Acts 2 tells the thrilling story of how on the day of Pentecost following Jesus resurrection, 3,000 people who believed the good news that Jesus had been raised up and was seated at God's right hand repented of their sins and were baptized into Christ and were added together by the Lord himself to be his people. Acts 2, verse 42 says, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers." That tells you that these people who had made that beginning continued at a very powerful kind of devotion. Their devotion was to what the apostles of Jesus Christ as his witnesses taught them to do. And then the Bible says their devotion was to fellowship.
It seems to me that their devotion to fellowship was a crucial reason for the things that happened in the wake of this in the rest of Acts 2. Their devotion to fellowship is what largely contributed to the credibility of the apostles' witness and of their powerful teaching about Jesus Christ. If an event could take people from that many different backgrounds and make them devoted to each other's love, then there must be something to it. Their devotion to the fellowship is what allowed them to find favor so much with people. It is what caused people to look at this new family of believers in Jesus Christ so favorably. It came from the fact that they were devoted to each other as they were. And their devotion to fellowship in large measure contributed to their continuing growth. It is what caused there to be people who were able to be added to the church day by day as they were being saved.
Being devoted to the apostles' teaching is beyond question a crucial aspect of our efforts to be followers of Jesus. Being devoted to the breaking of bread and remembering Jesus in the Lord's Supper is undoubtedly an essential part of being devoted to Jesus. Being devoted to prayer is crucial if we are going to be faithful to the Lord. Why is it then so easy for us to overlook the fact that being devoted to fellowship is an essential part of living for the Lord?
I want this morning to encourage within our hearts a devotion to fellowship because we belong to Jesus Christ. We would like to try to make three points about fellowship from the New Testament that may be helpful for us in seeing what this is going to involve in our behavior and in our values.
ESTABLISHED BY THE LORD
The first thing that needs to be stressed as we read the New Testament is that fellowship is established by the Lord. Everett Ferguson in one of his books says that "fellowship is God given, not self chosen." I appreciate that observation. It helps me to understand what we are talking about here. Fellowship is not just people who liked each other and got together. It is people whom God got together who learned to love each other. Bro. Ferguson makes the observation that it is very much like what happens in the family. An individual is born into a family and then the other family members learn to love. I have a set of younger twin brothers. I remember the day when my mom and dad brought those two boys home. They had laundry baskets with pillows in the bottom of the laundry baskets and those two babies on those pillows. That was their original sleeping place. I thought to myself, "The last thing we need in this family is two more boys." But over time, we learned to love them. We didn't love them and then have them. Mom and dad brought them home and we had to learn to love them.
In God's family, that is the way fellowship happens. Fellowship is not just good friendships between people who just enjoy each other so much that they get together. Fellowship is not merely enjoyable times together among folks who are in fellowship, although it certainly may involve those times. Fellowship is instead a relationship with each other by a relationship to God. Fellowship is what the Lord has created between us by bringing us to himself. Let me ask you to notice two or three illustrations just in reading the scriptures with regard to this point. Notice I John 1:3 and 7. John says in verse 3, "that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." Look at it. There is fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ and then there is fellowship between people who have fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Verse 7 elaborates, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." It is a situation where we walk with the Father; therefore, we walk with each other.
Notice if you will Ephesians 2:18-19 along this same theme. Paul has been making the point in Ephesians 2 that people were alienated from each other, in fact enemies of each other. But through the work of Jesus Christ, God comes along and breaks down walls and gives people access to himself. And it has an effect on those people. Paul said, "For through him," (that is Jesus) "we both" (that is Jew and Gentile both - that would take in all of us) "have access in one spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." You see, when we are brought to the Father, we are brought to each other. When we have access to God, we have relationship and responsibility toward each other and we are expected to learn to exercise that relationship properly.
Notice this again in Acts 2 where we were reading just a moment ago. Beginning in verse 8 we learn that there are people present hearing what Peter and the apostles are preaching from several different nations. In fact, verse 5 says, "devout men from every nation under heaven" heard that and it names several of them. You would think, just naturally speaking, that people from all of these different places and all these different backgrounds who didn't necessarily even speak in the same dialects would probably not be real close to each other. But notice verses 41 and then 42. It says, "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Notice that God added them because of their relationship to him and then they devoted themselves to the fellowship.
Fellowship then is established by the Lord and not by us. Our task is recognizing what the Lord has established and then meeting a responsibility toward those that he has added. It is like you have a responsibility in a family or in any kind of an organization, but you don't have any control over who gets in to that organization. You don't vote folks in. The Lord adds them. We have no right to begin to try to decide who is in and who is out. The Lord is responsible for that. He establishes fellowship.
EXPERIENCED IN A CONGREGATION
The second point is that fellowship is experienced in a congregation. The Lord established it but it is experienced in a congregation where we can be together and where we can devote ourselves to fellowship. It is so easy for us to think that spirituality means appreciating how good things are somewhere else or how we feel when we are around someone else. But listen, there is no way and no place where you and I can do what the New Testament calls on us to do by way of fellowship other than there being a situation where we are with people regularly. The language of the church is "us," not "me." It is "our," not "my." It is "we" and not "they." Fellowship is in danger anytime we get that language wrong. When we hear ourselves talking about the church as "they," when we hear ourselves talking about "my" wants and needs, when we hear ourselves talking about what "they" are suppose to be doing for "me," fellowship is in danger.
What God does in the New Testament is try to describe to us by means of illustrations or images what he means to take place as we devote ourselves to fellowship. The New Testament says that the fellowship of the church is like a body in the way it functions. Both Romans 12, I Cor. 12, as well as Ephesians 4 elaborate on this theme. When God wants to talk about how members of the church of the Lord relate to each other in function or in work, he uses the picture of a body. What he means by that is that we all have something to contribute to the way the body works. The fact that he gives us various talents means that the body can only be healthy and strong as the different members do what they are cut out to do in the life of the body. Where would we be if we didn't have guys who can sing like Kerry or people who could lead us in prayer like Ed or Larry did this morning, or like Emma greeting me when I walked into the back door with a her big smile this morning. The way the church functions in fellowship is when we function like a body, where nobody thinks they are more important than everybody else, no one thinks that "I have got to do it all" and no one thinks "I don't need to do anything."
The fellowship of the church, in terms of the way it relates, is like a family. The Bible has the early Christians speaking to each other and of each other as brother and sister. Sometimes we hear the word family and we think of warm fuzzy feelings. But I can assure you that is not the substance of this term's use in the New Testament. There is supposed to be brotherly affection involved in this family relationship, but all of you who live in families surely know that that is also where we deal with the prickliness, sometimes, of our feelings in daily life. Family is where the work of relating to each other is done.
And in the way the fellowship of the church survives, it is like a flock. It is like a flock of sheep under the shepherd's care. It is like the shepherd trying to do the things for the flock that the Psalmist says the shepherd does in Psalm 23. In I Peter 5, this picture of the church is obvious as the apostle Peter calls upon the pastors, the bishops, the overseers of the church to function. He says, "So I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." As far as our survival in our relationship with God in our spiritual lives, we are supposed to function like a flock where we are together, where there are those who can watch for us, where we can humble ourselves under God's care and cast our cares on him. Fellowship is experienced in situations where members can work together with each other, where members can relate to each other, and where members can help protect each other. That can't be done on an at-large basis. It has to be done where there is something that obligates us to each other.
EXTENDED BY INDIVIDUALS
Fellowship is established by God, it is experienced in a congregation, and third, fellowship is extended by individuals. The point I am getting at here is that fellowship on a practical basis cannot be done by somebody else. There can't be just a fellowship for you to enjoy without your being responsible to put something into it. And so, there is no other way for fellowship to be practiced other than on an individual basis. Individual Christians have to work like members of the body, relate to each other like brothers and sisters and flock together like sheep in a shepherd's care. Now I say that again to try emphasize it. Individuals who practice, or extend fellowship, are individuals who think fellowship. Individual Christians who, like those we were reading of in Acts 2, devote themselves to fellowship, to building and strengthening and keeping and respecting the fellowship which God has established.
Let me suggest some ways in which we may practice or extend fellowship among us. Fellowship is extended by individual Christians who value fellowship, who know what God paid for it and who therefore are determined to rise above the modern American temptation to so concentrate on ourselves that we need not even think of others. Fellowship is extended by individuals who consider their influence on each other. Hebrews 10:24 uses this picture as one of the reasons for our assembling together and it calls on us to urge each other on in love and good works. Fellowship is extended by individuals who are eager to involve themselves in the life of a congregation. It is interesting that both the Lord's Supper and the contribution are spoken of in the New Testament with the form of the word that is translated "fellowship." It means to have something in common. It is having something in common in terms of the work we do which allows us to feel plugged into the fellowship and to be devoted to it. Fellowship is extended by individuals who seek to include people, to bring them into the circle. I wish we had a hundred different circles of ten people who were always seeking to add one more new person to their circle. If we did, we would have 100 new people. None of us can be real close to, and be intimately involved in, what is going on in the lives of 375 or 400 people. But all of us need to be people who extend fellowship by always trying to include another person in our family circle, in our circle of friendship, folks who go out together and do things together, and always are seeking to include new members in the life of this congregation. Fellowship is extended by people who work on their attitudes. In Ephesians 4, Paul is reminding us that we don't make fellowship, but we are obligated to keep it. We are obligated to keep it by being careful that we not be too eager to listen to bad things that are said about each other and that we not be too willing to believe the worst about our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul said, "I, therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the spirit and bond of peace."
Fellowship was established by the Lord, experienced in a congregation, and extended by individuals. Phil Jackson wrote a little article about brotherhood and he used the story of Joseph and Joseph's brothers. Joseph, as his father's favorite, was blessed. His brothers became jealous and sold him into slavery. Joseph rose to a place where he was in a position to get even if he had chosen to do so. Bro. Jackson pointed out that despite the bitter memories of the past, Joseph and his brothers came together. Listen to this: "What turns his eye of suspicion and distrust into tears and redeemed brotherhood? The answer is love for the father. The brothers are unwilling to grieve their father again. Benjamin can't be sacrificed." (If you remember the story) "The life of one brother is worth the death of the remaining ten and when Joseph sees his brothers' stubborn stand against Benjamin's imprisonment, he realizes that which holds a family together, regardless of the angry words, the change of slavery, the years lost in the dark, the love for the father makes brotherhood possible - it makes it necessary."
I am not preaching this over any problem that I am aware of. There is no special reason for me to be saying this other than we want to love the Father enough to be devoted to the fellowship of his family. How is your love for the Father doing this morning? It is so interesting that while we don't establish fellowship, our attitude toward it can affect our relationship to God. Whether I am willing to forgive affects how I am going to be forgiven, Matthew 6:14-15. Whether I am willing to be reconciled affects my gift at the altar, Matthew 5:23-24. And so that makes this something for us to really reflect on. If we want to increase our credibility, to strengthen our influence, to promote our growth, let's devote ourselves to fellowship. Let's start today.
This morning if you need to repent and be baptized, the Lord will add you to his family. If you are someone who made that beginning and you haven't kept his family in the relationship that it ought to be in your life and you need to come home to Him, why don't you decide to do that this very morning? If we can help you, won't you come while we stand and sing together?