So, I seem to be on a “unity” kick lately, huh? I’m probably thinking more about unity because I’ve been reading John H. Armstrong’s book Your Church is Too Small. But, actually, I’ve been thinking about and writing about unity for quite some time.
Three years ago, I wrote a post called “There is something fundamental about fellowship.” This post casts our unity with one another in the language of fellowship. Our fellowship with one another (or lack of fellowship) is a demonstration of our fellowship with God (or lack of fellowship).
Fellowship… There is something about fellowship that makes it fundamental to the church. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he answered:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)
There are at least two amazing things about this passage. First, Jesus did not stop with the commandment to “Love the Lord your God”. It would seem that commandment would be enough. Instead, he said there is a second command that is like it. Similarly, Jesus said that the Law and the Prophets depend on both of these commandments. Again, the Law and Prophets do not just depend on “Love the Lord your God”. The Law and the Prophets also depend on the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
There seems to be a fundamental connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with other people. John said something similar in his first letter:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 ESV)
This seems very simple. If we love God, we will love others. If we do not love others, that demonstrates that we do not love God. The two are fundamentally connected.
In the prologue to his first letter, John also discussed our relationship with God in terms of our relationship with one another:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) with us; and indeed our fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3 ESV)
When we have fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± – koinonia) with one another, we are demonstrating our fellowship with God. Verse 3 could even be translated as follows: “… that you too may have fellowship with us, and that fellowship of ours is truly with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ.”
We cannot separate our love for God from our love for other people. We cannot separate our fellowship with God from our fellowship with other believers. Fellowship is fundamental in the life of a believer and in the inter-connected lives of a group of believers.
But, just as we cannot create love for God and others, we cannot create fellowship either. Instead, the Spirit creates a bond between His adopted children that humans cannot create on their own. The fellowship (“sharing”) that we have in common is the presence of the Holy Spirit. And, this fellowship exists between all believers. Certainly relationships can be deep or shallow, intimate or surface-level, but fellowship between believers is created by the Spirit, not by our interaction with one another. Relationships that are based on this Spirit-created fellowship should be nurtured, strengthened, encouraged, and sought through continued interaction. But, those relationships must be built fundamentally on Spirit-created fellowship.
What does it mean for fellowship to be fundamental to believers and the church? Here are two examples:
Discipleship depends on fellowship…
When we recognize that discipleship is more than simply teaching facts to someone, then the fundamental role of fellowship becomes clear. Discipleship requires sharing life together. Without fellowship, discipleship is reduced to the transfer of information, which is not true discipleship at all.
Discipline depends on fellowship…
When a brother or sister is living in unrepentant sin, we are taught to disassociate with that brother or sister. In modern times this has been reduced to preventing attendance at certain activities. However, if there is true fellowship involved, then discipline requires the rupture of vibrant relationships: like divorce in a family, back when divorce was not an accepted option.
Fellowship… There is something about fellowship that makes it fundamental to the church. I want to learn more about fellowship. Perhaps others could share what they’ve learned about Spirit-enabled, Spirit-created, Spirit-driven fellowship…