With the passage of time things change. Change is inevitable. Some of those changes are good. I’m thrilled that those who attend church on Sunday morning are now parking their cars instead of tying their horses to a hitching post out in front of the church, aren’t you? I’m also glad that we’ve evolved from no air conditioning to central air conditioning. With the summer we have endured, I think we would all say that central air conditioning has been a great change that has come about.
Some of the changes that have taken place are viewed by some people as “good” while some other folks see them as “bad.” I visited one of our shut-ins this past week and the topic of computers came up. She said, “I hate computers. I wish I had a good manual typewriter.” She doesn’t see anything good that has come about with the advent of computers, but the vast majority of folks see the transition from a manual typewriter to computers as a really good thing.
There have been changes that have come to every aspect of life as we know it. There have been technological changes like the ones I’ve describe for you. There have been sociological and societal changes that have taken place. There have been medical advancements, or changes, that have taken place. The list goes on and on concerning the changes that have transpired during our lifetimes and I am sure that change will continue.
I could go on and on describing the changes that have come about in our lifetimes and then try to assess whether the changes have been “good” or “bad,” but I really want to focus our time this morning on one specific change that has taken place in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ. This morning we are going to take a look at the word, “fellowship,” and how the understanding of that word has dramatically changed since the time of the early Church. When we talk about “fellowship,” in the context of church life today, we immediately think about the fellowship hall. In the church that Connie and I came from, and in most older churches today, there’s a fellowship hall. For years and years fellowship halls have been used for fellowship dinners and other activities sponsored by the Fellowship Committee. We don’t’ have a fellowship hall, we have a gym, but we do have a wonderful Fellowship Committee that plans opportunities throughout the year for us to get together. For most of the followers of Jesus today, “fellowship,” means sharing time together, having social interaction with others, but for the early Church it entailed much, much more.
I’ve read through Acts 1-4 several times this past week. As I’ve read those chapters it has struck me how different things were compared to the way things are in the Church today when it comes to the understanding of “fellowship.” Let me bring us to Acts 4 by describing what took place in the first three chapters.
In Acts 1, Luke, the author of Acts, tells us about the time when Jesus told His followers to go to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In vss. 12-14 we read,
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:12-14 NIV)
The followers of Jesus were there, together, praying and waiting on God to act. While they waited they also chose Matthias to take Judas’ place in the inner-circle.
In Acts 2:1, we read, 1 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1 NIV) There were Jews from all of the surrounding nations who had come to Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. It was during Pentecost that the Holy Spirit came and people began to speak in tongues that were understood by all of the people from different nations, who spoke different languages. Peter preached an amazing sermon and about 3,000 people accepted Jesus as Lord of their life and were baptized on that day. Then we read, at the end of Acts 2,
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)
By the time we come to Acts 3, the followers of Jesus were moving out and making an impact on the lives of those around them. The Holy Spirit was empowering the followers of Jesus at every turn. A man who had been “crippled from birth” was healed. All of the onlookers were “filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3:10 NIV) Peter saw an opportunity to preach. He told the people that the man had been healed by the power of God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who had glorified His servant Jesus. He let them know that Jesus was the long awaited Promised One of God.
When we come to Acts 4, we find out that not all of the onlookers were filled with wonder and amazement. The religious leaders were upset at Peter and John for doing what they were doing. Let’s read Acts 4 and find out what happened.
1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. 5 The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is ” ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. ‘ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” 13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” 18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. 23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:” ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ 27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:1-35 NIV)
What an amazing picture of “Church!” I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to be part of a church like we just read do you? Did you notice that when opposition came, the followers of Jesus didn’t shrink back? When those in authority told Peter and John that they needed to “cease and desist,” they said,
19 …”Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20 NIV)
“We can’t help it!” It wasn’t that Peter and John were some kind of social activists who were organizing a boycott if the authorities didn’t give in to their demands. They just simply couldn’t stop telling people about what they had seen and heard—they couldn’t stop telling people about Jesus. If there were consequences that came about because of that, then so be it, but they just couldn’t keep it to themselves.
Did you notice what Peter and John did once they were released by the authorities? Acts 4:23 tells us that they “went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.” They shared with the other followers of Jesus what had happened. And what did the whole group do once they heard the story? Luke tells us, “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God…” They told the crowd of Jesus’ followers what had happened and the crowd responded by crying out to God in prayer. What did they ask God as they went to Him in prayer? Did they ask the Lord to protect them? Nope. Did they ask the Lord to silence their critics? Nope. Did they pray that the Lord would lead them to those who might be more “open” to their message? Are you kidding me!? Listen to their prayer.
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30 NIV)
They prayed for the Lord to pour it on! “Lord, in light of their threats, we are asking You to stretch out Your hand and do even more miracles through the name of Jesus!”
As you read the first four chapters of Acts you have to stop and ask yourself, “Where did they come up with such boldness? How did they respond to opposition and persecution with prayers for God to do even greater things?” There is no question that the coming of the Holy Spirit enabled them to be bold, but is that the only factor that strengthened the followers of Jesus? I don’t think so. I think they were emboldened by the Holy Spirit and the community of brothers and sisters who surrounded them—the fellowship of their brothers and sisters in Christ who were with them. Let me give you some evidence of what I am talking about. Turn to Acts 4:31-35 with me and let’s read together.
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:31-35 NIV)
If you will notice the last phrase of Acts 4:32, “but they shared everything they had.” This phrase translates the Greek word, “κοινός” (koinos), which means, “common.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says of the word, “This life in community is not based on economic theory, legal socialization, or philosophical imitation of nature, but expresses the loving fellowship which renounces ownership in order to help others.” Where does this type of community come from, how did the early Church become so unified, so dedicated to one another? That is a great question. For the answer, all we have to do is find other places in the New Testament where the word for “fellowship,” or “κοινωνία” (koinonia) is found.
The uniqueness of the “fellowship,” or shared common life, that is intended by God for the followers of Jesus is made possible because of something much deeper than our friendship. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 and let me show you what I am talking about.
4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge– 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:4-9 NIV)
God has called us into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. All fellowship that is shared by people is shared because of something they have in common. We congregate at football games because we love the team or we love football. We go to concerts because we like the band that is headlining the night. Folks gather at bars because they like to drink or they like the other patrons who hang out at the local establishment. All fellowship revolves around common interests. Our fellowship is different. We are brought together by God. He has called us into fellowship with His Son. He is the One who has united us.
Secondly, our fellowship is solidified by the Holy Spirit. I told you that folks gather for fellowship because of common interests, but interests change, relationships fracture and fall apart, but our fellowship is established and maintained by the Spirit of Almighty God. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 13:14.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)
Now you and I both know that what we see happen in the world with relationships, specifically the disintegration of relationships, happens as well with the followers of Jesus, but this is an aberration, an abnormality—it should never be. We serve the reconciling God who has spanned the divide between us and Him. For us to do any less for one another is an affront to God.
One final Scripture that highlights the point I am trying to hammer home with all of us. If you would turn to 1 John 1:3-7 with me. In this passage we will see that our fellowship begins with God and His Son, Jesus Christ, not with ourselves. Let’s read together.
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. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:3-7 NIV)
We have so much in common regardless of how different we are my friends. Look around this room. We are different in so many ways. Different races, different economic brackets, different professions, different schools, different political persuasions, and the list goes on and on and on. Yet, there is a commonality that transcends the most deeply seeded differences and it is the fact that God has called us into fellowship with Himself through His Son, Jesus. Because God has opened the door for me to fellowship with Him, the precedent has been set for me as I relate to each of you.
We read that the believers had everything in common. We’ve come to understand that they were willing to even sell some of their property to help out brothers and sisters who were in need. We need to understand that the foundation for all that we’ve witnessed taking place in the early Church happened because of what God had first done in their lives. They took it to heart. God’s grace spilled over into their relationships with one another. God’s generosity spilled over into rich generosity shared with their brothers and sisters. The intimate fellowship that God established with each of them was translated into a deep intimacy that they shared with one another.
Nothing can happen with us as a church until something first happens in us by God. When we come into relationship with Him, by His grace, then we are compelled to connect with one another in a deeper way than can ever be achieved by some common interest shared by people in this life. How about you? God has spanned the divide that separates you from Him, but have you reached back to Him? Have you accepted the gift of His Son that has been offered to you? If not, then why won’t you do that this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
August 21, 2011