17. Mastering A Plan for Formal Time Together—Fellowship
IA. A Bible Study on Fellowship
1B. Our Trinitarian Salvation and the Nature of True Fellowship
1C. Our Trinitarian Salvation
Our glorious Father chose us in eternity past (Eph 1:3-4). His only Son died for us in the historical past (Eph 1:7). The wonderful Spirit applies the benefits of Christ’s redeeming work to all those the Father has chosen (Eph 1:13-14). Such are the perfect operations of our trinitarian God in saving people.
Thus the nature of true fellowship can only be understood from a knowledge of who God is and how He carries out His will. In short, the fellowship of the saints is to be grasped in the context of God’s nature and redeeming activity, including the new community he has founded to reflect his nature, will, works, and ways (cf. Eph 3:10). True fellowship begins by invitation into the divine community (where love and holiness are paramount) and proceeds from there outward to its expression in the company of those whom God now calls sons and daughters and we call brothers and sisters (cf. John 14:23; 17:23; 2 Cor 6:18; Gal 3:26; 1 John 3:1).
2C. The Essential Nature of True Fellowship
The essential nature of true fellowship among believers is relational and, therefore, spiritual/ethical. It is relational and not primarily creedal or liturgical, though these elements may indeed be present. In short, it is sharing in the life of Christ personally and corporately by the power of the indwelling Spirit and regulated according to the Spirit’s inspired word of Scripture. The communion of the saints in this way must certainly be present at the Lord’s Supper, but it is present there because it is present on all other occasions as well, i.e., the Spirit always indwells every believer and moves him/her along to experience the power of Christ in their relationships with other believers. This involves believers in the quest to live loving, holy, and righteous lives for it is impossible to live in known or obvious sin and have spiritual fellowship with other believers; we must walk in the light as He is in the light if we are to have fellowship with one another (cf. 1 John 1:6-7).
2B. Hindrances to True Fellowship: The Effects of Sinful Styles of Relating
1C. The Question of Fellowship and the Unbeliever
There is no doubt that we can share many good and meaningful experiences with non-Christians, whether they be family members or friends in general. But, this is not the same quality of experience that we can share with believers. The bond of the Spirit and the love that He brings about between believers can be much more than is possible when He is absent. Further, true, biblical fellowship centers on the person of Christ and what he means to the people involved. This cannot occur with a person that does not have the Spirit of God and is therefore not a Christian (Rom 8:9). Such a person needs to hear the gospel and trust Christ. Then they enter into the fellowship of the saints.
2C. The Problem of Sin
1D. Unrighteous Anger—James 1:19-20
1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 1:20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
2D. Worldliness and Arrogance—1 John 2:15-16
2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 2:16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world.
3D. Disunity and Party Spirits—1 Corinthians 1:10 (cf. chs. 1-4)
1:10 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose.
4D. Greed and Immorality—Ephesians 5:1-5
5:1 Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children 5:2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 5:3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. 5:4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting—all of which are out of character—but rather thanksgiving. 5:5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
5D. Judgmental Attitude and the Issue of Conscience—Romans 14:1-4
14:1 Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. 14:2 One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. 14:3 The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
3C. Questions for Thought
1. Why does James (1:19-20) say that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak? What happens in a relationship when the opposite is the case? Why do you think some people really do not listen well and others get angry quite quickly? What about you? What role do you think one’s upbringing plays in this? Does our background give us license to sin? Does it condemn us to a life of fruitlessness (cf. John 15:5-6)?
2. What do you think John means by “the world” and “anything in the world”? What is the result if someone loves the world? Is there a middle ground between loving God and loving the world? What is the “desire of the flesh”? “The desire of the eyes”? Further, what is the “arrogance produced by material possessions”? Give some examples. How would false humility relate to boasting? How does this worldly and arrogant attitude destroy meaningful fellowship?
3. The reader is encouraged to work through 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21. Then read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 again. What was the cause of the divisions in Corinth and how did they manifest themselves (i.e., along what lines)? Why do you think Satan works so hard to instigate, nourish, develop, and prolong divisions and discord in the body of Christ (Rom 16:17-20; John 17:20-22)? Is this a problem in your church? What can be done to recognize and bring an end to these divisions?
4. Read Ephesians 5:1-5. What does it mean to “imitate” God? What does it mean “to live in love”? What does Paul mean by a “sacrificial and fragrant offering”? How does Christ’s fragrant offering relate to the prohibitions in 5:3-5.
5. Some Christians tend to look down upon other Christians who differ with them on certain theological issues (such as the gifts of the Spirit) or patterns of living. But, while there will always be differences among Christians, there is no need for arrogance and condescension, division and party spirits. Romans 14:1-15:13 deals with the issue of debatable matters and how we are to accept other weaker brothers at the place where they’re at (Romans 15:7).
3B. Characteristics of True Fellowship
1C. Faith in Christ and Love for Each Other—Colossians 1:3-8
1:3 We always give thanks to God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 1:4 since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. 1:5 Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel 1:6 that has come to you. Just as in the entire world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, so it has also been bearing fruit and growing among you from the first day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. 1:7 You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave—a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf— 1:8 who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
2C. Service—Revelation 2:18-19
2:18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the Son of God, the one who has eyes like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished bronze: 2:19 ‘I know your deeds: your love, faith, service, and steadfast endurance. In fact, your more recent deeds are greater than your earlier ones.
3C. Peace—Colossians 3:15
3:15 Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart, for you were in fact called to this peace, and be thankful.
4C. Unity—Ephesians 4:1-6
4:1 I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 4:3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 4:6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
5C. Humility—Philippians 2:3-4
2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.
6C. Questions for Thought
1. What two qualities does Paul thank God for in Colossians 1:3-4? How is this a good summary of the Christian life? Where does our faith and love come from according to 1:5? What is the relationship between grace and truth (1:6)?
2. Read Revelation 2:18. What is a solemn pronouncement? Why do you think John refers to the eyes of Jesus as “a fiery flame”? What four things does Jesus say he knows about the church in Thyatira? Did you notice the mention of “love” and “faith,” as well as “service”? Was Christ pleased with their service?
3. In Colossians 3:15 what does the “peace of Christ” refer to? What does the verb “rule” or “be in control” mean? This passage is in a relational context and so the peace spoken of must relate in some way to relationships in the church. In this connection, why would Paul command thankfulness here? How do we normally treat people with whom we disagree?
4. In Ephesians 4:1 what does Paul mean by “calling”? In 4:2 does Paul say “some” humility or “all” humility? What does this mean? Why does Paul focus on the “one-ness” of Christianity in 4:4-6?
5. According to Philippians 2:3 what should our motivation in relationships be? In 2:4 does Paul say it’s wrong to be concerned about your own interests? If not, what does he say? Give some examples of concern for the interests of others as well as for yourself. Theologically speaking, why would it be wrong to show no concern for your own interests?
6. Can you think of any other characteristics of true fellowship? Which ones would you like to see developed in your church? Have you sought God for these things?
4B. The Practice of True Fellowship
1C. Speaking the Truth to One Another—Ephesians 4:15
4:15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.
2C. Humbly Instructing One Another—Colossians 3:16
3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God.
3C. Encouraging One Another—Hebrews 10:24-25
10:24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 10:25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.
4C. Sharpening One Another in All Areas—Proverbs 27:17
27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens his friend.
5C. Carrying Each Other’s Burdens—Galatians 6:1-2
6:1 Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. 6:2 Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
6C. Forgiving One Another—Ephesians 4:32
4:32 But instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.
7C. Praying for One Another—Ephesians Eph 6:18
6:18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.
8C. Giving Generously to One Another—2 Corinthians 9:6-8
9:6 My point is this: the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. 9:7 Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. 9:8 And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.
9C. Communing with Christ and One Another—Acts 2:42
2:42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
10C. Using Our Spiritual Gifts—1 Peter 4:10-11
4:10 Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God. 4:11 Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
11C. The Proper Use of the Sacraments
1D. Baptism—Acts 8:12 (The standard practice of the early church was to baptize its new members)
8:12 But when they believed Philip as he was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they began to be baptized, both men and women.
2D. The Lord’s Supper—1 Corinthians 11:23-26
11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 11:24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 11:25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 11:26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
12C. Questions for Thought
1. In Ephesians 4:15, by what manner does Paul say we as Christians will grow up into Christ? Do we always do a good job of holding truth and love in balance? What happens when we are concerned about truth but have no love? Conversely, what happens when we seek to love and yet express no interest in truth? How do truth and love reflect aspects of the character and work of God himself (cf. John 1:14-18; the cross)? At the end of Ephesians 4:15 Paul speaks of Christ as the “head” of the body. What is the role of a head in relationship to the body? Summarize this passage in your own words. How could you apply it?
2. What is the word of Christ in Colossians 3:16 (e.g., the OT, apostolic preaching, the Bible, etc.)? How can it dwell richly within us? What are we to do with it? And in what manner are we to do this? Why is singing and praising God encouraged in conjunction with teaching and admonishing one another?
3. In Hebrews 10:24 what do you think the expression, “take thought” means in reference to spurring others on? Is this a passive attitude or is there a real intention and will behind it? Are you doing that with people? How could you grow more in this area? Further, in 10:25 the author talks about “meeting together.” What does “meeting together” really mean? Is it just that we’re in the same location for an hour? How important is Christian fellowship in this author’s mind? How about yours? What do you think “the day drawing near” means (cf. Heb 10:37; Phil 1:6)?
4. What does it mean, according to Proverbs 27:17, to sharpen another person? What kinds of activities could you do with a friend to help stimulate him/her to love, serve, and obey Christ and to mature as a believer? This can include anything that will help a person become a better servant of the Lord according to the biblical understanding of that idea.
5. Read Galatians 6:1-2. Another aspect of true fellowship involves carrying each other’s burdens. How can we do this? Give some examples. How could we restore a person who found themselves caught in a sin? What is Paul’s warning in this? In this context, then, generally speaking, what is the law of Christ (see John 14:21ff.)?
6. In Ephesians 4:32 Paul commands us, as the church of God, to be kind to each other, to be compassionate and forgiving? What does it mean to be compassionate and to forgive? Is there someone you need to deal compassionately with or perhaps forgive for past wrongs? What does the phrase “just as God in Christ also forgave you” mean? Relate it to the preceding command to forgive others.
7. Summarize Ephesians 6:18 in your own words. What does it mean to be alert in prayer? Using a concordance, find all the passages that speak of alertness and try and discern what “being alert” refers to.
8. What general principle (v. 6 is proverbial in nature) for giving does Paul lay down in 2 Corinthians 9:6? Does this mean that God is an automaton just waiting for us to give and then he will automatically bless? What kind of giver does God love in 9:7? What is the promise that goes with being a generous giver (9:8)? How could you apply this to your life? NOTE: the historical situation that gave rise to 2 Cor 8-9 is Paul’s collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
9. Read Acts 2:42. Can you think of any other passages that speak about our communion with the saints and the Lord? According to all that you’ve learned in this lesson and throughout this study on discipleship, why is this so crucial for the church?
10. Summarize Peter’s point in 1 Peter 4:10-11. How do gifts relate to the grace of God in this passage? Lesson 15 was devoted to the topic of serving and the spiritual gifts. Please refer to that as well.
IIA. Synthesis, Practical Applications, and Training
1C. Ongoing Applications
2C. Special Applications
3C. Training Objectives and Applications
Related Topics: Discipleship