I will never forget the brother who wanted to meet me for lunch. I thought we were there to talk about the Lord, but eventually he came around to his real goal. “Where can I find fellowship around here?”
I quickly discovered that he was looking for a church or a group to attend, and when I said I couldn’t help him with that, he was crestfallen. “I was so hoping to find fellowship around here!”
I still find it ironic that the brother could have had all the fellowship he wanted had he only recognized the opportunity right in front of him. What am I, a potted plant? But what he wanted wasn’t really fellowship. He wanted a group of “like-minded people” who would accept, affirm, and appreciate him.
Of course, it is more spiritual and noble to say that we are “looking for fellowship” than to say that we are interested in serving our own self-centered need to be socially connected with people who think, believe, and behave just like we do. That quest is the motivating force that drives a self-centered faith, and that in turn is the foundation of a church-centered faith. Yet both of these are the antithesis of a Christ-centered faith, where Jesus (not self or church) is the focus.
Finding a church, home fellowship, or small group to “plug into” isn’t that difficult. The difficulty is getting to the bottom of why you feel the need to be plugged in. Jesus did not say being plugged into a church, home fellowship, or small group is essential to our spiritual life; but He did say that if we are “plugged in” to Him (that is, if we abide in Him as the branch abides in the Vine) then we will produce an abundance of fruit. Thus, the key factor in our spiritual growth, maturity, and fruitfulness is Christ – not people. Perhaps this general failure to abide in the Vine – living, dwelling, being in Him – is the reason why we feel the compulsion to look to people to supply what is lacking.
When I stopped looking to people to supply what only the Lord can give anyway then I suddenly found great satisfaction in just being with Him. I also found my interactions with people more enjoyable, because I wasn’t looking to people as my source of fulfillment. That meant I was free from being a people-pleaser, always concerned with people’s opinions of me, always afraid I might say or do the wrong thing. And, instead of all the drama usually associated with disagreements over doctrines and other issues, I could simply love people – and let them go – because I wasn’t hanging on to them in the first place.
I also discovered that what I used to think was Christian “fellowship” is not based on Christ, after all; it is based on attending the same group. If it is based on Christ then the fellowship would continue whether you attend the same group or not. If you find yourself losing friends after you stop attending church with them then you can rest assured that it wasn’t true fellowship. And if church was the only bond holding you together then it wasn’t even a good friendship. So, in either case, you aren’t missing anything too terribly important.
Is there a place for fellowship? Absolutely! In fact, I know of three really good fellowships you can join today! If you are looking for fellowship with people and having a hard time making the connection, or if you are fed up and burned out with “like-minded people” who turn out to be anything but, then consider joining one, two, or all three of these fellowships. You will not be disappointed!
1. The Fellowship of the Son
“God is faithful, by Whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9)
We are called into the Fellowship of His Son! What a high, holy, honorable thing this is! You can’t join this fellowship by church attendance, going to meetings, or listening to preaching. You join this wonderful fellowship the moment you decide to become a real disciple of Jesus. This Fellowship of the Son does not begin with other people; it begins with Jesus, and our relationship to Him. Giving Him the preeminence means putting Him first and holding this relationship in the highest esteem. To abide in Him means to dwell in Him, live in Him, be joined to Him.
The glorious thing about this particular Fellowship is its universality. Once you join the Fellowship of the Son you enjoy all the privileges of membership, where ever you go, where ever you are. This Fellowship recognizes no barriers or borders. It crosses all denominational lines. Membership is for “whosoever will.” It is open to men and women, young and old, rich and poor, to people of all races, all tongues, all nations.
Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). Anyone may join this Fellowship! That includes the unsaved, of course; but this was originally written to those lukewarm Christians in Laodicea! Neither cold nor hot, they had settled into the comfortable routine of fellowship with one another, boasting in their prosperity, leaving the Lord on the outside, knocking to get back in. They were all “like-minded” – and lukewarm! This is what happens when Religion becomes more important than Relationship.
The Fellowship of the Son is for those who are ready to embrace a Christ-centered faith over a man-centered religion. For the Jews, it meant following Jesus and leaving Judaism behind. For most people today, it means following Jesus and leaving church behind. That does not mean leaving God’s people behind, or cutting yourself off from the Body of Christ. It simply means you are now ready to join…
2. The Fellowship of the Saints in the Light
“If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7).
When you join man’s church, you are necessarily restricting your fellowship and limiting your options to the handful of people you happen to associate with. Your world becomes smaller and smaller. You lose sight of the bigger picture. You are all-knowing about what is happening in your little group, but mostly ignorant about the church next door, the people across town, the persecuted believers in other countries. This is how hundreds of churches can exist in a large city and have almost no interaction or knowledge of one another. When two churches do get together for a joint service it is a major event and feels at once kind of precious and kind of strange and uncomfortable, as if you are fellowshipping with strangers who seem nice but you aren’t sure what they may be up to. To everyone’s relief, these ecumenical happenings only occur once in a great while; people quickly go back to the comfortable and the familiar. This is how man’s church operates.
The Fellowship of the Saints in the Light is open to everyone who is part of the Fellowship of the Son. Since the Fellowship of the Son is universal, global, and preeminent over every possible division, so the Fellowship of the Saints in the Light recognizes no artificial boundaries. This Fellowship is spiritual, and the Son remains the central focus.
But there is a condition for membership, and not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” can join! The condition is this: “If we walk in the light as He is in the light…” This is what binds members in this unique Fellowship – not our customs, not our traditions, not our doctrinal nuances and minute opinions and beliefs, not our geographic location, not our talk, but simply our walk! “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6,7). “The faith” here is the Christ-centered faith, not the self-centered or church-centered faith.
But see what happens! As we embrace Christ, we walk in the light. Now, all who embrace Christ and walk in the light have something in common. That is real “communion” – a common union. This is what true “like-mindedness” should consist of: Not that we all think, talk, or believe that exact same things, but that we walk in the light, which is simply following Jesus and putting Him first.
So, we join the Fellowship of the Son when we receive Christ Jesus the Lord; we join the Fellowship of the Saints in the Light when we walk in Him as we received Him. When we do this, “We have fellowship with one another,” Scripture declares! We do not have to seek fellowship, make it happen, or force it to come about; it just is.
That is wonderful all by itself. But there is a yet a third fellowship we may join. This is optional, but highly recommended! It is…
3. The Fellowship of His Sufferings
“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” (Phl. 3:10).
I say this is “optional” but it isn’t always a choice. Sometimes when you follow Jesus and walk in the light you invite persecution, misunderstanding, and conflict – mostly from people who don’t understand, haven’t seen what you have seen, haven’t experienced what you have experienced, and don’t have a clue.
Then there are all the things that just “come to pass” in our lives, not because we have done anything wrong, but simply because life happens and things don’t always go as planned. We have challenges, difficulties, problems, circumstances beyond our control. We pray for the best and plan for the worst, and sometimes, despite everything, we just get hammered.
The secret to living is to accept this as normal, not as a sign that you have done something wrong or that God is displeased with you or that you lack the faith necessary to live a prosperous, successful life. Paul’s approach is to use his difficult tests and hardships to motivate him towards a higher spiritual life that isn’t bound by earthly circumstances.
But the Fellowship of His Sufferings is not just about being persecuted for your beliefs or going through the usual trials and tribulations of life. For a long time I had no idea what Paul was talking about here. Didn’t Jesus suffer for Me? Why should I suffer? What is the Fellowship of His Sufferings, anyway? And why would I or anyone else want to join this Fellowship?
Then God showed me. I would like to now show you. First, ask yourself: What motivated Jesus to die on the cross? In a simple word, Love – love for God, and love for the world. Now ask yourself: What motivated Paul to preach Jesus? The man was excommunicated, beaten three times with rods, chastised five times with whips (39 stripes each, for a total of 195 welts across his back and legs), stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, arrested, imprisoned, nearly torn apart by a mob, afflicted by a messenger of satan, in peril among false brothers, persecuted by the Jews, mocked by the Gentiles… and the list goes on. Ultimately, he was beheaded by Caesar. Why would Paul endure these things? The same reason, and the same answer, as to why Jesus would endure the humiliation of the cross: Love. Love for God, love for God’s people Israel, love for God’s people in the Ekklesia, and love for the Lost. This is the kind of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:7,8).
But you see, the reason this love never fails is because “love suffers long” (1 Cor. 13:4). Love always suffers! Love willingly suffers! Love gladly suffers! Anything less than Love is doomed to fail because, at some point, the price becomes too much to bear for anyone not motivated by Love. Only Love is willing to pay any price.
And so it is that to truly know Christ – “to know Him and the power of His resurrection” to the uttermost extreme, to the uttermost depth – we must experience the same suffering of Love that Christ suffered. Then, we will know Him and the power of His resurrection, which is both the suffering and the victory of Love. Only then can we experience both the agony and the joy of His Love as a full-fledged member in the Fellowship of His Sufferings. This Fellowship is the most exclusive of all, for its members are those “who love not their own lives unto death” (Rev. 12:11).
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Now, the next time someone asks you where they can find fellowship, show them these things. Or give this them article. If you have already joined any of these Fellowships without realizing it, I hope you find encouragement and confirmation that you are exactly where you need to be. And, if you are still looking for fellowship, I hope you know now where you can find it.