God created mankind for fellowship- for close, loving relationships- first with God and second with one another. As man rebelled against God, that fellowship with God was severed and all our relationships with our fellow man were contaminated by sin. There’s a longing in each of us for close relationships. God provided a way for this restoration, “God showed us how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love- not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”1 This renewed fellowship begins as we come to grips with our rebellion against God and change our minds, trusting, believing and following Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for His friends.”2 Because of His sacrificial love, He can be fully trusted!
Fellowship: The Foundation Jesus and the Apostles Laid:
What comes to mind when you think of the word “church”? In the Bible the word means “gathering”- a gathering of those who believe in Christ, committed to Him and to one another. Unfortunately today the word “church” today has lost its original meaning. Let’s take a journey back to the 1st century to see God’s vision of church and then wrestle with how that longing for true fellowship can be met today. The first century believers saw themselves as a close knit family meeting together and centered on Jesus Christ: “members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…”3 The pattern for fellowship was modeled by Jesus with His twelve disciples- a small gathering where there was plenty of opportunity for dialogue and “hands on” learning. This model was passed on by the Apostles as seen in the very first gatherings in Acts chapter two.
The believers “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”4 Let’s expand on this…
I.) They “Continued Steadfastly in the Apostles’ Doctrine”
The believers were focused on teaching and living the Word of God passed on to them by Jesus through the Apostles. All believers were called to grow up in learning how to teach and apply God’s word in their lives- to be both a mentor and mentee. Paul wrote, “I myself am confident concerning you, my brothers, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to instruct one another.”5 In their gatherings, all participated: “Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching… Let all things be done for building up.”6 Leaders were simply more mature mentors whose goal was to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” so that all “grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ.” The end goal is for every believer to be ministering to one another so that the whole body of believers “builds itself up in love.”7
II.) “And they continued steadfastly in…fellowship…continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house.”
The word “church” refers to the people of God, not a place. The 1st Century church had at times some larger public meetings for teaching8, but their fellowship gatherings were in their homes9, not worshiping in “temples made with hands.”10 One church historian wrote, “The first churches consistently met in homes. Until the year 300 we know of no buildings first built as churches.”11 The reason this is significant is what they did when they gathered. For the church to mature, it was critical to have close, family relationships with a dialogue of interaction with everyone contributing and growing together. The church is also depicted as a family with God as Father and fellow brothers and sisters are “members of the household of God.”12 The church is also symbolized as a body with Christ as her Head.13 Every member of the body ministered according to the gifts/abilities God had given them for “the edification of the church.”14 They gathered to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works… exhorting one another”.15 These gatherings fostered close relationships and accountability in the pursuit of holiness.
III.) The Lord’s Supper “And they continued steadfastly in…the breaking of bread… breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”16 Meals or “love feasts”17 were to remember Jesus Christ’s blood shed for their sins18, and share their meals and their lives with those who had become so dear to them in fellowship in the daily grind of life. We naturally tend to eat with those we love.
IV.) “They continued steadfastly…in prayers” There’s a striking depth of confiding in one another, unity and powerful results seen in the prayers and worship of the early believers. James wrote, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power.”19 Paul wrote, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”20
V). Where the Money Went: “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” The Apostle John wrote, “We know that we have passed from life to death because we love the brothers…by this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”21 The believers were sacrificial givers who primarily devoted their giving to meeting the needs of those in their midst who were in financial distress22, and the world took notice of their sacrificial giving and love.
VI.) The Results: Fear and Explosive Kingdom Growth.
“Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles …and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” The 1st Century church had fear- they were in awe of God’s holiness and God removed evil from their midst, for they were “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people,”23 separate from the world and called to live like Christ lived, by Christ’s power in them. Since the church met in smaller gatherings where everyone knew each other, sin which spreads like yeast through dough24 was usually spotted and addressed quickly. The church rapidly multiplied so that nearly 10% of the Roman Empire became followers of Christ by 300 A.D.!
In a modern day equivalent, one missionary couple in Southeast Asia was asked by their missions board to move to an unchurched province of 20 million people. They felt overwhelmed by the responsibility. In prayer the Lord Jesus reminded them of His Great Commission: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”25 The light bulb went on. Jesus transferred His authority to all believers- that authority included evangelizing, baptizing and teaching those who got saved, who in turn, would evangelize, baptize and teach those saved. They started training up everyone that got saved in this pattern and the end result was 158,000 new churches from 2001-2011 in heavily persecuted countries!26
From 1937 to 2000, the church in China went underground, going from 1 million to over 100 million believers meeting in secret, small gatherings. Chinese church planter Watchman Nee led the first surge of this amazing miracle, training up everyone in his congregation and breaking from the traditions of Western churches. He wrote, “Acts is the ‘Genesis’ of the church’s history, and the Church in the time of Paul is the ‘Genesis’ of the Spirit’s work…We must return to ‘the beginning.’ Only what God has set forth as our example in the beginning is the eternal will of God. It is the Divine standard and our pattern for all time…God has revealed His will, not only by giving orders, but by having certain things done in His church, so that in the ages to come others might simply look at the pattern and know His will.”27
In the 1st century as churches became large, at times they gathered in public for teaching and preaching in large numbers, but primarily they gathered in smaller, close-knit meetings in people’s homes, where dialogue, discipleship and commitment to Christ and to each other was the norm. Every member ministered and was committed to one another in fellowship and each one spread the good news. How can we today follow the pattern of church that Jesus Christ gave us? How can we grow in closer relationships with Jesus Christ and with one another in a smaller group setting where all are encouraged to minister to one another? Are you willing to actively pursue deeper, sacrificial relationships with other believers in Christ as a regular pattern of life?
True followers of Christ are like magnets desiring close relationships with other followers of Christ. If you’re not regularly committed to sacrificial relationships with a small group of believers where all are ministering to one another, be sure of it: your fellowship with God and relationships with other believers will suffer. One reason the Apostle John wrote was fellowship, “That you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things I write to you, that your joy may be full.”28
- 1 John 4:7-12
- John 15:13
- Eph 2:20, cf John 14:25-26
- Acts 2:42-47
- Romans 15:14, cf Hebrews 5:12, Titus 2:4-5
- 1 Cor 14:26
- Ephesians 4:11-16, cf 2 Tim 3:16-4:4
- Acts 20:20, 2:46
- Acts 2:46, 5:42, 8:3, 12:12, 16:40, 17:5, 24, 18:7-8, 20:20, Rom 16:3-5, 23, 1 Tim 3:5, 15, 2 Tim 4:19, 1 Cor 16:19, Col 4:15 and Phile 2, 2 Jn 10.
- John 4:21, Acts 7:48-50, 17:24
- Graydon F. Snyder, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1985), 67; Graydon F. Snyder, First Corinthians: A Faith Community Commentary (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1991), 3.
- Ephesians 2:19, cf 3:5, 15.
- 1 Corinthians 12
- 1 Cor 14:3, 12
- Heb 10:24-25
- Acts 2:42, 46, 20:7
- Jude 3-4,12,16, 1 Cor 11:25,33
- 1 Cor 11:26
- James 5:13-20
- Ephesians 5:19
- 1 John 3:14-18, cf James 1:27, 2:16-17, 1 Tim 5:3-10
- Acts 20:33-35, cf. 2 Thess 3:7-10, 1 Cor 9:11-12, Acts 18:3, 1 Tim 5:17, 1 Corinthians 8-9
- 1 Pet 2:9
- 1 Corinthians 5
- Matthew 28:18-20, cf. 2 Tim 2:2, Acts 4:13, 14:23, Titus 1:5
- Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Church Life, 1969, p. 8-9.
- 1 John 1:3-4
2 thoughts on “Fellowship”
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Thanks Steve for your kind words.