The cost of true fellowship/1
Although in a very similar vein, this author will not simply attempt to answer the question many others have previously asked God and other Christians around them: What is real fellowship and where can I find that? In addition I want to ask this additional question; “What is the cost of true fellowship?” I believe the answer to this question will circumvent the need for the previous questions altogether as they become answered through this question alone. How can I say that?
True Fellowship starts with the Father
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” [1 John 1:5-7]
Every real born again believer desires to fellowship with other Christians, that’s a given. What isn’t so easily recognized is what that constitutes in real life and how that particular fellowship is brought to fruition. Most of us have for years made the assumption that church attendance, bible study and a few social outings during the year represent true fellowship. Not only is this not true, in most cases the above are actually a hindrance to what John the apostle was calling “fellowship with Him and one another.”
At the Outset
Webster’s defines “fellowship” as follows:
- A friendly relationship among people
- The relationship of people who share interests or feelings
- A group of people who share similar interests
Now can I ask a question. Would you consider this an accurate description of what the Bible denotes as Christian fellowship? I certainly hope not. It’s not as if some of the above isn’t a part of true fellowship among Christians, it certainly would be, but it would also be just as true for a ladies monthly breakfast, the Tuesday evening fishing club, a local AA meeting or any other social function for that matter, Christian or otherwise. What is it that specifically defines a Christians fellowship from these other forms of fellowship? That’s right, The Father, God Himself.
God alone defines fellowship
Regardless of what we might consider to be fellowship, in reality true fellowship can only be defined by God Himself. Seeing that fellowship is commanded in the Scriptures, wouldn’t it seem vital to understand what God Himself means when He talks of our fellowship with Him and one another?
The word for fellowship in the Bible is “koinonia.” Some synonymous words other than “fellowship” (as described above) would be:
Obviously these words also denote aspects of fellowship. Ultimately though, what makes Christian fellowship unique?
A Supernatural Source
The Christian life is lived in the supernatural. Were it to stay on the natural plane or derive from our own resources it could not be so. Therefore Christian fellowship cannot and does not take into consideration our human thoughts about things, take into consideration our personal strengths or our soulish self centered tendencies. Only what derives from the Holy Spirit within us can contribute to the type of fellowship God requires and commands.
As fragile human beings whose natural tendency is to save ourselves and our abilities and reputation, it’s necessary for these “old nature” habits to be diminished as much as possible. The instrument of their destruction is the cross of Christ. There is a reason Jesus says that whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:27) It is simply impossible to carry out what God requires unless all of our resources are kept in check. Do you by nature love your neighbor? Do you naturally want to forgive those who offend you? Do you place the interests of others around you above your own? Do you agree with Jesus that it is more blessed to give than receive? And finally, “Do you believe that all Christians can live in perfect harmony upon this earth together?” No you don’t, but until you do, you can never know true fellowship- at least not how our heavenly Father intends us to know it.
The present problem
For many years most of us have been taught that fellowship is found over there or in some particular place. Whether that place be a church, a Bible study, a prayer meeting or other doesn’t really matter. We’ve been taught we need to go somewhere to find what we’re looking or searching for. Taking this to its logical conclusion each of us would be going somewhere in an attempt to receive something and so would everyone else in our particular group or setting. This of course brings up another question, “How can we fellowship if no one contributes and all come to receive?”
The next problem
For many years, most of our “fellowship” has been directed and structured by somebody else. All we think we really need to do is show up and we will can have fellowship with other people. There’s almost always somebody willing to lead and the rest can listen, right? Is that what God intends, is that fellowship?
“Church reduces worship & fellowship to a pilgrimage and a ritual as opposed to the spiritual reality of sharing our [real] lives together” -outside contribution
Returning to the definition of “koinonia” above, we find that true fellowship includes contribution, participation and sharing. That simply means that every individual Christian is responsible to contribute something to fellowship, they are required to participate in some capacity- they are required to share their spiritual gifts with the other Christians who are present.
A healthy body
This example is so simple it’s going to sound stupid. But it just might take this to wake people from the dead, from their superficial ideas about what fellowship really is before God.
In 1 Corinthians 12 we have an explanation of how spiritual gifts are used. The illustration used is a literal physical body where every member of that body is a necessary working part. Think about that-seriously. Consider your own physical body. Now remove a leg. Ouch. Thank might make life a little difficult, no? Uh, oh, now somebody else requires the other one. Before long the arms go too- didn’t see that coming did you? Then, slowly, almost without notice every part but a beating heart and one eye remains- and a shell of a body to replace the one that’s missing. What kind of body would that be? Would anybody alive believe this body could function properly? Are we so removed from reality that we cannot see that this is how Christians attempt to “fellowship” day after day, week after week in the man made shells of our own making? Yes, we are!
Where true fellowship begins
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” [Matthew 6:6]
All real spiritual fellowship starts here- with the Father. You cannot get truth secondhand, you must learn from God yourself if you are to be taught aright. It is in this “secret place” of communion with Him (fellowship with the Father) that all other fellowship is made possible.
When we gather with other saints we must be prepared to give, not expect to receive. Every healthy relationship we have or will ever have will be based upon this very same principle: it is better to give than receive. It is not something we should try to do, rather, it is something we must become as we abide in the inner sanctuary with Him. The reason chaos and instability exists among Christians is simple: they have not made abiding with Christ alone their first priority which will result in individuals placing their own needs in the assembly above the interests of their Lord. Only when one dies to their own interests via the cross will the evidence of God’s gifts among other believers become manifest. When all live with Him as their priority, the only possible result will be harmony with each contributing and all having their needs met.
In talking to Timothy about his responsibilities as a believer, Paul the apostle summarizes a section of his thoughts with these words:
“Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels , but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” [2 Timothy 2:21]
It is obvious that to be a contributing member of the body of Christ, to participate in the manner the Lord requires and to share one’s spiritual gifts with others certain things are required from the professing believer. It is not enough just to show up and think someone else will spoon feed you. We don’t have to go back far to discover what some of these responsibilities are within the family of God:
- Abstain from wickedness (2 Timothy 2:19)
- Avoiding worldly and empty chatter (2 Timothy 2:16)
- Competing according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5)
- Avoidance of being overly attentive to everyday affairs (2 Timothy 2:4)
- A willingness to suffer hardship (2 Timothy 2:1)
Can I summarize the above for you? Our Father wants us to prioritize what He Himself says matters most. That we recognize that we are involved in a very real race/war with serious spiritual ramifications and that in order to be successful we will have to suffer through many difficulties if we are to succeed. That in order to be a vessel of gold or silver which He can use that we must abstain from wickedness and compete in the manner that He requires- not being sidetracked by what so often vies for our attention in worldly things.
= Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me (Paul), in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13)
Can God trust you with His treasure? Are you one who has proven himself or herself worthy of His calling of you? Then brother or sister, you might be ready for real fellowship with Him and others.
-to be continued in part 2