whole thrust of New Testament teaching on koinonia" (Jerry Bridges in The Crisis of Caring, p. 65).
It is only as you comprehend your positional fellowship with other believers, that you will be motivated to pursue practical fellowship with them (Ephesians 2:14-22; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 4:1-16).
IV. The fact that we belong to one another ought to affect the way we behave toward one another in the diligent exercise of your spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-8).
Prophesying--lit. "speaking forth" God's Word. This is the gift of preaching. During Old Testament and apostolic times, this gift included the proclamation of new revelation as well as what had already been revealed. Today, it is the "active enablement to proclaim God's Word already given in Scripture." (Romans 9-16, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, pp. 169-170).
Serving--The same word from which we get the term, deacon. It refers to any kind of service or practical help that Christians give to each other. A person with this gift loves to work behind the scenes, meeting practical needs for individuals or the body as a whole.
Teaching--The ability to interpret and present God's truth understandably. Could apply to a teacher in a Sunday school, a Bible study, a Christian college--or wherever God's truth is taught. A person with this gift has an intense interest in the personal study of God's Word as well as the capacity to communicate its truths and practical applications in a way that benefits those who listen.
Encouraging--Lit. "calling someone to one's side." Covers a variety actions designed to stimulate believers to live out the truth of God's Word: advising another about a course of action; pleading with another to turn from a sinful habit; encouraging another to keep growing; warning another about the consequences of unrepentant sin; strengthening another who is facing a trial; and comforting another who is grieving or suffering. While prophecy proclaims truth and teaching explains it, this gift calls believers to obey it.
Contributing--The capacity to give of one's money or possessions consistently, generously, cheerfully, and even sacrificially in a way that others are encouraged or blessed. This gift is not limited to the wealthy (C.f. the Philippian church—2 Corinthians 8:2).
Leading--This gift has the capacity to give vision and direction. It is able to organize and direct others toward a specific goal. "Projects are done in a way that promotes the work of God and the growth of those involved." (Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts, by William McRae, p. 52). This gift must be carried out with diligence--allowing no procrastination or idleness.
Showing mercy--This gift focuses on caring for the poor, the sick, the handicapped, the aged, and other needy ones in the body. The person with this gift is divinely endowed with special sensitivity for the suffering or sorrow of others that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The fact that we belong to one another ought to affect the way we behave toward one another in pursuing the "one anothers" of the New Testament.
Love One Another (1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:17-18).
Forgive One Another (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:31-32; Matthew 18:21-35).
Confess Your Faults One To Another (James 5:16).
Pray For One Another (James 5:16).
Bear One Another's Burdens (Galatians 6:2).
Admonish One Another (Hebrews 3:13; 10:25).
Consider One Another (Hebrews 10:24).
Comfort One Another (1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11).
Edify One Another (Romans 14:19).
Teach One Another (Colossians 3:16).
Serve One Another (Galatians 5:13; John 13:1-17).
Accept one another (Romans 15:7).
Does this seem overwhelming to you? The fact is--we can only live out this sort of fellowship with each other to the extent that we are deriving the spiritual strength we need from our daily fellowship with the Lord. At the same time, you need to understand that your fellowship with God is also affected by your obedient response to your responsibilities toward others in this body. As J.I. Packer stated: ''We should not...think of our fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an optional addition to the exercises of private devotion. We should recognize rather that such fellowship is a spiritual necessity; for God has made us in such a way that our fellowship with himself is fed by our fellowship with fellow-Christians, and requires to be so fed constantly for its own deepening and enrichment." (God's Words, p.193).
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The Crisis of Caring
The Communion of Saints
Philip Graham Ryken
Return From Living Out Your Fellowship With Other Believers To Fellowship
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