The Power of Fellowship Part 1

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. [Acts 2:42-47 NKJV]

Narrow road followers of Jesus practice the power of fellowship: Your local church is called to be a Heavenly Community and our duty is to unite as a team to help one another and share salvation with our neighbors and friends.

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Our fellowship together is defined as koinoônia from the Greek language of the New Testament. It means partnership, close social union, deep communication, and common distribution. Like a piece of plywood, God wants our local church families to be glued together in such a union that the pulling apart of any one Christian will hurt and scar the group. The Holy Spirit formed “original church” exemplifies this for us. This is clearly presented in the language of our text, “All who believed were together;” “all things in common;” “continued daily with one accord;” and “breaking bread from house to house.”

According to Acts 2:42-47 we are partnered together in four ways: membership, mission, ministry, and maturity. Therefore we must understand what fellowship embraces. Fellowship is based on the “one another commands” of the New Testament.  “Love one another;” “exhort one another;” “comfort one another;” “bearing with one another;” “forgiving one another;” edify one another;” “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs;” “we are members of one another;” minister your grace gift “to one another;”, and “pray for one another” are examples of at least twenty-three one another commands. Therefore, as the local church gathers for worship it must follow the teaching and example of how the Bible guides the church to fellowship. We must interweave into our gatherings the opportunity for believers to obey these commands. Did the early church?

As Paul instructs the church at Corinth to use their spiritual gifts to love one another and not be spiritually self absorbed, he states: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”  [1 Corinthians 14:1-3 NKJV].

The obvious teaching is that when they met on Sunday they came to fellowship with God and their Christian family. The reason we gather, Paul instructs, is for “edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” We can have fun alone with God and worship God in our “closets.” Yes we can have incredible prayer in our “closets.” But, when we gather a partnership unfolds. A common distribution of love and ministry must begin. Everything must happen so that “loving one another” is clearly practiced.

Further evidence of this is expressed in chapter 14: “…prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”

“How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.””

We can be grateful to the Lord that the church at Corinth was immature and out of control because we have clear evidence of how God wants all his people to take responsibility for loving one another. Paul had to rebuke and correct these new believers who were doing just about everything wrong with great zeal. They were a wild bunch of little spiritual kids that desperately needed a mature voice of leadership, and Paul stepped in. Because of this, God reveals to us that local churches must gather and allow everyone to speak words of encouragement,  correction and support for each other in the faith.

As we examine our example of Acts 2 and compare it to 1 Corinthians 14 we find an unsettling fact about our modern church worship in America. We do not follow God’s instructions. “Local churches are for the feeding of the flock, the edification and fellowship of believers, and the demonstration of God’s mighty power through prayer and crying out” [How to Make Your Church a POWERFUL HOUSE OF PRAYER, copyright 2002 IBLP, Box one, Oak Brook, IL 60522-3001]. Far too often church fellowship has fallen to eating food together. Even though fellowship can happen around food, there is a larger and more effective way God has designed for true fellowship to happen.

As the early church gathered together they studied the apostles’ doctrines; then they responded and affirmed God’s Word through mutual fellowship [edifying, encouraging, etc. one another as a group; they had communion together [“love feasts” according to Jude] examining themselves for purity as described in 1 Corinthians 11; and then prayed together, crying to God to expand His kingdom through His power. Like a four legged table, it works when all legs are up and holding together the surface. The church works when as a group the whole church participates in all four elements together. This is the secret of spiritual growth and blessing.

If you research you will find that most church worship services are patterned after Old Testament temple worship. We sing first, take an offering, have a special song or presentation, have a message, then a closing song. Even the use of the word “service” is connected to serving up an animal sacrifice to God. We are no longer under the law! But, God’s organized church meeting gives all four elements necessary to glorify Him and fulfill the purpose of fellowship.

What would happen if we got radical and changed? Could we benefit from following the New Testament church?  The pattern of Acts 2:42  has the teaching of scripture first, and the saints are purified by the Word of God. Once everyone’s hearts are probed and the saints respond to the scripture, then all are ministers [priests according to 1 Peter 2:5] and able to “love one another” by affirming the Word, publicly testifying of God’s grace in their lives, confessing their faults one to another, and exhorting [encouraging] one another to walk faithfully in the narrow way.

The evidence of God’s blessings are the results of amplifying the teaching of the pastor’s message. Everyone is greatly fed spiritually, even the pastor! Once all have examined themselves [“Examine your motives, test your heart…” 1 Cor 11:28 (MSG)], confessed and repented if necessary, they are ready for the sacred cup of communion with God. As scripture verifies, this always causes rejoicing, and praise swells up from pure hearts which releases powerful praise and worship. Then if we conclude with group intercession and crying to God with clean hands and pure hearts, the spiritual family of God finds powerful answers to their prayers.

Therefore, the close social union of church membership includes the responsibility of serving and caring for one another as we gather. Our fellowship of mission melts us into one voice proclaiming the Good News of Christ and His kingdom. The common distribution of our spiritual gifts ministers God’s love throughout our church and community cementing us with God’s love. And the deep communication of our loving exhortations, confessions, and testimonies matures the saints around us.

Yes it is true, fellowship is costly and dangerous because you must open your hearts and allow others to get close to you. Fear not! Some will hurt you. But for Christ’s sake, deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus! Learn to forgive and love without receiving anything in return. Obey the God who knows us best, and truly enter the fellowship God designed for the church, before the foundation of the world!

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