MONDAY –This week we pick up our daily Bible studies returning to what we had started earlier in December of last year and that is the study of Christian fellowship entitled “Life Together”. As we see what Scripture says about Christian fellowship we will be referring to and using as a guide of sorts, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together ~ The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. We have had one sermon lesson on this subject so we will reset our thinking and get back into this very important issue and Lord willing learn and apply what we study. This study shows us the role that personal prayer, corporate worship, everyday work and Christian service play toward a healthy, thriving, and growing fellowship. When I say growing, note that a fellowship of believers should always be growing and that does not necessarily mean numeric growth. We have seen that Scripture shows us the beauty of life together when the Psalmist says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Psalm 133:1” It is indeed a privilege to live among other Christians and because Jesus lived much of life in the middle of enemies, deserted, isolated ultimately on the cross where He was utterly forsaken and left alone we can have peace with God and fellowship with Him and with one another. This is in fact why Jesus came; to bring peace to the enemies of God and we are to do this also; not by making it happen but in bringing the news of the gospel of peace to the enemies of God so that the Holy Spirit would use the Word of God to do a life giving work in dead souls. So in speaking of our fellowship and life together we must make sure we realize that God has placed us in this world in fellowship not to merely soak it up forever ourselves but for a purpose of introducing others to that glorious fellowship. God is gathering His people into the large fellowship (Body of Christ) and one day we will all be gathered and will from that point on and forever experience the blessings of full, total, Life Together. Until the final day we as Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship before the eyes of the world with other Christians in order share God’s Word and Sacraments. Read these verses which speak of the gathering of God’s people through the ages: Zechariah 10:8-9, John 11:52, Matthew 24:31.
(Meditate) What is so special about Christian fellowship?
(Apply) What one area in my life could change and how so, to better reflect the importance of Christian fellowship?
(Pray): Father, thank You for the wonderful privilege of gathering together and enjoying the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Jesus. Help me to share the wonderful message of the gospel of Jesus with others outside the family of God.
TUESDAY – There are many genuine Christian people who live without the wonderful privilege of enjoying family fellowship with other believers. Many believers in Jesus due to sickness, persecution and/or geography know the blessing of Christian fellowship only by faith in a spiritual manner because they are alone and apart from a physical community. In Psalm 42:4, the psalmist remembers the fellowship of God’s people and says; “When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.” Although the Lord calls us into Koinonia (1 John 1:3) (fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse, intimacy, shared life experience), sometimes the most “alone” of believers can indeed enjoy the sweetest of fellowship such as John did on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:10). Alone or with others in community, heavenly fellowship is only made possible by the Living Word Jesus Christ. The tool He uses to fortify the soul of the beleaguered and alone believer or the one that has the joy of others with them, is the written Word; His Word. Although John on Patmos and many Christians elsewhere today experience the fellowship of the Word by faith, there is an incomparable joy and strength found in the presence of other Christians.
(Meditate) What does Koinonia (fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse, intimacy, shared life experience) look like in a Christian fellowship?
(Apply) What specific thing could I do that would improve the experience of Koinonia in my life within this local fellowship?
(Pray): Father, be with those who are in Christ and yet feel alone and long for fellowship with Your people. Help me to see that I am a member of this wonderful family and create in me more of a desire to be with Your people.
WEDNESDAY –An important point for us to remember as we talk about fellowship with one another is that we do not forget that our fellowship is as Bonhoeffer states; “through and in Jesus Christ”. Bonhoeffer merely reiterates what God has told us through the pen of the Apostle John in 1 John 1:1-4: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” Christianity means community through Jesus Christ. This is why it is so absurd when people talk about having “fellowship” with individuals or groups that are apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ. Genuine fellowship is found ONLY in Jesus and Christians need one another because of Jesus Christ. The genuine believer in Jesus doesn’t seek salvation and deliverance and justification before God in himself but in Christ alone. It is God’s Word in Jesus that both pronounces him guilty (even when he does not feel guilty) and pronounces him righteous before God. The actual reality of the perfect life and death of Jesus for the repentant believer is found not within a man and his feelings or experiences but within the revealed, written Word of God in Jesus given to him. The reformers explained the righteousness that comes to us rather than from within us as “alien righteousness” because it is foreign to us. It literally comes to us “extra nos” or “outside of ourselves”. Where do you point for your salvation and proof of it? A true Christian never points to himself, his feelings, past, upbringing, church membership, Sacraments (Baptism and The Lord’s Table) or anything else. He points only outward to Jesus Christ and to the Word of God in Jesus which assures him of his salvation and right standing before a holy God.
(Meditate) Describe what you’re really like on the inside without the work of God?
(Apply) What can I do daily to be reminded that my righteousness is from Jesus and comes from outside of me?
(Pray): Father, thank You for saving me not on the basis of anything within me but merely on the perfect life & death of Jesus that comes to me from the Word. Help me to understand the importance of The Living and written Word in my salvation.
THURSDAY –Others play a part in our relationship with Jesus, receiving His Word of salvation and growing in and like Him. In Jesus prayer to The Father in John 17:20-21 he says this; “20I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” He is talking about the role of the Apostles in preaching the Word and the gospel to others. God puts this message in the mouths of men to communicate. God has ordained that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of others or in the mouth of a man. Paul said in Romans 10, “…and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Furthermore, it is not merely for the spreading of the gospel for conversion that the speaking of the Word of God is necessary. Brothers and sisters need to proclaim the Word of God in Christ to one another continually. They meet and encourage one another with the Word of God in Christ. This is true community; Christians coming together and continually bringing the message of salvation and God’s grace and goodness to one another. This separates the Christian community from secular “communities and groups”. Among sinful men that are without the Word of God in Christ there is strife and competition and discord. Only faith in and through Jesus, “who is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14) can bring peace with God and men. Without Christ and His Word we could not and would not know our brother as we ought because our own ego is in the way. Jesus opens this way up to fellowship with God and each other and now we can serve and love one another and truly become one. Jesus has made possible reconciliation with God and others which allows us to actually be brothers. God has mercifully given us the example of Jesus life were He called Himself a friend and brother to His people to show us how and what we need to strive for in our relationships with one another as Christians. As we follow His example revealed and taught to us in Scripture we will see dramatic changes in how we interact, think about and care for one another in the family of God. Jesus, the living Word of God does not merely save our souls but teaches us how to act toward our brothers and sisters.
(Meditate) How did God intend to use others in my relationship with Him?
(Apply) In what specific ways can I live out an expression of Christian fellowship with others?
(Pray): Jesus, thank You for Your wonderful life of perfection and service toward undeserving sinners such as myself. Help me to not only be grateful for Your love for me and my brethren but also to be changed in my behavior toward them.
FRIDAY –Christian community is founded solely on Jesus and therefore is spiritual and not merely physical which makes it differ from ALL other “communities”. The Scriptures tell us that this “spiritual” dynamic is caused or better said created by the very Holy Spirit of God. Apart from the Holy Spirit men seek their own desires and selfish gains but in the truth of The Holy Spirit a genuine community of service and love is formed. Human love and spiritual love are also different. Human love is directed toward someone for their own sake while spiritual love is for Christ’s sake, although it meets the need of the brother as well. This is what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 13:3, the famous love chapter when he says; “3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love (true spiritual love of Christ), it profits me nothing.” Bonhoeffer says; “Human love makes an end of itself. It creates of itself an end, an idol which it worships, to which it must subject everything. It nurses and cultivates an ideal, it loves itself, nothing else in the world. Spiritual love however, comes from Jesus Christ, it serves Him alone.” He goes on to say that “contrary to all my own opinions and convictions, Jesus Christ will tell me what love toward the brethren really is”. Therefore, spiritual love is bound solely to the Word of Jesus Christ. Again we see the importance and preeminent place of the Word of God in and through Jesus. Furthermore, we know that mere human love can’t serve an enemy as a brother like Jesus commands but spiritual love can because it is from above. We do sometimes see expressions of love exhibited by unbelievers in this life but make no mistake; this is not from anything within them but merely a reflection of the nature of God in whose image they were created. We end with another quote from Bonhoeffer; “The life or death of a Christian community is determined by whether it achieves sober wisdom on this point as soon as possible. In other words, life together under the Word will remain sound and healthy only where it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, but rather where it understands itself as being a part of the one, holy, catholic, Christian church, where it shares actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promise of the whole church.”
(Meditate) Are there any differences between human and spiritual love? List some.
(Apply) List some practical ways that you can love others both within and without of our local fellowship with a true Spiritual love of Christ.
(Pray): Father, please help me and teach me what true community and life together looks like according to Your Word and in and through Jesus. May I grow in maturity to be able to see and correct by Your grace my selfish and sinful thinking and acting for Jesus sake. Amen