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12/04/2015

Courageous fellowship

‘Fellowship’ is a funny word. The name of King’s Church was originally called St Leonards Christian Fellowship, then Hastings Christian Fellowship. We changed the name because ‘fellowship’ made more sense to people outside the church. Why did we choose that word in our name? I’m glad the name has changed, but the fundamental reason behind it remains the same. We discovered that the church isn’t a building or a structure or meetings, but the church is people in relationship to Jesus and one another.

In those early years, we used to spend most of Sunday together – we’d have lunch, play board games, go for a walk, have a picnic, worship, talking, an informal preach, etc. And during the week we would also meet to help each other with things such as decorating and doing things together such as going to the cinema.

It all sounds idyllic. But it wasn’t. Some of it was tough! But it was authentic. We knew that the Bible talks of people being “saved and added” and as life went on and the church grew, we were determined to keep the timeless, fundamental aspect of these early days of us in relationship to Jesus and one another.

The words ‘fellowship’ is still very important to us today. It means sharing, participation, togetherness or partnership. When Acts 2:42 says the disciples were devoted to fellowship, it means they were devoted to one another. It was a priority in their time and energy to help and support each other. What does it mean to have the courage to be devoted to one another?

As those who follow Jesus, there are lots of ways in which Christians are told to relate to one another: we’re told to love one another, encourage one another, spur one another on towards love and good deeds, build up one another, edify one another, admonish one another, instruct one another, serve one another, bear with one another, forgive one another, be kind to one another, be compassionate to one another…

…Be devoted to one another, honour one another, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic with one another, be gentle with one another, be patient with one another, accept one another, submit to one another, clothe ourselves with humility towards one another, teach one another, live at peace with one another, confess our sins to one another, pray for one another, offer hospitality to one another, greet one another, have fellowship with one another, agree with one another, carry one another’s burdens.

This is the church! This is what courageous fellowship – or friendship – looks like.

The Bible says that how we behave towards one another is a sign that we have new life in us. It doesn’t mean we initially like everybody, but it does mean that there is a changing in your heart – a kinship – to those who also follow Jesus. Something goes on in you that is fundamental to being a Christian – it’s not about liking people who are like you, it’s much deeper than that.

Being a Christian means something happens inside you that changes you – you are born of the Spirit. It’s much more exciting than just changing your mind about something. Those who receive Jesus have become the children of God! We have been rescued and transferred into the kingdom of light. The links between us are more profound than any natural links that might separate us.

When you become a Christian you become part of God’s family. It’s because of this that we work out fellowship. The church that you belong to should be understanding these truths and trying to work them out, building a community of light and love. Jesus was different because of the way he behaved, talked and acted. That is what we demonstrate if we get this right. It takes serious courage to do that. And it's what makes the world notice we are different. The Bible says Christians are to be known by how we love one another.

It takes courage because we live in such an individualistic culture. Life is bigger than each one person getting to choose whatever they want to do. A me-centred culture has led to hyper-consumerism where our main question is, 'How does this suit me?' In this context, real fellowship takes a huge amount of courage. Real Christian faith deals a death-blow to hyper-individualism.

We need courage to mutually accept each other (Romans 15:7). If Jesus has accepted that person from a totally different background to you, you can accept them too. It cuts through colour, culture, class, our character foibles. It’s profound. We all need to change, but we're not to wait until someone's more holy or mature to accept them. We accept others in the same way Jesus accepted them: just as they are.

We need courage to mutually respect each other. In Christ’s body, there are no spare parts. As it says in 1 Corinthians 12, I realise that though I like to do things as a hand, I do need feet and kidneys. We need each other. There needs to be a mutual respect that for all of our differences, we need each other in the church, just like the multiple parts of a body need each other for the body to work well.

It takes courage to build mutual loyalty. If you hear something about someone in the church, you should not assume it’s true unless two or three witnesses confirm it. That’s an aspect of loyalty. Another is that if you learn of someone’s sin, you pray about it on your own first (1 John 5:16), then you go to talk to them about it (Matthew 18:15); you don’t start by talking to others about it. Don’t rush to expose sin. Mutual loyalty is the complete antithesis to gossip.

We need courage to build mutual responsibility. Again, 1 Corinthians 12 helps us here. We have to come against a me-centred culture and accept that we are not only responsible for ourselves, but for others too. You will not build much with a consumerist, me-centred mentality. We’re building a Kingdom culture, not a world culture. We’ve come out of darkness into light. If you know someone’s lonely or sick or down, you visit them, not waiting to be told or asked, but because we own it – we rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep. We're responsible to pray for one another and help one another. This is an attitude that needs to run through the church.

It also takes courage to mutually submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). We submit to one another’s wisdom and skill. Where someone else is more gifted in an area, we submit to them. This mutual submission criss-crosses the church.

These are all rooted in Scripture and are key parts of being devoted to fellowship, but they all take great courage. There’s a temptation to put on a front, to perform well but then go home and do what we like. But real fellowship takes us beyond legalism and performance-based relationships. We build authentic community right across a church like this.

John Wesley said: "The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion." He was right! There isn't an option of you in your small corner and me in mine. Christian sanctification (getting holier) only takes place in community. The awkward truth is that none of us will reach the maturity God has planned for us if we can't encourage, exhort and admonish one another. Most of your spiritual growth will only take place in a corporate setting.

John Groves

Posted by John Groves
20:05


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