Monday, May 9, 2011

The Fellowship Of God's People

The early church devoted themselves to 4 things (Acts 2:42). One of those things was the fellowship. Later in the book of Acts we see this lived out in the life of Paul the apostle. Paul devoted himself to the fellowship!

1. Godly Affection, Brotherly Love (Acts 20:37-38; 21:5-7). Verse 7 refers to the believers as “brothers” (this term can also designate “brothers and sisters,” ESV Study Notes). Christians are a family of believers. Love is on display in this passage. Tender, affectionate hearts overflow in outward expressions. As Paul said farewell to the Ephesian elders there was “much weeping,” “they embraced,” they “kissed him,” they “were sorrowful…that they would not see his face again,” they “accompanied him to the ship.This loving attitude toward God’s people is the natural result of our union with Christ at salvation, is commanded by God (see John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; 13:8; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:22-23; 4:8; 5:14; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 1:5), and is therefore a test of true conversion (1 John 3:14):

• We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 1 John 3:14

2. Hospitality, Community (Acts 21:4a, 7, 8, 15-16). As Paul is traveling on his way to Jerusalem, he continues to find Christians and stay with them! We see the sharing of meals, time and houses with the brothers. See also Romans 12:13 and 1 Peter 4:9 (“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling”). Believers must have open hearts and houses for other believers.

3. Corporate Prayer (20:36; 21:5-6). Paul and his companions are shown in this text frequently praying with the other believers. Even on the beach with their wives and children! 

4. Stay true to God’s will AND true to fellowship. Paul was on a mission to go to Jerusalem, where he would suffer. The Holy Spirit was leading him there, and had already told him about the suffering that awaited him (Acts 20:22-23). But whenever he spends time with other believers on the way to Jerusalem, they beg him not to go! They can't bear the thought of Paul suffering. They mean well, but they are wrong.
This is similar to what happened to Jesus. He too was on a mission to Jerusalem to suffer. He too was being led there by the Spirit of God. And he too was begged not to go there by well-meaning believers (Matthew 16:21-23). Peter told him not to go to the cross, and Jesus rebuked him.
There is a lesson here for us. Notice that both Jesus and Paul did not isolate themselves from believers, even though in both cases their friends were wrong! Both Paul and Jesus knew that their friends did not “get it” – yet put up with them because of love! If anyone could have fulfilled their mission “without the church slowing them down” (as some today might say) it was the apostle Paul…or the Lord Jesus! But both knew that God’s will didn’t just include a mission, but community. God doesn’t just want us to do his will and complete our personal assignment; He wants us to do it in the context of the fellowship and community of the church! “It is impossible to be connected to Christ without being connected to those who love Christ” (Begg). We can’t have the Head without the body.

5. Maintaining Peace: Love During Disagreement (21:4-6; 14-16). Paul’s friends reacted to Agabus' prophecy about Paul's suffering in Jerusalem by urging Paul to avoid Jerusalem. Even Luke and Paul’s team members join in (“we” v12)!! This was difficult for Paul (“What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?” v13). Love brings pain sometimes. We can try to avoid pain by distancing ourselves from the church, but we will also miss out on the love and fellowship God wants us to have (Smart). Therefore, Jesus remained close to his friends, knowing they would run away from him and deny him on the night of his betrayal. Paul continued to fellowship with believers on the way to Jerusalem (at almost every stop!) even though their emotional pleas were difficult and painful for him. But, praise God, we see that the believers and Paul resolved the situation with peace and maintained unity in the Spirit even in a time of disagreement! “And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, ‘Let the will of the Lord be done’” (v14). Some of these believers even supported Paul by accompanying him to Jerusalem (v15-16)!

This passage gives us some awesome "big picture" points:

Big Picture Points
  • A Display of Unity – One People. Paul and the team demonstrate unity with believers in different cities – some of whom he does not even know well or at all (Bruce)! We must realize this and work towards loving fellowship and unity. We are one people in Christ. 
  • A Display of the Gospel – Reconciliation. With a great price – Jesus’ blood – we have been reconciled to God! He has made us a unified people through the gospel. Unity adorns the gospel.
  • A Display of God’s Image – Trinity/Community. God did not create man because he was lonely. God is within himself – his very nature – a community: One God in 3 Persons. Christian fellowship displays this glorious image of God!
  • A Foretaste of Heaven! When believers walk in the fellowship of the Spirit we experience a small taste of heaven. If we have no desire for community with believers now…have we truly been given a new heart that will be happy in heaven?
How do we apply God's word concerning fellowship in the church? 
Repent. Does your travel log look like Paul’s: saturated with the fellowship of God’s people? Or are you just checking church off your list each week? Jesus died for our selfishness and lack of love for others. Tear down the walls and let the people of God in!

Receive Christ and his Spirit by faith. Ask God to heal any hurts from the past, help you accept the clear teaching of Scripture, and give you love for your brothers and sisters in Christ.

 Receive your brothers and sisters. Act on this repentance by initiating fellowship!!

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