Growing in Christ–Part III–the Fellowship of Believers
The Fellowship of Believers
Now we come to one of the horizontal arms of the Disciple’s Cross. Part I of this series dealt with Jesus Christ, the center of the cross. A close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ always is the center of a growing Christian’s life. Parts I and II also testified to the importance of prayer and Bible study. This post focuses on fellowship.
Growth is a basic activity in a Christian’s life. This life begins when a person receives Jesus Christ as Savior and is reborn as a child of God. According to John 1: 12-13,
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (NAS)
Once a person is reborn, God begins the person’s spiritual metamorphosis. What is this metamorphosis? Well, the new Christian is considered a spiritual baby. God patiently and subtly transforms the Christian from being a spiritual baby and into the image of Jesus Christ. As we continue in Christ we are changed into His likeness. The Bible states this in II Corinthians 3: 18:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (NAS)
Of course, each Christian must participate as an active agent in this process. God will not force anyone to grow. Many Christians fail to grow. They remain spiritual babies. God provides the power and the blueprint for this radical change but we must actively cooperate in the progression of growth.
How do we do this? How do we grow? The Bible provides us with the example of the new Christians in the early Church. Their growth was personally overseen by the apostles. According to Acts 2: 42:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (NAS)
They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. Apostolic teaching is preserved for us in the New Testament in the Bible. They also maintained fellowship with other Christians. They spent much time in prayer. And, in obedience to Christ’s command in Matthew 28: 18-20, they told the world about Jesus the Christ. These are the basic activities of a growing Christian’s life.
A memory aid called the Disciples’ Cross helps us remember these basic activities. The significant parts of the Disciples’ Cross are Abiding in Christ (in the center of the cross), Prayer, Bible Study, the Fellowship of Believers, and Evangelism.
This is the third installment in “Growing for Christ.” Part I discussed two activities that focus on our relationship with God. These are “Abiding in Christ” and “Praying to God the Father.” Parts II emphasized “Reading and Studying the Bible.” Part III examines the “Fellowship of Believers.” This series is completed with part IV—Evangelism.
I. The Fellowship of Believers
“Fellowship of Believers”—what does that mean? As a teen-ager, I went to a church where the word “fellowship” was code for a party. What I mean is this: if the high school students were planning a party, it was called a fellowship. The attitude of the church members was, “We don’t believe in that ‘fellowship of believers’ stuff. It’s just an excuse to have parties. That’s why it’s not important. Life is not a party. The Bible doesn’t say anything about having parties.”
At another church, there was a different interpretation for the phrase “fellowship of believers.” The people there felt each Christian should be strong and able to “stand on his (or her) own two feet.” If a person depended on others, they reasoned, he was not trusting God. They did not believe in a fellowship of believers. Each person needed to be like the “Lone Ranger.”
Those two explanations obviously are not supported by Scripture. So, what is the “fellowship of believers” anyways? Is it really a vital, important part of a growing Christian’s life? Yes, it is.
II. The Trinitarian Fellowship
The doctrine of the Fellowship of Believers mirrors the fellowship of the triune God. Our God is one God composed of three Persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is an essential element of Christianity.
Why? Because of the unique relationship that exists between the members of the Trinity. The god or gods of other belief systems do not remotely resemble the Trinity. The Trinity is one Being in three Persons. Each of these Persons is distinctly unique and each Person mutually permeates the others.
Belief in the Trinity prevents us from reviving pagan ideas about God. According to Richard Rohr in The Divine Dance, “I think the common Christian image of God, despite Jesus, is still largely ‘pagan’ and untransformed.” How is that possible? A pagan image of God? What is he talking about?
When you think about God, what image pops up in your mind? Do you think of an old man sitting on a great throne? Does this ancient dude have a long white beard? Is he holding a bolt of lightning or a scepter in one of his hands? Is he passing judgment on the poor, luckless imps cavorting around his throne? The Christian God is nothing like this! This image resembles Poseidon or Zeus or other pagan concepts of a god. This is not the Trinity.
The concept of the Trinity provides a better image for understanding God. But the Bible tells us very little about the Trinity. We don’t know hardly anything about God’s personality. We know from logic that God is omnipotent, infinite, and eternal. What does that tell us about God as a person? Not much.
How can we know more about God? We must start from what the Bible tells us. We know from the Bible that God wants us to become Christ-like. According to I John 3: 2,
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (NAS)
God is working in our lives at this moment through the Holy Spirit to produce the desired outcome of Christ-likeness. What are the qualities that will make us Christ-like? Well, consider the qualities the Holy Spirit produces in our lives. These qualities are listed in Galatians 5: 22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (NAS)
Since God’s desire is to make us into the image of His Son and the Holy Spirit labors to produce the above mentioned qualities in our lives, is it reasonable to assume Jesus Christ possesses these same qualities? I believe so. Since Jesus Christ possesses these qualities and the Holy Spirit works to produce these qualities in our lives, can we assume the Trinity holds these same qualities? Yes.
In this short list of God’s qualities, which quality appears first? The word “love” appears first. And it should. Why? Because the Christian God is love (see I John 4: 8). And a Trinity of Persons provides the perfect setting for developing and maintaining love.
Why? Because love is best expressed in relationships. The love of one person for himself remains small, stagnant, and self-absorbed. A living, growing, vibrant love requires at least two persons. But love between two persons often grows only within their relationship. Their love resists growth beyond the two. It even can wither over time.
A dynamic, vibrant love requires mutual involvement by at least three persons. Three persons are the basis for a family, a club, or a community. A group consisting of three loving, caring persons easily can open itself to growth.
That’s why the idea of trinity provides a better understand for God. The Trinity is a vibrant relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The mutual love of this active, dynamic Trinity longs to welcome a redeemed humanity into its fellowship.
God the Father is the Father of this relationship but trinitarian relationship is not commanded by a stogy old man. The Trinity is alive and active. According to C. S. Lewis in the “Good Infection” chapter in Mere Christianity,
And that [the dynamic activity of love between the persons of the Trinity], by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing . . . but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.
Some people in the early church had a wonderful way to express this active, joyous, loving relationship between the Persons of the Trinity. They used the Greek word perichoresis. Richard Rohr wrote in his book The Divine Dance:
At the heart of Christian revelation, God is not seen as a distant, static monarch but [as] . . . a divine circle dance, as the early Fathers of the church dared to call it (in Greek perichoresis, the origin of our word choreography). God is the Holy One presenced in the dynamic and loving action of Three.
Theologian Jürgen Moltmann wrote the following in his book The Trinity and the Kingdom,
The doctrine of the perichoresis links together in a brilliant way the threeness and the unity, without reducing the threeness to the unity, or dissolving the unity in the threeness. The unity of the triunity lies in the eternal perichoresis, the trinitarian persons form their own unity by themselves in the circulation of the divine life.
Please do not confuse this divine “dance” with the prancing of nymphs, water sprites, or fairies. The interactions between the divine beings of the Trinity are far beyond our understanding or ability to describe. The world “dance” is used to help us understand the centrality of joy and love between the persons of the Trinity.
This fellowship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is not prancing or cavorting. God’s love dance is quite serious. Its focus is the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ.
How does this impact us as Christians living in the world today? God maintains this wonderful relationship—this fellowship of mutual caring. Apparently, God does not wish to keep this kind of fellowship for Himself. He desires to reproduce this among those who believe in Him through Jesus Christ.
III. God Creates the Fellowship of Believers
The most important quality of God is love. This love is expressed in the divine trinitarian relationship. God seeks to reproduce such loving relationships among believers here on earth. That is why there is a fellowship of believers.
This fellowship of believers is God’s idea. God calls Christians to become a new spiritual body—a unity of individuals called together and built up by God. The apostle Peter wrote about this in I Peter 2: 4-5
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (NAS)
God is building us all together into a spiritual house. Paul uses a similar example in I Corinthians 3: 9 where he refers to the church in Corinth writing, “you are God’s field, God’s building.” (NAS) I Corinthians 12: 12-13 says we are all one body in Christ.
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (NAS)
Peter describes the people of God using titles similar to those used by Moses to refer to the children of Israel. (See Exodus 19: 5-6; Leviticus 19: 6; Deuteronomy 7: 6 and Deuteronomy 26: 19.)
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. I Peter 2: 9 (NAS)
Peter’s implication is clear. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are the new chosen people of God. What is this new chosen people called? The New Testament name for these people of God is “the Church.” The church also is called the body of Christ.
And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1: 22-23 (NAS)
But how are we to act as members of this fellowship of believers? What’s makes this fellowship so special? Why is this fellowship such an important part of Christian discipleship? Because, at its best, we are called to be a fellowship of mutual love and caring.
IV. A Fellowship of Love and Caring
Jesus Christ, Himself, told us the most important aspect of His fellowship of believers. We are to love one another. Love for other Christians is not optional for a believer. Jesus commands Christians to love one another. This is how people will identify us as followers of Jesus—we love one another.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35 (NAS)
Our fellowship is defined by love. What forms does this love take? How is it expressed within the fellowship? Please understand, God’s love is not some cheap “Hallmark” sentiment with bunnies and daffodils. God’s love is a verb. It’s action. It’s doing God’s word and not merely hearing it.
The apostle John says again in I John 4: 21 that Christians are commanded by God to love one another: “And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” (NAS) God is building a church that is so infused with the power of His love that the gates of hell cannot stand against it.
We also are called to serve each other. We are expected to share our gifts with each other. I Peter 4: 10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”(NAS)
What other qualities should describe our fellowship? Hebrews 10: 24-25 exhorts us to encourage each other.
Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NAS)
When we are persecuted for Christ and receive comfort from God, we are to share that comfort with each other.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. . . . But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer. II Corinthians 1: 3-4, 6 (NAS)
But what if a member of the fellowship is overcome by sin? Are we to abandon him? No. We seek to restore him to the fellowship. According to Galatians 6: 1-2,
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (NAS)
We also are to pray for one another’s restoration and healing. James 5: 16 says,
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (NAS)
The apostle Paul, in Colossians 3: 12-15, identifies the correct attitudes for us to have for our Christian brothers and sisters:
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (NAS)
As members of the fellowship of believers, our task is to enable and encourage our brothers and sisters in their Christian life and their spiritual growth. God calls us to be a fellowship of love and caring. So often we fall short of that goal. Is it any wonder that many churches are less than they could be? Look at the weak, selfish fellowship between their members.
At first glance, the category of “fellowship of believers” seems rather unimportant. But careful study of this topic reveals that it is just as important as the other parts of the Disciples’ Cross.
Sadly, this category so often is ignored by our churches. What would happen if the fellowship of believers was preached and taught as an important doctrine in our churches? If Christians took the fellowship of believers seriously, what a tremendous transformation would be possible for our churches.
Too often as Christians we forget that we are at war with atheism, secularism, and other forms of unbelief. As warriors, we need a safe place to rest; a place where we can share our toils and troubles with like-minded people. We need a place where we can rejoice with others through victory and sacrifice. We need a biblical fellowship of believers.