Article linked to the Bible study post for April 11 and based on the readings set for Sunday April 11, according to the Revised Common Lectionary shared by many denominations.
OT Psalm 133 and Acts 4:32-35 — The believers experience a profound sense of togetherness, t he fellowship of shared experience
NT gospel John 20:19-31 — The disciples see Jesus in His resurrection body and He sends them: the fellowship in Jesus’ mission
NT letter 1 John 1:1-2:2 — The fellowship in believing God and living by His values
Understanding Christian fellowship
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OVER the years I have lived in towns and villages and known churches from many different traditions. The overriding memory is the way Christians all knew each other. On Sundays people supported their own traditions but when there were extra meetings or a local initiative like a food bank or street pastors, a celebration event for Pentecost or an evangelistic outreach, friends just got together and worked for the kingdom together.
Of course in the New Testament, different traditions and approaches to worship, formal and informal, structured and free, had yet to develop. However we can see the roots of this togetherness.
The fellowship of the Holy Spirit
The only Old Testament reading set for this week is Psalm 133, which depicts believers’ unity as like the anointing of an OT priest. The Acts 4 passage, describing how those first believers worked out their new experience together. This “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” was unlike anything they had known previously:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32
This may sound like an early attempt at communism, but reading further on in the story it becomes clear that this was entirely voluntary. It was a move of the Spirit giving freedom, knowing that to give to meet another’s need, was to open yourself up to the Lord’s supply:
God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them.
Fellowship of shared mission
This freedom in the Spirit started immediately following the Resurrection for the first disciples. Jesus appeared to them and wasted no time in giving them their marching orders. From now they were on mission for Him:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together… Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!…As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.”
The sending and the empowering for mission went together. Those men, possibly women as well although not mentioned, were in a state of shock — and fear of the authorities. They needed some inner healing — and strengthening:
And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
This was a powerful shared experience. Shared spiritual experiences lead to shared spirituality — and that’s what the Bible calls fellowship.
John picks this up in writing to the churches he had helped to plant:
The life appeared: we have seen it and testify to it…
The fellowship of sharing a life-changing experience
He is a first-hand witness to knowing Jesus. But all of us who know Jesus (although not in the first century AD) share that experience. It is life-changing. All of us have fellowship in that shared experience.
1. First of all, it is fellowship with God:
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.
He is addressing churches where the gospel that the apostles shared out of their own experience was being hijacked by self-appointed teachers who did not have that personal experience of knowing God through Jesus. They did not have transformed lives. But they claimed it didn’t matter (perhaps you have heard this in our time).
God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.
God doesn’t do compromise. The false teachers liked their position but they were not teaching out of personal conviction and experience, because they didn’t get it and John writes:
If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
That is the unregenerate person who will assert stridently that there is no need to be born again. But how else can we walk in the light — live by the truth? And how can we expect to have fellowship with one another, if we do not share the experience of coming to know God?>
2. It is fellowship with one another
But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.
The false teachers were claiming that they had a ‘higher knowledge’ and were somehow an elite who were above sin or whop had some kind of exemption.
John refutes this idea directly:
If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
The fellowship of knowing a holy God, and sharing His values
Genuine born-again Christian walk in the light, knowing that they are God’s children and dearly loved, yet fallible. Being close to God, who is holy, pretty quickly reveals to us attitudes and areas where we are not holy — and we can do something about that. We can acknowledge where we have fallen short, and know cleansing through Jesus’ shed blood.
And this creates a fellowship with all those who share that identity and share those values.
Fellowship comes, not through any religious activity, but through being submitted to the same Lord, who gives us a relationship with the same Almighty, yet merciful God.
And that’s why all the Christians in that town or in neighbouring villages know each other, regardless of what is written over the door where they worship. Or, increasingly, if they pursue alternative ways of growing as a Christian outside institutional Christianity.
When we start to hold the same values as God — like loving others — we share the same values with others who are rising to the same challenge. And that’s fellowship in the Lord.