Fellowship can be a key to spiritual growth — or a stumbling block. Here are KEYS to positive Christian fellowship!
THINK for a moment of all the challenging, inspiring times you have fellowshipped with brethren and talked about uplifting things, and gone away feeling greatly inspired. We in God's Church have a common bond — the love of Christ and the Holy Spirit which God has given us. We should speak with, visit, and encourage each other often because we are all members of the same spiritual FAMILY — the Family of God!
Fellowship Is Important
Make no mistake. Fellowship is vitally important to spiritual growth! God says in the book of Proverbs, "Be with wise men and become wise. Be with evil men and become evil" (Prov. 13:20, The Living Bible Paraphrased). Our fellowship has a lot to do with whether we become wise or foolish, righteous or evil. Says the New English Bible, in another place, "Make no mistake: 'Bad company is the ruin of a good character'" (I Cor. 15:33). This is, of course, one basic reason good fellowship is vitally important to Christians. God knows right spiritual fellowship with other brethren is important. That's why He commands us in the book of Hebrews, "We ought to see how each of us may best arouse others to love and active goodness, not staying away from our meetings, as some do, but rather encouraging one another, all the more because you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24-25, New English Bible). Says The Living Bible, in modern phraseology in the book of Malachi, "Then those who feared and loved the Lord spoke often of him to each other. And he had a Book of Remembrance
One enjoyable way to fellowship is to have a backyard barbeque.
drawn up in which he recorded the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. "'They shall be mine,' says the Lord of Hosts, "in that day when I make up my jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares an obedient and dutiful son'" (Mal. 3:16-17). God places high value upon those brethren who fellowship and think about Him and His plan often, and who inspire each other with sound spiritual conversation.
Right Spiritual Fellowship
As Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs, "A friendly discussion is as stimulating as the sparks that fly when iron strikes iron" (Prov. 27:17, The Living Bible). Spiritual conversation can uplift, sparkle, inspire and energize people to greater spiritual action in their lives. How well we have seen this principle illustrated when visiting God's people! Some people are just filled with enthusiasm, zeal and questions when visited by God's ministers — they even inspire the ministers who visit them. Right spiritual fellowship consists of the positive, uplifting kind of visiting, associations and conversation — not negative grumbling, complaining, gossiping or carrying rumors. Such negative fellowshipping is DESTRUCTIVE to spiritual character, and is also destructive to the Work of God! When we get together we should do as the Apostle Paul commanded, letting our conversation be seasoned with salt. "No bad language must pass your lips, but only what is good and helpful to the occasion, so that it brings a blessing to those who hear it" (Eph. 4:29, New English Bible). Discouraging remarks, vicious rumors, evil gossiping and slandering can not only wreck the character of those engaged in it, but also ruin the lives of other people and hinder the Work of God! As Christians, we have an opportunity to make our conversation positive, constructive, helpful and edifying to others. Those who deny themselves this opportunity — who refuse to share their personality, life's experiences, thoughts, ideas — those who are fringers who hang on the outskirts who circle around the edge of God's people — who are NOT REALLY INVOLVED — are on dangerous, spiritual ground!
The Two Extremes
Satan the devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). It is well known that lions attack and devour antelope or other animals that stray away from the herd; who don't stick close; who go their own way. Similarly, the devil generally attacks, and "devours" if he can, those brethren who are FRINGERS, stragglers spiritually, who are not actively involved in God's Work — those who stick off by themselves, who tend to avoid fellowship and who don't regularly attend Sabbath services or participate in Church activities. Are you a fringer? Then now is your time to change — while you still can! But there are always two extremes. While some people tend to be "loners" and don't fellowship enough with others in God's Church, others tend to be fellowshipping all the time. Both these extremes are categorically wrong. We must be balanced in our fellowshipping. Each of us has certain responsibilities toward our family, our job or whatever, and it behooves us not to be fellowshipping a great deal with others (outside of church services) when we have not fulfilled our other obligations or duties. God says any who don't take care of their own family are worse than infidels (I Tim. 5:8). And this principle definitely applies to both men and women! Gadflies and busybodies are all too common in this world. In his day, the Apostle Paul was forced to write: "For even during our stay with you we laid down the rule: the man who will not work shall not eat. We mention this because we hear that some of your number are idling their time away minding everybody's business but their own. To all such we give these orders, and we appeal to them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly for their living" (II Thes. 3:10-12, New English Bible). Brethren, let's avoid both extremes like the plague! If you have been guilty of either in the past, then acknowledge it and repent so you will be in the Kingdom of God!
Purpose in Fellowship
In I Peter 2:17 we are told to "Love the brotherhood." God's greatest single attribute is love — outgoing concern for others. And He desires that each one of us develop this same attribute in our own lives to the full. He wants us to learn to GIVE and SHARE with others — to become outgoing and concerned about the needs of others. But this attitude of outgoing love and concern is totally contrary to our own human nature which is SELFISH, self-centered and hostile toward others! And so God wants us to overcome our inherent selfishness by learning to SHARE our personality and possessions with others. He wants us to learn how to SERVE others by giving ourselves in service. Most people in the world don't know it, but the key to happiness is learning how to GIVE — learning how to LOVE! Those of us in God's Church should be well acquainted with this great spiritual lesson — and Christian fellowship gives us an opportunity to PUT IT INTO PRACTICE! Did you ever think about it that way? Now what's wrong with this world's fellowship? When we analyze it, there is one basic thing. The essence of the world's fellowship is VANITY! The world's constant rigmarole of tea parties, cocktail parties, card games, sports activities, social luncheons, etc., generally speaking, are NOT held in order to SERVE or help others. The worldly spirit of backslapping camaraderie is usually motivated by a desire to get, or acquire something from the other individual. In other words, the whole basis of the world's fellowship is to flatter the ego, to elevate the self, to get ahead for self or to make a business deal favorable to SELF! Fellowshipping for vanity obviously is wrong in God's eyes. God doesn't want His people to get together to see who can be "the life of the party," or who can stay in the "limelight" the longest — to see who can gain the most admiration from the others. The question is, brethren, do we ever allow such motivations to creep back into our minds? The answer, unfortunately, is yes! Fellowshipping, if not handled properly and with wisdom, can and often does cause problems among the brethren in God's Church. All too often some of God's people with a complete disregard for all decorum and respect, trample under foot and take advantage of the hospitality and cordiality of other brethren. Take a good look at yourself and analyze your own situation. How many times have you taken advantage of a brother's hospitality and did not pass on hospitality to others?
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Fellowshipping too familiarly with just one or a limited circle of brethren is a potentially devastating mistake. God has not recorded Proverbs 25:17 for us in vain, "Don't visit your neighbor too often, or you will out wear your welcome" (The Living Bible). That has actually happened to some in God's Church, causing irreparable damage to the personal relationship between some brethren. For once such a problem has arisen, and hard feelings have been created, it is sometimes very difficult for us as human beings to forget and forgive as we should. Familiarity can breed contempt in any of us. Why? Because none of us is perfect, yet. But as God records in Proverbs 21:2, "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes." When problems have arisen between brethren because of over-familiarity and the minister is called upon to help settle the difficulty — you guessed it — both sides will likely insist they are not at fault! Each is positive that the other party is the guilty one and no amount of reasoning or explaining will change their attitudes. What brings about this sort of impasse? Being continually together. The two individuals just can't help noticing each other's failings as Christians. And then after a while it begins to bother one or the other to the point he decides that he must do something about his brother's shortcomings, forgetting he has problems of his own. He usually does one or two things. Either he takes it to his local minister and expects Him to go forth immediately and properly correct the other brother, or he promptly begins a fast and prays about the problem, then proceeds to point out to the brother his shortcomings, assuming that he, himself, as the result of fasting and praying, now possesses a superior, righteous attitude. The end result of either action is hard feelings and embitterment on the part of the individual being corrected. Why? Because he, also as the result of the familiarity, has seen short-comings in the brother who is trying to point out his errors. The common reaction is: "I'm as good as he is. Who does he think he is, saying I am wrong?" This does not mean it is wrong to go to your brother if he has obviously sinned, pointing out his mistake. But it should be done in an attitude of humility, meekness, courtesy and love, realizing that you, too, are human and subject to error (see Gal. 6:1-2).
Don't Fellowship With Attitude of Correcting
If a contemptuous, derogatory view of a brother has come to the fore in your life, your responsibility is to begin to develop the mind of God on the subject: "Be in debt to no man — apart from the debt of love one to another. He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.... You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love never wrongs a neighbor; that is why love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:8-10, Moffatt). God has forgiven us our transgressions and removed them as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). So shouldn't we also be willing to forgive our brethren their faults, just as Christ has? The Apostle Paul tells us we are to have the mind of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:5). So add it all up and realize we are to begin to think and act like Jesus Christ and God the Father, who are filled with love and forgiveness. Solomon wrote, "It is an honour for a man to cease from strife..." (Prov. 20:3). Can you cease to make an issue of something that is causing strife? If you can, this is a credit and an honor to you. "But," this verse continues, "every fool will be meddling." A fool will continue to stir up strife and difficulty over a problem. Like a cat with a ball of yarn, he will "worry" it until it becomes a tangled mess. Do you want to continue as a fool simply because you are unwilling to forgive and quit stirring up strife over a very unfortunate situation which has arisen? Don't assume God holds you personally responsible for correcting all the sins and faults of -brethren in your local congregation. This is the responsibility of Jesus Christ and God's ministers. Don't visit with the brethren with the attitude you are responsible for pointing out their errors. This only causes hard feelings because you are not perfect yourself. Says Jesus Christ: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye, with never a thought for the great plank in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is that plank in your own? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, arid then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's" (Matt. 7:3-5, New English Bible).
Appointing Yourself "Corrector" Can Only Have Bad Results
Too many times the vanity of assumed spirituality wells up in some of God's people. Then the desire to be an authority and to teach takes over and they assume responsibilities that are not theirs. They begin to teach and correct. The end result is always the same — hard feelings and strife. It is wrong not to associate yourself with the brethren and fellowship with them, but it is also very wrong if you do it in a wrong manner and for a wrong purpose. It is wrong if your association with any one brother becomes meddling and a source of irritation and resentment to either party! We all need to strive with all our being to avoid strife and meddling in one another's affairs which causes hard feelings and unhappiness. Notice Paul's admonition in Ephesians 4:1-3: "I beg you — I, a prisoner here in jail for serving the Lord — to live and act in a way worthy of those who have been chosen for such wonderful blessings as these. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. Try always to be led along together by the Holy Spirit, and so be at peace with one another." Paul continues, "We are all parts of one [the same} body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future" (verse 4, The Living Bible). Brethren, let's remember these facts, and strive always to live at peace with each other, avoiding offense, slights, hurt feelings — all of which arise only because we forget our calling, our glorious future and forget to show love. It is much better to avoid a problem in the first place than to have to try to solve a problem after it has once been created!
How to SERVE In Fellowship
It is not wrong to enjoy the company of particular people. Even Jesus Christ, who never sinned or was in error, had a special closeness to the Apostle John above the other apostles (John 21:20, 24). But does this mean that we should be respecters of persons and only associate with those we particularly like? The obvious answer is no! Declared the Apostle Paul: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction..." (James 1:27). Godly fellowship must include the widows and orphans. It should also include others who may otherwise have very few friends. You must not neglect fellowship with these. to encourage them, to make them feel loved, wanted and appreciated. You can serve and have fellowship by purposely and openly sacrificing your time and personal enjoyment to encourage or help a brother or sister in God's Church who is ill or alone or afflicted in some way. Visit with the widows and the fatherless because they have less opportunity to get out and be with others in the church. And visit the sick or afflicted in order to encourage and inspire them. This kind of fellowship is well-pleasing to God. You can also serve and fellowship by setting yourself to be friendly toward the NEW people in God's Church — the new members who have just begun attending services. Go out of your way to meet them-don't hang back. Become acquainted with them, introduce yourself and learn about them. God desires that we be hospitable, friendly, sociable, courteous and considerate. But these good fruits must be intensively cultivated; they don't grow up wild like weeds. Still another very important way in which you can fellowship and socialize with other brethren is to take advantage of the outings, picnics, camping trips, etc., of your local church. Take part — PARTICIPATE!
Our Most IMPORTANT Fellowship Is With God!
Important as right fellowship is with brethren in God's Church, our MOST IMPORTANT fellowship is not with them. Our greatest fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ. The Apostle John makes this truth clear. He writes: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes... that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:1-3, RSV). John continues, "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (verses 6-7). Our fellowship with each other — as branches of the one vine, Christ (John 15:5) — is only in and through our fellowship with Christ and the Father, who have called us into the way of truth. This fellowship comes through drinking in of God's Word by daily Bible study, and through fervent, earnest prayer several times a day. If we truly walk with Christ and with the Father, then we will surely "become wise," and inherit the Kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world!