So the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination has as one of their affirmations, “The Church is a Fellowship of Believers”. Reverend Ruth Hill delivered a better sermon on this topic than I could ever give, and still the topic befuddles me.
Why is fellowship so difficult today?
When I think about what the Bible calls us to as followers of Christ in this era of humanity, I wonder aloud about whether we’re acting any differently than others around us. How do you practice fellowship of believers around you? Do you find yourself remaining a click away from people, or do you come closer and live the evidence?
John, the gospel writer, penned some pretty profound words in his 13th chapter of his self-titled book…
(I wonder if I could get away with a book title like he did… “Reid – a book about Jesus.” Nah, it sounds weird. I’m just sayin’)
John says that Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Is this really a *new* command from God? Did God never talk about loving one another in the past, oh, 1st half of the entire Bible? I don’t know about this being a new command, but the funny thing about this passage in John’s gospel is that Peter wasn’t even listening. If you click the words of Jesus again, you’ll see the passage of scripture in full context and see that Peter hauls off and blows right past the words of Jesus and sticks his foot in his mouth.
Peter goes, “WAIT, WHAT?!!! YOU’RE GOING SOMEWHERE? JESUS, WHERE ARE YOU GOING?” And the Lord, patiently responds, “Where I’m going (to die for all of you) you can’t follow me to that path… yet.” And Peter’s like, “YES I CAN, WATCH ME.” And Jesus is all, “Not a good time to be talking about this, Peter.” And I’m sure Peter’s again like, “Dude, come on… where can you go, that we can’t follow you?” So the Lord must have taken a deep breath, foreseeing the future and Peter’s denial of Jesus coming later that week, and he goes, “Peter, you’re going to disavow your loyalty to me 3 times, no less, in a few days… I can tell.” … and Peter must have just slunked away like he’d been sucker punched in the bread box and got winded trying to spar with Jesus because nothing else is said.
I’m sorry to digress with my version of the Bible, and I’m no Eugene Peterson, but it’s fun to imagine the real-life exchange of the men there together.
Let’s remember what Jesus was saying here. “A new command I give you, love one another.” I don’t get how that is so *new* to the boys. Wasn’t Jesus acting out of love for the past 3 years with these guys? Wasn’t Jesus healing, forgiving, curing, caring for and listening to hundreds of people’s needs as an act of love? Wasn’t it obvious that Jesus was living out a life of love for these guys in ways they hadn’t witnessed… EVER? And Jesus needs to tell them that this is a new command?!!!
Maybe the command wasn’t for them (alone). Maybe the command was *new* to John, because he was going to record it … for us, for disciples to follow these 12 and people to read it later. Maybe Jesus was speaking to the church that was going to form after Jesus “went away” and died, rose again, and ascended to God’s right hand in glory… and these 11 were going to have to live out a new kind of life w/o Jesus around to tell them their every move.
I wonder if Jesus said, “This is a new command” so that we’d pay attention a little more to what he was talking about. Remember that Jesus finished the new command with, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It’s a living proof kind of life to have love for one another and fellowship that will change the dynamic of relationships, so that others will see God… here and now.
There’s a funny thing about the name “Christian” lately. People are associating lots of *bad* in the world based on the word Christian. Christians can be legalistic, fundamental, too liberal, too __________________ (fill in the blank) and what is this doing for the Church that Christ shed his blood to forgive? Are we acting in ways that makes the world take notice that we are followers of Christ?
Notice, Jesus didn’t say, “the world will know you’re a Christian”, he said, “everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Disciples love one another. hhhmmmmmm
Back to my original question, “Why is real fellowship so difficult today”?
We can have fellowship on Facebook, and we can update, post, link, spotify and embed video… but is it really fellowship? Is it just chatter online? How deep are you taking relationships with one another?
Is Christlike fellowship any different? Should it be?
With the command Jesus gives us, “to love one another, so that everyone will know we are disciples” this happens when we recognize a few obstacles:
1. Fellowship challenges our comfort (I Corinthians 12:24-27). Funny thing about FB is that you don’t have to respond to posts if you don’t want to. The funny thing about real relationships in the body, is that you can’t avoid conflict and God has designed that we work things out together to make for a better community. I heard a story today about a girl who went camping and drank water from a stream without filtering out the bugs and became deathly sick. She caught a bacteria from something in the ground upstream and it debilitated her body. It’s amazing how the body functions, isn’t it. It has to fight off disease and bacteria so that the entire system doesn’t shut down. When we work in fellowship together, it challenges our comfort, but when we show grace to one another, we can work the bugs out. The girl is fine, by the way. It’s a good lesson in being careful what you absorb “into the body” (wink, wink, metaphor).
2. Fellowship is counter-cultural (John 13:34-35) Jesus just finished *washing his disciples’ feet*, which could be the most germ-ophobic expression of gross in our modern world… and then Jesus says, “if you love one another like this, the world will know that you follow me.” Talk about counter-cultural expression of faith. Who in their right mind is going to love a complete set of strangers so much that they could find common belief in God, and then actually begin to like each other? The world doesn’t work like this… but God does and he expects us to, too.
3. Fellowship involves trust (Ephesians 4:2-3) One of the things I hear most as a new lead pastor is, “I don’t trust anyone anymore.” It’s beginning to break my heart. Since when did we lose our ability to trust others? When hurt is real, it gives birth to fear and then soon enough, we learn to set up brick walls between ourselves and others, so that they don’t hurt us again. Those walls keep out trust, and don’t let others in. If we are going to learn to have fellowship we need to break down the walls of fear, and learn (safely) to trust again. Paul the Apostle says, “make every effort to keep the unity among you.” Keeping implies once having unity. We need to trust again to have unity and fellowship. How do you need to learn to trust again?
4. Fellowship is God’s idea (1 Peter 2:9-10) In Genesis 2, God looked at Adam and said, “It’s not good for you to be alone.” It’s the first time God said, “not good”. It’s a weird thought to think that God would create something and not be totally satisfied with it’s outcome. It’s a telling remark to think of God’s perfect finish-work that he continues to craft with the end of time, as he molds and shapes us into his will. When God said, “not good”, what he meant was, “not complete” and then he made a woman to complete Adam’s design. I love that we are all designed for community, for fellowship, for togetherness, not for “alone”. All the introverts of the world may bock at this one, but God designed us for community, no matter where you gain your emotional energy. We need one another. Then in 1 Peter, God tells us that we are a holy people, royal priesthood, and a people belonging to God… non of these descriptors are singular in form. We, us, together, a people… God’s idea was for community and fellowship all along, because He is fellowship, He is community as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Perfect form is community blessing and lifting up the other.
Here’s my thought. Is Facebook bad? no
Is Facebook all there is to deep fellowship, the way God designed it? again, no.
When we take the challenge of facing our discomfort, and agree that fellowship is counter-cultural, and takes trust… then we can lean into God’s idea of relationships enough so, that the world will know we love one another and they will see God. Give it a try… it’s not that bad.