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.

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