1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
Here in John’s first epistle, he is writing from personal experience so that we would know that he is writing with great authority. No less than three times John affirms that he is a first-hand eyewitness to the truth concerning the Word of Life so that we as the readers would have great confidence in what John is writing. John says that The Word of Life has come to earth incarnate in human flesh, and has brought eternal life to those who believe. It is a message of God’s revelation of Jesus Christ – the true revelation of God in the incarnate and written Word. From the very first verse, John starts out by saying he is going to write about the Word of Life; the incarnate Word of Life. So, we immediately know that the focus will be on Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
As some of you will recall, we highlighted that Jesus Christ has always existed – from the beginning. John reminds readers of their first encounter with Jesus Christ and the gospel He preached. “What was from the beginning…? Do you remember your beginning – when you first encountered the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you remember when you had a decision to make? “Will I follow Christ or will I reject the truth?” Thankfully, many of you have already accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior and began an eternal life as a Christian. For others, there is still a decision that must be made—“Do I accept what Jesus Christ has done for me on the cross, or do I continue to live for self.”
We also discussed that Jesus Christ absolutely proved who He is – God incarnate in human flesh. God used the senses He created in us to prove that He was physically very real. John first said he heard Jesus Christ. John was so obviously amazed at what Jesus spoke for it was with such authority and truth that the truth compelled him to listen. Today, we cannot audibly hear Jesus Christ with our ears but we are to be listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to our conscience; guiding and directing our thoughts and actions. We should also hear the Word speak as we read the Scriptures—giving us instructions for life and implanting a desire to be obedient to the truths of His Word. We should also hear Him speak as the Scriptures are preached and taught bringing us to a point of conviction, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. So, we may not hear Jesus audibly speak to us today but we should hear the sound of His voice loud and clear.
We also discussed that Jesus Christ has revealed who He is – the Word of Life. With all the evidence and convictive assurance that John and the apostles had of Jesus’ presence in this world, we can confidently be assured that Jesus Christ is the Word of Life. The Word of life, the eternal life, has been seen, heard and felt by many, and specifically by John.
3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:3-4)
Verse 1 states the subject, v. 2 states facts about the subject, v. 3 the purpose in view of versus 1 and 2. Therefore, verse 3 is the purpose clause — the reason John is writing. However, the proclamation of the Word of Life is not an end in itself; its purpose, both immediate and ultimate, is now defined. The immediate purpose is fellowship, and the ultimate purpose is joy. The fellowship which Christ developed during His days spent with the apostles, and deepened by the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, was not to be limited to them alone. That depth of fellowship is to be extended to the generations of believers down thru the ages. In other words, we are to be a part of this fellowship.
The purpose of the proclamation of the gospel is, therefore, stated in terms not of salvation but of fellowship. Yet, properly understood, this is the meaning of salvation in its widest embrace, including reconciliation to God in Christ (“fellowship … with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ”), holiness of life (highlighted in v. 6), and incorporation in the church (“you … with us”). This fellowship is the meaning of eternal life. John 17:3 says: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Just as the Son, who is the eternal life, was and is (eternally) with the Father (v. 2), so He purposes that we should have fellowship with them and with each other (cf. John 17:21–22). ‘Fellowship’ is a specifically Christian word and denotes that common participation in the grace of God, the salvation of Christ and the indwelling Spirit which is the spiritual birthright of all believers. It is our common possession of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which makes us one. John could not have written ‘that you also may have fellowship with us’ without adding ‘and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ,’ since our fellowship with each other arises from, and depends upon, our fellowship with God. So, the foundation of all fellowship is our relationship with God.
Have you ever thought about what intimate fellowship with God or other believers really is and what it really looks like in the life of a Christian? I have, especially in preparation for the message. But so has John Fawcett.
In 1765 John Fawcett was called to pastor a very small congregation at Wainsgate, England. He labored there diligently for 7 years, but his salary was so meager that he and his wife could scarcely obtain the necessities of life. Though the people were poor, they compensated for this lack by their faithfulness and warm fellowship. Then Dr. Fawcett received a call from a much larger church in London, and after lengthy consideration decided to accept the invitation. As his few possessions were being placed in a wagon for moving, many of his parishioners came to say good-bye. Once again they pleaded with him to reconsider.
Touched by this great outpouring of love, he and his wife began to weep. Finally Mrs. Fawcett exclaimed, “O John, I just can’t bear this.” “God has spoken to my heart, too!” he said. “Tell them to unload the wagon! We cannot break these wonderful ties of fellowship.” This experience inspired Fawcett to write a hymn. “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love! The fellowship of kindred mind is like to that above.”
The primary reason John writes is to provide his readers with an understanding of what they must do to have fellowship with the apostles, saints, and most importantly, God. The term fellowship carries both the idea of a positive relationship that people share and participation in a common interest. The Greek word, koinonia, suggests sharing and fellowship or communion.
Therefore, fellowship is about communion. The key idea is that of possessing things in common, which results in common ground for communion. John could have sad, “These things write we unto you that ye also may have joint-participation, communion with us” or, “Our joint-participation is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”, that is, the things in which Christians share and participate in, is salvation, they participate in jointly with God, a common nature, common likes and dislikes.
Just as a human body is formed by tissues, muscles, bones, ligaments, and organs that are designed to work together, the body of Christ is composed of many members who are responsible/accountable to one another. We are to work in fellowship with each other to maximize the impact that God intended. No member can detach themselves from the church body and expect the body to function properly. In other words, no member properly functions detached from the rest of the body, just as a person’s heart can’t be removed, placed in another room, and still be expected to keep the person alive. The health of the church body, its witness, and its testimony are dependent on all members faithfully ministering to one another through fellowship. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have a common position, common ground, we are one in body. The Holy Spirit has placed all of us into the body of Christ, and that same Spirit dwells within each believer.
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
Though Christians are one in position, positionally sanctified, unfortunately we are not one in practice-particularly in the daily grind of living and loving together. When Jesus prayed “that they may all be one”, He was praying for Christians to live as one.
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in me through their word; that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. (John 17:20-21)
This practical, experiential unity of the church body can be properly manifest by service and fellowship. Service certainly includes the individual spiritual gift of service, but we want to discuss the concept of service to encompass the exercising of all the gifts within a context of genuine and intimate fellowship.
As I mentioned earlier, the New Testament word for fellowship is koinonia. The word koinōnia, means “fellowship,” signifies “a having in common,” “a sharing with” or communion. God designed His people for fellowship: Genesis 2:18 – “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
The church, the body of Christ, should be the personification of fellowship. God never intended the church to be a “building”—a place where lonely people walk in, listen, and walk out still alone—but God intended the church to be a place of true fellowship. The building is just a place to meet. The church is where we fellowship, commune with God first and then with other believers.
Fellowship does not mean social relations. John highlights that we are to be partakers with John in possessing eternal life. John writes not only to affirm the physical reality of Jesus in verses 1 and 2, but also to highlight the need for salvation in the readers. Genuine Christians are never “out of fellowship” this is clear, since this verse equates fellowship with salvation. Our salvation does not depend on us—it depends on Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. However, the joy of our fellowship is certainly impacted by our actions.
Unfortunately, there is a desperate need for personal, intimate fellowship in the church today. This fellowship, like the ministering of the gifts, is essential to the practical unity of the body. Thankfully, God has designed the church body so that it can meet the need for fellowship. But the need for fellowship is not met simply by attending church. It requires effort and involvement on our behalf to be involved in the lives of other believers.
So, if the need for fellowship is so great, what does the Bible teach about fellowship? Well, the New Testament has much to teach us about fellowship. There are four main points that I want to highlight today:
1. What is the basis of fellowship?
2. What is the nature of fellowship?
3. What endangers our fellowship?
4. What are our responsibilities regarding fellowship?
What is the basis of fellowship?
There is certainly much phony, fake fellowship that takes place today—people get together on all kinds of pretenses—sporting events, after-work parties, company picnics, school functions, etc….. But the basis of Christian fellowship is not the need of the surrounding community, or some common social or religious goal; it is communion—a common ground in Christ. Believers have a common ground, a partnership with something to share. That is the foundation of Christian fellowship.
John relates the gospel to what he personally experienced in verse 1. He tells of his relationship with Jesus Christ. He does that because the gospel is the basis of Christian fellowship. John is telling his readers, in effect, “I want you to know the same God and the same Christ I know, so that we may have common ground for fellowship.” Therefore, the proclamation of the gospel is not an end in itself — it creates a fellowship of believers.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)
The beautiful, meaningful fellowship that Christ and His disciples enjoyed while He was on earth was not meant to be limited to them, but was intended to extend to all of us who are in the Body of Christ. In a sense, we are in the fellowship of the apostles (Ephesians 3 and Hebrews 2), but primarily our fellowship involves the Father, the Son, the Spirit, and every other believer in history.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (Philippians 2:1)
This one mind, one purpose is made possible by salvation. God planned to bring believers into fellowship with Himself, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and other believers. 1 Corinthians 1:9 – “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God is not some distant, cosmic deity that cannot be in fellowship with us. Through His sovereign grace He brought us into His fellowship, by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of “a common faith” in Titus 1:4, a single body of truth of which every Christian is a part. “To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
Fellowship in this context becomes a specifically Christian word, referring to a common participation in eternal life that comes by the grace of God, the saving work of Christ, and is enhanced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All preaching and all other activities in the church are meant to create a human fellowship, rising spontaneously out of the divine fellowship.
Technically, no Christian is at any time out of fellowship with God since the relationship between the believer and God is permanent. When two people are married, for example, there are times when they won’t speak to each other, and yet their marriage continues – certainly there is less joy when we don’t speak but the foundation remains. Partners in business may not like each other, but they remain partners. Similarly, when a Christian is not behaving as a partner with God should be (by violating some of the fellowship standards), the relationship continues. In Philippians 1:5, Paul refers to the “fellowship in the gospel,” which continues “from the first day [salvation]” until now [the present].
When we are blessed and feeling good about our relationship with the Lord, we often say, “I’m in fellowship.” When we are not excited about the Lord, and there is sin in our life and indifference about our Christian walk, we say, “I’m out of fellowship.” Strictly speaking, that is not true. We are always in fellowship with God, but we may not be experiencing the joy of it.
If you want to evaluate your Christian life correctly, say, “I’m experiencing complete joy in my fellowship with the Father;” or, “I’m not experiencing the joy of my fellowship with God.” The Apostle John says, “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:4). That is the issue—the difference in the fellowship when there is complete joy and when it is absent.
It is sin that affects the joy of our fellowship with God. That’s why it is so important to remember 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is not an ongoing confession to maintain our salvation, as if we are fearful of losing it. The kind of confession that acknowledges our need theologically to become right with God happened just once—when we were saved. John is speaking here of the confession we will want to constantly maintain after we come into fellowship with God. We acknowledge our daily sin, ask forgiveness, receive it, and again enjoy the complete joy of fellowship with the Lord. That kind of confession should become and remain the pattern of life for us such that our joy is complete.
What is the nature of fellowship?
That was the basis of our fellowship, now let’s talk about the nature of our fellowship. The nature of fellowship is illustrated in several New Testament examples.
32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
Those early believers in Jerusalem shared everything. That was true fellowship. Their fellowship had a significant effect on the world, and as a result, many were accepted Christ:
And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
That is the oneness in fellowship that Christ had prayed for. Because those outside the church could see this unity and love, they were more readily convinced of Jesus’ identity once they saw Christians behaving like Christians.
Paul describes a later example of fellowship among churches in Romans 15:26: “For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” The wealthier church in Europe collected money to send to poorer Christians in Jerusalem. In Christian fellowship, believers desire to bear one another’s burdens, share needs, and teach.
For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11-12)
It is clear to see that early Christians enjoyed a genuine fellowship of money, food, homes, prayer, love, spiritual blessing, and teaching. We should long to have this type of fellowship with other believers.
Paul himself needed this kind of fellowship. He didn’t just effortlessly breeze through his ministries by himself. 2 Corinthians 7:6 says, “But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” It was difficult and Paul acknowledges that he was comforted by the coming of Titus. Paul also told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:21 “Make every effort to come before winter”. The Apostle Paul cherished fellowship and looked forward to it.
So the question becomes, “What does Christian fellowship look like today?” Unfortunately, in many cases, Christian fellowship has become something other than what John describes. Is it going to the church fellowship hall, having a church picnic, playing games in the gymnasium, or maybe a Sunday school class party? Fellowship is much more than that. Real fellowship occurs when Christians get together to discuss the Word of God and share concerns in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are times when getting together with Christians may seem a wasted effort, but when you experience true fellowship, you’ll come away warmed in your spirit. Have you ever had lunch with a brother or sister in Christ and left thinking, “We really do have a common bond in Christ. No wonder we get along so well. It is a joy to get together with them.” Now that was fellowship. We so often long for fellowship but are unwilling to put forth the effort to get involved in the life of another believer.
We need to realize that when there is true fellowship, Christians don’t judge one another. They don’t bite and devour one another. They don’t provoke, envy, lie to, speak evil of, gossip about, or grumble about one another. Since true fellowship builds up, Christians receive one another as they are and are kind and tenderhearted toward one another. They forbear and forgive one another, serve one another, practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another, admonish, instruct, submit to, and comfort one another. That is the true fellowship of the Body. It is one life touching another life, to bring blessing and spiritual growth.
What endangers fellowship?
We have covered the basis of fellowship and the nature of fellowship. We need to realize that there is something that endangers our fellowship. The danger is unrepentant sin. As we noted earlier, a believer’s fellowship with God is never broken because our fellowship with God is an eternal partnership.
and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:28-29)
It is sin that breaks the joy of our fellowship because God is holy and cannot fellowship with us when we sin. Therefore, it is sin that destroys the joy of our fellowship with God and other believers.
If we willfully and continually sin, we have purposely broken trust with God and intentionally rejected His love. Although sin doesn’t change God’s love for us, nor does it mean the one who sins doesn’t love Him, it does mean that a sinning Christian can lose the joy of communion with God because the joy of that fellowship is broken. When the joy of fellowship is broken, usually our prayer life goes, our Bible reading goes, we quit tithing and we drift away from our relationships with other Christians—all because we don’t want to confront our sin nor be confronted with a holy and righteous God. We all need to have a right relationship/fellowship with God to have the sweet joy of that fellowship with Him and other believers. If we do not have a right relationship with God, we cannot have a right relationship with other believers.
The symbol associated with body fellowship is the communion service — the Lord’s Table. When Christians meet around the Lord’s Table and partake of the cup and the bread, they are symbolizing Jesus’ saving death, which is the basis of our fellowship. As we mentioned earlier, the word koinonia conveys the concepts of fellowship and communion. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:16, 21, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?…You cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and the table of demons”.
How could Christians drink of the cup of the Lord, celebrate their fellowship with Him, and then go out and fellowship with demons? That is blasphemous and makes a mockery of the cross. So, when we sin, we are in communion with Satan and his fallen angels — not with the Lord. So Paul warns us…
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)
How seriously did God judge believers in the Corinthian church who partook of Communion sinfully? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:30 – “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” Their sin violated all that the cross stood for. In fact, their participation was a mockery serious enough to sometimes cause their own death. That’s why Paul warns us not to participate in the Lord’s Table without examining ourselves to be sure we are not at the same time having fellowship with Satan and his demons.
Therefore, sin not only breaks the joy of our fellowship with God; sin also breaks the joy of a Christian’s fellowship with other believers because it shatters the unity of the body. Your sin affects me because it limits my fellowship, and it limits the use of your gifts on my behalf. And vice versa. My sin affects you because it limits your fellowship, and it limits the use of my gifts on your behalf. So as Christians, we can’t say, “I can do what I want; it won’t affect anyone else.” Pride, lust, materialism, failure to minister one’s gift, ceasing to pray, spiritual laziness, not yielding to the Holy Spirit — all these sins and others destroy fellowship within the body.
However, when we are quick to acknowledge our sins and confess them to God, that sin will not and cannot become a pattern in our life. Then it will not affect the fellowship of the body the way continual, prolonged sin does. When I sin and immediately confess it and repent of it, I find the joy of my fellowship restored. But when sin persists, the joy of fellowship is destroyed. Thus the danger to fellowship is unrepentant sin. I believe we all can understand that our sin is what removes the joy of our fellowship with God and destroys the true fellowship with other believers.
What are our responsibilities regarding fellowship?
So, how do we complete/perfect our joy and maintain our fellowship with other believers? After all, we have a responsibility to maintain fellowship by doing specific deeds for other believers. If you think about it for a moment, the things we need to do to maintain fellowship has to do with the “one anothers” of the New Testament. These would include confessing sin, forgiving, bearing burdens, loving, encouraging, building up, admonishing and praying, for one another. So, let’s talk about these practical ways that we can maintain fellowship with other believers.
Confess Your Sins to One Another
James 5:16 contains this command: “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another.” One way to maintain the fellowship of the body of Christ is to confess our sins to other Christians. I didn’t say it was easy, but humility and submission are keys to overcoming sinful pride that prevents us from confessing to others.
Imagine what a depth of honesty, beauty, and understanding would be brought to Christian fellowship if we could get past our selfish pride and openly share our sins. We need to realize that when we share problems, our fellow Christians will often say, “That’s amazing; I have the same problem” or “I am struggling with the same issue.” We could more intelligently pray for and minister to one another if we knew someone else struggles with the same problems.
However, too often, we put ourselves on pedestals and pretend that we are “super Christians,” as if we don’t have a problem in the world. We are not willing to share openly, to expose our sins and problems to a fellow believer out of pride or concern of being judged. We seldom hear someone else say, “That’s the same thing I’m going through. You pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.” We need to be willing to be transparent and willing to confess our sin to another believer we trust. Be willing to confess each time we commit the sin. Why am I suggesting this, because being accountable to another many times, prevents us from committing the sin again.
James said, “Confess your sins to one another.” That may or may not be considered good psychological therapy, but spiritually it is a tremendous preventative to sin. At some point we need to break through our isolation, crucify our egos, and begin to share and confess our sins to one another. What does confession normally look like? It is one believer confessing to another believer—not publicly before the whole church or the world. However, there are special circumstances that require public confession. Publically know sins require public confession. But that is normally not the case.
Confession of sin to one another results in more fellowship of people who know and love one another and understand one another’s needs, anxieties, temptations, and sins. As Christians, we all have this responsibility in the body. What strength and incredible unity we would all find in such a body of believers!
Forgive One Another
What other responsibility do we have? Some Christians have a hard time forgiving one another, but we all as believers in Jesus Christ are commanded to forgive fellow believers and nonbelievers. Actually, for a Christian to be willfully unforgiving is unthinkable. Nevertheless, you sometimes hear people in the Body say things such as, “Well, if somebody ever did that to me, I’d never forgive him!” Such a response and attitude is unworthy of a Christian.
Paul told those in the church at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 2:6 – “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment”
That means you should not hold sin over a fellow believer’s head for the rest of his or her life. On the contrary, 2 Corinthians 2:7–8 – “You should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” When we sin, we have enough problems with the consequences of our sin without other Christians holding the sin over us. We need to first think about how much Christ has forgiven us before we think we cannot forgive. As Christians, we are to go to anyone who sins against us and forgive them. We find this guidance in Paul’s admonition to the Colossians:
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against any one; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Colossians 3:12-13)
I hope we all realize that none of us deserves to be forgiven by Christ for our sinfulness. But of course we gladly accept the work of Christ on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins. Therefore, it is unimaginable to accept Christ’s forgiveness and then refuse to extend forgiveness to a fellow Christian. We are to forgive each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
It is forgiveness that helps to balance our concerns about confession to other believers. When another believer confesses his or her sin to you, you are to forgive. If someone confesses, “I just want you to know that for ten years I have sinned against you. I’ve been talking behind your back and telling lies about you.” What should our reaction be? Our reaction should be immediate forgiveness. That is certainly not our normal reaction. But, we need to let go of our pride, our anger, etc. Because, when there is that kind of mutual concern in the body of Christ, our fellowship and unity is strengthened. There is a greater good involved with confession and forgiveness — God’s glorification and the good of the entire body of Christ. Our joy is made complete and our fellowship with each other is restored.
Bear One Another’s Burdens
We need to be prepared to bear one another’s burdens. Paul in the book of Galatians exhorts us to “bear one another’s burdens, to fulfill the law of Christ.”
1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one will bear his own load. 6 The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:1-10)
Bearing burdens means that we are to love one another and hold one another accountable. But we can’t bear another Christian’s burden unless that person shares their burden. So, burden–bearing happens only when it follows in the sequence of fellowship’s responsibilities we have discussed earlier: 1) confession of our sins to another believer, 2) forgiving those who have sinned against us, and then 3) carrying each other’s burdens.
If we see a brother or sister who is sinning, we have a spiritual obligation to love them enough to tell him or her so. Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” In 1 Timothy 5:20, Paul says, even in reference to an elder, “Those [elders] who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning.” We need to understand that being accountable to one another about sin is not only to restrict sin within the Body, but also to get Christians to open up and be honest with one another. The church is a fellowship where every member is to be a minister. So, we need to be ready and willing to bear the burdens of others and to hold them accountable to grow and change such that they can have victory over that sin. There are some who believe they can take care of themselves and don’t want any help or assistance from other believers. Unfortunately, their pride is robbing both themselves and those who desire to bear their burden with them, of a blessing and the opportunity to fellowship as God expects. We all need to swallow our selfishness and pride and allow the Church Body to fully function by bearing burdens.
Love One Another
The next “one another” involves loving one another. Lyndon will continue a series of message on Christian love but, I do want to hit a few highlights. Christian love means to love equally with no favoritism and is one of the important themes that Paul highlights numerous times in the book of Romans. (Rom. 12:10, 16; 13:8; 15:5, 7). Just as important, love is the central thrust of Christian fellowship. When we show preferential love, the fellowship of the church body is shattered. Just so we are clear, biblical love always seeks what is best for others. Showing no favoritism means esteeming all others above ourselves and to love without limit. John said, “Beloved, let us love one another” in 1 John 4:7. Peter also called for this type of love when he wrote in 1 Peter 1:22, “Fervently love one another from the heart.”
Did you know that “fervently” is a medical term that means “stretched?” Christians are to stretch their love like an extended muscle that reaches out to all. First Peter further defines this kind of equal, stretched love as “sympathetic” in 1 Peter 3:8; “hospitable to one another” in 1 Peter 4:9; “submissive” in 1 Peter 5:5; and “physically demonstrative” in 1 Peter 5:14. Paul says this kind of love includes: caring service for one another in Galatians 5:13; patience and forbearance in Ephesians 4:2; and ultimately results in kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness in Ephesians 4:32. As Lyndon continues the sermon series on 1 Corinthians, we all need to grasp and live out biblical love for it is central to fellowship.
Pray for One Another
And finally, the last “one another” that I want to mention is “pray for one another” (James 5:16). This responsibility is at the heart of relationships in the church body. It is something no Christian can avoid and still be a contributing member of the Body. Such mutual prayer is based on the honest sharing of personal needs and the personal discipline involved in setting aside a regular time for it.
How are we going to apply these key points and our responsibilities regarding fellowship? How can we take some specific, disciplined actions to ensure we are exhibiting Christian fellowship? I think we must first ask ourselves, “Are we really interested in seeking complete joy? Are we willing to sacrifice self to have complete joy?” We need to realize that complete joy is only found in true fellowship with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and with other believers. Unfortunately, we allow our selfish pride to limit both our joy and fellowship.
In summary, fellowship in the body results in joy. Christ came “that your joy may be made full” (John 16:24)—joy resulting from fellowship with God and with one another. Such fellowship is possible; God planned it that way. It is each Christian’s responsibility to make fellowship in the body all that God intended it to be.
3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:3-4)