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    Mar 17, 2016

    Class 6: Church Fellowship

    Series: Living as a Church

    Category: Core Seminars, Church Life, Church Membership, Church Unity, Discipling / Mentoring, The Lord's Day, Corporate Worship, Lord's Supper, Fellowship & Hospitality, Capitol Hill Baptist Church


    I. Introduction

    Acts 2:42 says that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Fellowship characterized the Jerusalem church. That leads us to a question I want us to discuss as we begin: What makes Christian fellowship different from worldly friendships and relationships?

    All of these answers point us to the heart of what makes Christian fellowship different: it’s based on true love.

    In the first few weeks of this class we’ve looked at how unity is formed in the church, through the foundation of the gospel, committed membership, preaching, prayer, even church governance. Now we want to take a closer examination of what this unity actually looks like. Today, we’ll be discussing fellowship within the church – specifically, how church members should relate to each other to build the bond of unity that God has called us to. What would characterize healthy relationships in this congregation?

    Next week, we’ll look at the negative side -- how to deal with discontentment in the church. But before we get there we want to state positively what our fellowship should look like for us to have unity and a compelling witness to the watching world.

    II. What Characterizes Healthy Relationships in the Church?

    So, let’s first consider the question of how we, as Christians, should relate to each other. Specifically: “what characterizes healthy relationships in the church?”

    The Bible gives us one clear, overarching mandate that seems to incorporate all the other commands that we see in scripture: Christians are called to love one another.

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

    Love is the key to healthy relationships, and reflects our unity as a body. Why are love and unity so important? Because God is glorified when people who have little else in common but Christ live together in unity and love. This is what Paul is so excited about in chapter 3 of Ephesians – that the Jews and Gentiles are together united in one body. Through this unity, through the church, God has chosen to display his manifold wisdom. Therefore, in our fellowship with one another, we shine a spotlight of God’s glory out into the universe.

    Second, this love models, if only by pale reflection, the unity of love in the triune God. This is exactly what Jesus prays for to the Father in John 17:22-23:

    “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

    So in some mysterious way, our love for each other, rooted in our commonality in Christ, is a reflection of the loving unity of the Godhead.

    Brief Overview of Christian Love
    So, if our relationships are to be characterized by love, let’s do a brief overview of what the Bible says about Christian love. Three things I want us to see:

    First, Christian love is hard. Love begins with our hearts, and our hearts are the hardest place of all because we’re sinners. Why are there so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love each other? Because we need to be told again and again to do this! In our flesh, we prefer ease to a hard conversation. We prefer relaxing to serving. We prefer having our needs met to giving our preferences up. D. A. Carson has observed that even as Christians we’ll often set up our own little circle of “in people” - those we consider compatible because of some standard we’ve set up in our own minds. Our flesh still divides people up by race, culture, economic status, or age, even though the gospel has broken down those barriers. So, there’s an inherent tension in our relationships - one that comes from our own selfishness.

    But it’s precisely when we overcome these natural differences and live in unity that God is glorified. If Christian love for other Christians was nothing more than the shared affection of mutually compatible people, then our love would be indistinguishable from that of the world. Jesus said, “if you greet only your brothers . . . do not even pagans do that?” (Matt 5:46-48).

    But the second point is that, while Christian love can be difficult, we can show such love because of God’s grace. It’s crucial to remind ourselves of the fact that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). What does that mean? Is it quid pro quo? Like “I’ll invite him for dinner because he invited me last week?” No - it means that our ability to love comes from God’s love for us. We can’t love apart from his love. Our love is an outward response and overflow of hearts grateful for the unfathomable love of Christ.

    And the most spectacular way that God has shown us His love is in giving us His one and only Son so that we might not perish but have everlasting life. So in 1 John 3:16, we read:

    This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

    In other words, we can’t approach maturity in loving others unless we strive for maturity in grasping the dimensions of God’s love.

    Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work (Galatians 5:22). So, we can’t suddenly decide: “OK, today I resolve to love others more and here are ten ways that I plan to do that in my own strength.” Love is an outpouring of our hearts caused by a change in our hearts through God’s work. The more we come to understand the message of the Gospel, the more our lives will be characterized by love. In his book, “Life Together,” Dietrich Bonheffer writes, “When God was merciful, when He revealed Jesus Christ to us as our brother, when He won our hearts by His love, this was the beginning of our instruction in divine love.”

    So, what does this mean for us practically? We should be actively seeking to fill our minds with thoughts of God’s incredible love for us so that our hearts would be softened to genuinely love others. So, for example, when you’re annoyed by someone here at the church, picture yourself next to the cross. Recall the incredible grace that you have received, the sacrifice of God’s son in your stead. That is what will change our hearts and our attitudes. Jesus said “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Lk 7:47); when we know how much we’ve been forgiven, our love overflows.

    And the third aspect of Christian love: it brings great joy. I certainly don’t want to leave us with the impression that loving Christians is only difficult or unpleasant. That’s not the picture that we get from scripture. Fellowship with other Christians is a source of supernatural joy and strength to a believer. Psalm 133:1 says “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.” What does John say in 2 John 12 when he’s writing to a church he knows well? “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”


    III. What Does it Look Like to Love One Another?

    Well, keeping these important principles in mind, I want to spend the rest of the class considering how, practically, we can fulfill this command to love one another inside the church. We’re going to identify five ways that scripture commands us to love one another. And for each one of these, we will consider how Christ has first loved us in that particular way.

    5 Ways Scripture Commands Us to Love One Another
    (1) Love those different from you.
    So first, love those different from yourself. What do we see in Luke 5:29? “Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.” We’ve touched on this at various points in this seminar. Christ’s love was indiscriminating. He was without sin, yet he chose to associate with and befriend sinful people like us. Love is no respecter of persons.

    And Christ’s love serves as the model to us. We love others not because they deserve it but because they’re made in God’s image. We know from James 2 that we shouldn’t show personal favoritism. In Romans 12:16, Paul tells the Romans not to be proud but “be willing to associate with people of low position.”

    So, what should we do? Form relationships with and care for those who don’t look like us, who aren’t in the same age range, are in a different stage of life, have a different personality. Visit the elderly; care for children; help with the youth group. To take another angle, we can work proactively to seek out members who simply may have a difficult time integrating into the church body, whether that’s due to their personality, their circumstances, their history.

    There are so many examples of this in our church: I think of Jeremy McClain’s relationship with the Kalenak boys; Kendrick Kuo’s friendship with the Miller family; how Maxine Zopf is a regular at bridal showers full of younger women - I could go on.

    (2) Love Sacrificially.
    Second, love sacrificially. On the cross, Christ demonstrated a sacrificial, selfless love. A love that was costly. Listen to 1 John 4:10-11:

    “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

    One way we can do this at CHBC is by carrying each other’s burdens, as Paul says to do in Gal 6:2. Our own church Covenant states that we agree to “bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.”

    How? This means we come alongside someone in a time of challenge - spiritual, physical, you name it - and literally help carry their load. It may involve patiently bearing with someone’s spiritual struggles for a prolonged period of time in a discipling relationship. It may mean providing material help to someone who is in need - groceries, a loan, a ride, childcare. It may be giving up your Friday nights to visit someone who is sick.

    Again, this is by God’s grace a normal thing in our church - from the well-oiled machine of providing meals for families who have just had a child or are in a time of crisis to the way a mob of members gave up their Saturday morning to clean up Miss Lois’ property and help her witness to her neighbors, to countless other examples of love like providing those in need with a place to stay, a job, a shoulder to cry on all night in the hospital.

    (3) Love By Speaking the Truth.
    Third, we should love by speaking the truth of scripture to each other. Jesus loved us this way: he was the Word made flesh, the Wisdom of God who taught with authority, not like the other teachers. God has graciously revealed to us the truth about Himself. And we demonstrate love for others when we remind, encourage, exhort and admonish one another in God’s word. This is what Paul tells the Colossians: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. (Col. 3:16).

    One great way we can do this is through discipling relationships where we meet up with someone of the same gender to read through a book or study scripture together for the express purpose of helping them grow spiritually.

    And other relationships should similarly be characterized by speaking God’s word - from our conversations after church to spouses and parents in the home, all of this teaching, and encouraging grows, matures and deepens our faith and, as a result, unites us around God’s word as a congregation. This is the beautiful picture of unity presented in Ephesians 4:15-16, where Paul writes:

    Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

    This idea of speaking the truth of God’s word also involves exercising a spiritual watchfulness over each other. So, we read in Hebrews 3:13: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” We can do this through our accountability relationships, small groups, or more informal settings. In these relationships, we should be confessing our sins to each other (James 5:16), asking probing questions about one another’s struggles with sin, and helping each other pursue true joy and satisfaction in the gospel.

    This should include gently rebuking each other in a Godly way. We naturally shy away from this because we want to avoid confrontation. (There might be a handful of folks who think they have the spiritual gift of rebuke and enjoy it - I’m not talking to you!) But it’s the loving thing to do. Leviticus 19 (v.17) instructs: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” In II Samuel 12 (vv. 1-7), we see that the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to confront David for his sin and to lead him to repentance. Sin aspires to deceive and our minds are prone to self-deception. So we desperately need other Christians around us for our spiritual health.

    We should especially watch out for those who seem to be wandering from the truth or struggling with doubts about their faith. We read in James, “if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19). Unbelief is a constant and dangerous temptation that we must help each other fight.

    How do we do that? Well, one way is to pay attention to what’s happening in others’ lives. Do you know friends who, at one time, seemed to be particularly active in the church and have drawn back, or maybe even have stopped attending church regularly? I’d encourage you to give them a call or have lunch with them to see how they are and what’s going on. Pray for them specifically.

    Confronting each other in love doesn’t mean only talking about sin issues, although those are urgent. It should also include rebuking one another about general patterns in our lives that would reduce our usefulness to the Kingdom, such as taking a job that may cause particular stress and tension in your family, or deciding to take a trip which you know will place you in a position of greater temptation to sin, or failing to take advantage of an opportunity to grow spiritually. A genuine love and concern for others will probe into these areas as well. Sin and unbelief fester like mold in the dark room of isolation; fellowship, with words of encouragement and rebuke, is like a beam of light that pierces that darkness.

    In all of this, God calls us to be good stewards of our conversations -- our words of truth. View every conversation as an opportunity to encourage and edify another member of the church.

    I think Nile Wartts is a great example of someone who speaks scripture well during Wednesday night Bible study; Mathew Freeman is someone who uses scripture well in his prayers on Sunday nights; and Jean Durso is someone who regularly speaks words of encouragement and comfort when I talk with her before or after church.

    (4) Love by Showing Humility.
    Fourth, love by showing humility to each other. Listen to Philippians 2:3-8:
    Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!
    So, how do we love? By humbly submitting to each other. By considering others better than ourselves, and looking out for their interests over our own. Part of being humble towards one another also means to be long-suffering, forbearing and forgiving as God has so clearly been to us in Christ. Paul says in Colossians 3:13:

    “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

    What does it look like to humbly bear with each other? For one, we should regard others as having good intentions and motives in their words and actions rather than jumping to conclusions in our minds, suspecting some evil intent. A good rule of thumb is to never assume someone’s motives—in your conversation with others, or in your own internal thoughts. You know—or at least, you perceive—facts. But we can’t always perceive motives. Humble love provides the benefit of the doubt and doesn’t seek to assume what can most upset us—the motives behind a word or action.

    And begin with Christ’s example. It’s hard to be proud when you are staring at the cross -- those feelings of jealousy and envy seem so unfulfilling in the face of the cross.

    Then, consider that as Christians we belong to Christ in eternity with one another. We, who live in fellowship with other believers today, will one day be with those believers in eternal fellowship - with no more sinning against each other. So when we look at each other in the church today, we should remind ourselves that we will be eternally united in Christ, and this should motivate us to humble ourselves before each other and forgive each other.

    Praise God for the humble example of so many members of the church - like 3 star generals serving at the bookstall, and CEOs serving 2 year olds all morning so the rest of us can hear preaching. I think it’s incredibly humble that folks like Gwen Johnson and Jim Cox and the Schmuckers have planted themselves in this church for decades - they don’t need to go off and find something better, they’re just here to love and serve.

    (5) Love with Kindness and Compassion
    Fifth and finally, Christian relationships should be characterized by a warmth and gentleness that is a reflection of the kindness, and compassion of our Savior. Jesus loved in this way, as we see in Mark 1:40-41:

    A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

    Jesus didn’t have to touch the leper to heal him but he did to express compassion. We should therefore similarly clothe ourselves, as instructed in Colossians 3 verse 12, with compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness. If we do a lot of the practical suggestions in points 1-4 and yet still have a distant coldness in our relationships, we don’t have love.

    One of the times that kindness and compassion are most necessary is when our brothers and sisters are suffering. Paul says in 2 Cor 1 (vv. 4-5),

    [Christ] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

    As the church, we are the body of Christ, united to Christ. We experience what Jesus experiences. That means we will suffer and it means we will be filled with his comfort by his Spirit. Christians weren’t made to suffer alone. If you are suffering, one of the ways God intends to bring you comfort is through the church. If you know someone who is suffering, now is probably not the time for that word of rebuke - but for the Christlike touch of compassion. Now is the time the gentle word, the hug, the companionship, the prayer.

    The best example I can think of this is how well the congregation served Miss Shirley Luther over the past years - with rides to doctor, groceries, visits, chores, meals, it was an endless parade of compassion on her corner of 5th St. And guess what? Her neighbors noticed it. At Miss Shirley’s memorial service a couple of weeks ago, one neighbor remarked publicly on how evident this church’s love was. Praise God for that witness of kindness.

    Loving the Whole Congregation
    Finally, I want to address one other topic before we conclude. We’ve been talking about loving other individual members of our church. But scripture calls us to love and be committed to the whole congregation, not just a subset. How can we be faithful to this in congregation where it’s simply not feasible to know well all of the 900 or so members of this church? Four brief ways:

    First, pray through the church directory - a page or two each day. That’s a great way you can love and serve the entire congregation. If you don’t know particular prayer needs of some members that you are praying for, pray for them generally – use some of the prayers that we see Paul pray in the New Testament.

    Second, we can love the whole congregation by building up others through discipling, teaching, etc. so that they in turn can then take what they’ve learned and minister to others in the congregation. Make a key part of your discipling others teaching them how to disciple others. When you serve in childcare, you love the whole congregation by allowing many parents to be discipled by the teaching of the Word.

    Third, one of the most practical loving things we can do is to tithe faithfully and generously for the good of the whole congregation.


    IV. Conclusion

    As I was preparing this class, I noticed that the notes on this material had the names of many people who were shown evident love by this church, kind of like how we were just talking about Miss Shirley. But the notes were from some years ago, and all those examples of people that the church had loved… are now gone. God has moved them away or called them home. That was humbling to me. It reminded me that as long as God has us on this earth, we will keep loving each other until the final day. We at CHBC will pour ourselves out in love for more people every year even as every year some of our brothers and sisters say goodbye. That’s our joyous calling. And even at the final day, what will remain when this world with all its glitz and glamour passes away? Love. Paul says, prophecies will cease and tongues will be stilled and knowledge will pass away but love never fails (1 Cor 13:1). Jonathan Edwards said “Heaven is a world of love.” There, our love for one another will be perfect and complete because it will flow eternally from the one who is Love.