Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fellowship that can’t be faked

I’ve belonged to various organizations that have the word “fellowship” as a part of their name.  Reformed Baptist Fellowship, Trinity Christian Fellowship, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship… The concept of fellowship is a high priority in most Christian circles, and I usually saw it attempted through polite behavior. Everyone was expected to be friendly, to invite each other into our homes for dinner, to welcome newcomers with smiles and handshakes, to have church community activities like children’s plays, dinners, holiday events and baseball games, and to create a feeling of belonging and brotherly love.  

Honestly, I really enjoyed a lot of those social events growing up – the good food, sing-alongs, and fun with friends – but as I got older I began to see cracks in the façade of church fellowship. I saw how often those smiles and handshakes were false and awkward. Politeness made it easy to pretend that real Christian love existed, when it really didn’t. When people showed up who were different or unpleasant, people who didn’t fit into that particular church’s social sphere, the smiles were brief and cold. When cases of abuse, broken marriages, addictions or unbelief cropped up, they were sent for quiet counseling with the pastor, who often had no idea how to help those people other than to offer a routine prayer and send them home. People who were really suffering were told they were welcome to come back to church, but they were expected to just smile and never bring up their unpleasant problems in public. I remember scenes like that from my childhood in the 60s, and sadly, it’s still happening right now.

So what is real fellowship? It’s an emotional and spiritual bond among people who share a similar goal. The intense bonding among soldiers in wartime doesn’t happen because they decided to love each other and smile all the time. It came about through their shared goal – and their shared sufferings and sacrifices to reach that goal. They became deeply united as each one proved through his actions that he would fight and defend his fellow soldier, as they fought to defend the country they loved.  

The same could be said about a family. It’s not all about going out to dinner, watching movies or taking vacations in exotic places. Families do all that while harboring resentment and even hatred for each other. But a family that shares the highest goal – to serve Jesus and honor Him with their lives – will fight as one against any demons trying to attack them, and attacking the Kingdom of God on this earth. They suffer together, sacrifice together and fight in faith together with the joy of knowing that they are on the winning side as long as they remain in obedience and faith. I have seen my own family grow by leaps and bounds this past year as each of us prayed harder, sacrificed and challenged ourselves to discipline our faith even more. The goals that God has set before each of us – my wife and our two sons – have become clearer as we have drawn nearer to Him, and each has borne much fruit. That’s a kind of fellowship that no vacation could create.

If you long for true fellowship, start striving in faith against our common enemy, and allow others to strive for and with you. The Bible calls it the “fellowship of His sufferings.” Fight and sacrifice for the same cause, and you’ll automatically be drawn closer to God and to each other in a bond of fellowship. Through your example, your family could easily join you. Instead of hearing you complain about their behavior, they’ll see you taking up their cause and battling hell for their sake. And through that, they could very well be drawn to a deeper love for you, for God and into a real fellowship of faith.  

… Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:8-10 HCSB)

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