Our Heavenly Father, we are interested, we are interested in you, we are interested in your plan for us and we want to be individually as well as corporately together, everything you have designed. But already our day is picked up because we have gathered in saying some of the precious hymns of the church. And the trues remind us of how great You are and how wonderful it is to receive Your love, in Jesus' name, Amen!
A church lives or dies by its people, if a church lives it's because the people who are a part of it are themselves alive and vital and active, and if a church dies, it's not because the carpet gets old, or the building wears out but because the people wither and die themselves.
There was a young minister who into a Church in Oklahoma to take it over, it was the small and diminishing congregation, but he fought by the grace of God that he could turn it around to know avail, it didn't work. So his last-ditch effort is he went to the local newspaper and took out an article, that said, The Church has officially died and tomorrow Sunday afternoon we'll have a funeral service to finally bury it, and invited the community out. Well, come Sunday afternoon. The Church was packed for the first time in years. People who were just interested said, "What kind of stunt this was?" I mean, people were standing up, looking outside, looking through the windows to the inside. Pastor stood up, gave a eulogy about how great this Church had been, but now it's dead.
A coffin brought in, flowers were arranged and then the coffin was open and the Pastor said, "Now, would you stand up and single-file walk by and pay your respects to the departed and perhaps, we'll all understand why the Church has died and there as they walked by the casket was a mirror, positioned in such a way so that as people walk by they saw their own reflection and everybody walked past it, very embarrassed.
A group is only as strong as the individuals that comprise that group and a Church is only as strong as the individual members. So in a Church of 14,000 people like ours, how strong are the individuals within it.
This is Part 2 of a study that we're calling On your mark! Get set! Grow! The text is X 242. The four ingredients that were the mission statement of the early Church and we're moving slow in this verse we want to prob very deeply to make application. The first characteristic we saw last week of the early Church is they devoted themselves consistently or continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine.
The second is Fellowship. And the second characteristic balances the first characteristic. It shows us that the early Church wasn't just a school, it was a family. They weren't just about preaching, they were about partnering together fellowship with each other.
I'll put it to you this way, I think we see here, God's New Testament solution to an Old Testament principle. One of the earliest principles God ever stated in Genesis Chapter 2, God said, It is not good that man should be what? Alone. And that's true of humanity in general and it's true of the Church in particular.
Verse 42, is their devotion to Fellowship, verse 43-47 is the description of that Fellowship. We read it last week, we will read it again today. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship in the breaking of bread and in prayers, and then fear came upon every soul and many wonders in science were done through the apostles.
Now all who believe were together and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all as anyone had need.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house-to-house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart. Praising God in having favor with all the people, and the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved.
My first encounter with real fellowship was in a Christian commune, and then a mortuary. Now I need to explain that statement.
In the early days of calvary out in Southern California we had communes, house ministries and people were brought in off the streets, drug addicts, hippies, wanderers, brought together, one to Christ and discipled in these houses. And then on weekends depending on how where these houses were, they would gather together for corporate worship. Sort of like this structure, house-to-house and then the temple.
Well, where we were at, we decided to get all of the houses together and meet on Sunday in a rented mortuary because after all they weren't using the Chapel on Sunday. And so we rented it, we got together and we had a worship band and Bible teaching and we got to meet people and grow and it was a wonderful time in the mortuary. Of course we had a lot of wise cracks about how this place really came alive on Sunday and this is a church people are dying to come to and all of that palaver. But I learned to connect with people.
Today we are going to look at fellowship. The fellowship of the first Church in Jerusalem. What it means? Why it was needed? How it's done, and when it happens?
Let's first consider what it means and I draw your attention to Verse 42 of the word Fellowship. Now that is a well-known word. Every Christian knows the word Fellowship, in fact it's so well-known, I bet a lot of you know it in its original language. It's the word -- what? I think Some of you got it, Koinonia. A very famous word, Koinonia. But what you may not know is it's put in more of the formal construction. In Greek it's te koinonia, The Fellowship.
Let me tell you what it's not and then what it is. There's probably no more over-used and under-valued word in the Christian vocabulary than the word Fellowship. It's as if we have believed that we can tack that word onto any activity and suddenly it's a sanctified activity and it constitutes real New Testament fellowship. So you have the vintage-car fellowship, the weight-lifter's fellowship, the left-handed badminton player's fellowship, just tack it onto anything and you have fellowship. It means a whole lot more than just hanging out in Jesus' name or eating a meal in Jesus' name or coffee and gossip which a lot of fellowship can become, means more than that.
The word Koinonia means communion or distribution or I like this word best, Partnership. Partnership, it essentially means sharing the life of Jesus Christ that we have in common with each other, sharing the life of Jesus Christ with each other. It is not just a social gathering, it's a spiritual gathering.
Now we get social when we are together but we are being social over spiritual matters. Spiritual issues, that's fellowship.
Howard Snyder wrote these words, I brought the book out early this morning and reviewed it. The Church today is suffering a fellowship crisis. One seldom finds in the institutionalized Church today, the winsome intimacy among people were masks are dropped, honesty prevails, and there is that sense of communication in community beyond the human where there is literally the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Our churches are filled with people who outwardly look contented and at peace but inwardly are crying out for someone to love them... just as they are.
Fellowship in the New Testament is gathering together for a goal, and the goal is to encourage, to build up, to stimulate, to love and good works spiritual growth.
I will tell you where it's best seen in the Bible. Fellowship is best seen in a phrase that is repeated 60 times. It's the phrase "one another", "one another". Whenever you find that phrase, it's good to look at it and read what is going on one with another because it tells us that when we get together, these are the things we're to be doing. And that's true Christian fellowship.
Now in your bulletin this morning, I have given you a smattering of those, take that out if you don't mind and look at it with me. I didn't put 60 in there, I think I put 13 of them, just to give you a little bit of a smattering of Christian fellowship. So let's just look at these verses.
"Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love; in honor giving preference to one another." In other words, think of ways to show genuine affection to people, go out of your way to encourage them.
"Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with a humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion." That is, don't get stuck up and only hang out with the select few. Your click, the elite but all Christians.
"Owe to no one anything except to love one another: for he who loves one another has fulfilled the law." You can never love too much because you can never pay off the debt of God's love to you.
"Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace, the things by which we may edify one another." So use your energy to build the people up, not tear them down.
"Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another according to Christ Jesus." That is we can all agree on life's most important activity and that is glorifying God. Get along with each other because Jesus gets along with all of us, that's the idea.
"Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us to the glory of God." Put it this way, tear down walls that divide you, drain your motes that divide you, build bridges to connect.
"Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another." A very important text. The word "admonish" is the Greek word "Noutheteo" which means to reprove, teach, or warn. What it's saying is that we as the body of Christ have all that we need to counsel each other. You don't have to go to the outside world, you can get it all done within the confines of Christian fellowship.
"Greet one another with a Holy kiss. The churches of Christ greets you." So I expect to be a whole lot of Holy kissing afterwards. Let us put it in a more modern context. Don't be afraid of a hug. A warm display of Christian affection, and just for the record let me say when you shake somebody's hand, shake it. Don't put out the cold fish, not good. Grab the hand, hardy handshake, bear hug. I know what I am getting after Church, no doubt.
"With all lowliness and gentleness, with long suffering, bearing with one another in love." Make allowances for each other's faults. Put it this way. Be an eraser not an indelible marker.
"Therefore putting away lying, that each of these speak truth with his neighbor: for we are all members of one another." Be honest, be open, be real. Don't flatter, don't lie, we are on the same team.
"And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another." Even as God and Christ forgave you, or be nice be polite, at a spoonful of honey to your communication.
"Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." It's what we did a few minutes ago, practicing the joyful activity of singing truth filled songs. And if you go, well, I don't have a good voice, I don't like to sing. Notice it also says in the Verse, "Speaking to one another." Just speak those words next time.
"Submitting to one another in the fear of God." That is empty yourself of pride and the need to control other people, mutual submission. Now that's just a smattering. There are others like James 5, Confess your sins to one another. Colossians 3, Forgive one another. Galatians 6, Bear one another's burdens. Now that is real Christian fellowship, and I long for that. Don't you all? That's real stuff, that's real community. But I want to warn you.
True authentic Christian fellowship is messy. It's messy. You know why? Because we are all broken people. When you get real with another person, it's messy and it's dangerous because it means you have to open yourself up to another person and be real. And a lot of people that I have met do not want to do that. Here's why. They had been hurt before. They had been burned before in relationships, and so when they get around people, walls go up, defenses go up. Everything is parsed and very, very carefully displayed because of that pain that they carry. And so like a medieval castle the walls are high, and they are very, very alone. It's messy. Have you ever considered the group the Jesus came to redeem. Remember His words in Luke Chapter 4, I will read them to you.
Luke, Chapter 4
Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed."
Notice the group; poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, oppressed. That's a messy bunch of folks. And real Christian fellowship will be messy. It's not safe, it's not benign, it's not easy, it can be tough, but it's good. And I would bring in out the second point why it's needed. Why is it needed? Let me tell you why it was needed, 2000 years ago here, and then I will say why it is needed.
If you go back to Verse 12 of Chapter 2, you will notice with me something, they, that is the unbelieving Jerusalemites were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "Whatever could this mean?" Others mocking said,"They are full of new wine." And people were mocking Christians for their outward display of love and worship, and here it was the speaking in tongues in Jerusalem.
Chapter 4 begins a notable period of persecution against the Church, so that eventually Christians were losing their jobs because they were Christians, and being alienated from the society around them because they were Christians. So now the Church was their new family. So let's apply that to us.
In a world, that is becoming increasingly hostile, isolating, and alienating towards Christians, and I don't know if you have seen the news lately, but I see it in a palpable form where the demarcation between Christian and non-Christian is very marked, and the hostility is going up.
In such a world, Christian fellowship is the anecdote. It's the anecdote, and this is the reason I believe the Church will never be outdated ever, ever, ever, it will always be neatful (ph) as long as it stays biblical. Now if it doesn't state biblical and it becomes just another social club like thousands of other institutions out there, it will become irrelevant, but if it's true to the apostles' doctrine in true fellowship, it will never be outdated. Because in our culture, where people move a lot, were very mobile. In our society, there is very technological. It is producing a whole lot of very lonely isolated individuals and God's solution is to place them in families.
God sets the solitary in families, and in the Christian family there is growth, and acceptance, and forgiveness, and love, and accountability. Worldly institutions will not provide that and computers will not provide that.
Now something that's -- it's going to sound very obvious but it needs to be stated. Fellowship is not the kind of activity you can do alone. You're saying Skip, you have a keen eye for the obvious. But it needs to be stated. You can't say, I'm going to go alone and have fellowship. No, you're not, yeah, with God, but not with anybody else but yourself, and unless you're schizophrenic, you're not going to have other people with you. It can't be done by a podcast or watching television, or a computer, as great as those things are. You can't download Fellowship 6.0 or Acceptance 3.2. It requires human beings, proximity, flesh and blood, life and life.
There is a Jewish proverb, an ancient one that says, "A friendless man is like a left-hand bereft of the right-hand." And I would say that an isolated Christian is like a left-hand bereft of the right-hand.
You know the scripture, proverbs 18, "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire. He rages against all wise judgment."
I was reading an account of Adolf Hitler who was a very isolated man. It was by a friend of his, if he had a friend, named Albert Spear who said, "I was Adolf Hitler's closest friend if it can even be said that he had a friend, that would have been me," said Spear. But he said, "Adolf Hitler repelled friends, repelled intimacy, would not allow closeness and he was a hallow and an empty man." And I think there is a connection between isolation and oppression at any level. The more isolated a person becomes, the more oppressive that individual in a family or in a culture will become. Here's my point. You need a family. We all need a family. We need other people to share the life of Jesus with. If we want to grow, it will take that.
Donald Joy, you may have heard of that author's name. He's a Relationship Guru, a believer and he wrote a terrific book, several of them. He believes that every one of us needs support from four different people groups, four different people groups and he illustrates it by a trampoline. You have four sides of a trampoline, you need a group of people on all four sides because you bounce up and down in life, lose direction, don't know where you're going, you need support, four groups of people.
Number one, you need close family, those are parents or spouse or children. Number two, you need relatives, uncles, grandparents, etcetera. Third, you need friends and he calls these life-long collection of friends who are still active in your life, and number four, associates, people you work with, go to the gym with, go to Church with. These four groups represent a support system.
So the question he ask and I ask all of us this morning is, how many people can you count that are holding your trampoline? Research shows that a healthy system has at least 12 or more holding your trampoline, at least 12 or more, and most of them know each other. Says Joy, "A neurotic system has between 10 and 12 people and less than a-third of them know each other. A psychotic system has between 4 and 5." Now you might think, well, don't need anybody else. I'm married, have my spouse, I have my children, that's all that I need. You are so wrong. In fact I'll say this way is a pastor with a little experience, some of the loneliest people I have ever met are married people. Who are in the same house, who sleep in the same bed, but they feel very alone.
A few years ago on a Sunday morning, instead of saying, get up and say hi to somebody before the message, I said, stand up and hug the person next to you.
Well, I've got a note in the agape box that Sunday. "Dear Skip, my husband did as you suggested and hugged the person next to him." That would be her. "We sleep in the same bed but until this morning we've had no physical contact for three months." Three months. Now I will guarantee you that had that couple had authentic Christian fellowship and this kind of a support system where there is people in close proximity who know them and can read the body language, etcetera. That scenario would be much less likely to ever happen.
Third question is, how is it done? How is fellowship done? Are there any clues in the text on how fellowship is to be structured? Well, there are. Verse 44, "Now all who believe were together and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all as anyone had need." Look at Verse 46, "So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house-to-house."
How is it done, was a two-fold structure in the large group, the temple and in the small group, from house-to-house. When it says the temple, it means Solomon's porch, the court of the Gentiles, 35 acres of a stone courtyard where people could gather, sing, disciple, teach, discuss, and the early Church could have thousands of people gathering in Solomon's porch periodically. It was more for formal meetings, a public prayer, instruction, inspiration, and then house-to-house, that's informal. That's communication and interaction where the principles taught in the temple could be worked out in the home.
In the first structure, the temple, that says the preacher, the apostle has something important to say, the home conveys this message, you have something important to say, you have something important to share. The first structure of the temple conveys the message, God is most high, the home conveys the message God is most naïve. He is close, He is intimate and that's where relationship is worked out.
The temple, public gathering, house-to-house more intimate. Now let me just give a plug for a moment to home fellowships, and why I believe in them. There is nothing like the four walls of a home better than a restaurant, better than a coffee shop because in the four walls of a home that's where the family dwells, that's where business is done. In a home you have more freedom to emote, to be real, to be prayed for, there is no distraction of a waiter or waitress or a barista. You have a warmth and intimacy that is conveyed in a home like nowhere else.
Okay, there are two unmistakable facts, I don't want you to miss here. The Church in Jerusalem was large. It was a large group of people because they had to meet in the temple courts. Many scholars believe that the Church was growing so fast in Jerusalem that at this time there was upwards of 25,000 people, much bigger than this fellowship. 25,000 people in that Church in Jerusalem. That's fact number one. Fact number two, they all had Koinonia. They got their personal needs met. Now how is that possible? How is it possible to be so large of a Church and yet experience intimacy in Koinonia. Only if you break up the temple gathering and house-to-house gatherings. It's the only way it can be done. You can achieve it in the temple, you can achieve it from house-to-house.
Now with that said, I just need to get this out because I have heard for years at different places here and many other places that I visited people saying, "Well, I've got to leave and find a smaller Church where I know everyone." Now let me just say something about that. If you do find a Church where you know everyone, you better pray hard that that new Church never grows. Just start praying right now, God, please don't let anybody else come ever. You can say why? Because if it starts growing and you go from 20 to 30 to 100, or 200 or 400 or 600, you're not going to know everybody. In fact, it doesn't matter. If there is 200 people or 20,000 people you can't personally intimately connect with 200 people any more than you can do it with 20,000 people.
You can only in your life have a meaningful collection of people around you holding your trampoline, holding you accountable and expressing intimate connection. And the Early Church was large and they were able to do that as well.
Forth and finally, we conclude with this. When does it happen? Is there any indication in the text of time or frequency of their fellowship? Well, look at Verse 46.
So continuing daily, I've to tell you that word jumped off the page at me this week. They continued daily. Now I understand the context was such where there was persecution, life was hard and they needed to get through life by being connected often with one another in that setting. But, here's the principle.
Frequently is a whole lot better than infrequently. Consistently is a whole lot better than doing it inconsistently. Being regular meeting with each other is a whole lot better and healthier than irregularly meeting together. In fact, as the Book of Acts continues, we see a pattern develop.
"On the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread..."
So their pattern was they started meeting on Sundays because that represented the resurrection rather than the Saturday Sabbath and it became the regular pattern as well as meeting in homes throughout the week. All of that to say, to fail to participate in the life of a local Church is to disregard a direct command of scripture.
Now some of you may say, now wait a minute, wait, wait, wait... Skip, God is everywhere. And if God is everywhere, can I meet with God anywhere? And sir, of course, you can, of course, you can, you can be in a parking lot in your car alone and God is there.
But, did you know that there is a special place, a special building where God uniquely meets with His people? Want to know what that is? Turn with me, we'll close here in Ephesians, Chapter 2. Ephesians, Chapter 2 tells us about the special place God meets with His people.
"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitly or fitted together grows into a Holy Temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."
Now here, Paul views the Church collectively as the temple. It's a picture he uses a lot in his writings. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Here's what I want you to understand. He's speaking cooperatively, not individually. And I hear people apply this a lot to, "Well, I am the temple of the Holy Spirit."
When Paul uses that, he is not saying, individually you're the temple, individually you're the temple, so you've got a bunch of little independent temples running around out there. But as we gather together, God uniquely meets with His people and works with His people and dwells among His people so that the visible assembly of believers is the Temple of God on the earth.
That's the idea here. We gather, and when we gather we constitute the Temple of God in a very unique way where God is moving. Jesus illustrated the principle when He spoke about Church discipline in Matthew 18, saying, "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their mist." So we gather with a goal.
One of the most famous passages tells us, "Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."
When we meet each other before the teaching or after the teaching or we meet in small groups during the week, you stimulate me and I stimulate you to love and good works. I grow because of it, we grow because of it. Somebody said, "Every Christian is like a battery. When we join with other believers, we corporately increase the Church's output." I like that. I think that's a good analogy. So I want you to take a test in your own heart.
Those first two characteristics, apostles' doctrine and fellowship. How devoted are you to the first? I know a bunch of you and I know that you are. The thing I want you to ask yourself today is, are you devoting yourself constantly to fellowship? Are you a spectator here? Do you float in and float out, or are you pressing in to have authentic fellowship?
When you get around other people does regard go up? Do the walls go up? You want to protect yourself, you want to stay safe, say the right things, never let anybody really know who you are. You will live your life rattling around in that castle without any satisfaction of being loved for who you are by anyone else.
There was a Pastor who visited a man, rarely attended Church, and they were sitting before a fire. The Pastor said, "Friend, I don't see you at Church on the Lord's Day. You only come when it's convenient. I wish you'd come more often. In fact, I wish you'd come all the time." And just when the Pastor reached the tongs in the fire and removed the coals isolating them from one another, and as they watched those coals burned out and died. The Pastor pointed to that fire and said, "Friend, that's what's happening to you. When you isolate yourself, you die, the fire goes out."
So we need each other, granted, we needle each other. But we need each other. It can be messy. Frankly, a lot of people just don't want the mess. To tell you what a lot of people want, they want nice, clean, well-mannered, modest people to hang around with nobody else. In fact, I've been approached by people saying, "Notice, there are some people who come here, who aren't well-mannered and who aren't modest, and they're pretty messy. And Pastor, you need to say something that."
Well, I want you to know I have been saying something about that. In fact, this week I've been talking to God about that. But I want you to know what I've been talking to God about. My personal prayer this week has been this, "God, send us more messy people, more messy people."
Send us the drug-addicted, the prostitutes, the people that are cast out by society, they don't know what to do with them and they can't fix them. But within the confines of Christian fellowship, we can love them to wholeness. It's not easy, but God send us more messy people. Christian fellowship can help and restore. Let's pray for that.
Lord, the truth is we are all broken. We all need salvation, we've all required restoration and Your whole approach has been to seek and save those who are lost. Not the nice, not the clean, not the well-mannered, the messy. For the messy You have a message, a message of hope, and also send Your messengers with that message into the mess, that we can give hope, and enjoy true accountable Christian fellowship. Hear our prayer, we offer it before Your throne in the name of Jesus, Amen!