A grade school teacher held the obligatory show and tell. She told her students to bring with them some symbol that represened their religion. The next day, the first student stood up and he said, “My name is Benjamin. This is a star of David; I’m Jewish,” and went on to explain a bit.
The next student stood in front of the class and said, “I’m Mary. I’m Catholic, and this is a rosary,” and she explained a little bit.
The third student got up and said, “My name is Tommy. I’m a Baptist, and this is a casserole.”
>We must admit that our understanding of fellowship could stand to be a little bit deeper. Fellowship—κοινωνία—is more than casseroles and crock-pots, more than a once-a-month gathering. Fellowship is more than a word that we throw around at random within the church.
Fellowship is a common word, with uncommon characteristics; fellowship produces uncommon, life-changing results.
Fellowship transcends time and distance.
True Christian fellowship runs deep.
I’ve been blessed to know and experience true Christian fellowship throughout my life.
Throughout my childhood, my parents dragged me around as they fellowshipped with other couples in our church—the Helms and the Huckriedes and the Schmidts (and the Cases) would get together to hang out, to serve together (one of my most vivid memories is all of us painting the Sunday School rooms at the church), to study the Bible together. I watched my parents and their friends— Christian brothers and sisters—take care of each other and pray for each other and do things for and with each other.
It was only natural, then, that as I got older, fellowship was part of my life—something built into the fabric of who I was.
This last Thursday, I buried my good friend, Mike, with whom I spent hours upon hours fellowshipping. Mike and his wife Kathy were always having us over to their home for dinner and Bible study (Kathy makes the best chicken enchiladas in the wide world). Mike took me pheasant and quail hunting. Mike and Kathy took us to concerts and led our youth group time and taught our Sunday School classes. I learned and grew a great deal from my time with Mike and Kathy.
Fellowship has been a big part of my life. The Lord has placed people in my life who have been there for me through thick and thin; people who have encouraged me and looked out for me, people who have been there in good times and bad, people with whom I’ve served the Lord and alongside whom I’ve grown in the faith.
I’ve told you before about my group of friends from Overbrook—the Joshes, Rachael, and the Postlethwaits. I’m thoroughly convinced the Lord placed us together as a impromptu small group (it happened without our even trying). We’d meet once a week at the Postlethwait’s for snacks or dinner and then we’d study God’s Word together.
It’s been more than a decade ago since we first got together. Since then, we’ve all of us moved away from Overbrook, some of us out of state, at times living hours away from each other. And yet, this I know: if I ever need anything, I can call Josh or Josh & Rachael or Ben & Kacy. Likewise, they know they can call me for anything at all.
We’ve walked with each other through job loss and cancer and the death of family members; we’ve celebrated births and weddings and baptisms. We get together every now and again, just to spend time and fellowship. We pray for one another. We are concerned for one another. We love one another. We are family (I’ll tell you more about this at the end of the sermon).
This—this fellowship where people love and pray for and express concern—this is something God does through His people, for their benefit.
The book of Genesis tells us: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...God saw all that He had made and it was very good.
Then the Lord, in His sovereign goodness, determined, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
And it’s still not good for man to be alone; we’re made to connect with other people. We need human connection. We need personal contact, personal touch; we need fellowship—pure and simple.
And yet, fellowship can be tough. There are many real challenges to Christian fellowship. We can’t just say, “Okay, let’s fellowship,” and expect fellowship to take place. It takes committment. And it means prioritizing.
Fellowship is absolutely crucial, but not without its challenges.
Some 30 years after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, a small, young church in the city of Colossae was meeting in Philemon’s home. Philemon was a leader in the church—a faithful man, known for his love. One of Philemon’s slaves, a man named Onesimus, ran away from Philemon and made his way to Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ who was imprisoned in Rome.
Onesimus was saved by the grace of God through the ministry of Paul, and began to help and minister to Paul.
Paul found Onesimus very useful, very helpful. Paul tells Philemon that he would have liked to keep [Onesimus] with him, to help. But Paul knew the right thing, the better thing was to send Onesimus back to Philemon.
Paul chose to do what was hard—incredibly hard. But this—sending Onesimus home to Philemon—held the great potential for blessing: blessing for Philemon and Onesimus, blessing for the church there in Colossae, and blessing for us here today.
The blessing for us in this recorded interaction between a slave and his master, between Onesimus and Philemon is that we would learn the lessons herein—lessons of grace and love, forgiveness and fellowship.
>If you have your Bible (and I hope you do), please turn with me to Philemon. If you are able and willing, let’s stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. Philemon 17-25:
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. 22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His Holy Word!
>I’ve been told, more times than I can count: “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.”
That’s absolutely true…and absolutely wrong.
It’s true: church attendance has absolutely nothing to do with making a person a Christian; faith in Christ makes a Christian. “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” That’s absolutely true. “Saving faith is personal.”
And it’s absolutely, completely, dead wrong. “Saving faith is personal, but active faith is communal.”
There is no such thing as a lone-ranger Christian. God didn’t call a bunch of individual persons to Himself; He called a people—one people, in Christ, people from every tribe, race, language, and nation. We are a chosen PEOPLE!
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
You can’t be a people by yourself. You can’t fellowship by yourself. You can’t fellowship listening to the radio or watching the TV.
Christian, this I know: you will never come to a full understanding of everything you have in Christ on your own. You will never grow in Christlikeness all on your own. You need fellow Christians around you to encourage you, to challenge you, to correct you, to sharpen you, to slap you upside the head when you’re acting like a doofus.
It’s through personal interactions with others that we grow. I am who I am because of the other Christians God has placed in my life; I am who I am because of my wife, my parents, my pastors, my friends, my professors, my church family; I am who I am because of you.
I need you. We need each other. This is just exactly what God intended: that His people would be part of a fellowship.
The Lord gave us one another and intends for His people to be part of a fellowship...
A fellowship with a fresh perspective
In Christ, “it’s a whole new world, [with] a new fantastic point of view”. Having a relationship with Christ changes the way we think (or it should). It should change the way we think about and see other people, especially.
Jesus shatters our old perceptions and gives us a new set of glasses with which to view the world.
Jesus stepped onto the stage of history and shook-up the established order of things.
In Christ, there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile:
28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Jesus Christ destroyed the barrier, the division between Jew and Gentile, making the two groups one (Ephesians 2:14).
In Acts 15, the Church council met to determine how one became acceptable to God. Some said that the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to belong to the people of God.
But the leaders of the Church said, “No sir!
11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Because of Jesus, we have a different way of looking at one another.
As you know, our sinful, fallen human nature loves to create barriers.
In our country, the division between north and south is very real. The Mason-Dixon still serves today as the figurative dividing line between the North and the South, ideologically. There’s a definite barrier there. We northerners will always be Yankees to them there southerners.
There’s even division between statelines. There are Jayhawks and then there’s everyone else. :)
The fellowship we enjoy as Christians is different. We know that any barrier man makes, God can and will tear down.
Philemon was a Gentile; he would have known all about barriers, all about what it was like to be an outsider. He was, in the eyes of some, a second-class member of the family of God because he wasn’t Jewish.
Philemon knew what it was like to be looked down upon. And he knew the freedom that the gospel brings.
Paul wants Philemon to view Onesimus with the eyes of Christ. “Onesimus—that man who was a slave of yours—well, it’s time you look at him differently.”
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.
Paul says, “If you, Philemon, consider me a partner—a fellowshipper, a koinonier—you need to welcome Onesimus as you would welcome me. You and Onesimus have more in common than you realize. Receive Onesimus as you would receive me (Paul).”
This is a big paradigm shift for Philemon. It always is when barriers are in the way. Philemon needs to understand: Onesimus doesn’t need more forgiving or more gospel. We all stand on the same, level ground.
Paul wants Philemon to welcome Onesimus as one deeply loved, deeply valued, deeply forgiven. Onesimus is to be welcomed as a dearly loved brother, not as a runaway slave.
For us, we have to stop thinking about anyone in regard to their past. If they are a Christian, they aren’t who they used to be. Their past record doesn’t stand against them. And whenever you start to look at someone and think, “Oh, yeah, I remember what they did. I know what kind of person they are...” remember and give thanks that God doesn’t keep a record of your wrongs.
Remember, give thanks, repent for holding something against that person, and ask the Lord to give you a new perspective, because that’s what Christian fellowship is all about—it’s about being in Christ, not about class or status or race or ethnicity or the past; it’s about Jesus.
>The Lord intends for His people to be a part of a fellowship:
A gospel-ized fellowship
I couldn’t think of a better way to put this. It was a little bit frustrating; auto-correct on my laptop kept trying to correct this to gospel-iced, like that somehow makes more sense.
A gospel-ized fellowship is one that is focused upon the gospel, one that is thoroughly gospel-centered.
Philemon 18-19 are a clear call for gospelized fellowship. Paul incarnates the gospel; we can’t miss this.
18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.
This is exactly what Jesus did for us. Our debts were transferred to His account. Jesus said, on our behalf, “Charge it to me.”
Paul does what only those who have experienced gospel-grace and gospel-forgiveness can do. He steps-in and offers to take the place of the guilty party.
Paul is living-out the gospel.
And Paul expects Philemon to do the same, where Onesimus is concerned, and in every other area of his life.
20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
What the Lord has already done in Philemon’s life is now to become a reality in his relationship with Onesimus.
So it is with us. We who have experienced the wonder that Jesus came to die for us while we were yet sinners, we who have experienced untold forgiveness and mercy are precisely those who are to extend forgiveness and mercy. We are those who must, must, must live out the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that saves.
Our fellowship must be drenched in the truths of the gospel.
Without the gospel—without the truth that Jesus came as our perfect substitute, to die in our place, taking our sins and giving us His righteousness—without the gospel, we are just existing.
Without the gospel, we’re the Lion’s Club or the 4th of July Committee or a country club without a golf course (though we do have a golf cart).
Without the gospel, we’d just be another organization.
It’s the great truth of the Bible, and is perhaps the entire message of Philemon:
The transforming power of the gospel can and does impact human relationships.
To flip that around, our human relationships are not what they can and should be without the transforming power of the gospel.
It’s about more than existing together, which is exactly what we’re doing if we’re not gospel people.
Our fellowship must live-out the truths of the gospel. Our fellowship must be gospel-ized.
>The Lord intends for His people to be part of a fellowship…
a fellowship marked by extravagant love.
This flows from our fellowship being gospelized.
Here at the end of his letter to Philemon, Paul writes:
21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
“Now, now, Paul! Just slow down, there, buddy. More than you’ve already asked? Um…yeah…okay. Let’s recap: You’ve already asked me to forgive Onesimus—that’s gonna be hard enough. He ran off, stole some stuff, skipped out and left me high and dry. I know I need to forgive him. But now you’re asking me to do even more than that?”
Paul knows—he’s confident—that Philemon will do even more than forgive Onesimus. Philemon will show Onesimus extravagant love.
Like the father in the parable of the lost son, Philemon is to show Onesimus extravagant love, welcome him home, happy to have him back.
Even more than I ask. The implication here is that Philemon might even give Onesimus his freedom, just like the father gives back to the lost son his place in the family once he returns home.
The Church is more than a social gathering; it’s a spiritual community.
If the Church was just a social gathering, then when Onesimus returned after running away and stealing, he would have been shunned; forbidden to enter, persona non grata.
But because it’s a spiritual community, he is received, welcomed, loved, restored, forgiven.
>The fellowship we’re called to have is one of extravagant love, a fellowship marked by love and forgiveness and grace; a fellowship that goes beyond the superficial, one that seeks reconciliation and restoration.
Paul knows the benefits of fellowship; he values fellowship.
22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
I dare say Paul needs fellowship to make it through. He speaks about his fellow workers; he names his closest friends, those who have fellowshipped with him, those who have ministered alongside him—Epaphrus, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke.
And he’s looking forward to being with the church in Colossae once more. He tells them to prepare a guest room for him. His hope, his plan is to return to be with them again (though this won’t happen, it’s his prayer).
Paul valued fellowship because he knew the benefit of true Christian fellowship.
Meghann and I are so close with our friends, Josh and Rachael and the other Josh, that they refer to us as Uncle Barrett and Aunt Meghann. Josh and Rachael’s three kids call us Uncle and Aunt, and we love it.
It was just a few weeks ago, before we all got together that Josiah asked his mom, Rachael, “Um, mom, I’ve been wondering...is Uncle Barrett on your side of the family or dad’s side of the family?”
Rachael chuckled and said, “Well...neither.”
“How does that work?” asked Josiah.
She set out to explain to her eldest son that we are really good friends who have known each other for years. And what’s more, that we are family because of Jesus—closer than family, really.
Poor Josiah had been trying to work out the family tree in his head. Little does he know that his family tree is gigantic, because of Jesus.
And the fellowship we all enjoy is an expression of all that we have in Jesus—a new perspective; a gospelized fellowship marked by extravagant love for one another.
>Fellowship has to be more than a buzz word for us. It really should be more than a word Christians like to toss around, more than Christian-ese (that language we speak that no one else understands).
The way I see it, we need to prioritize fellowship. We need to live life with one another in such a way that it honors Christ, that we grow alongside one another, that we grow together to be more and more like Jesus.
I’ve thought about and prayed about how this will play out. I’ve prayed about this for years, about how we can be more active in our fellowship.
I believe the best way to do this is to start some Fellowship Groups (some call them small groups or home groups; it’s all the same).
On our website, there’s a sign-up (www.richhillcc.org/fellowship-groups). If there’s not enough interest to form more than a group or two, that’s fine. We’ll start with those and move forward.
I know we’re busy, all of us busier than the next. But if we don’t have time for that which is most important (our walk with Jesus), than we are in a world of hurt.
We need one another. We are meant to be with one another in true Christian fellowship. It’s what Paul is urging Philemon and Onesimus to do—to forgive one another, love one another; to reflect Christ and the gospel. Paul’s calling us to true, authentic fellowship.
The practice of authentic fellowship holds amazing potential for change in the world—in your personal world and in the world at large.
May Jesus be praised and glorified through us, and may we be blessed as we fellowship with one another!