The last in our series, this week we look at fellowship. Often we think fellowship means staying after church for a dinner, or a coffee time following service. But real fellowship is Christ Centered Community - Koinonia in the bible. That's what we explore in this week's message.
This week's message is based on a reading from Hebrews 10:23-25.
Today is the last week in our four-week series, The Power of Routine. If you’ve like the series, you can pick up a copy in the hallway, I’ve got copies of this message, and packs that contain the entire series. Don’t forget they’re back there, they might be a real encouragement for you or for folks you know who aren’t here today. During this series, we’ve talked about the importance of our routine, and making sure that bible reading and prayer, and even fasting, are a part of our routine.
This week we turn to something called Christ Centered Community. In the bible this is called koinonia, that’s the Greek word for it, we just call it fellowship. Koinonia shows up 20 times in the New Testament, the first time is in Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
The earliest believers devoted themselves to just three things. Fellowship and breaking of bread go together, and they are summed in a real Christ Centered Community. Sort of fellowship with Jesus and with other believers. Fellowship with people, knowing Jesus is present in a very real way.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that represents church attendance. I don’t think that’s going to far, the believers spent time together, they gathered every day, they celebrated the Lord’s supper together, all the things that we do when we get together. But it’s not just church attendance on Sunday morning. It’s more like church attendance every time the doors open. It’s gathering together for Sunday School or Small Groups, for bible studies, for coffee hours after a service, for the fellowship dinners. It means making our time together with our church family a priority in our life.
There are so many things that vie for our attention. Jobs are certainly a big one. We have to be on the job certain hours or we might not keep our jobs. And if we don’t make our job a priority, we might not pay the mortgage, and we’ll be homeless. Or we might not afford groceries, and we’ll be hungry. So a job should be a priority, but it should never be our greatest priority.
Health is certainly a priority for some, especially those fighting a chronic condition. Diabetes, chronic pain, COPD, these are things that are necessarily a priority because if we try to forget about them, they may raise their ugly heads in the form of very serious health issues. But they should never be our greatest priority.
Family is another big one, too. But I think we need to be careful here, too. It may sound a little cold or uncaring or even crazy to think that a parent wouldn’t make a child their greatest priority, but yet, I think that’s a mistake. Your child won’t grow up following God, if they don’t see following God is the most important priority in your life. If there is anything else more important to you than following God, than you can bet that when your child grows, there will be something else in their life more important than following God. If following God isn’t the most important thing to you, it won’t be the most important thing to your children. So the best thing you can do for your children is to model a Christ Centered, Christ loving life.
And that means Koinonia, it means being a part of a Christ Centered Community. It means coming together with other believers, as often as you can. Paul speaks of the church body in physical body terms, to Paul being a member of the church was like being a part of vital living organism; you were like a vital organ in the living body of believers. And as a body can’t survive without it’s vital organ, so the church can’t survive without you. And the flip side is true, too. If you take a vital organ out of the body and isolate it from the body, it won’t survive either. You see, you can’t survive without the church, either.
In the book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren talks about the importance of church attendance, not just at worship Sunday Morning, but in everything the church does. He says that we were called to belong, not just to believe. We are a part of the body of Christ, and we experience all that that means through being a part of the local church.
Rick Warren talks about some of the benefits of being a part of the local church, of church attendance – really being plugged into the church.
It’s through regular contact with our church family that we receive the encouragement to fight on, the comfort in times of trial, the courage and the promise to continue to live by faith. I don’t know how people can be Christians and not go to a church. I don’t think they can. Our call to faith is a call to relationship. A relationship with God, and a relationship with our fellow believers. And at the heart of that relationship is Koinonia, Christ Centered Fellowship.
So the big idea of this message, the take away, what I hope you will remember when you leave here, is that God never intended for us to walk alone. Authentic community in which we deeply know others and are known by others is necessary for a victorious Christian life. Bottom line, if we’re going to follow God faithfully, we must share our lives with other believers. We must get together as often as possible.
I want to share a couple thoughts about this kind of fellowship…
1. Church is necessary. In our country, we are a very self-sufficient, and independent people. We don’t want to need anybody. We are individuals. And that kind of individualism has emphasized a personal relationship with God to the point that many people who call themselves Christians actually believe church is optional. But intentional Christian community is a nonnegotiable part of being a healthy and effective believer. And we saw the command in our reading this morning, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…”
We already heard Rick Warren say we aren’t going to grow or mature in our faith without regular church attendance, and not just once a week. John Wesley spoke to this when he said, “Christianity is not a religion for solitude and solitary. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” In fact, here’s something you probably wouldn’t know unless you know a little bit of Greek, but the vast majority of times you see the word “you” in the New Testament, it’s plural, meaning it’s referring to a group, a body of believers.
For example, in Acts 16:31, this might be a case where we think Paul is talking to an individual. The jailer asks Paul what he must do to be saved, and Paul answers the jailer, “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved – you and your household.” He’s speaking to an individual, the jailer – but he’s referring to the larger group, the entire household. And his invitation to be saved is an invitation to be a part of Christ, and the Body of Christ is the church.
2. Spur each other on. In our reading, in verse 24, we saw the words, “Let us consider how we may spur each other on toward love and good deeds.” That word spur is an interesting choice of words. The Greek word literally means sharp disagreement, stirring up emotions or feelings or responses. I think the word is only used twice in the New Testament, the first time is in Acts 15, where it’s translated as “sharp disagreement,” Paul and Barnabas were getting ready to leave for their second missionary journey and they disagreed about who to take with them. Verse 39 says, “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.”
I think this is the only other time this word is used in the New Testament, and here, it’s translated as “spur on.” Some translations use the word “provoke” or “stir up.” Think of the word “spur.” What kind of image do you get? I think of the spurs that a cowboy used to wear. Imagine being a horse, and getting those little spikes jammed into your rib cage. Ouch! Yet “spurring one another on” is what Hebrews says we are to do.
And I think that’s the part our fellowship is missing. Sometimes Christ centered community can be hard, even unpleasant, because we have to be honest with ourselves and with others about the junk in our lives, the baggage we’re carrying with us—and that’s never comfortable, so we tend to keep it quiet, we keep our secret struggles secret. But the truth is, we probably all need a swift kick in the pants every once in a while!
And I think that’s really what that “spurring on” means. It means having the tough conversations with one another, holding each other accountable, holding each other up to the image of Christ. But doing so with love, so are encouraged toward love and good deeds. The end is result is more love, so don’t say things in a way that someone gets mad and storms off – you haven’t helped anything if that’s the result. So share in love, but hold accountable.
3. Stay with the group. I remember hearing a story of a pastor’s visit to a church member’s home, a member who used to be very active in the church, but he stopped attending. They were meeting on a cold day, in a study that had a roaring fire going, and the pastor sat in a chair by the fire to warm himself up a little. The man was apologizing for not attending but said he didn’t need to be there. He could pray from home as well as at church. He didn’t really need the church to walk with Christ. The pastor sat quietly listening to the man speak and reached out and took the fire tongs and pulled out an orange hot, burning ember from the middle of the fire, silently placing it on the hearth.
Both men seemed to stare at that ember for a long time. The flames stopped almost immediately, then it began turning red, then a deeper red, then the color disappeared altogether, and it became a dark gray chunk of charcoal. This all happened pretty quickly, in a matter of minutes. The pastor than took the tongs again and put the piece back into the fire where he got it, and in no time, it was a burning, glowing ember again. The man got the message, if we separate ourselves from the church, our fire soon goes out.
In 1 Peter 5:8, we see another warning to stay in the body. Peter writes, “Your enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Have you ever really thought about what that means? How does a lion prowl about, how does a lion hunt? Here’s a clip from National Geographic that talks about how skillful the lions are as hunters…
Anybody know what a group of zebras is called? They’re called a zeal. Really strange name isn’t it. The lions might follow a zeal of zebras for days, waiting for one of them to wander away from the group. Then they can attack. As the video said, the “first rule of the safari is always stay with the group!” Zebras are safe as long as they stay together. The same rule applies to us. If we separate from the church, from Christ centered community, we become more vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. That’s what Peter was talking about.
Church really is important because it is the body of Christ, it is where we our needs are met, it’s where we can grow spiritually, it’s where we are safe from our enemy. And yea, sometimes it’s hard, sometimes we have to say or hear the hard things, but we’re always better for it.
And something else to consider, the church is the mechanism God created to help a hurting world. So at least a part of why we’re here, is so together, we can reach out there.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments...