A Loving Community of Believers

What is a Church?  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  47:57
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John 17:20-23
John 17:20–23 ESV
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
We find ourselves in the midst of exploring the 7th characteristic of a true church of Jesus Christ. And that is... A true church is a church that scatters to fulfill the greatest commandments of loving God and their neighbors. Last week I rephrased it so that this characteristic is more easily understood for what it is. So here it is again…
A true church of Jesus Christ is a loving community, committed to FELLOWSHIP with God and one another inside and outside the formal gathering of the church.
So what we are talking about is you and I living...

A Life of Fellowship

If you are not already there, turn to John 17.
This passage in John is known as the High Priestly Prayer. In it Jesus first starts by praying for his disciples… but then he prays for those who would believe as a result of their preaching… that is you and I in this day.
John 17:20–23 (ESV)
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
This passage shows the kind of unity/fellowship that Jesus desires that his followers should have… the unity/fellowship that should be the norm among genuine believers.
Our unity… our fellowship… is to be a reflection of the unity/fellowship that has existed eternally between the Father and the Son… the unity of:
a common mind and purpose,
an unqualified mutual love,
and a sustained comprehensive togetherness in mission,
And this kind of fellowship is revealed to us in the Father-Son relationship characterized by Jesus’ own ministry. Such unity and fellowship among believers becomes a witness to the world so that “the world may believe”.
The notes in the ESV Study Bible says this about this passage:
The kind of unity that is central to Jesus’ high priestly prayer is not organizational but is an all-encompassing relational reality that binds believers together with each other and with their Lord—a unity that can be achieved only through the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Although individual Christians, and the church in general, tend to fall short of the fullness of unity that the Lord intends, whenever such unity is even partially realized the result will always be...
Deep joy, a persuasive witness to the world, and a display of God’s glory.[1]
Our fellowship with one another and with Jesus is KEY to the world knowing who Jesus is and coming to know Him as Savior.
Now, let’s take a moment to define FELLOWSHIP. The dictionary defines fellowship as: A friendly association especially with people who share one’s interests.
Fellowship is synonymous with words like: COMMUNION, companionship, camaraderie, FRIENDSHIP, PARTNERSHIP, and mutuality.
Now, where Christianity and the church is concerned…
Lexham Survey of Theology Fellowship in the Life of the Church

Fellowship is participation, sharing, and communion around the embrace of the gospel by the people of God.

In other words...
Fellowship is God’s people living together in intentional, relational community seeking the well-being of one another in every way, including physical, spiritual, material, and emotional.
This word speaks of the church as having a close association involving mutual interests and sharing, characterized by an attitude of good will that manifests in generosity, and sharing one’s possessions because of joint participation in the Spirit and mutual interest in Jesus.
One foundational passage on what fellowship looks like is found at the inception of the church. Turn with me to Acts 2:42-47:
Acts 2:42–47 (ESV)
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
In his book titled, “Your Father Loves You”, author and theologian J.I. Packer says, concerning these verses…
What is meant by fellowship in this verse? Gossip? Cups of tea? Tours? No. What is being referred to is something of a quite different order and on a quite different level. “They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life, and break bread and to pray. A sense of awe was everywhere. All whose faith had drawn them together held everything in common. With one mind they kept up their daily attendance at the temple, and, breaking bread in private houses, shared their meals with unaffected joy as they praised God”. That is fellowship as the new Testament understands it, and there is clearly a world of difference between that and mere social activities.
The Greek word for fellowship comes from a root meaning common or shared. So fellowship means common participation in something either by giving what you have to the other person or receiving what he or she has. Give and take is the essence of fellowship, and give and take must be the way of fellowship in the common life of the body of Christ.
Christian fellowship is two-dimensional, and it has to be vertical before it can be horizontal. We must know the reality of fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ before we can know the reality of fellowship with each other in our common relationship to God (1 John 1:3). The person who is not in fellowship with the Father and the Son is no Christian at all, and so cannot share with Christians the realities of their fellowship.[2]
This characteristic of a true church of Jesus Christ, that it scatters to fulfill the greatest commandments to love God and their neighbors, is as critical today as it was when Jesus prayed his high priestly prayer in John 17. We are talking about two great steps of faith in the Christian walk and they correspond with the two greatest commandments that are identified in this characteristic.

Two Great Steps of faith

Author and renowned historian Peter Marshall speaks of this in his work on the Christian underpinnings of our nation. He says,
The first step of faith is the VERTICAL commitment: once a person has discovered the reality of god, and has experienced the miraculous gift of salvation in His son Jesus Christ, he then must face Christ as his Lord and Master, as well as Savior. To do this means yielding our will to God. And what we need to understand is that this is a covenant relationship, which means there are two parties to the agreement. As long as the Christian obeys his God in humility, God will honor his obedience, often blessing him beyond all imagining.
The second step of faith is the HORIZONTAL commitment to one’s neighbor, and ultimately to that specific body of Christian neighbors of whom God calls us to be a part. In a way, this second step requires even more faith than the first step… because now you have to learn to trust a perfect God operating in and through imperfect vessels [church leadership, small group leaders, those you don’t naturally gravitate to]. We must do this, armed only with the assurance that it is God’s will that the other vessels’ hearts are also tuned toward His will, and that they too are aware of their being called to serve Him together.
The vertical aspect of the covenant has to come first, just as the first and greatest commandment does. But as strong as it is, the vertical aspect alone, without a cross-bar, is not the Cross of Christ. The second step calls one to yield to that local part of the Body of Christ, and to dedicate oneself to that congregation and its work. Indeed, the body’s effectiveness will be magnified to the extent to which its individuals mutually dedicate themselves.[3]
It is a pair of relationships that cannot be effective unless they are together. In this aspect or characteristic of a true church of Jesus Christ one must have the other. For fellowship, we the church, gather regularly for such things as worship, learning, sacrament, and encouragement. But even when we are not gathered here we are still the church.
There is a Spirit-bond of belonging and mission that unites believers wherever they are, in the same way that a family is still a family even when Dad is at work, Mom is at the store, and the kids are at school.
But that is often not the case. Today, Christianity is inundated with lone vagabonds, believers who claim relationship with God but have no relationship with Him, and not only have no relationship with God, but refuse to have relationship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Christians whose only contact with their brothers and sisters is on a Sunday morning, and that only when there is not something more fun or interesting going on is not God honoring.
And when we come to understand that something is not God honoring, the appropriate response is what? Repent, change, go the other direction! Right!
Next week we will look at where we went wrong and what we need to do to get back.
Before we go I want to ask you some questions for reflection. I want to ask you to think about them and answer them truthfully. If these questions and your answers sting a bit, then perhaps it is an indicator that you’re off a bit where community and fellowship are concerned. And if that is the case I beg of you to change your heart. Repent of being either indifferent or rebellious to God’s design and then ask Him to help you change in regard to your relationship with Him and with the fellowship of believers here at UBC.
Are you ready? OK… here we go…

Questions for reflection

Now, these first four questions concern our Vertical Fellowship:

God-ward (vertical)

1. Is your relationship with the God of the universe awe inspiring?
2. Does it move you daily that God has stepped into your downward spiraling mess of a life and invited you to participate in the community and fellowship of the Triune God?
3. When was the last time you visited with Him? Not asked Him for something, but shared with Him your heart, and you spent time listening to and getting to know His heart by reading His Word?
4. When was the last time you thanked Him for drawing you into this relationship?
These last questions concern our Horizontal Fellowship:

Brotherly (horizontal)

5. How often do you stick around after church to have conversation with your brothers and sisters in Christ?
6. If you don’t typically… why? Are you fearful of being known? Don’t know what to talk about?
7. If you do stick around do you find yourself always talking to the same people?
8. When was the last time you approached someone that you typically don’t talk to?
9. When was the last time you had someone from this congregation over to your home for a meal?
10. Who are your closest friends? The one’s you spend them most time with, hang out with, do stuff with?
11. Are they members of this body of believers here at UBC?
12. If not… why not? Why have you not entered into community here?
These are important questions to give truthful answers to. Our health as a local church of Christ is dependent on our willingness to be obedient to the desires of Jesus Christ in all areas of our lives. Today we are talking about FELLOWSHIP with God and one another… that allows the love of Christ to shine through to our community.
If your answers to some or all of the questions stung a bit, as the table is prepared for our feasting at the Lord’s Supper, take some time to confess your lack of pursuing the things that are important to Jesus, the life He died so that you could have, that you’re refusing to be a part of. And then, as is the proof of genuine repentance… go the other way, start doing the things that make for both Vertical and Horizontal Fellowship!
Let’s pray!
[1]Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2058-59. [2]Your Father Loves You by James Packer, (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986), page for March 2. [3]Peter Marshall, David Mauel, The Light and the Glory, (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), p. 167-168.
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