We are continuing to examine the teaching found in Acts 2:42. In our last lesson we noticed that the thousands, once becoming Christians, immediately devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings. They had the common ground of the gospel which bridges the divide between social status, class, race, wealth, culture, and the like. The good news of God’s love seen in Jesus and the cross drives us to love one another genuinely, hating evil, clinging to good, and loving one another with a family love. We must consider what changes we need to make to our thinking and our actions to ensure that we are developing this kind of love for one another. As we look again at Acts 2:42 I would like for you to notice another thing that these Christians immediately devoted themselves to: fellowship.
We need to ask the question, “What is fellowship?” It is a word that everyone uses but it is a word that is greatly abused. People think fellowship is having a cup of coffee together. Shaking hands with each other after services is not fellowship either. Today the word “fellowship” has come to mean little more than Christian social activity. This is not the meaning of fellowship in the New Testament. Consider how foolish it sounds to suggest that the first thing these thousands of Christians did once becoming believers was devote themselves to eating cookies together. Notice what we are being told in Acts 2:42. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread which is most certainly the Lord’s Supper, and to prayers. Oh, and by the way not only did they devote themselves to the word of God, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer, they devoted themselves to having cookies together too. You see that it simply does not fit. It does not make any sense just reading the sentence without any knowledge of the meaning of the word “fellowship.” Today the word “fellowship” has been ruined to mean to eat together. The scriptures never speak of eating as an equivalent of fellowship.We hear of fellowship halls, where eating together in the building is the fulfilling of fellowship. But this is foreign to the scriptures. Consider this statement in the scriptures:
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV)
What are we called into? Is God faithful and we have been called into some sort of socializing with Jesus? Have we been called to eating? I hope we can see, again without knowing anything about the meaning of the word, that fellowship cannot mean what the word is typically used for today. Think about what it means that the Corinthian church had been called into fellowship with Jesus. What does that mean? We have been called into a relationship with Christ. We have been called into community with Christ, into his body, and into his family. It is that we have a new identity in Christ and our lives are completely united and joined with Christ. We are intertwining our lives with Christ. Here is the point: fellowship is not something that is superficial. Fellowship is not going out to lunch.
Fellowship with Christ means that all my loyalties belong to him. My life is in Christ. Fellowship is used in the scriptures to speak of sharing our very lives. We are called into relationship with Christ that radically changes how I think and how I live. My fellowship with Christ reorients my priorities so that he is all and all and glorified in all I do.
So what does it mean that these Christians “devoted themselves to fellowship?” The first Christians of Acts 2 were not devoting themselves to social activities but to a relationship, a relationship that consisted of sharing together the very life of God. The scriptures do not picture being relationally connected to God and not relationally connected to other Christians. Distance from the body is distance from the head. Acts 2:42-47 immediately speaks of these Christians as a group because the gospel does not just create new people individually, but a people collectively. God never intended for us to grow our faith in isolating but within a fellowship of faith. What we are seeing in Acts is that with their individual gifts, resources, and level of faith, these early believers built one another up into maturity. They encouraged one another, blessed one another, rebuked one another, disciplined one another, taught one another, outdid one another in showing honor, and trained one another in the gospel. This is the proper concept of fellowship in the New Testament. These are the things they are devoting themselves to which is called fellowship. We are sharing a common life together in Christ. They created a community together. This is why the lesson is called “community driven” because the word “fellowship” has been so misused and misunderstood. Community in Christ is what we are trying to accomplish together. Here is another text that gives us a good picture of fellowship:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16 ESV)
Notice the body imagery again. We are joined and held together as the body and we are grow up together in every way into Christ. This is not a picture of eating together. This is a picture of Christian relationship together. This is a picture of shared lives based on the gospel of Jesus. Consider this: just as the scriptures know of no such thing as an unbaptized Christian, it also knows nothing of a detached Christian. What was the first thing Paul did when he came to Jerusalem? He found the Jerusalem church and tried to join himself to the Christians there. He did not just decide to come to services once a week. He joined himself as part of the family there. We must recognize that such fellowship is a spiritual necessity. The writer of Hebrews commands us to encourage one another daily. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:13–14 ESV). This encouragement does not happen by sitting in pews, row upon row, week after week for one hour, listening to the preacher teach. This encouragement can only occur through fellowship, the mutual interchange of admonishment and encouragement.
Why Fellowship Is Important
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 gives a beautiful picture of why we need fellowship.
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12 ESV)
Verse 9 declares the point: two are better than one. We need each other. As much as we want to be prideful and arrogant, acting like we need no one else, God says that two are better than one. We need each other. Why.
First, for mutual support. If you fall, you have another to pick you up. What a beautiful picture for what we need. We need each other so that we can pick each other up. We need to have relationships together so that we can be there for each other when we need to be lifted up. We get crushed by sins. We get demoralized by our circumstances in life. We get hurt by the suffering of this world. We need each other to lift one another up. When we see people come through our doors that have not been here in a while, say something that is uplifting. Don’t say, “Hey stranger!” or “Where have you been?” Give them encouragement: “It is so good to see you.” “I have been praying for you.” “I have truly missed you.” They know they have not been here. We do not need to put a flashing light and siren on this truth. Be encouraging.
Second, for mutual encouragement. The writer pictures the ability to do positive things for each other. God knew we would need regular encouragement. I need you not only to pick me up when I fall, but just to give me encouragement to keep going. Sometimes we stop on this journey of faith and we need to tell each other to keep going. We can fan the flames of our faith and nudge each other forward with Christ.
Third, for mutual strength. Two are stronger than one and three are stronger than two or one. We have a saying, “The more the merrier.” There is strength in numbers. Satan will try to beat our faith down. But we have each other to stand strong together. You do not walk alone in your faith and you do not stand by yourself against evil. We are standing together, picking each other up, encouraging each other, and standing strong together.
The New Testament uses the same picture for us as the body of Christ. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:14 ESV) We have not been created to be by ourselves. Listen to what Paul says a few sentences later.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:21 ESV)
Friends, Paul says that we cannot say that we have no need of each other, but we practice it all the time. We are to suffer together. We are to rejoice together. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV) This demands our fellowship together. This demands relationship together. Who doesn’t want to have this kind of relationship in Christ together? Only arrogant people think they can do this themselves and have no need for anyone else. Humble people realize that they need support, accountability, oversight, encouragement, teaching, and more. We are showing nothing but pride when we refuse to participate in fellowship with one another. We are implying that we are spiritually strong and need no one else and implying that we do not care about the spiritual weaknesses of anyone else. Why else do we refuse to engage in fellowship than for the reason of our pride? All we are declaring is our pride and lack of love for the rest.
In the first lesson we saw that the church is not something you go to, but something to which you belong as a new identity. In the second lesson we saw that the gospel drives us to want to be together because of the love we have experienced in Jesus. Only when I keep my eyes on the cross will I love others as Christ as loved me. Today we have added that we belong to each because we need one another. Christians devoted themselves to fellowship. Something is terribly wrong if we are unwilling to devote ourselves to fellowship together.