Thursday, June 4, 2020

Fellowship

Fellowship is one of those words that everyone thinks they understand, yet few of us really get. The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They persisted in fellowship. It was a significant part of who the church was and how it functioned. In many of our churches today, fellowship has simply come to mean a potluck, or chatting about the weather, politics, and work over a cup of coffee. But the word has a significant emphasis on giving.

Fellowship can mean being together, but even there it is about more than just being in the same room. There is an aspect of intimacy, of really caring about one another. But the word also means to give to one another, or help one another. It is even used to refer to taking up an offering for someone or contributing in some way to their need. Fellowship is not just about being in the same room. It is about caring, giving, and helping.

Churches often describe themselves as friendly and caring, but I have been in some churches where I got the sense that people were only willing to be in the same room with each other for the preaching. I’m not sure they really liked each other, and they didn’t seem to care to be together apart from Sunday morning. I was in one church where a board member said, “There are some homes in this congregation that I have never been in, and I never will be in.” What we do on Potluck Sunday then, could hardly be considered fellowship.

Others have a spiritualized understanding of fellowship. For them, it is not fellowship unless we are talking about the Bible or about God. Certainly God and the Scriptures are central to our lives and therefore our discussions, but gathering to rebuild a church member’s burned out house, gathering to collect funds for a needy family, gathering to encourage an anxious brother or sister, gathering to discuss how to help a hurting community ̶ these are aspects of fellowship as well. One aspect of the early church was that they genuinely cared for one another.

A common enemy will do that. As new believers, the early church not only had a new faith and a new awareness of the presence of God in their lives, they were also under suspicion and attack by the Jewish elite. It is amazing how a common enemy can bring people together. When cancer shows up, people we wouldn’t care to associate with suddenly gain our concern and compassion. When isolation from a pandemic comes on the scene, suddenly we are wondering how our brothers and sisters are doing even though we hadn’t inquired about their welfare in two years. Difficulties, trials, and enemies tend to remind us of what is important. Perhaps if we were more aware of the truth that we are “strangers and exiles” (1 Pet 2:11) in this world, we would care more for one another.

The church exists to glorify God. One of the ways in which is does that is through fellowship. Fellowship is about being together, encouraging one another in the faith, and helping and serving one another. The church, then, will glorify God, not by having more potlucks (or pot-blessings, if you don’t like the word luck), but by being together and genuinely caring for one another and serving each other. Jesus’ prayer for us was that we would “become perfectly one” (Jn 17:23). That is not something that can be programmed. It has to start with the heart attitude of each individual. Church is not something we can do alone. So, how is your heart?

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