Have you noticed that when it comes to discussions about fellowship we always talk about the food? It’s not always like that of course, but is that biblical fellowship?
In Acts 2, the church of 120 grows by thousands overnight, and what a diverse and international gathering it would have been. Verse 42 says, ‘they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’ (Acts 2:42). This may have been a description of their worship, but is more likely a summary statement of their way of life. The following verses amplify this, with verses 44-45 describing the ‘fellowship’.
‘All the believers were together and had everything in common’ (v 44), goes far further than the most optimistic expectations we might envisage, and what a committed learning and loving community! This is a new family, as diverse and dysfunctional as any, but supremely bound to Jesus and to each other. They exercised costly care, bore each other’s needs and prayed.
There are opportunities for fellowship before and after our services, where we catch up with how the past week has been for our widowed sister or single dad with teenagers. We can’t exhaustively know how life is, or sometimes even empathise, but we can love them, can’t we? Rather than nodding and saying we’ll pray, why not take a moment to reassure them that they are precious to the Lord and to us, and pray briefly with them, calling on our Father there and then, to give them the grace and the strength they need for the day (2 Cor. 1:4).
When we ask our socially awkward friend how they are and inwardly sigh when they say, ‘It’s been a bad week…’, don’t let’s say, ‘I’m so sorry to hear that, let’s catch up soon,’ because we’ve had ‘that’ conversation before. Shouldn’t we pause, and give them time? Let us engage and foster the fellowship between us and any brother or sister for whom Christ died, and to whom we are united for now and eternity. We should reflect the love and care of Christ, who always found time for those in need.
Let us go to church praying that we experience meaningful fellowship. Let us be those who are willing to engage and open the Bible and invest in conversations. Let us be like Malachi’s friends who ‘feared the Lord and talked with each other’ (Mal. 3:16) or Paul’s companions who taught and admonished one another by quoting psalms or spiritual songs (Col. 3:16).
Of course, the Acts 2 believers weren’t only sharing their testimonies and quoting the Old Testament when they met; their mutual burden-bearing impacted their bank balances too. Acts 4:32-34 builds on the earlier generous fellowship of chapter 2, with the believers voluntarily sharing with those in need, as Barnabas did in selling his field and bringing the money to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). This mutual concern was costly, but they loved one another as family.
How do we address the need, or even obligation, to care for our sisters and brothers today? Would we reduce our treats, summer holiday budget or even our place on the housing ladder for the sake of someone else?
Before you ask the exegetical question of whether Luke is being descriptive or prescriptive at this point, that is, whether Luke is simply recording the events of the day or somehow binding us to the same principled behaviour, let’s be careful and check our hearts that we aren’t avoiding the Holy Spirit’s tackle with an Ananias or Sapphira swerve.
As for me, I still remember Sinclair Ferguson’s illustration of the shepherd who sends out the sheepdog to collect the sheep. When the sheepdog rounds up the sheep and brings them down from the fields and close to the shepherd, the sheep are at one and the same time brought nearer to each other too. May that be our experience of fellowship in the church as well.
Next in this series: The Breaking Of Bread »