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CHAPTER 13

 

Christian Fellowship

 

Christian fellowship is presented as the norm of Christian living. It is a concept that we have all heard of, but do not always understand. Fellowship is not a two dimensional relationship but a three dimensional one which also incorporates our relationship with God. Indeed fellowship without the active participation of God is friendship. Friendship is fine and good but is only part of what fellowship is.

The material in this chapter is closely related to that of chapter 10 which talked about the Christian church. The church is in one sense of meaning our corporate fellowship with God. In this chapter we will look at the relationship of individual believers with each other. The first section covers your personal fellowship habits and the second section addresses small groups organized for the purpose of Bible study and fellowship.


Personal Fellowship Primer

 

Psalm 133:1Ė3 talks about fellowship and shows us that the fellowship that we, as Christians, have is a special gift. We need to remember that it is a privilege to be with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a gift from God given to us by Christ through the ministry of the Spirit.

We are now living in a state of relative spiritual peace. However, when Christ was ministering to us He was surrounded by His enemies. Think of how different life would be if we were unable to be public Christians. The last few years have seen tremendous opportunities worldwide for Christian fellowship without persecution. The privileges of fellowship we now have are part of what Christ died for.

Psalm 133:1Ė3 A song of ascents. Of David. How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaronís beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

For this blessing to be active in our life, several conditions need to be met. The first is that if we expect to have Christian fellowship, we must meet other Christians. To do this, we must seek them out. This means that we must be a visible and public Christian.

We should not limit our search for fellowship to Sunday mornings, but rather think of it during the whole week. If no one at our plant, office, school, or neighborhood knows that we are a believer, how can they fellowship with us? We will have limited ourselves to one day of fellowship per week.

How different the world becomes for us when we are sharing it with a brother or sister. This aspect of fellowship gives us many opportunities for giving and receiving. It can also expose new areas of our life and work to prayer and Christian obedience. This begins to happen naturally as we become accountable to each other and Christ.

A second point to consider is that not all fellowship opportunities will develop into long term relationships. Many will be a brief meeting. Fellowship may occur on a plane, waiting to be seated at a restaurant, indeed anywhere there is another Christian. In the same way that we can limit our fellowship opportunities by only looking on Sunday, we can also limit fellowship opportunities in other ways. If we have a laundry list of conditions that must be met before fellowship can occur we will be limiting Godís ability to bless us and others.

Some people find it helpful to wear a pin or other symbol that identifies you as a believer. This can help break the ice when introducing yourself. It all gets back to the fact that a ďvisibleĒ Christian will have more fellowship opportunities. Both God, and Godís people can be found everywhere.

If we are taking concrete steps to meet other Christians what do we do with them? Well what do Christians do? Look at the passage below.

Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Letís dissect the verse.

Christians meet together to share spiritual truths. They are prepared in heart and mind to be a blessing and to be blessed. Fellowship, like most other things in life is enhanced if we are prepared for it. We would not expect to have a good day sailing on the lake unless we have learned how to sail a boat. In the same way we should not expect to have good fellowship unless we are prepared for it. Be prepared to be a blessing to someone by being grounded in Godís word. For example have a spiritual blessing to share, what has Christ shown you today. Share something from the time that you have spent in Scripture and prayer today. Let the time you spent with God bless two people instead of just one. Then you can devote yourself to the teaching and living of Godís way.

Christians meet together to be friends. We are not pure spiritual beings. We have a human, physical, need to be with other people. Do things with other Christians, such as, play some ball, pound some nails, perhaps even do some shopping! Quality Christian fellowship can often happen around non-spiritual activities. Donít be afraid to have some fun. Having a good time while being good is part of Godís plan for you. It is not at all a bad thing to have fun.

Indeed, if your Christian walk is one of woe and misery, you probably have more of a spiritual problem than a fleshly problem. The disciples and Jesus participated in life. They were not wall flowers. See John 1:2; Matthew 9:10, 14Ė15; Luke 6:21.

Continuing with the passage from Acts 2, we see that Christians eat together. Now this sounds kind of simple and boring but Jesus didnít think so. Scan a Gospel for references to food, drink, and eating. I think you will be surprised at how many of them there are.

God, who made us, has given us a dual nature, physical and spiritual. Eating together with other believers helps us to be whole because it ministers to the body and spirit. From a practical standpoint it is also another daily event to bring the Lord into. When we eat, we can establish a linking pattern or habit of spiritual activity in something we will not forget to do (that is eat). Use meals, as well as other recurring events to build in spiritual opportunities. Praying before your restaurant meal is also another way of being a visible Christian, although we aim much higher than a before meal prayer for the fellowship of believers with Christ and each other.

That brings us to the last item we are looking at in Acts 2. Christians pray together. Be open for prayer opportunities. Prayer brings in another player. The fellowship is now three way, between two (or more) people and the Lord. Matthew 18:20 says ďFor where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.Ē

As we meet together we also need to know each other well enough so that we can pray for each other effectively. This means being honest and open about our triumphs and failures. It means being open to the opportunity, as well as the vulnerability, needed to pray with each other. Christ also made himself vulnerable, even to death, for our privilege to fellowship with Him.

John, writing in 1 John 1:3 states that one of the purposes of their (the Apostles) ministry is that we have fellowship with the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ, and also with them. To be faithful to the teachings of the Bible we need to be in a state of Christian fellowship.

1 John 1:3 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. We write this to make our joy complete.

The passage below from Philippians sheds more light on the responsibilities we have when in fellowship. When we consider that fellowship is a divine, and not a human, activity we look at it in a new way.

Philippians 2:1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Comfort, tenderness, compassion, like minded, love, one in spirit, nothing out of vain conceit or selfish ambition, humility, interests of others, this one passage has a shopping list of spiritual fellowship dos and doníts. We do well to remember them as we meet together. Fellowship needs to be kept pure, for it to be a reflection of His kingdom to come. See also 1 Thessalonians 4:9Ė10, 1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Peter 4:8Ė9, 1 Peter 1:22.

And lastly, be courageous enough to love extravagantly. Love as if you have an endless supply and you can get more whenever you need it, for this is indeed the case. Love does truly conquer all. People truly will know that we are Christians by our love. Good Christian love allows us to see not with our eyes, but with our heart. Be brave (86) enough to love first and you will find wonderful people all around you every day.


Group Fellowship Primer

 

The focus of this section of the chapter is on groups that are organized with the intent of fostering individual and group fellowship. God instructs us to meet together in order to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24Ė25). This will be a stated purpose of the group, and not a byproduct or auxiliary function. Ideally the group will have five to twenty people in it.

Many of the same items that we looked at above come into play for a fellowship group. In addition to the ideas above the group needs to have leadership, common purpose, and an awareness of the dynamics of a group. The following pages present a lot of information and it is sometimes difficult to arrange it. However, I am concentrating on practical information and not style so I beg your indulgence.

Letís start by looking at how to help a fellowship group stay A L I V E.

A fellowship group (A)dores God (L)istens to Godís Word (I)nvites others in (V)alues its members (E)valuates itself

ADORES GOD. How is a group to adore God? The two primary ways are through worship and prayer.

Fellowship groups should worship together because Christians are made to worship. Worship helps to get things into a proper perspective. (See Psalm 73.) Worship unites the people of God around their God.

Worship is also refreshing to groups and individuals. It sets our hearts on a different plain for a time that will make it easier to concentrate on spiritual matters.

Bible study can be mere academics if we have no response to what we hear. Worshiping God together reminds us of our need to be obedient. We worship God because He is deserving of it. It lets us remember who the real leader of any Christian gathering is.

LISTENS TO GODíS WORD. Living groups need the living Word. I believe that the foundation of any organized fellowship or kinship group should be Bible study. It is important to establish this early on when a group is beginning. How we treat the Scripture that we learn is also important. Room needs to be left for variation in interpretation and application of Scripture. However a group that does not agree that the Bible is the Word of God will not prosper.

Members of the group need to have open hearts and minds when they study Godís word. Scripture holds a place of importance in our lives. When we study, we need to look for application and conviction personally and as a group. Allow the group and its members to be changed by what they learn. Leaders also need to allow for growth, and for the fact that the Spirit gifts many people with insight into the meaning of Godís Word.

INVITES OTHERS IN. This feature is part of any group. The movement of individuals and couples into and out of a group is normal. Several things can cause this to happen. Obviously the group will not always do the same things, or study the same topic forever. As the content of the meeting changes it will move closer to some members needs and perhaps away from others members ideal.

The members schedules, addresses, and even levels of commitment to Christ will also change as time passes. This will inevitably lead to people leaving the fellowship. A group should miss, and be saddened by the loss of members. However, it is a normal part of the dynamics of a group and does not mean it is a failure.

Inviting others in is of course very important. New people bring new ideas and new opportunities for growth. The members of a group need to focus on friendliness when someone new attends. It will take a special effort to do this, but it usually comes naturally. A healthy fellowship will want to be successful and growing.

While it is important to have opportunities for new people to join, there are times when the intimacy of established relationships is needed. When this occurs it is all right to close the group for a time. This will allow all energies to be focused on a particular need. If the group is to be closed for a time it needs to be for a reason that will legitimately require it to be closed. Also this should be communicated to all who wish to join. Donít pick and choose who can join. Our exclusiveness is bestowed by our Sovereign not ourselves.

VALUES ITS MEMBERS. Romans 12:4Ė5 says Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. The passage could have continued as follows. Some are given to speak, others to listen, some are given to laughter, others to contemplation, some are called to sing, and others to make a joyful noise (Romans 12:10, John 15:17, John 13:34Ė35).

The Bible study-fellowship group has no place for poking fun at others, or for slighting their opinions or ideas. The group does not gossip, or ďshareĒ items that are not appropriate about others. We also recognize that we are all learning as we walk with the Lord day by day.

Part of valuing each other has to do with opportunities for service and recognition. A fellowship group can be a wonderful place to discover your spiritual and other gifts. A good group will encourage its members to risk trying something they havenít done before.

The following outline offers some guidelines for valuing group members.

I. Each one needs to be accepted A. Make each person welcome B. Check up on absentees C. Fight against cliques.

II. Each one needs to serve A. Encourage participation in group worship and prayer B. Look for things that people can do.

III. Each one needs to be considered A. When the group defines its purposes B. When a group decides what projects to undertake C. When the group makes decisions affecting the life of the group.

IV. Each one needs to be encouraged A. To use his/her spiritual gift B. By having prayer requests taken seriously

Ideally a member who misses a meeting will be called by the leader and others. Everyone matters in a group and we miss anyone who isnít present. This will also give opportunities for encouragement and service if there is a problem or obstacle to be overcome.

EVALUATES ITSELF. While the focus of the group is upward, it is still healthy to take a look inward now and then. Look at establishing goals, and informally measuring the common progress in meeting them. Some groups establish a covenant which lists the expectations of the group. The expectations should look two ways. The group needs to know what it is expected of the leader, the content, and the opportunities for growth. At the same time the individual needs to know what is expected on him.

Does he need to be there at a certain time? How often is it OK to miss? Does he need to be prepared in some way? Will he be expected to take a turn in leadership, or as a host? It is best if these and other questions are discussed before they are a problem rather than after.

The leader of the group has an important job. The following list contains some of the skills that are important to be a successful leader. The list is not exhaustive but will help as an evaluation tool.

The designated leader of a small group needs to be able to . . . 1. Listen 2. Ask questions 3. Get participation in discussions 4. Apply knowledge of small group dynamics 5. Communicate care, warmth, and encouragement 6. Be open with others 7. Involve others in the life of the group 8. Help solve problems 9. Plan and follow a plan 10. Develop future leaders.

A leader should also have a walk with the Lord that is worthy of emulation. He (or she) should model the expectations of the group. A good leader will encourage members to come and be involved. A good leader will foster informal leaders. A good leader will not hold back information to seem smarter, or more ďspiritualĒ. He will be expecting Godís and his best for the members every week. (Colossians 4:2Ė6)

OUTREACH. Individually, and as a group, Christians are directed to share the good news, so it is healthy and proper for the group to have an outreach. This does not just mean recruiting members for the group, but souls for Christ. Pray together for Godís leading in this area. This is also yet another way to develop the membersí spiritual gifts.

INREACH. The group also needs to be a blessing to itself. Some areas, and ideas are in the list below.

Ministry to children during regular meetings

Group recreation days

Group retreats

Prayer breakfasts

One on one time with each other

Prayer partnering.

Here is a list of eight aspects of group anatomy. With each one is listed its importance to the group. These aspects can be used to diagnose problems if they exist and to enrich healthy groups.

Purpose. Provides cohesion; Provides motivation; Provides a means for evaluation.

Cohesion. Essential for fulfilling purpose; Essential for Christian witness; Essential for individual fulfillment

Atmosphere. Contributes to individuals sense of feeling accepted; Contributes to accomplishing the group task; Contributes to helping the group be unified ;Contributes to group growth; Contributes to communication

Background (Cannot be controlled). Affects cohesion of group; Affects cliques and subgroups; Affects perspective; Affects richness of groups resources; Affects standards

Communication. Necessary for task fulfillment; Necessary for utilizing resources; Necessary for developing cohesion; Necessary for handling problems

Standards. Important for task fulfillment; Important for climate; Important for cohesiveness; Important for group communication

Participation. Essential for communication; Essential for climate; Essential for cohesiveness; Essential for Spiritís ministry

Structure. Important for fulfilling groups task; Important for group life

Very few of the things that you do in life will be the blessing for you and others that being a participating member in a fellowship group can be. If you are not a member of a group, find one. If you are be thankful, now look for ways to enrich your group and your benefits to and from it.



Discussion Questions.



1. Think of some ways that you can become a more visible Christian as you go about your daily business.





2. What obstacles to true fellowship do we see in 1 John 1:6? In 1 John 1:8?





3. What could you personally do to help your group be a richer blessing to you?





4. What could you personally do to make your group a richer blessing for others?





5. Have you found your spiritual gift? Are you using it in your group?





6. Do you feel that God has equipped you to be a group leader? Why or why not?





7. How could you become prepared to be a group leader?