|DEVOTED TO FELLOWSHIP
Series: Who We Are - Part Seven
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 23, 2019
If you are able - would you please stand with me as we come before God and His word this morning. Would you read with me our text for today: Acts 2:42-47.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
We’ve been studying the first 2 chapters of Acts and looking at... Who We Are as the church - as Creekside. We are… Creekside.
Clearing the cobwebs and jostling the grey matter...
What we’ve seen is that we are members of the church - especially here locally as Creekside. We are witnesses of Jesus Christ - the good news of the Gospel. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to accomplish what God intends for us as the church.
We are those who have been convicted of our sin and our desperate need for God’s grace and what He offers us through Christ’s completed work on the cross. And we are converted in that we have repented of our sin and by faith turned towards God to renew us spiritually into this radical change of life that can only come from God.
Bottom line [read together] - we are a supernatural fellowship of generally unlike people bound together by God and empowered by God - to be all of those “we ares” - in Christ for God’s purposes and for His glory.
Hopefully that’s familiar. If not, it’s online.
This morning we’re coming back to the same 6 verses we looked at last Sunday. And that we’re going to be looking at for the next two Sundays. Which is not about the pastor getting senile.
But about slowing down to intentionally consider this significant moment in the life of the early church - Pentecost and the responses of those there to those events and to Peter’s teaching - and to understand more of what God was doing then and what God may be opening up to us - encouraging us with - as God desires to move us forward in the real time of being Creekside.
Setting the table for that - verse 42 begins: “they devoted themselves…”
“Devoted” - translates the Greek word “proskartereo” which has the idea of giving unrelenting steadfast persevering enduring courageous strong attention to someone or something.
Being devoted is being committed. 100% being “all in” for the long haul. Persevering and pursuing. Unrelenting.
Verse 42 records that “they devoted themselves”
“Proskartereo” is a compound word. It begins with “pros.” Which means “from the side of” Meaning their devotion wasn’t isolated. It was collective: “themselves.” They did it together - side by side - with each other and for each other.
These believers were devoted - steadfast - unswervingly “all in” committed 24/7/365 to what it means to be the church together.
Verse 42 goes on with a description of what that looked like in real time.
There are 4 “devoted to’s” - 4 specific qualities of the early church - here in these 6 verses - four “devoted to’s” that they were devoted to together that God used to strengthen them and build them up and to move forward in being the church. Four qualities that we also need to be devoted to in the real time of what God has called us together to be.
Verse 42 records that - first - “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” Which we looked at last Sunday.
Second - what we are focusing on this morning: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship
Devoted to #2 is “Fellowship”
Notice that it’s not “a” fellowship or “some” fellowship or fellowship in general. But “the” fellowship of those believers there in Jerusalem.
Here’s the big picture we need to hang on to as we go through this: Devotion to fellowship is devotion to each other.
The joy of being the church - the depth of community - the spiritual growth and character development and heart level transformation - our own heart level peace and wholeness and deepening relationship with God - the potential for being a loving local expression of the Body of Christ that testifies of the good news of the gospel in a way that attracts others to Christ - that depth of unity in Christ is made possible only by the working of God within us and through us as we choose to mutually be devoted - to be committed to each other - as the Body of Christ.
Too often the church feels like two roosters tied at the legs and thrown over a clothesline.
With all the potential risk involved - why would I ever value being here - being so devoted and committed to Creekside more than any other club or organization or association or gathering or event or whatever else is out there. And there is a lot of some really good stuff out there screaming for us to commit ourselves to.
Which is totally understandable. Why would we ever choose to set aside what builds into us - in order to leave ourselves dangling - vulnerable and open - with the potential pain of being hurt… again? Why would we pour ourselves into someone else with all the potential for hurt in that?
We need to understand what fellowship is. This amazing life together that God has given to us and us to in Christ. Why devotion to fellowship is so worth it.
The Greek word - translated in verse 42 as “fellowship” - the Greek word is... “koinonia.” How many of you have heard that word? By definition it has the idea of making something common - communal- a partnership of those who share in what is common to all.
Exploring that: There is a difference between having a relationship and having fellowship.
The apostle John writes - 1 John 1 - verse 3: ...that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
All of us have things in common with others.
During Kids Camp last week we looked at what it means that we’re all one race. Our skin may be different shades of brown and some of our features may be different. But we’re all created in the image of God - descended from Adam and Eve - 100% human.
We share human life. Some of us share common ethnicities. We all live in the greater Merced metroplex.
When we repent and accept Jesus as our Savior we come to have a relationship with Him. We become a part of the family of God - the Church. Like we’re related to our human families.
But many Christians are content - having only a relationship with Jesus and their brothers and sisters in Christ without experiencing fellowship.
John is talking about something unique. The fellowship John writes about - is not just because we have mutual interests or family relationships or because we come here Sunday after Sunday for services.
Fellowship is much deeper. Fellowship means experiencing life in Christ. Relationship puts us into the family of God. But, fellowship permits the life of that family to shine through us. Relationship means that all God has is potentially ours. But fellowship means we’re actually drawing upon that source. Relationship is our possessing God. Fellowship is God possessing us.
John writes that this fellowship with other believers and our fellowship with God through Jesus Christ - is deeper - more joyful - more satisfying than any type of relationship or experience which this world can offer us.
It’s the “oneness” that Jesus prays for in John 17: “...that they may all be one; even 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 sent Me.” (John 17:21)
That intimacy and depth of fellowship can only found in Jesus Christ. The intimacy and depth of which can only be described by the interrelationship of the Triune God - the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s intimate and deep.
That quality of fellowship touches every aspect of our lives - physical - mental - spiritual. It transcends every socio-economic cultural geographic boundary. It transcends our human limitations. It is a depth of knowing of each other that God desires for us and that only God can create in us.
Let’s be clear. Fellowship is about God.
Often we fear fellowship because we think that fellowship is something that we do together. Like bringing a casserole to a pot-luck. Something that we cook up by our own culinary skills and that what we contribute to what God is doing here.
Which makes fellowship about committing ourselves to imperfect sinful people - like us - that we have no control over and there’s potential pain in that. Probably will be potential pain in that.
So we fear fellowship because we somehow think that fellowship is about us and not God. Which is relationship that’s “us focused” - not fellowship that’s “God focused.”
The fellowship that John writes about and that Jesus prayed for is not about us but about what God does in us and through us as we yield our lives in faithful obedience to Him. We are a supernatural fellowship of generally unlike people…
Which is not about trusting messed up people but about faithfully and obediently first trusting God for what He will do in us and through us. Because being the church is about God… not us.
Hear this: Fear kills fellowship. But faith in God - which is always the answer to fear. Faith is the foundation of fellowship.
So there’s a difference between having a relationship and having fellowship because fellowship is about God not us. The starting point of fellowship - our devotion needs to first be to God - then us - as God works that out in us and through us.
Second - Fellowship is a covenant. Not a contract. But a covenant we share in together.
Verse 44 goes on: And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
“Common” translates the Greek root word of “koinonia.” So this is what “koinonia” - “fellowship” looks like in real time. “All who believed - God first - had all things in common.”
Which - let’s be careful - which is not about selling everything we’ve got and moving up to Midpines and starting a commune. Later on in Acts these people still had more stuff to sell and many were still living in Jerusalem.
What’s here is Luke recording an outward demonstration of the devotion that these believers had for each other. Fellowship in real time.
So, let’s think about what that example can mean for us.
Today we have contracts. Sign up for anything on line - any app or whatever and there’s gigabytes of fine print to agree to.
consistently read all that legal fine print? Anyone
actually understand all that legal fine print? Most of us
are... Agree. Click. Done.
We have contracts - formal or informal - that define our expectations of goods and services to be exchanged for what’s of value to us - relevant to us - our time - our cash - what we are willing to invest ourselves in. Contracts that specify the consequences of failure.
Which we - as followers of Jesus - can struggle with. We trend towards seeing our place in the local congregation as a contract.
Since the reformation the protestant church has been fracturing into one splintering denomination and congregation after splintering denomination and congregation to the point where it seems almost natural that in any town there’s a plethora of diverse and disconnected and dividing small little struggling congregations that if a Christian doesn’t like the product of one - or the impact of Scripture or accountability hits too close to home - we just move on to the next disconnected franchise.
Break the contract - fail at my expectations - and I’m gone. Usually posting a bad review on the way out. Or maybe worse - we stay and create controlled chaos.
Which is also true of the Roman and the Orthodox churches where people just drift away or loosely connect.
We trend towards what we see as benefiting us.
God didn’t establish a contract with Israel or the church. He created a covenant. Old Covenant. New Covenant. God’s covenant with His people.
The difference between a contract and a covenant is huge.
Contracts are broken when one of the parties fails to keep his or her promise. In a covenant - one member’s failure doesn’t cancel the covenant. A covenant doesn’t put conditions on faithfulness. It’s an unconditional commitment to love and to serve.
That’s what makes marriage work. Marriage doesn’t work as a contract. Which is selfish. I’m here as long as you live up to my expectations.
Marriage only works as a covenant. Two people covenanting to hang in there with each other.
Timothy and Kathy Keller - writing in “The Meaning of Marriage”: “When the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone. How much are you willing to lose for the sake of this person? How much of your freedom are you willing to forsake? How much of your precious time, emotion, and resources are you willing to invest in this person?
“...the Biblical understanding of love does not preclude deep emotion… But neither does the Bible pit romantic love against the essence of love, which is sacrificial commitment to the good of the other.” (1)
Marriage isn’t about marrying the perfect person. Just ask your spouse.
But two people - committed in a covenant relationship of marriage - who will hang in there with each other - even through the worst of what that may mean - sometimes with only one hanging on and the other dangling precariously - hanging in there together before God - God supplying the much prayed for patience, grace, mercy, love, understanding and on and on - including the ability to forgive as we’ve been forgiven - within that covenant of marriage God will use our spouses to form and conform two imperfect people closer to the perfect image of Christ - to His glory alone.
Marriage is a significant demonstration of covenant that God’s lays out in the Bible. God uses marriage as an illustration of His covenant with us and how we - as Christ’s church - following after Christ - how we are to - covenant - fellowship with each other.
On the night before Jesus was crucified He shared His last meal with the disciples. During the meal there’s a discussion among the disciples as to which one of them was the greatest. Jesus takes off his clothes - puts on a towel - and in the manner of a servant washes the feet of the disciples. (Luke 22:24; John 13:5)
The unthinkable of the Rabbi - the master teacher - serving His students.
Jesus said to them, “I’ve given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)
It’s what Jesus taught and how He lived. The greatest among you is the servant.
No one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends. You’re My friends. (cf. John 15:13-15)
That’s what Paul challenges those of us who are in Christ - challenges us to imitate together: “Have this mind among yourselves - notice the plural - have this mindset - among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant… [end result] ...death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
To live that way is group effort - a covenant that we make with each other to hang in there with each other - which is what makes our fellowship so valuable for each other.
Because God uses the covenant of fellowship to form and conform imperfect people like us into the image of His Son Jesus. To God alone be the glory.
Third: Fellowship is Family - it is who we are in Christ.
We are the family of… God. YES!
Being adopted isn’t the choice of the child. If we’re an orphan we don’t adopt our parents. Our parents adopt us.
If we’re adopted by the Smith family we become part of the Smith family. We share meals together. We go on vacations together. We work around the house together - washing dishes, dusting, vacuuming, gardening. We share living space together. Maybe share a bedroom with other Smith siblings. When the teacher calls the roll at school we answer to the name of Smith just like our other Smith siblings. We even do the hard stuff of life together.
And we do all that - not because we decided to pretend to be a Smith for the day but because the Smith parents went to the orphanage and chose us to be a Smith. On that day we became the child of the Smith parents and the sibling of our fellow Smith siblings. (2)
Only we’re not talking about being a Smith but about what it means to be a Christian. Yes?
Creekside, in Christ, we are... family.
Paul writes that God “...predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.” (Ephesians 1:5)
An adoptive family relationship that God calls us into which is a fellowship.
Paul writing to the Corinthians: “God is faithful, by Whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
That is isn’t random. God’s isn’t just bringing together some generally unlike people to be some dysfunctional group that never deals with real issues that’s loosely held together by a set of Bylaws which may or may not resemble Him - our Father.
Fellowship is about God - Who intentionally calls us together into this covenant fellowship - so that we can live out what it means to be His family together - for His purposes and for His glory.
While we may choose - prayerfully following the guidance of the Holy Spirit - to be bound together by our own choice to commit to what God is doing here. More so, we’re bound together by the person and work of Jesus Christ - God binding us together - adopting us together - for His purposes and for His glory.
Point being: Being bound together in the covenant of fellowship is what it means to be “in Christ.” Fellowship is family.
Going one step further with that truth. That’s not optional for us.
It would be nuts to say, “Well, I’m just not feeling it. I’m just not feeling like part of the family today.”
The New Testament uses a number of metaphors for the church: a family and a fellowship, a body and a bride, a people and a temple, a lady and her children. Which all point to what it means to be a Christian existing within the fellowship of the Church.
Quoting Mark Dever: “When a person becomes a Christian, he doesn’t just join a local church because it’s a good habit for growing in spiritual maturity. He joins a local church because it’s the expression of what Christ has made him—a member of the body of Christ. Being united to Christ means being united to every Christian.” (3)
Quoting Allistair Begg: “The entire New Testament is about being “in Christ” and being “in Christ,” being in the Church. You can’t be “in Christ” without being “in Church.” And if someone says, “I am in Christ” and not “in Church,” then either they are not “in Christ” or they don’t understand what it means to be “in Christ.” (4)
Put simply: Being family is who we are. And being who we are means fellowship. That means being consistently together in fellowship so that God can use us in each other’s lives. That’s not random and that’s not up to us to pick and choose when and how we’re a part of that fellowship.
It means being consistently committed to being who God has created us to be in Christ - being together - pressing into each other and building up each other and hanging on to each other - essentially showing up to be with each other - because that’s what it means to be family.
Devotion to fellowship is devotion to each other.
We belong to each other. In this world we are a unique community of people who’ve all come to share the same - common - source of life. The broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. The common life - the fellowship - that’s being described here - is that life that we share in Jesus Christ. The fellowship of those who know Jesus personally - who have given their lives to Him as their Savior and Lord.
Fellowship doesn’t focus on us - it focuses on God. Fellowship is a celebration of God’s grace and a renewing of our relationship together in Jesus Christ - a joyful coming together to experience life as the Body of Christ.
Processing all that…
Thabiti Anyabwile, in his book “What is a Healthy Church Member?” - Thabiti gives 8 real time expressions of what being devoted to fellowship can look like. There’s a free copy of that book on the table out there that you can fight over on the way out. In a Jesus loves you family fellowship sort of way. (5)
Briefly - these are the top 5 - just to kind a snap shot of what this can look like.
#1: It means participating regularly: Being present. Being known. Being active. (Hebrews 10:24,25)
#2: It means edifying others: The one consistent goal of meeting together as the church is mutual edification - building each other up in the faith. Like Jesus, we need to come to serve, not to be served. (1 Corinthians 12,14; Ephesians 4:11-16)
#3: It means bearing each other up. Being patient and longsuffering. Holding up under the weight of disappointments, frustrations, loss, attack, slander, and offense. Carrying each others burdens. Which requires meekness on our part. Not thinking more of ourselves than we ought to think. (Matthew 5:5; 18:21,22; Romans 15:1; Galatians 6:2)
#4: It means pursuing reconciliation. Working quickly and lovingly and continually to repair the breaks in our fellowship. Even before we come to worship. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Matthew 5:23,24)
#5: It means warning and admonishing others: Speaking the truth in love to our Christian siblings - helping them to avoid pitfalls, rejoicing with them when they do, and to encourage them in holiness and Christian joy. And rejoicing with them as they do. (Proverbs 27:5,6; James 5:19,20)
1. Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York, NY, Penguin Books, 2011), pages 80,81
2. cf. Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church? (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2007), page 25
3. Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church? (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2007), page 26
4. Allistair Begg, Sermon: Membership Matters - Romans 12:1-10, September 6, 2015, truthforlife.org
5. Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, Il, Crossway Books, 2008), page 68,69
Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, Il, Crossway Books, 2008)
Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church? (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2007)
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 5: Insights on Acts (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016)
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.