not the Fellowship
us not give up meeting together... Heb.
lesson from nature
I will never forget one horrifying scene where a pride of hungry lions captured a young elephant. Here's how they did it: A few of the lions distracted the mother elephant while the rest of them chased Junior off into the brush. As soon as the baby was alone and far enough away from its herd, the lions quickly brought it down by jumping on its neck and chewing into its spinal nerve. The unfortunate elephant was devoured in no time. It was a gruesome scene that I will never forget.
Those lions could never have overpowered the entire herd of elephants. Nor could any single lion have taken down the baby alone. Divide and conquer! That was the strategy of the lions. It was incredible team work!
On that same show I also watched a baby mongoose get caught in the jaws of a hungry lizard. It survived only because its family was very vigilant. In no time an army of hostile mongooses descended on that lizard which then quickly dropped its prey, setting the baby mongoose free.
For many animal species, continuous close connection with one another is essential - not only in order to get food, but also in order to keep from becoming food.
We also have a predator:
This predator, Satan, is constantly trying to devour God's family. In nature, predators target the weak, the young, the straying, the sleeping, and the unalert. It is no different in the family of God. The vulnerable ones: the young, the weak, the straying, the sleeping (spiritually speaking), and the unalert are easy prey for the devil. That's one reason why fellowship is so vital - to protect one another from predators.
The ingredients of fellowship
To a large extent the preservation of the Church depends on a strong connection between its members. In fact God cautions people not to become disconnected: Let us not give up meeting together." Heb. 10:24 I have often heard this phrase expressed this way:
I like that word, "fellowship", and I think it fits. The word, "fellowship" [Koinoni in Greek] has a much richer meaning than the word assemble or meet. Fellowship involves close community, participatory relationships, common sharing, unity, agreement, and being closely knit. There are many scripture verses that describe the various ingredients of fellowship. Romans Twelve lists some; ex: prophesying, serving, instructing, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leading, showing mercy, hospitality, empathizing, forgiving ...feeding the sheep... and there are many more in the Bible.
Healthy fellowship includes all these ingredients. They help to strengthen the flock of God's sheep and protect it from predators.
The phrase "forsake not the fellowship" is extracted from the following verse. Notice the other components surrounding the phrase:
From this verse we see that assembling together had a very specific objective: to spur one another to love and good deeds, and to encourage one another to grow strong in the faith because there will some day be a Final Judgment.
First sever fellowship with the world
We humans are designed for fellowship. That's why we crave connection with others. However, let us remember that gazelles don't fellowship with lions for a very good reason - they will get eaten. Likewise we cannot fellowship with our enemy.
Breaking fellowship with the world doesn't mean we become hermits. It means that we break our close ties with the ways of the world. We stop living by its principles or relying on its methods. We stop agreeing with its values. We break our allegiance to it.
Fellowship with God
When we sever our fellowship with the world, then God will fellowship with us by calling us into a relationship with him - as our Father, our Saviour, and our Counselor (Father, Son, and Spirit).
When we fellowship with God, he is our Head, and our source of life. It is our connection with him that brings us into connection with other believers. However, genuine fellowship as God designed it to be, is not possible without genuine repentance - breaking fellowship with the world.
Several years ago I was praying for someone who was straying from God. I didn't know how to help that person, so I asked God for direction. His response surprised me. He said, "The best thing you can do for that person is to give yourself to me". Wow! I wasn't expecting that answer. Since then I have been learning that my personal fellowship with God is the best gift I can give anyone. It is the best way that I can "spur another on". The apostle Paul said something similar:
Fellowship with one other
In a fellowshipping family, the members protect each other - especially the young, the weak, and the vulnerable. They receive the returning prodigals. The needy can be assured of adequate provision, and be free from exploitation. The members laugh and weep with each other, and build trust. They "greet one another with a holy kiss" 2 Cor. 13: 12 (or a holy hug).
In the context of healthy fellowship, the members can grow and mature. They bring others into fellowship with God and each other. The members agree to support each other in God's work. Perhaps their agreement is expressed by extending the "right hand of fellowship... They agreed..." ...Gal. 2:9
In God's household, the various leaders are very serious about their responsibility to guard the authority of the Word in the hearts of the people. They feed the sheep and make disciples. They are vigilant, and sensitive to the activities of predators. They look for the lost and straying sheep, ie: those who are not fellowshipping with God.
In God's household the members band together, persevere together, pray together, and watch out for each other. They reinforce their identity as a household belonging to God and set apart from the world.
When fellowship includes
the proper ingredients, the Church of Christ grows stronger, more mature,
and more unified. This is a strong defense against predators.
too many missing ingredients
Apparently the words, give up or forsake imply desertion, or abandoning the faith. The book of Hebrews contains other warnings to deserters - those who had tasted of God's blessings and received some of God's "seed". (See Parable of the Sower:Lk. 8:5-15) They may even have expressed every intention of following Christ. However they decided not to persevere. They just couldn't trust God with their lives, and so they wouldn't commit their lives to him and to the fellowship of his family. Maybe they couldn't let go of their material securities, or their loyalties to family and friends. Maybe the cost was too high. Whatever the reason, they decided to fellowship with the world. The book of Hebrews warns them about serious consequences: "eternal judgment" Heb.10:27
Disconnected from the Head
In the TV show, when the lion pounced on the elephant, it went directly for the central nerve in order to disconnect the body's vital connection with the head. Satan, through the use of his accomplices, also tries to disconnect the members of Christ's Body from the Head. If he succeeds, then he can easily disconnect the members from each other. When their faith is weakened, they are prone to go after distractions. They gradually disconnect themselves from each other, and so the vital ingredients of fellowship dwindle away.
Satan knows that if he were to make his presence obvious by growling loudly, God's people would band together and form a strong defense. So he uses cunning deceptive strategy to draw them apart. After that it isn't hard to take them down. That explains why his accomplices look and act like the sheep even though they are really wolves. People admire them and follow them, not realizing that they are being lured away from God. These deceivers are so cunning that they can't always be recognized right away - sometimes not until much later - when we see the fallout: broken fellowship in the Body of Christ.
Signs of Broken Fellowship
Perhaps people do not disconnect themselves physically from the others, but their relationships remains superficial. There are many possible reasons for that.
Some people may seem to be faithful to their church family, and on the surface everything looks fine. However, if our ears are very sensitive, we may hear them confide that they don't feel loved; they feel alone or isolated. They feel that no one listens to them. They may complain that church doesn't do anything for them, or is boring. They feel starved. They may or may not eventually go somewhere else to find "food" and acceptance. In this family the vital ingredients of fellowship are missing, and that means that the church is vulnerable to predators.
Hypocrisy is a symptom of broken fellowship with God and with each other. Hypocrites believe that their church loyalties are satisfactory to God. They become proud and lose sensitivity to each other. They disconnect themselves from the "sinners". Gossip and criticism are some of the many ways that hypocrites break fellowship. They can't see their sin, and don't realize how much it weakens the fellowship. It is like stabbing your own toe.
Many churches these days want to be tolerant and accepting of everyone, and so they end up inviting the lions right into the fellowship. But lions are not the same as needy, straying sheep. They believe that they are enlightened by God, and use their influence to pull others towards themselves. They justify their sin and convince others that it is okay. After a while the sin feels right. The people become proud because they are so "enlightened" and "open minded". But they don't realize that by being cozy with lions, they have made their fellowship vulnerable and weak. Scripture has a word for them:
Leaders who are disconnected from God either desert the flock by neglecting it, or they quench the Spirit by lording over the members, stifling their spiritual development. They cannot discern the work of predators within their own hearts or within the rest of the Body.
Where two or three are gathered
In our day of glitzy mega-gatherings we need to remember the words of Jesus:
Some of the most cherished opportunities for fellowship develops in the smallest unit - two or three connecting together. In this tiny gathering, relationship can be nurtured, trust and confidentiality can grow. It is where one realizes that they count because someone has said to them, "I care enough about you to focus my undivided attention on you. I want to listen to you."
In this small unit, the participants can dialogue back and forth, unhindered by interruptions or planned programs, having no fear of embarrassment or shame. Here is where one can receive a cup of water in Christ's name. One can be spurred on towards maturity. Two or three can wrestle together with the issues of life and the truths of God.
We must never underestimate the value of the smallest units of fellowship - in the family, in the neighborhood, at the kitchen sink, on the phone, or any other venue of one-on-one connection. The bigger Body is built on the strength of its smallest units. This brings strength and unity ultimately to the world-wide universal Church of Christ.
Jesus didn't give any formulas for fellowship. He didn't specify days, times, locations, buildings, or programs. However, he did tell us to be "shrewd as serpents" Matt. 10:16, He told us to use whatever is available to build fellowship in order to build his kingdom ("in my name"). We must make the best of any God-given opportunity - whether that be in a religious setting or a secular setting, in homes or in workplaces, or somewhere else - being "shrewd" with our "worldly wealth" Lk 16:8 - including modern-day highspeed travel, telephones, the Internet, e-mail, or snail mail, or whatever. Regardless of the place or means, our mission remains the same as it was for the first Christians:
In Jesus day, most people could not read. Women were never taught to read. Books were not readily available. Today we have so much more that can enhance our fellowship with other believers, and also facilitate the spread of the gospel. It is our responsibility to be wise and "shrewd, and always "on our guard." Matt. 10:17 because evil forces are trying to draw us away from Christ.
In our modern-day world of mobility and globalization, our connections are constantly shifting. We may relate with people for only for a season - and then they are gone. We may maintain a friendship and connect periodically over the years. Or we may only have a one-time fellowship with someone, yet important things happen in Jesus' name.
Amazing things can happen when we allow the Spirit to bring us into connection with others - like when Philip, the evangelist was supernaturally taken to the Ethiopian eunuch. We too can trust God' Spirit to arrange connections that serve his purposes. Here is a unique example:
One day I felt burdened to pray for someone named Suzanne. I had no idea who this was. I knew no Suzannes. But I found myself suddenly crying out to God to rescue her from the clutches of the enemy. Several weeks later I found out who she was, though I never met her in person. I learned that she had been at the brink of making a disastrous decision and then changed her mind - no doubt through Spirit-led prayer.
The brand new church at Pentecost was birthed by the Spirit, and its fellowship was strengthened by Spirit. The believers cherished each other. They shared their possessions so that no one lacked anything. They became loyal to each other. They connected wherever and whenever they could - like the temple court, or in their homes where they met daily:
Scattered, persecuted, deserted
It wasn't long before the early church faced threats to their fellowship. They were assaulted both from within and from without. Even when they were scattered by persecution, the Christians connected with remote churches through letters and occasional visits. Even in the midst of danger, they never forsook their brothers: "You stood side by side with [those who were publicly exposed to insult and persecution]. You sympathized with those in prison..."Heb.10:33 Now, that is true fellowship!
Sometimes assaults come to believers from unexpected sources - like in King David's shocking experience with betrayal:
Jesus predicted that type of painful desertion:
At one point the apostle Paul sensed that the Galatian church had distanced themselves from him. He wrote, "Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?" Gal. 4:16 The church had pulled their affection away from Paul, no doubt because they didn't like him pointing out their sins (legalism). Before that time, they had enjoyed sweet fellowship with Paul. In fact, they had loved him so much that they were willing to do anything for him - even donate their own eyes.
At one crucial point in Paul's life, he was totally abandoned. It was a time when "lions" were opposing him. He said,
Never abandoned by God
Did you notice that it was the Lord himself who fellowshipped with Paul during this time? We too can count on God to be near us - even when all human fellowship dwindles away:
Paul's lonely times became cherished opportunities for him to experience intimate fellowship with Christ. He said,
Before closing, I feel I must give a word of caution: It is very easy for us to be too reliant on others. Without realizing it, these dependencies take precedence over our fellowship with God. As a result our relationship with him remains weak, and our spiritual maturity is hindered. That is why God sometimes draws us into lonely places where he can fellowship with us, and build our faith. I encourage you to read more about that here: The Sacred Place of Loneliness
On this side of eternity, none of us will experience the ideal fellowship, no matter how hard we try to make it happen. We must wait patiently for the great day when God will bring all believers together in heaven. In heaven our fellowship with God and one another will be perfect and glorious. No predators will be there. "The leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together." Is. 11:6 For now, I close with these words:
by Diane Eaton
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