One of the things most of us hope for when we are part of a church body is the sense of community, of belonging, or of being in fellowship one with another.
When I am speaking of fellowship, I am not really speaking of getting together over food and fun even though that may often happen. I am speaking more about a community bound together in mutual support, companionship, and friendship stemming from shared values and beliefs.
Because life on this earth is messy, experiencing this type of fellowship can often include some ruts or rocks along the way since we all continue to bear the taint of our sin natures even though redeemed. I think we all can struggle with that from time to time, or one degree to another.
What makes this fellowship and community so difficult?
I am sure we can all come up with lists or have some opinions about it, but as I have been reading in my time with the Lord today, I think He points us back to the “big rock” principle He lays down for us.
How do I love my brother or sister, my neighbor?
At the outset, I think none of us do this as well as we would like or might even pride ourselves on doing. I certainly don’t! Yet repeatedly from Old Testament to New Testament each of us is called to do so.
One place I bumped into it today was in Leviticus 19:17:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor lest you incur sin because of him.”Leviticus 19:17 (ESV)
I can quickly say that I don’t hate someone, but as I delve more deeply into the principles under the verse, I discover it includes a responsibility to God to respect my brother or sister. That adds a dimension I may not first think about when reading a verse such as this.
Respecting someone means having a feeling of deep admiration for someone, holding that person in regard or esteem, acting with deference toward or in civility with the person. This sounds a lot like godly love to me.
That fits with the two commandments upon which everything else depends on first loving God and then loving our neighbor. We all “know” that. Loving God first is what bends our hearts toward loving our neighbor. Only when we do the first can we hope to attempt the second since it is a reflex to the reality of loving God.
I feel like it can be easy to get stuck because even when we seek to put self to death, it keeps sticking its head up out of the ground repeatedly. That keeps me from loving my brother or sister very well, but what I might fail to recognize is that I might not love God or be in rich fellowship with Him. If that has slipped, then I will mess up in loving anyone else because it will invariably be about me in some way or another.
I think these are some of the sticking points that are a hard part of fellowship, but there is something else. When things get messy for whatever reason and our hearts cause our actions and motives to be less than loving, too often someone does not come alongside us in respect and love to help us recognize what is hindering fellowship with God or others.
That requires a lot more from us. It is easier to be judgmental, to cut off the person, to confront without love, or to become bitter. Because that is the case and this community of believers may have more than just one or two of us during this sort of challenge, fellowship is hard.
We will hurt each other. That’s a given even though it is generally not intentional. Prayerfully, we will seek to forgive in the midst of our own hurt or pain.
We demonstrate how well we love when we bump into Ephesians 4:15:
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”Ephesians 4:15 (ESV)
Most of us know that verse but living it out is another story. Think about it. It means I speak the truth versus my opinion or perspective. I share my honest feeling as a feeling, but not as a fact. It also means I share whatever I am sharing in love while not diminishing the issue.
It is also how I help myself and others grow up in Him and in maturity by being open to them when they (out of love) seek to help me not fail or do poorly. It also means I face my fear and gain courage to speak to them in that way, not from a one up position but from an equally level position.
We need more lessons and practice in loving no matter what our age or season of life, no matter what our position or gender.
If we submit to Him and allow His love to permeate our own hearts, I think fellowship will become less difficult and the community will look more like Him.
I love what C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity:
“God can show Himself as He really is only to real men. And that means not simply to men who are individually good, but to men who are united in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like; like players in one band, or organs in one body. Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God, is the whole Christian community, waiting on Him together.”C.S. Lewis