So far in Acts we have seen that Jesus gave his followers a commission, then he ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit. We have considered Peter’s explanation and the response of the audience that resulted in 3,000 conversions. Last week we saw that they were devoted to the apostles’ teaching. This morning we will see that they were devoted to the fellowship.
James Boice writes, “If you find yourself out of fellowship with God you will begin to find yourself out of fellowship with other Christians. You will say, ‘I don’t really like to be with other Christians very much. They all seem to be hypocrites.’”1 I’m sure many of you have family and friends who think such things about the church. Of course, they are right. Hypocrisy has always been found in the church. But a lack of fellowship reveals more about a person’s own distancing from God than the state of the church.
When people are asked to describe the church they often use terms very different from Luke’s description here in Acts 2:42-47. The church is no longer known for its commitment to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, but whether it is aligned with cultural norms. The church is not generally considered to be a loving community, but an exclusive and bigoted community. The sacraments are rare or often practiced with apology. And many churches spend more time on their announcements than in prayer. If Grace Clovis seems unusual it might be because the typical church no longer devotes itself to what is essential.
One of those essential distinctives that we never want to lose is “fellowship”. Clearly the emphasis in fellowship is upon our relationship with one another, but vertical and horizontal fellowship go together. These were not folks who were naturally generous people. The Spirit that filled them on the day of Pentecost made them caring and generous. Because God was generous to them, they were generous to others.
What I want us to see from this passage is that fellowship involves the regular interaction of repentant believers who share a concern to provide for the spiritual and material well-being of others.
First, we will look at the Motivation for Fellowship. Second, we’ll see the Hindrances to Fellowship. And third, we will note the Benefits of Fellowship.
Motivation for Fellowship
There is a strong connection between these four distinctives of the New Testament community. The apostles’ teaching served as a motivation for fellowship which is partially expressed through participation in the Lord’s Supper and prayer. Fellowship is the fruit of receiving the apostles’ teaching. These two characteristics support one another. They do not fight against each other as if it were a tug-of-war. As biblical doctrine is rightly understood fellowship is rightly desired.
Fellowship (koinonia) and common (koina) share the same root. Verse 44 is an example of the fellowship they were devoted to (2:42). Not only were the material possessions shared (2:44-45), but their time was shared. Fellowship speaks to the interactive character of healthy relationships.
- They shared in a common identity in Christ (1 Cor. 1:9).
- They shared in a common relationship with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14).
- They shared in a common heavenly Father to whom they prayed.
- They shared in a common partnership in the gospel (Phil. 1:5).
- They also shared out of their abundance to meet the needs of others.
We could talk further about the role of joy, love, and humility.
In Ephesians, Paul provides us with several metaphors of the Church that build in intensity.
- He calls members of the church “fellow citizens” meaning that they have the same King.
- He calls them “one family” meaning that they have the same Father. So God is not only your King, He is also your Father.
- Paul compares the church to a Holy Temple of which the apostles and prophets serve as the foundation, Christ as the cornerstone, and the believers make up the building. With this picture we can imagine the importance that every believer has to one another. Removing bricks from the wall drastically weakens it.
- And finally, he calls the Church a body in which each member plays a role. Everyone serves a specific function that is essential to the body’s health.
Do you see the increasing intensity with each metaphor?
The message is consistent and clear with each one: The Church is literally incapable of doing certain things when you aren’t present. Every single one of you brings a unique giftedness to this church that everyone else benefits from.
Do you know what that means? It means that you belong here! Don’t we all need to hear that? But with that comes responsibility. It means that you have a role to fulfill when you come. Do you feel like you have a purpose here?
It also means that we should be committed to one another so that no one is afraid to be vulnerable. We should be comfortable sharing our fears with each other. We should be confident that when we tell someone our struggles, we aren’t going to be the subject of everyone’s conversation on Monday.
It means that we should love one another to such a degree that we actually feel pain when others here are hurting. And it means that we truly rejoice when others here are blessed.
Maybe you’ve experienced that before, but I truly hope we experience it here. Don’t you?
That is our motivation for fellowship, but we also need to see there are…
Hindrances to Fellowship
Whether you are a Christian or not, there is likely something we can all agree upon right now. I think all of us can admit that there are problems in the Church. There are problems in this church. There are problems at the church you attended previously. And there are problems in every church you haven’t attended. Problems pervade the church.
The first and primary hindrance to fellowship is our own personal sin, which is often rooted in pride and selfishness. Listen to how James addresses the problems in the church:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:1-3).
Another hindrance is a faulty definition of fellowship. If our definition is trite, our practice will be deeply flawed. Derek Thomas notes, “Few Bible words have suffered more distortion than the word ‘fellowship.’ We commonly reduce it to chatter and cookies in the church hall—thinking that this is what the New Testament had in mind.”2
In Brian Habig and Les Newsome’s book The Enduring Community, they point out two common responses to problems in the Church.
First, the church begins to define its identity according to the problems. The primary focus of the church revolves around the best ways to avoid the problems – the frustrations and the gripes – that people notice. In this case, the church becomes all about you. Whether you are a part of the problem or the solution, you are central.
Whereas the first response is allowing the problems to define the church, the second response is to avoid them altogether. Problems in the church can only be ignored for so long. At some point, they will destroy the church.
As we seek to glorify God in this ministry we realize that all of us must confront the sins that have gained a foothold in our lives. We need to realize that the sins we struggle with have a deep impact upon the Church. Our union with God is inseparably linked to our union with one another. When our union with God suffers, our union with one another suffers.
That means that even the sins that many of us view as “personal” have a “corporate” impact. Your personal, individual sins affect the Church. We must address our personal sins, because they have a corporate impact.
Luther was right when he suggested that no one has broken any of the other commandments unless he has already broken the first commandment – “you shall have no other gods before me.” Only idolators commit sin. Therefore, we must destroy the idol that motivates our sinfulness.
A friend of mine once told me, “We must not be content to pluck the fruit of sin from the tree. That is important and we must be diligent in doing so. But until we have chopped the tree down at its root, the fruit will grow back.”
We must lay the ax to the root of the tree if we want to see lasting transformation. If idolatry is at the root of all sin, then ultimately, in order to alter our behavior we must redirect our motivations.
Consider the barriers that hinder you from enjoying deeper fellowship? What are the idols of your heart? What occupies your thoughts? What is on your mind when you first wake up? What are your last thoughts at night? Where do you put your trust? What do you fear?
As we focus on removing the barriers to fellowship, we will begin to enjoy the…
Benefits of Fellowship
We have said that fellowship involves the regular interaction of repentant believers who share a concern to provide for the spiritual and material well-being of others.
In verses 44-45 we have an example of how needs were met by the generosity of those who had an abundance. We see this same thing again in chapter 4:
“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).
John describes providing for a “brother in need” as loving in “deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:17). This kind of love and care can serve as a light that shines before others “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Darrell Bock writes, “That a community is really functioning with appropriate love and compassion is evident when material needs are also a concern and are being generously provided.”3
Some of you have met Scott McQuinn’s mother and stepfather, Mike and Rita, when they came to visit a few months ago. They are serving in a church that started a few years before us. In their most recent update they talk about how their Discipleship Community group hosted a Pancake Breakfast Fund Raiser for one of the women in their group who battles tinnitus, and was in desperate need of hearing aids. They used the event to invite neighbors, co-workers, old and new church friends, and people they had never met. They were ultimately able to raise $1,700 to pay for the down payment on the hearing aids. But even more significant was the way they were able to display the love of God to over 100 people in their community. They are praying for 5 neighbors who wanted to know more about the church and their Discipleship Community group because of this event.
This kind of care involves getting to know others at such a level that we know their needs. Then it involves pooling together our resources to meet those needs.
The community in Acts was so united that they willingly gave up their private property. However, they were not abolishing private property altogether. This was not communism or socialism. It was an ongoing activity. It also appears to have been spontaneous, rather than a coordinated effort. As needs arose, help was provided. Early Christians felt a sense of responsibility toward one another. Craig Keener, “Their commitment was radical, fitting Jesus’ demand for disciples in the Gospel (Luke 12:33; 14:33).”4
Is the sell of our private property required? Maybe for some. But neither is it forbidden to have private property. Possession sharing was voluntary. We know at least some of them had homes (2:46).
But it would be all too easy to escape the implications of these verses. We are called to be generous with our possessions. That should be our default posture. Rather than make excuses not to provide for those in need, we should be seeking ways to include others in the process. John Stott writes, “It is part of the responsibility of Spirit-filled believers to alleviate need and abolish destitution in the new community of Jesus.”5
We’ve considered the motivation for fellowship, the hindrances to fellowship, and the benefits of fellowship.
Scripture motivates us toward fellowship with one another by showing us that it coincides with our fellowship with God. With that in mind—we can better recognize and remove the hinderances of our selfishness and pride. Rather than those sins defining the church, or being avoided altogether, we address them through repentance. And the effects of a church that rightly prizes fellowship is a community that generously meets the needs of others.
Christ is the supreme example of generosity, who became poor so that the poor might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). Fellowship that is motivated by a common faith and preserved by a common commitment to repentance, results in a common concern for those in need.
1 James Boice, Acts, 59.
2 Derek Thomas, Acts, 58.
3 Darrell Bock, Acts, 152.
4 Craig Keener, Acts, 1:1012.
5 Stott, Acts, 84.