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ODJ: True Fellowship

July 24, 2016 

READ: Acts 2:42-47  

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer (v.42).

The word fellowship conjures up some rather strange associations in my mind. When I hear it spoken, I immediately think of coffee and doughnuts, along with the basement meeting spaces in churches where those coffee and doughnuts are served. Most strangely, I also think about the 2001 film The Fellowship of the Ring. So somehow my concept of Christian community has become inextricably tied to a tale of men, dwarves and elves dealing with “one ring to rule them all”.

Most believers in Jesus are familiar with fellowship and that it describes the relationships they’re to share with one another. But, of course, this definition of fellowship doesn’t completely ‘ring’ true.

To begin with, fellowship is derived from the Greek word koinonia, which means far more than people simply spending time with one another. A crucial aspect of koinonia is sharing—sacrificial sharing by people in community. This dimension of fellowship shines brightly in the description of the early church found in Acts 2:42-47. Elsewhere in the New Testament, koinonia is often translated as “share” (see Romans 15:27 and Hebrews 13:16).

This all points to the reality that my understanding of fellowship needs to undergo significant transformation! As we look at the early believers we see them “sharing meals”, “[sharing] money with those in need”, sharing “the Lord’s Supper” and doing so with “great joy and generosity” (Acts 2:42-46). When you think about it, this only makes sense—for we’re to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who sacrificed His life for us. As we imitate Him, like those first believers, may we see Him adding to our “fellowship those who [are] being saved” (v.47).

—Peter Chin

365-day plan: Matthew 17:24-18:6

MORE
Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 to see some of the wonderful benefits of living in shared community with others. 
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What comes to your mind when you hear the word fellowship? How does it compare with the concept of koinonia from the New Testament? Why does true fellowship result in a winsome witness for Jesus? 

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Why I Left Community . . . And Came Back

Written By Andrea Chan, Singapore

I used to attend church regularly as a teenager. I loved how you could feel the presence of God when the congregation stood united in singing praises to the Lord. However, I didn’t completely understand the importance of community then. To me, community was merely about having a sense of camaraderie in worship.

When I was about 16 years old, I faced some personal struggles, and started to find reasons to avoid church and my church friends altogether. I was afraid that people would ask me what was wrong; I was afraid of the concern and attention that came with being part of a community.

Having spent a large part of my Christian life struggling alone, these are the challenges I faced when I chose to leave community.

1. It’s harder to grow outside of community.

Initially, I believed that I could learn about God without other people. But I soon realized there is a limit to what I can learn from simply reading Bible commentaries online. Even the lessons gleaned from writings by experienced theologians cannot replace the sweet fellowship and precious discussions with brothers and sisters in Christ.

Moreover, Christianity is not just about reading the Bible and doing quiet time. Sure, these moments of stillness before God are important. In fact, it was during these times that I realized what was missing in my walk with Him—community. Both personal devotions and body life work hand in hand. God gave us a community to grow and serve together with. Being surrounded by people who are passionate about God can be an immense support and positive influence through difficult times.

 

2. Without community, there is no accountability.

Without a community, there is no one to be accountable to, and to keep you in check. It becomes easier to skip church, quiet time, praying, etc. And the more you push aside these seemingly small acts of commitment to God, the more you’re likely to fall away from Him.

Soon after I started missing church, I found myself chasing personal achievements more than desiring to serve God. Life became more about practicality and less about spirituality. I found new reason for skipping church—I wanted to spend more time on my studies to get better grades. And not long after, I stopped attending cell group meetings too because I felt I could learn the same things on my own by watching sermons online and reading Christian articles. The more I rationalized my excuses, the more I believed in them, and the less guilty I felt about skipping church and avoiding the community.

But I knew I was wrong; I didn’t want to admit that I was caught up in the chase for temporal worldly achievements and neglecting what was truly important in eternity.

 

3. The longer you stay out, the more difficult it is to reintegrate.

By the time I realized it, I had stopped attending church for five years. Truth be told, I did try to return to Christian communities—whether it was Christian Fellowship in university or the Young Adults group in my church. But it was hard. I felt ashamed to return after disappearing, and I felt lost—everyone seemed to have built bonds over the years and I felt like I was disrupting their community. And so I chose the only way out I knew: to avoid the community again. It was a vicious cycle, and it probably pleased the devil a great deal.

 

During this journey, one verse that stood out to me was this: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

To me, being independent and doing things on my own without having to ask others for help signified strength. But I realized that was equivalent to relying on my own strength and not God’s strength. When I was on a student exchange program in Canada this year, I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and praying to God, and I was reminded again and again that Christianity is not a solo journey of faith. Even in the past, the disciples spent a lot of time praying and learning together—who was I to think I could do this alone?

The desire to return to a Christian community has been on my heart for a long time, but I still have a few concerns. For one, people tend to have existing opinions of you, based on what they hear about why you disappeared from the community—and these impressions are hard to change. Community means being vulnerable, and that’s a scary thought to someone like me who likes to put on a strong front. But God reminded me that it takes courage to be vulnerable, and that in our vulnerability, we can help to build one another up and find strength in the family of Christ.

Community is about showing the love of God to others—it could be by serving in ministry or taking part in edifying conversations to strengthen a fellow Christian in his or her walk. It’s about volunteering to help the needy, and to share the grace of God with them. It’s about being there for another, whether as a mentor to someone younger or as a friend to someone struggling.

I’m still in the process of reintegrating. I don’t want to slip in and out of Sunday Service each week with my family. I want to be involved; I want to serve; I want to share with others. Deep inside, I’m excited yet extremely nervous to come home to a Christian community.

Every day, I pray for the courage not to back out, and to keep to my promise to come back to the community of Christ. If you are in this stage of your life, I want to let you know that I know how scary and difficult it feels. Some days you may feel angry that you didn’t have an easy Christian life where you grew up with the community. But everything happens for a reason. Maybe the years you spent struggling alone can be used for God’s glory. Whatever your situation, I pray that you may have the courage to take this leap of faith, and trust in God’s strength.

It’s time to come home to the family of Christ.

 

Editor’s Note: Read “5 Reason to Join a Christian Fellowship”.

When A Fellow Christian Annoys You

Written by Joshua, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

Whenever relationships are involved, there’s always friction—even relationships in the church. One reason why we get annoyed by fellow Christians is simple: we have different ways of doing things.

I can identify with this. I’m currently sharing a house with a Christian. Naturally, we clash—sometimes over the smallest things. For example, my housemate finds that I take too long to shower and complains that it leads to an increase in monthly utility costs. Sometimes, he gets annoyed when I leave dirty dishes in the sink. He once expressed his dissatisfaction about my behavior, saying he was upset that he had to keep reminding me about the same things, time and again. Having said that, he never once argued with me or lost his temper. I really appreciate that he always takes time to patiently explain what he is unhappy about.

Perhaps you have come across a similar situation, where you’ve been angry or upset about certain actions that fellow brothers or sisters in Christ have made. In such moments, it’s wise to remember what the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 4:26: “ ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”.

And then there’s the call to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), which should lead us towards reconciliation. Also, if we do not resolve the unhappiness we face with our brothers and sisters, we will be in disunity and unable to worship God in one accord.

So what can we do when we get upset with our fellow brothers and sisters?

 

Pray for our relationships.

It’s the most obvious and the most needful thing to do. Let’s seek God’s guidance, ask Him to remove the negative emotions we’re experiencing, and draw comfort and encouragement from His Word. When we commit our relationships to God, He will lead us towards making decisions or actions that please Him. I believe that by God’s wisdom and grace, we can establish good relationships with each other.

 

Communicate honestly and openly with each other.

When my housemate shared openly about how some of my bad habits annoyed him, he gave me the opportunity to explain my side of the story—I tend to be forgetful sometimes. From then on, he tried to remind me gently whenever I forgot to wash my dirty dishes, to help me get rid of my bad habit. This has helped us live harmoniously.

Often, open communication is the key to a good relationship. With “Loving your neighbor as yourself” as the underlying motivation, we can work towards resolving our problems through communication. Let’s help our friends understand how their actions have offended us—or vice versa—and give each other the chance to improve and make amends.

At the same time, we should also make an effort to listen to each other’s side of the story and put ourselves in each other’s shoes. Throughout the process, we should be wise and express our feelings appropriately, just as Proverbs 25:11 mentions, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (ESV) May God soften our hearts and help us reach mutual understanding so that we can establish relationships that glorify Him.

 

Desire reconciliation.

Besides making our feelings known, we should express our willingness to reconcile with the other party. This should stem from our obedience and love for Jesus. What this means is that we should remain humble and avoid using harsh words of accusation against the other, which may cost us the opportunity to nurture a good relationship.

Let’s always remember that the other party also needs time to change; what we can do is to be understanding and patient in the meantime.

 

Remind yourself that both of you are Christians saved by grace.

Nobody is perfect, not even Christians. We are all sinners saved by grace, and that’s why each of us is susceptible to sin against God or others. And while we may irritate and annoy each other, we are still fellow brethren in Christ. Once we understand this, our differences won’t look so irreconcilable anymore.

 

Watch your tongue.

When a fellow Christian annoys you, take a moment to decide if you should react or hold back. This will give you time to first seek God and examine if your response is edifying. It also helps to prevent conflicts. During this period, it is especially important to be mindful of your speech. Proverbs tells us, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Proverbs 17:27-28)

 

As Christians, let’s try our best to seek unity in the Lord so that we can glorify Him. May He grant us wisdom and teach us how to handle our interpersonal conflicts.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

5 Reasons to Join a Christian Fellowship

Photo Credit: Joshua Ong

Since young, I’ve been actively involved in Christian fellowship groups. To me, they provide a sense of being rooted, as I come from a family that was always on the move (literally). My father is a merchant navy captain, and so my family sailed around the world quite often. As a result, whenever I could, I took part in camps and programmes organized by Christian groups such as Malaysia Youth for Christ.

In university, I joined a Christian Fellowship (CF). That was when I started hearing comments from peers questioning the relevance of CFs in educational institutions.

“We’re involved in our own churches. Why the need for another Christian body?”

“I find it hard to fit in. Everyone already has their cliques.”

“We shouldn’t only be hanging out with believers. This is the time to build non-Christian connections!”

Those are valid concerns—after all, I had first-hand experience of some of these issues. There were times when we spent so much time together that we lost sight of other friendships outside the group. At other times, we failed to sharpen each other because we were too comfortable with the status quo.

But those concerns do not change the fact that there is value in such fellowship groups. My time in one of them gave some of my fondest memories and helped me grow as a believer. Here are five things I learned about the Christian walk during my time in a CF.

 

1. CF reminds us to keep meeting

The first-century church as described in the Bible is known for its organic nature. Believers came together naturally for fellowship, edification, and corporate worship. I saw those same characteristics in CF. They reminded me that the body of Christ is not just about gathering at a specific place or time.

Jesus promises that He is with us regardless of the place or time. That should encourage us not to give up meeting together, so that we can encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25) as often as we can.

2. CF teaches us to accept each other in love

My CF had some 70 members.That meant 70 very different individuals, including a mix of charismatics, traditionalists, second-generation Christians, and new believers. Most of the time, this diversity contributed to lively discussions. But they also caused unpleasant debates,which I—being a non-confrontational person—always tried to avoid.

Over time, God opened my eyes to see that disagreements were unavoidable because we were all flawed. More importantly, I understood that it was truly only by His grace that we could come together. None of us deserved to be there. Realizing this, we accepted each other in love, rose above the conflicts, and chose to focus on the things that binded over the things that divided.

3. CF is a place for growing and serving together

If left unchecked, a fellowship can turn into an exclusive club. There were times when my CF friends and I became so engrossed in the “fun” parts of fellowship that we lost sight of the need to include others and care for each other’s needs.We forgot that CF existed not to meet our self-absorbed wants, but to keep one another accountable as followers of Christ.

Thankfully, by God’s grace, we were always pulled back to the main purpose—to reflect the love of God. And we tried to fulfil that mission together. For example, towards the end of every semester, we’d set up a booth offering free coffee to students on campus. It was a small way to reach out to our fellow students,and it renewed our passion for others.It reminded us that we’re called to serve and love—and we don’t have to do it alone.

4. CF reminds us that life is more than assignments and grades

Who does not know the stress of an assignment deadline or cramming for finals? As students, the demands of our studies constantly threaten to overwhelm us.

But for one evening a week, we put our studies aside to worship and learn from the Word together. And every weekday at noon, we met to pray for our families, churches, and our nation. We journeyed through life together, celebrating each other’s birthdays and showing support at the loss of loved ones. In many ways, the fellowship of the body reminded us that studies, while a priority, was not the be-all and end-all of life.

5. CF is where you build friendships for life

Most of the friendships we forged in CF in university continue to thrive today. It is admittedly harder to meet now that we have our own commitments. But when we do meet, the camaraderie remains. I found that the relationships established in the three to four years of near-daily interactions helped me through the many transitions after school.These were the friends I counted on in the lead-up to, on, and after my wedding day.They supported me not just in planning, but also in praying for me as I adjusted to marriage.

 

Like church, the concerns over Christian Fellowships are understandable. But we can embrace the opportunities for authentic spiritual friendships that they provide.