Together - wk 3 - Devoted to Fellowship
Devoted to Fellowship
Devoted to Fellowship
Today we are continuing the series we are calling “Together” where we are asking the question, “What is church?” On Sunday mornings we get up, get dressed, and “go to church.” What if God had something bigger in mind? What if we were never intended to “go to” church, or “bring people” to church? After all, Jesus never said, “Grow YOUR church. On Sundays make disciples, baptize them, and teach them.”
Instead of “going TO” church, what if God intended for us to BE the church? What if we didn’t see church as a PLACE TO GO, but WHO WE ARE? Jesus didn’t tell us to bring people to church so the church could be His witness, He said “You will be my witnesses.” We ARE the Church. We were commissioned to make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them Jesus’ commands. Not to grow OUR church, but to add to God’s Church.
We’ve been looking at a passage in Chapter 2 of Acts when Peter began sharing the Good News and people were turning to Jesus in droves. In that passage, Luke uses a common biblical writing technique called inclusio. Inclusio is a literary device that is often used to draw attention to a specific point. The main though Luke draws attention to is the fact that so many people were welcoming Jesus into their lives.
He also shows us their response to becoming a part of God’s church. They didn’t see themselves as members of a church, instead they were living their lives as the church. They saw themselves AS THE CHURCH. Their fellowship wasn’t just a place for them to go, it was who they were. They lived it every day. Luke says they were “intensely devoted” to this new way of life. This new way of life was contagious and every day more and more people were becoming a part of it. Not to join a church, but to be THE Church.
Luke gave us a short list of actions these intensely devoted followers of Jesus began doing as their lives were transformed. Last week we talked about the first action in the list, being devoted to the apostles teaching. We looked at what it means to trust in Jesus and be devoted to His Good News. We looked at Paul’s inspiring message to the Romans where he outlines what the Good News looks like to a devoted follower of Jesus who is inviting people into God’s Church. Paul encourages us to learn the Good News, tell the Good News, and live the Good News.
As a refresher, let’s take a look at our driving scripture for this series in Acts…
41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. 42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Today we are going to focus on the second action in Luke’s list. We saw that the believers in the early church were intensely devoted to the apostles’ teaching. They were also intensely devoted to fellowship. I know the wheels are already turning for some of you. “Ah yeah! Here we go! More ice cream socials and pot lucks, BABY!” That is what fellowship means, right? Many churches even have rooms they call “fellowship halls” just for such wonderful occasions! What else could it mean? Let’s zoom in on Luke’s words…
Acts 2:42–45 (NLT)
42 All the believers devoted themselves to… fellowship (koinonias)… 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had (koinos). 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.
The Greek word that is translated to “fellowship” is “koinonias.” The word means fellowship, community, participation, intimacy. The word drives you to see the fellowship of the early church as a tight knit group of people, or a social family of people. The early church was devoted to each other like a close family. They were commited to sharing their lives with one another. They sacrifice to share their resources, their space, their time, and their stuff with to fill the needs of their community.
This word shows up in other places in the New Testament to help shed light on what it means to practice this kind of fellowship, koinonia. This word quickly shows itself to mean more than a room in a church where food is served. In Romans 15:26, the Church practiced koinonia (fellowship) for the poor in communities. In 2 Corinthians 8:4, the Church practiced koinonia (fellowship) as it supported those who were sharing the Good News with other communities. In other places, the church was described as practicing koinonia (fellowship) when it generously gave its resources.
This truth is pretty clear cut and straight forward. The Church is being God’s Church when it shares it’s resources with those in need. That makes sense, but why call it “koinonias?” Why call sharing resources “fellowship?” Like most things in scripture, it has a deeper meaning. Participating with God’s family of believers in fulfilling the needs of a community means much more than sharing. Fellowship means much more than ice cream socials. Koinonia is rooted in a much deeper fellowship that begins with God, and cannot be done apart from God.
Let’s do a rapid fire look at some more uses of “koinonia” in the New Testament…
9 God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death,
3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
The foundation of our koinonia, our fellowship, begins with God. It originates from a loving fellowship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and expands to fellowship with one another. The best way to understand what fellowship truly means is to think about it in the place where it was brought into existence. The place where it exists in it’s most pure form. The perfect fellowship that God enjoys within Himself. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in eternal relationship and always participate in acts of self-giving love toward one another.
God created humans in His image to share in His eternal self-giving fellowship and to partner with Him in sharing it with others. So sharing is good. I just need to decide to do it. If we dig into the words Luke uses we see that it may not be that simple. At the very least, when we dig into what Luke says we find a bit of a buried warning. You may have noticed the word similar to koinonia that Luke used in verse 44, koinos.
Koinos, is translated as “common” in the literal sense as in “shared by all or several.” It is also used in the New Testament to describe things that are common in the sense of being defiled, unclean, or unholy. This idea repeated throughout the bible describes two ways of sharing. There is the positive way that is approved and holy, and there is the negative way that is unclean and defiled.
The first way we can share is the way God shared. God shared His fullness with us and made us complete. We were lost and broken and God’s fellowship filled us and restored us, bringing us into His fellowship. When we share as God did, we willingly give and share resources so everyone has enough. This way of life leads to wholeness for the entire community.
The negative way of sharing happens when we define goodness ourselves according to our own wisdom. Consuming for our own advantage and sharing in self-promoting ways. Adam and Eve shared in this destructive way and it lead to mistrust, shame, and blame. Instead of building up communities and growing God’s family, sharing according to our own wisdom destroys communities and tears apart families.
The early church wasn’t perfect. We can find examples of them sharing in negative ways according to their own wisdom. Peter once thought it was good to show favoritism to fellow Israelites while excluding others. Paul wrote to different communities of believers addressing different issues they struggled with, such as excluding others and allowing secular religious beliefs to infiltrate their churches.
The fear of not enough or a lack of trust can motivate us to abandon God’s way of fellowship for what we believe will have the best outcome. It will often make us believe that we know the best way to show love and mercy to the community around us instead of trusting in God’s love and mercy. The Bible shows us that God works differently. Often, though it seems like there is not enough, God shows that scarcity can become abundance. God challenges me to give away the last portion and trust that there will be more than enough for me and everyone else.
Jesus performed miracles where He fed thousands of people with only a little bit of food. He even promised that when you give it will be given to you in abundance. Paul even describes his experience with living both in abundance and scarcity, and it comes down to trusting in Jesus…
12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
Trusting in Christ to give us strength and living in fellowship with Christ changes the way we think about what we view as important. His koinonia give us a new perspective on what we need and what we need to share. It flips our world upside down and completely reverses what we see as valuable. Paul lived in Jesus’ upside down way of thinking as he practiced koinonia. In chapter 20 of Acts, Luke shares Paul’s belief that what we give could never compare to what we gain…
33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Jesus completely changes the way we see fellowship and sharing with others. His view of fellowship challenges us to let go of our instincts to simply survive and take care of ourselves as we learn to share the concerns of the people around us. Trusting God to take care of us as we love others as we are loved. As God invests in us, He prompts us to live lives of generosity as we invest in those around us.
Cheree Hayes of the Bible Project says it this way. “Our instincts to self-preserve are strong, but our image-bearing identity is stronger. We were created by a God who gave and continues to give abundantly. King Jesus shared like a servant because he knew and trusted what he had with the Father and the Spirit. He has called us into the same generosity and empowered us with a relationship with the Father and the Spirit.”
Fellowship originates from God, who lives in a state of perfect fellowship. He created humans with a purpose to share in His fellowship. He gives us opportunities to extend His fellowship with others. Clearly, God loves fellowship, but why is koinonia important to God? Especially considering He doesn’t even mention ice cream! Is it important because God wants people to have lots of money and nice things? Is it important so that what I give will be returned to me in abundance, pressed down, shaken together, and running over?
With God, anything is possible, but I don’t think that’s why koinonia is important. What is “abundance” to a God who sees a single day as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a single day. It has to be the abundance He provides with His word out of His fullness…
John 1:14–16 (NIV)
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
When we participate in God’s fellowship we participate with Heaven while on Earth. That is real love being shared between every human being. More and more joy, generosity, and peace. No longer threatened by abandonment, rejection, betrayal, and violence. God’s mission is for humanity to be united to himself and one another in His eternal fellowship. This is how Jesus said it when He was teaching…
10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
When describing fellowship, John also describes it as being from God and he explains that we share so that others may experience God’s fellowship and joy…
3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.
As we part ways today and return to our “normal,” I hope that we can all remember that our fellowship never stopped. Fellowship isn’t something that we put on hold until next Sunday or the next pot luck. It’s koinonia. It’s more than sharing stuff. It’s sharing in the abundant love and grace of our creator and loving heavenly Father.
Jesus calls us to something more than just going to church and being nice to others. He calls us to BE the church and give outsiders a place to belong. Welcoming people into fellowship with Jesus, where they can experience His abundant love and grace. A koinonia fellowship where we can all share in God’s goodness and our joy will be made complete.
I want to close with another story from Acts. In Chapter 8, Philip met a man travelling and shared in this fellowship with him. The man was the treasurer of Ethiopia, so he was a very important official for the queen of Ethiopia. I can’t help but think of someone who was probably very smart and well dressed. Philip was just an average guy. Nothing special or impressive about him to make him stand out.
When they met, the treasurer was reading the Book of Isaiah out loud. That makes me pause and think about my life for a second. If I came across someone reading out loud, how would I react. I guess it depends on how loud they were reading, but I might think they were strange. I am pretty shy, so I might look away and hope they don’t start talking to me. This guy was important, so if I came across someone well dressed who looked important I might even feel intimidated.
What did Philip do? He started talking to the guy. He asked if the man understood what he was reading. I am so introverted, it would make me nervous to be within ten feet of someone else asking that question to a stranger! Not Philip! I am already starting to realize how much work I have ahead of me on this fellowship thing, but that’s not all Philip does. The guy asks Philip to sit with him, and that’s what he does.
Philip and this complete stranger, who is from a completely different walk of life, are sitting and enjoying this fellowship with each other. Koinonia. Together they are experiencing God’s love and grace. God is drawing them in close to Himself and it is going to change this mans life forever. This one simple act of fellowship showed this man, who was a complete stranger to Philip, that he had a place to belong. Philip shared the Good News about Jesus, and let’s look at how the man responded…
35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. 36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing.
That’s why fellowship is so important. Koinonia. When we realize that the Church is who we are, not just another place to go, we take part in God’s mission to change hearts and transform lives. When God’s Church is intensely devoted to the Good News and to Fellowship, we take part in His mission and get to share in His joy as we witness lives being made brand new!
We aren’t devoted to the work because we go to church, we ARE the church. As a part of God’s family of followers we have the great opportunity to be intensely devoted to His mission of transforming lives every single day.
Koinonia. Someone in your life needs to experience God’s fellowship today. God has put someone of great importance in your life so that you will have an opportunity to sit with them in fellowship so they may fully share the joy we have in Christ. As we close in prayer today, let’s pray for that person.
God, thank you for your fellowship with us! Thank you for inviting us into your eternal koinonia. Please open our hearts to share this fellowship with the people you have surrounded us with. Give us opportunities to sit with them as we go about our lives and share the joy we have in you.