Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)
There are solitary religions, but Christianity is not one of them. Jesus didn’t go it alone: from the outset of his ministry the Lord involved others. He called disciples to journey with him, and to be co-laborers in the work the Father gave him to do. We can learn from the community Jesus formed with his first disciples as we consider what community means for disciples today – for us.
Fellowship is essential to the discipled life. It was the way of Jesus, so it must also be our way. In the Greek of the New Testament, the word translated as fellowship and community is Koinonia. It does not mean simply being with others – it involves sharing a common life in the Spirit.
There is no Christian fellowship without Christ in the center. Christ calls us to be in community with each other – and to be ONE with each other. More fundamental than any divisions is the unity of the Spirit. This is the source of our fellowship and the power behind its effectiveness. In light of our fundamental unity in Christ, all our differences amount to the many gifts placed in service of the One Spirit. We are called to bring the message of Christ to the world. And the world will believe to the extent that we are credible witnesses: we must not only preach about love, we must love one another as we have been loved by our Christ.
Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning or his pubic ministry. As jesus prayed, after going into the waters of the Jordan, he saw a dove descending on him from heaven, and heard the Father’s voice saying : “you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.” Here the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, are one in love and in the mission of salvation. All our communities are a pale image of THIS community of love.
After his baptism the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness to fast and pray; and to be tempted and prevail over the powers of evil. Here, in a new wilderness, Jesus, representing the New Israel, perseveres in faithfulness where, in another wilderness, the people of Israel had failed. In Jesus’ victory over temptation we have foretaste of the triumph of the Cross. On the Cross the Trinity, as a community made one by love, works together to accomplish the ends willed by the Father, through the Son, it the Spirit.
As soon as Jesus began his public ministry he called disciples. This becomes a model for the Church. The disciples are, first of all, students: they gather around Jesus to learn not only from him but about him. When, in the Gospel of John, Jesus turns and finds two of the Baptist’s disciples following him he asks them: “What do you want?” they replied “Rabbi, … where are you staying.” That’s a Semitic way of asking “What are you all about?” In response Jesus invites those disciples to “come and see.”
Disciples “come and see” what the Lord is about. The only way to do that is to follow him and learn from him through the intimacy of a shared journey together. Their fellowship, with Jesus and with each other, didn’t happen all at once – it developed over time, growing from the early days by the sea of Galilee all the way through their final supper together on the night before He died.
They grew as they heard Him teach the Gospel of the Father’s love; as they saw him work wonders of healing and transformation; and as they experienced their own mission when he sent them out to heal and to bring proclaim the reign of God, and to heal.
They learned from Jesus’ example.
At the last supper Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Washing feet is dirty, smelly work. In Jesus time it was work properly done by slaves or servants, or whoever the low man on the totem pole might be. But Jesus, the master and teacher, put on an apron and washed his disciples feet. He explained: “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. … Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13: 13-15).
Gradually the little community of the disciples became a part of the Lord’s life and work. They were a community in service to God’s Kingdom and to the work of the Kingdom.
The heart of Christian fellowship is Grace – our communion with each other in Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Lord gives us brothers and sisters to work with together in doing the work the Father gives us to do. We are sent, together, to bear fruit that lasts!
As we think of Christian fellowship today, the example of the first disciples is critical. The fellowship Jesus wants for us cannot be separated from service. We are not called together just to be friends, the Lord expects us to love each other with a love reflecting his own divine love for the Father.
The nature of the unity the Lord expects of us can be seen in his High Priestly Prayer (John 17). He prays: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”
Jesus has given us the Glory that the Father gave him!
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ “glory” always points to his obedience to the Father unto death. The Cross is the Glory of the Lord. In giving his disciples His glory he is sharing his cross with us. This is a beautiful, poetic reminder that we can not be Christians except by taking up our cross and following the Lord. As jesus poured out his life for us, so must we for one another and for the World He has sent us into to continue His saving work.
We are not called to unity for its own sake – but for the sake of our calling. If we are not one, the world will not know that the Father sent Jesus; and that the father loves us even as he loves the Son. What an amazing promise! We are loved by the father “just as” the Father loves the Son. We are invited into the community of the Triune God; invited to share the very life of God – eternal life.
Because fellowship is intimately connected to service, the fellowship of the disciples is not merely being together – it is doing together. And not doing just anything: disciples are called to do the work of the Kingdom of God.
What is that work? Lets go to the words of the Lord himself. John the Baptist, in prison, sent messengers to ask, on John’s behalf: “are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus responds by pointing to the work of the Kingdom that is happening in his ministry: Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear and the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:21-23).
As much fun as pot luck suppers and going bowling with the church youth group may be – it is NOT Christian Fellowship as that term is understood in the New Testament. Fellowship is working together in the healing, restoring, enlightening and life-giving work of God.
For every-day Christian living, to fellowship with others means to be active together in God’s service. This is something families can do.
Ian, Cheri and their kids Dylan and Kaitlyn, regularly come on Saturday mornings, as a family, to pray with and feed the homeless in Pompano Beach, Florida. This is part of their family routine: it’s who they are. They wake up early on a day they could sleep in, drive to a church about a half hour from their home, and spend the morning serving people whom the world overlooks. Ian’s family doesn’t overlook them, though. Just as Jesus washed his disciples feet, Ian, Cheri and the kids serve 100 homeless men and women a hot meal every week.
The possibilities for fellowship only limited by your imagination.
First pray. Ask the Lord what work he wants you to do; and ask him to show you those with whom you might fellowship in that work.
Then be aware of the needs of those around you. You may find what God wants you to accomplish at work, or in church, or in your family, or neighborhood. Keep your eyes and heart open. Is there an elderly person or couple in your neighborhood who’s living alone, and maybe struggling financially? Get some Christian neighbors together and visit. Offer to help with the lawn or with some household repairs. Bring over a home cooked meal, or invite them out for the holidays. Think creatively, and work together to be a blessing.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all who is over all through all ind in all” (Ephesians 4:4-5).