I have, on occasion, heard a pastor ask in his sermon, “What is fellowship?” This is usually followed by the cute suggestion, “It’s a potluck, right?” Then lots of tee-heeing because that obviously isn’t the right answer. The funny thing is, I can’t remember ever hearing what the right answer was after that. So what is it?
Philippians 2:1-2 (NASB)
1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,
2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
I have a new friend. I loved her the instant I met her. We really ought not have anything in common. There’s a whole generation of age difference between us. She’s from the mid-west. I’m from the west coast. She’s bubbly and extroverted. I’m quiet and reserved. She was raised in a mainline denomination and has been a Christian as long as she can remember. I was basically a heathen as a kid and my exposure to the church has been almost entirely pentecostal-Evangelical. She’s an RN and I’m a stay at home mom. So where’s the connection?
We are both trying to honor God and discern His will in the midst of frustrating and confusing circumstances. We’ve tried to follow Him and landed in uncomfortable places. We’ve had to deal honestly with the question, “Have I missed the mark somewhere along the way?” We both have to fight off the temptation to decide how God should handle this one. And we both know a wealth of truth and experience to tell us that God has not left us—He’s sustaining us and He’s got a plan. We both fervently desire to come through the end of this test having blessed the heart of God with our trust and confidence in Him.
The common denominator is that my friend and I are both absolutely captivated by Christ. He is the motive for how we live our lives. We share a joy and a purpose, and we’re on the same side in a cosmic battle. Granted, neither of us always fights like we should or trusts like we should, or keeps the right perspective. But we are engaged in the fight. It wouldn’t matter how many things we didn’t have in common. That is enough.
That is Christian fellowship. It doesn’t need to be conjured or created. When a group of believers is seeking to know the heart of God, letting His priorities shape their own, and uncompromisingly living out their convictions, there is fellowship. Denominational affiliation, theological persuasion, educational level, economic status, hobby preferences, race, gender, or fashion sense can’t stop that kind of unity.
We can have those potlucks, game nights, fishing trips, scrapbooking sessions, and retreats. They’re fun and they can be valuable for building relationships. But fellowship founded on these things falls short of the Biblical concept. The earliest believers were in the trenches together. They had experienced the love of Jesus and the hope He offers. They were passionate about sharing it with others. They sacrificed and suffered for Christ’s sake. They needed each other.
I have, at times, been frustrated that I have so little in common with people in my local congregation or even in my circle of friends. Could that happen if we were all passionately pouring our hearts and lives into the same cause?
Christian fellowship just may be as simple as seeking God together and then honestly making His Kingdom our highest priority. It has to be taught and it has to be modeled and we need help to do it. But when we do it, and we see someone else doing it, there is a connection that is not forced and has no substitute. It is so very encouraging and motivating.
Philippians 1:27 (NASB) 27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel
Are common interest/fellowship groups really what our churches need to be relationally unified for the cause of Christ? Do they ever really have long term effects on our spirituality or our effectiveness as a body? I don’t think so. You?