Baptism and Children: Group Study Questions

baptism-baby

If you have recently witnessed a baby being baptised, what thoughts did you have at the time?

Thinking about the babies we often see in baptism: think of as many adjectives as you can to describe that child. From that list, which ones really stand out to you?

Read Genesis 17, Acts 2:22-24, 36-39

In Genesis 17, the Lord established the covenant with Abraham and Isaac, although Isaac had not even been born.

What does this tell us about what the Lord was doing?

Read Genesis 17:9-14. To whom was Abraham required to give this covenant sign of circumcision? Discuss the amount of say these people might have had in the matter. What does this tell us about how the Lord works?

In addition to the idea of promise, what other imagery is revealed in baptism? How might these things relate to little children?

What responsibilities does baptism place on those who are baptised?

Are there any other questions you have about infants and baptism? Have someone write them down and post them on the blog at https://sermonandstudy.com/2015/07/28/baptism-and-children/ – add the questions as comments under the sermon text.

In closing: Pray for our churches and families to be the best places for little children to see what it means to follow Jesus and love him.

Baptism and Children

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Read: Acts 2:22-24; 2:32-41; Genesis 17:1-17

As we see this little child baptised, we should all be asking a simple question: What is baptism about?

Answer: Promises. God’s promises. In baptism we hear God speaking to undeserving people, assuring them that he keeps his promises. As we hear these promises we are called to respond.

Peter’s words in Acts 2 can be summarised in one simple sentence: God keeps his promises. And he calls us to respond to them.

What the Bible says

In actual fact, Peter spoke to a crowd of murderers. Seven weeks before they had crucified Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, the Messiah. Ask yourself: Could there be a more undeserving crowd? Yet when they understood the gravity of their actions, they were cut to the heart, and asked ‘what should we do?’

Verse 38:

“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

Can you hear the words of promise? The promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit. Given to everyone who repents. And Peter said these people were to express their repentance by being baptised.

But there’s something else going on, too. These people are Jews, and as we learned last week, they knew much of the Old Testament by heart. And there is a phrase Peter used which would have caught their attention immediately:

“…The promise is for you and your children …”” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

On face value, they may not mean too much to us. But when Peter’s hearers heard those words, they would have immediately thought of what we read in Gen 17 when God spoke his covenant promise to Abraham. Understanding these words is critical if we are to know why children of believing parents ought to be baptised.

The Lord said to Abraham,

“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7, NIV)

In verse 8 were read ‘you and your descendants’

In verse 9 were read ‘you and your descendants’

And in case we missed it, in verse 10 were read ‘you and your descendants’.

So, what’s happening is that the covenant of promise is sovereignly bestowed. And the Lord required that circumcision was how people would show their submission to that promise. What really interests us today is how the Genesis phrase ‘you and your descendants’ is a conceptual match with Peter’s ‘you and your children’.

In Genesis 17, The Lord makes a covenant promise to Abraham and his children. In Acts 2, Peter declares the promise the Lord makes to believers and to their children. In Genesis 17, there’s a context in which that promise is to come to expression: the household of faith.

We are told that Abraham circumcised himself (that is commitment!). But that’s not all: Not only would he eventually circumcise Isaac, yet to be born. He also was to circumcise every male in his household. Every servant. Every servant’s son. Every foreigner who was living with them – even people who weren’t born in Israel. 

Consider the power of that word ‘household’: To us, it’s mum, dad and 2.1 kids. But in this culture, Abraham’s culture as well as New Testament culture, a household was several generations of people living together. Grandma. Grandpa. Parents. Children of all ages. Servants. Slaves. Foreign refuges who were living in that family. They were all part of the household.

“For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.” (Genesis 17:12–13, NIV)

And that’s what Abraham did, as we read in Genesis 17:23-27. God’s covenant promises come to expression in households, in covenant families.

God’s covenant promises of grace come to expression in the context of the believing family

You may not know this, but this pattern is seen clearly in the New Testament. Check it out:

In Acts 16, Lydia is converted in Philippi. She’s a wealthy woman, a dealer in highly valued purple cloth. As a wealthy business woman, she would have had a number of servants. And we assume a family. Look at how believing Lydia submits to God’s promise:

“One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16:14–15, NIV)

She believes. Yet her household is baptised. God’s covenant promises of grace come to expression in the context of the believing family.

Soon after, other people are converted. Among them, a demon possessed girl who makes money for her ‘owners’ by revealing people’s secrets. Paul and Silas cast her demon out – which is great for her, but it infuriates those who had kept her as a slave, exploiting her condition. The slave girls owners slap a law suit on Paul and Silas. They are thrown in prison. No big deal: they are chilled and singing kumbaya when suddenly all the prison doors open, and all the prisoners’ chains fall off. The jailer sees this and is about the kill himself, when Paul, Silas and all the other prisoners point out no one has escaped. The jailer is overcome, sees that God is at work, and asks what to do. Now, notice how Paul shows the Jailer how to respond to the promise:

…“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”” (Acts 16:31, NIV)

He believes, but it has implications for his household. See Acts 16:34

“Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” (Acts 16:34, ESV)

God’s covenant promise comes to expression in the context of family.

There are other examples. In Acts 18:8, the household of Crispus believed and was baptised. In 1 Corinthians 1 we read that Gaius’ household was baptised (v.14). 1 Corinthians 1 Paul notes he also baptised the household of Stephanus (v.16). In all, five households are baptised. And it is inconceivable that those households did not include children and infants. It actually makes sense that they did, because it corresponds clearly to Genesis 17, where the sign and seal of God’s promise, circumcision, was applied to the household.

So when we take all this information together, what we see is a compelling continuity in the covenant promises of God, and the sign of those promises given in the context of family, including children.

Call and response

Think of what was signified:

Circumcision was a sign that sin need to be cut away. Baptism is a sign that sin needs to be washed away.

Circumcision pointed to the coming Messiah, Jesus. Baptism points back to the Messiah, Jesus.

Circumcision said ‘one day the Lord will do this’. Baptism says ‘God has done this in Jesus, His son’.

Both point us squarely to the action of God in saving his people, and his promise of cleansing in his Son. And the best context for God’s promise to be received, expressed and lived is the believing household, the Christian family.

In the water we hear God speak

This is why churches should never agree to baptise children of parents who do not believe. Churches should not do that because baptism is a sign of submission to God promise. That only has meaning in the context of faith.

That’s why we’re baptising little Daniel today. It’s not because he has faith. He doesn’t. It’s not because his parent’s faith somehow covers him. It doesn’t. It does not guarantee that Daniel will become a Christian: this is why Thomas and Clara promise to surround him with Christian example and influence. We all, along with Daniel, receive this sign and seal of his promises today: God gives grace to undeserving people like us. This is his covenant promise in Christ. We submit, we receive its sign in the context of family. Baptism points us to God. To the Cross. To Jesus sacrifice, which cleanses us from sin.

Today is about promise. In the water we hear God speak: I am your God, trust me, and believe the cleansing I have provided in my Son, Jesus. God can, and does, make this promise to children, to adults, to anyone who trusts in his Son: “I will be your God and the God of your descendants. My promise is to you and your children.”

And so today we hear God speak: Daniel, I will be your God. Daniel, I have sent my Son to rescue you from sin. Daniel, I am calling you to believe in me, to trust me. Your baptism shows I love you, and it’s calling you to love me back! To have faith in the Jesus who came for you.

That’s the one thing baptism does guarantee: and it’s the truth of what Jesus has done. He did not wait for us to love him before he gave his life. He did not wait for us to receive him before he bore the nails. No, while were were enemies, while we were sinners, God haters, Jesus died for us.

God’s covenant promise, made thousands of years before, are fulfilled in Christ. That’s grace! All the richest of Christ, all expenses paid by Jesus, no cost to me. And baptism wonderfully reflects that covenant grace: a promise given to Daniel before he can understand or know or love or receive. A promise of God’s grace, made through the blood of his Son, which cleanses us from all sin.

Living Members: Sharing – Group Study Questions

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Read: Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37

“These Christians had made a very conscious decision to use their money and wealth to show the grace of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. And all it took for this to happen, it seems, was for someone to have a genuine need. Followers of Jesus would volunteer cash, or goods that could be sold, or shared, so the needs of that person to be met.”

1. It could be that your church does not have a level of need that would require the kind of sharing we see in Acts 2 and 4. If this is the case, how would you apply these passages in your setting?

2. Imagine Jesus would do into your church meeting one day. What might he have to say about the way you look at possessions and material wealth?

3. What are some of the ways we are tempted to turn ‘good things’ into ‘ultimate things’? (Tim Keller)

4. R Kent Hughes says “So many people never know the joys of Christian fellowship because they have never learned to give themselves away.” Question: what makes it hard for us to be more giving of ourselves?

5. Share some examples of Christians you know who have modelled this kind os generous giving. What did they do, and what impact did it have on people?

6. How is God challenging you in this passage? What changes is he leading you to make?

In closing: spend some time praying for one another and for your church.

Living Members: Sharing

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Reading: Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-37

So we have all seen those before and after diet ads. They show a picture of people like “Fred” [not his real name] before he started Weight Watchers. And then there’s a second picture taken after he’s been on the program. The change is unmistakable. In 12 months Fred lost 50kg. He’s a changed man!

biggest loser

Most people’s experience with diet, however, tends to be more like this:

robert-lost-his-glasses

In only two weeks Robert lost his glasses..

Experts are saying that crash diets do not lead to permanent change, so their suggestion is don’t throw out your old wardrobe just yet…

Moving on from diets, let’s talk church: does being part of a church change people? I read some research from George Barna this week which said that 46% of people say their lives had not changed as a result of being part of a church. Would that statistic be reflected in this church, do you think? That around half of us would say our lives have not changed as a result of being part of a church? That would be a very disturbing reality, wouldn’t it?

And it seems a picture very different to what we have in Acts 2:

Sharing…

 “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44–45, NIV)

This thought is extended in Acts 4:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32–35, NIV)

Here’s the question: What is happening in this church that moves them to such compassionate sharing? We probably wouldn’t pick it up, but that little phrase ‘there were no needy persons among them’ would have been immediately recognised by the people Luke first wrote to. At this stage, all of them were people who identified as Jews, most of them well versed in the OT Scriptures. Many of them would have memorised at least the first five books of the Old Testament, some of them, even more than that. And a few of them would have know the entire Old Testament by heart. Their minds would have immediately gone to Deuteronomy 15, where the Lord gave commands about using wealth and freeing people in debt. As the Lord outlined how Israel was to live as people before the watching world, he said

“However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,” (Deuteronomy 15:4, NIV)

In these few phrases in Acts 2:44, and Acts 4:34, God is telling this brand new church something very important: they are now His new people, the new Jerusalem, the new Israel, God’s new community.

That phrase “There were no needy persons among them” was a clear signal that God was living in them. Taken along with the outpouring of the Spirit into the church at Pentecost, it showed they were the temple of his Holy Spirit. It showed the Risen Christ had poured his new life into them! And they would never be the same.

God is telling this brand new church something very important: they are now His new people, the new Jerusalem, the new Israel, God’s new community

And because Christ’s new life was in them, those who had been drawn into Christ’s church considered it unthinkable that rich and poor could exist in the same community. See, when God is present in people, his compassion overflows into their lives, and from their lives into the lives of others. Through his Spirit Christ is living in these people, and has formed them into His Body. He is living in them corporately as the church, and living in them individually as his followers. They are an entirely new community, a new reality, a new spiritual entity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said

Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual and not a human reality … which comes from the natural urges, powers, and capacities of the human spirit.
[Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.21]

The church is not a human organisation, and what we see in Acts 2 & 4 is not typical human behaviour. Christ lives in the church, and his life is poured into this community by his spirit.

This sharing did not come about because they knew one another, because they’d grown up together, or because they were great friends. We saw earlier in Acts 2 this church had grown rapidly: 3000 people had been added in one day. People from all over the known world. So this church would have included some wealthy people, business people, farmers, freedmen, servants and slaves. It was an incredibly diverse community!

But look at what happens:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44–45, NIV)

Now, this is not the enforced abolition of private property. We know this because many of these people still lived in their own home, we see that in v.46. We see in Acts 12 that people some time later also owned homes. We see in 1 Corinthians 1 how as the church spread into areas like Corinth, that people are still holding meetings in their own homes. People’s homes, in fact, were the primary meeting places for the church as it spread and grew. So, private property was retained, and used to bless the church.

So, this is not totalitarianism. Rather, this is spirit filled transformation of people and their community. These people have had their lives changed by Jesus, transformed by Christ. So the sharing is voluntary. And we can tell by the way the original sentences are structured that it was a regular practice, and it was directed toward poverty and need.

“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:45, NIV)

See, these Christians had made a very conscious decision to use their money and wealth to show the grace of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. And all it took for this to happen, it seems, was for someone to have a genuine need. Followers of Jesus would volunteer cash, or goods that could be sold, or shared, so the needs of that person to be met.

Of course, there is a caveat: this is not about throwing good money after bad, or rewarding poor choices. God does not want his people to sell their stuff so someone can use the money to support their substance abuse, or their gambling habit. Substance abuse and gambling are destructive behaviours. This sort of sharing would have been applied in a way that the restoration of the Kingdom, the values of heaven, would have been brought to expression. Both giver and receiver come under the same transformation.

It is an incredibly attractive picture, isn’t it?

Here’s the question: Would a church like this be a church you would like to be part of?

Materialism

Maybe you’d want to be part of that kind of community. At least on the receiving end. But would you want to be one of the givers? Would you be prepared to share something of your wealth or your assets to assist the genuinely needy?

I think this is a challenge for us, because we place so much emphasis on our possessions. Our struggle is not that our goods are bad. It’s more that it’s so easy to make them gods.

Tim Keller reminds us:

Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things

If we make good things ultimate things, they become our idols. They take the centre of our lives. They occupy our vision, they determine our gals and values. But when Jesus is Lord of your life, he occupies that place and hold those prerogatives. He is Lord of all, and as Lord of all he intends to cast every idol out.

Jesus in your heart changes how you use what is in your hands. When Jesus is your God, he’ll change how you see your goods.

This becomes more complicated the wealthier our society becomes. Go back generations, and there was less focus on what people had, because so few people had disposable wealth. Today in Australia, we are more wealthy than most of the world, and yet it’s hard for us to contemplate this kind of sharing. It shouldn’t be, really, because whether now, or 200 years ago, or 2000 years ago, Christians have always said that Jesus is their rock.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Christians have always said that their only comfort in life and in death, is not in what they own, but in that they are not their own, but belong, in body and soul, in life and in death, to the faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.

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Because Christ holds me securely, I can hold other things loosely. Because I am treasured by Christ, I can treasure another reality:

““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21, NIV)

Our treasure is heaven: that is, bringing God’s reality to expression in our lives. Our treasure is to live put that reality that we are seated in the heavenliness with Christ even now (see Colossians 3:1-4). We are living the life of our new citizenship in heaven.

Because Christ holds me securely, I can hold other things loosely

And look at these Christians! This sharing is a clear indicator that they are doing just that!

Gospel Transformation

See, something has happened and it has changed these people forever. And the thing that has happened is this: Jesus Christ is risen, and he is living in these people. That’s what Paul says in Romans 4:

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, NIV)

That’s what has happened! They have been made alive forever in the resurrection of Christ! They have been drawn into his new community, into his church! They are his new people. In that sense the change that Jesus is working in them is already becoming visible. Jesus is living in them through his spirit, and he is changing they way they lived, and the values by which they lived their lives.

Think of it this way:

Imagine you had a rich uncle. You were his favourite niece or nephew. Imagine you uncle has died, and you’ve just had news that he’s left several million dollars to you in his will. And you will receive that inheritance in 3 months time. October 19, 2015. Do you think your life would be any different? Of course it would! Even though the inheritance had not been fully received, you’d start to make some changes immediately: you would tell people your good news, and the reality of that good news would change your disposition and your behaviour! How could it not do so?

See, this is what we mean when we say we are living a new life. Something has happened: we have the life of Christ! We have been given an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade! And while we don’t have its total consummation, the fact that we have this inheritance makes a difference today, in the here and now.

These people did not have its total consummation: but Christ living in them changed how they lived to such an extent that they used their possessions to bring him glory and to help the needy. They did this knowing not only that something had happened, but that something else was yet to happen. Christ would return, and bring the new heavens and the new earth. And until that happened, their calling was to live the values of that coming existence in their here and now.

It may be true that we lose out on something of the power of Christ’s new life because we do not intentionally live in his changed reality. Because we live like we do not have the inheritance he has given.

R Kent Hughes says

So many people never know the joys of Christian fellowship because they have never learned to give themselves away.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to see how sharing like this is one of the most powerful evidences of the presence of the Holy Spirit. That’s exactly what we read in Acts 4

“…God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them…” (Acts 4:33–34, NIV)

…so powerfully at work in them… – it’s not just a rhetorical expression. It’s the new life of Jesus Christ coming powerfully to expression!

I am incredibly challenged by this. I don’t think I am that driven by possessions. Just don’t ask me if you can borrow one of my bass guitars… Then again, if there was a real need, would I have the desire to put one or two on eBay and give the proceeds toward that need?

I started today by referring to research which said 46% of people were unchanged by being members of a church. Do you think people in the Acts 2 church would have said that? Far from it.

Do you think you would say that if such grace, such spirit power were flowing through you? Far from it.

The reality is, we all want to be this kind of church. We all want to be living members of precisely this kind of community.

Now, I do not know your need, or the extent of your wealth. But perhaps this message is challenging you to step up: “God has blessed be richly, I have some some money, and if there’s ever some genuine need, let me know…” Or maybe you’re being challenged from the other side of the ledger:  “I am so on the breadline, I have been through this awful financial catastrophe, and I don’t know what to do…’

Come, let us pray about it, let’s work this out like God’s people should. Jesus says: it’s time for us to reorient our approach to wealth and material possessions. And if we do, through the grace of Jesus, in the power of his Spirit, our lives will change, our church will change, and our sharing will bring powerful witness to the Christ, who changes everything.

[download sermon audio here, or via iTunes Podcast]

Podcasts now available

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Sermon & Study podcasts are now available from iTunes and the Gateway Community Church.

We hope the addition of audio files will enhance your opportunities to study God’s Word and be increasingly transformed by it with the members of your discussion group.

Dave Groenenboom

Living Members: Devoted to the Fellowship

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Reading: Acts 2:1-13

Primary text: Acts 2:42

As I look at the these few verses, it struck me again just how beautiful this church is. This Christian community radiates with the love and transformation of the Gospel of Jesus.They were devoted to great teaching, good fellowship. They were filled with awe, and wonderful things were happening. They met together each day. They were generous to one another, and compassionate to the needy.

It is an amazing picture, right? Why is that? What is happening?

God and fellowship

God is busy! God is showing us something of his nature! Interesting, because you normally would not say that about the church, would you? That it shows us something about God? We tend to think of the church as a human thing. People attend. People serve. People worship and engage in mission. But God? Why would we say the church shows us something about God?

Think of Jesus in the Garden:

““My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—” (John 17:20–22, NIV)

Jesus’ prayer shows us how intimacy of fellowship characterises the Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit are one. And in John 17, Jesus prayed that same oneness will be evident in the fellowship of his church.

Or think of creation:

“…God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26–27, NIV)

Think about that: God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created … them. So, there is something about fellowship, about community, about people being connected together, that reflects the image of God.

We all hunger for relationship

This is not just a point of theology. It explains something we all know at the deepest level: We all hunger for relationship. We all crave a deep intimacy with others. We all want to belong. We all long for relationship which is wonderfully secure and profoundly fulfilling. It’s why no one is satisfied with a lousy marriage or a troubled friendship. We are created for relationship, for fellowship, for community.

What we have before what we do

This is why Jesus’ first act after returning to the Father was to create a community, his church, and pour his spirit into it.

Think about that: On that day, there were God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. Parthians. Medes. Elamites. People from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappodocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphilia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete, Arabs. They all heard the wonders of God being proclaimed in their native language by uneducated people who had never learned those languages.

What’s happening? What’s going on? God is busy! And the barriers between people are being broken down by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the most glaring example of human division – language barrier – is overcome as the Spirit is poured out. In that glorious outpouring Babel itself is momentarily overcome. The curse of human enmity is dissolved as Jesus Christ pours his Spirit water into his newly formed community, the church.

So in those few words in Acts 2:42 we see a relational miracle taking place. God reveals his nature and his plan to overcome division and enmity. He does it through Jesus’ death, rising and rule. And the result?

“They devoted themselves … to the fellowship…” (Acts 2:42, NIV)

There is an important implication: fellowship is what we have before it is anything we do. It’s good for us to remember this. We tend to see fellowship as something that happens when we share a coffee after church, something which happens around a meal, or a congregational event. The bible tells us fellowship is considerably more profound.

This is illustrated by how the word koinonia is often used in the New Testament. The following passages all use the Greek word koinonia – which Acts 2:42 translates as fellowship:

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,” (Philippians 1:4–5, NIV)

That word ‘partnership’ is the Greek word koinonia. Of course, it may refer to how they work together in the Gospel, but primarily it is more that they are together in the Gospel, and this forms the basis for their collaboration.

Or have a look at what Paul write to Philemon;

I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” (Philemon 6, NIV)
It’s very clear there, right? There is partnership – koinonia – in the faith, and it deepens what they share.

Or 1 John 3:

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3, NIV)

God’s people are connected in Christ. They even have fellowship with the Father and the Son. They have fellowship with one another. They share an essential unity, a fundamental, intrinsic togetherness.

How has this connection come about? It has come about through the cross of Jesus. We have those very familiar words of Paul as he teaches the Corinthian church about the nature of the Lord’s Supper:

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation (a koinonia) in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation (a koinonia) in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16, NIV)

The koinonia referred to here is not primarily something they do, it is something the share by reason of the fact that they are in Christ. Jesus has conquered the fall, human sin, in his Cross. In this saving act he has drawn people together, ingrafted them into his vine, made them members of his body. At that very basic level, fellowship and unity is established.

Look at the entire history of humanity and you find a glaring inability to create true community. Human history is a chronicle of tension, violence, and death. The creation harmony of Adam and Eve is followed by the fall, with the immediate result of jealously, enmity and death between Cain and Abel. So it began, and so it continues today.

But look what happens through Jesus: Through his death, rising and rule a new community is formed, and they love each other! They serve each other! They cannot get enough of each other! The church, this fellowship, is God’s answer to all our enmity, division and loneliness! The church is God’s plan to bring new humanity to his world!

That’s what Paul says in Ephesians 2

“For he himself [Jesus Christ] is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14–16, NIV)

Jesus Christ has destroyed every barrier, and is at work through his Spirit to overcome everything that separates us. And the place God wants you to see this most of all, that people can get along wonderfully, that hurts can be overcome permanently, that none of us is better than the other, is right here: this church, our church.

Fellowship: Living the dream

See, God’s plan is to make the church the best fellowship, the best community on earth. This has always been his plan. Through Israel he was saying to a watching world, “You want to see a place where you can trust people again? Where there’s no threat of violence? Where people get along, where you know people love you and care for you, where if you’re financially busted they will help you out, where if you’re hungry there will be food, where if you’re lonely, there will be friends, where if you have lost hope in humanity, you will find it restored? Then look at my people, my treasured possession, my kingdom of priests, my holy nation (see Exodus 19:6).

When everyone else is looking after number one, in this church they are one, so deeply, so lovingly, they devote themselves to the fellowship. They are one. They are united in Christ. They have fellowship with the Father. There is fundamental unity. There is family.

We read how these people in Acts 2 had everything in common. Their outlook. Their vision. Their mission. We are told that 3000 joined the church at Pentecost, yet with such a huge group, they still shared life together. They met in one another’s homes. They were overjoyed to be together.

Now, we live in different times and a different culture, true. But I believe there’s a desire for us to do more life together, to be just this kind of radical community.

You know, as we move into the future, what my biggest prayer is for Gateway?

It’s not that we have all seats filled. It’s not that we have a big fat black figure bank balance. It’s not that we have terrific facilities and we get to stop juggling rooms.

My prayer is that people will come in here and feel their burdens lifted.

My prayer is that when people come here they will have a sense of relief, not that they finally can go home, but relief that they have come home.

My prayer is that when people come in here they will have a sense of meeting with their closest friends, that they’ll feel new life rippling through the relationships they have with everyone here.

My prayer is that when people come together here they’ll be with people they can cry with, laugh with, face their fears with.

That when a service is finished, we won’t just be talking together or sharing a cuppa, you’ll see people praying together, embracing one another in love, going eyeball to eyeball with the grace of God.

My prayer is that this community will be known for accepting outcasts, the lonely, refugees, people on the fringe. And we won’t look at them as if they are freaks, or threats, but that we’ll find ourselves incomplete until such people are routinely part of us.

My prayer is that with each new day, each new week, every month, for years to come, this community will look less like us and more like heaven.

How will this happen?

It will come about as the power of the risen and ruling Jesus is poured into us through his Spirit. It will come as wel place ourselves more and more under his Word, as we are devoted to the apostles teaching, and devoted to bringing this new community to life, to his glory.

The question you need to ask yourself is this: What can you do to be devoted to the fellowship?

First, thank Jesus, that in his death, rising and rule he has overcome every barrier. Praise God for the gift of His Spirit who draws us to Christ, and through whom we are grafted into Jesus the Vine.

Second, engage: Prayerfully devote yourself to the fellowship. Recommit to weerily worship with God’s people. If you’re not part of a Home Group, join one and love everyone who is part of that group. It must amaze us when God places such a high value of fellowship in the early church, that we tend to minimise its importance. John Wesley has said, perhaps for this reason, “There is nothing more unchristian than a solitary Christian.” God is calling you to re-engage with his church. Obey this call.

Third, share the love: Do whatever you can to bring the fellowship you have to radiant expression in your church. After the service is done, we tend to chat with the people we know and love. You can do that anytime. Today, there are people present whom you don’t know, or with whom you’ve not spoken too much. Talk with them. Take the first step of grace, and speak with those whom you don’t always speak with. Why not offer to pray for them, ask their needs – how can I pray for you? I do this occasionally with people, and sometimes when I do a thought – or is it a vision? – flashes through my mind: imagine if lots of people were doing this every time we meet! That as well as good coffee, there is some great koinonia – palpable signs of the body of Christ praying for, encouragin, and loving each other, being devoted to fellowship. How good would that be?

Friends, in Christ you are one, now be one to His glory. Devote yourselves to the fellowship.