Last week we read about six features of the Early Church. We read that the first Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And as a result God worked many miracles of healing and deliverance so everybody was in awe, and day by day more people were being saved. I want to develop what we said last week about the life of the Early Church and think some more about that vital ingredient of church which the Bible calls fellowship.
The word fellowship means sharing something in common. Last week we saw in Acts 2 what that meant to the first Christians in practice.
Acts 244 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
Together. Holding everything in common. Giving to anyone who had need. Meeting all together in the Temple and eating together in their homes. Fellowship in the Early Church meant much more than just having a cup of tea together after the time of worship. The passage we read today from Acts 4 illustrates the point.
Acts 4 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
Those first Christians shared everything they had. And here is a phrase which sums up what Christian fellowship should be about. “All the believers were one in heart and mind.”
One heart – one mind! Sharing together, living a common life. One Baptist church Leeds decided to change its name to better reflect what church is really about. They chose the name, “Sharing life.” Their goal was to share life together with each other, and share that new life with the world around. “Sharing life.”
Of course the most important things those first Christians had in common with each other, and indeed with us today, are all the blessings of fellowship with God. Sharing forgiveness of sins, sharing eternal life and the hope of heaven, sharing the relationship of children with the same heavenly Father. As 1 John 1:3 says,
3 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.
Christians have fellowship with God and so we have fellowship with each other. One in heart and mind. Sharing life. Let me suggest three aspects of what this might mean for us today, three elements of genuine Christian fellowship.
CARING FOR ONE ANOTHER
Showing true brotherly love, God’s kind of love, for brother and sister Christians. As Jesus has commanded all his disciples.
John 13 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Loving other people is not always easy. In the Snoopy cartoon, Charlie Brown spoke for many people when he said, “I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand!” But even when it is difficult, God calls us to show His kind of love to each other in the church.
In today’s world many people are dragged down by LONELINESS. In their song Eleanor Rigby the Beatles sang,
“All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people. Where do they all belong?”
God calls us as Christians to care for all the lonely people and offer them that rare commodity, genuine friendship. Unconditional acceptance.
Then there are many people wrestling with BOREDOM. Christian fellowship will always include purposeful activity. Participating in all kind of activities together – and not just “spiritual” activities either. Sharing life together by caring for one another.
Hebrews 10 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We all need spurring on sometimes. Everybody needs inspiration and support to keep on going. Living the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Actually, the Christian life is even more like a relay. It’s a team cooperating together. Spurring each other on.
So we need to meet together, and not just on Sundays. We have Home Groups for Bible Study and prayer and also our Tuesday evening prayer meeting, “Draw near to God.” Then we also have Kraft Klub on Thursdays and Drop In on Fridays. And let’s not forget the value of meeting together in 2s and 3s. Don’t give up meeting together!
And encourage one another. We should take every opportunity to encourage other Christians in our faith and witness.
Sharing life together. Romans 12:13 says, Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Hospitality – welcoming each other into our homes for a cup of tea or a sandwich and a good chat together. God cares for us and He wants us to care for each other too!
Fellowship means caring for each other. But it’s more than that. Fellowship in the early church also meant,
SHARING everything together
Acts 244 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
Acts 432 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. … 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Sharing their possessions to make sure nobody was in need. Throughout the centuries there have been Christians such as monks and nuns who have lived a common life, sharing everything together. One very interesting expression of “Emerging Churches” or “Fresh Streams of Church” over the last 20 years or so have been the appearance of what are called “New Monastic Communities.” Christians sharing possessions and living in community. But we can share a common life without going so far as living in the same building.
For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
One common expression of this kind of sharing is what we call the “Fellowship Fund”, or some churches call the “Communion Fund.” The church sets apart money to be used entirely confidentially when different needs arise among members of the church and congregation. If you know of somebody who is in financial difficulties, do speak to me at any time.
In Borehamwood Baptist Church the Leaders of our Church Plant Elstree Free Church Richard and Heather Cameron had been missionaries with Baptist Missionary Society in Nepal. One day Richard and I were driving a furniture van to and from Leicester for one of our members who was moving house. I only mention that because that was a very practical example of caring for each other. On that journey I happened to ask Richard if the churches in Nepal had the equivalent of our Fellowship Fund or Communion Fund and what proportion of the church’s budget was used in that way to meet the needs of members of the church. It struck me when Richard said that in that sense their Fellowship Fund was always more than 100% of the church budget. In Nepal each congregation would have a budget for what they needed to spend on their building and the expenses of the church. But then from time to time members of the church would face different kinds of needs, often medical expenses but sometimes just a need for food or clothing. And whenever that happened the Christians would have a special offering for the needs of those people. And over the year the total collected and given to support church members in need was invariably greater than the total amount spent on the expenses of running the church. Sharing everything together.
In fact, Richard went on to explain that the churches in Nepal would not restrict their giving to people who were members of the church. The Christians would hold a special offering if somebody in the village was in need even if that person was not a Christian. That generosity was part of the churches’ witness to the community. Sharing everything together to help people in need.
Then there are other ways for Christians to help and encourage one another by sharing possessions. Over the years people have loaned or even given us all kinds of things, and we in turn have been able to lend or give things to other people. Lawnmower, iron, vacuum cleaner, vax, ladder, tape recorder, PC, laptop, video camera, even a car. And lots of books and videos and DVDs. It’s good to lend things to other people – it reminds us that “our” possessions don’t really belong to us, they belong to God. He decides what we should do with them. And of course it is also good to give things away – especially if they are things we really miss when they’re gone.
As Christians we should gladly share our possessions, out of gratitude for all the blessings God has poured upon us.
Romans 15 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings
But more than gratitude, we have a responsibility to provide for the needs of others who may not have the necessities when we enjoy so many luxuries.
James 2 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
1 John 3 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
Sharing everything together is an essential expression of true Christian fellowship. The Message translation puts it this way.
Acts 4:32 The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything.
Sharing life. Caring for one another. Sharing everything together, and
BEARING ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS
Galatians 6:2 Bear each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Sometimes folk are carrying huge burdens. Illness. Bereavement. Disability. Debt. Family breakdown. Unemployment. Impossible neighbours. Depression. Stress. Crises of faith.
Many more people are dragged down by less obvious burdens. Pressures of family, children, ageing parents. Trapped by lack of transport. Pressures of work. Limited budget. And all of us get ill sometimes.
If we could practise bearing one another’s burdens in the smaller things, we would do better when the big problems come along. Of course it should go without saying that bearing burdens is not just the minister’s job. Every Christian can share in this task of bearing each other’s burdens. There are so many ways Christians can help each other. You might be able to help somebody by offering babysitting, or transport, or helping with odd jobs around the house. And there are folk who would really appreciate just an hour of your time to chat.
There are some folk in life you know you can always turn to. They will always be there for you, to help you out. They will bend over backwards for you. That’s what true fellowship is all about. I can’t remember who said these words, but they are true. “God doesn’t call us to solitary sainthood, but to fellowship in a company of committed men and women.”
Caring for each other, sharing everything together, bearing one another’s burdens. The old hymn puts it so well.
49 John Fawcett.
BLEST BE THE TIE that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts and our cares. We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear, And often for each other flows
The sympathising tear. When for a while we part,
This thought will soothe our pain, That we shall still be joined in heart,
Sharing life. One in heart and mind. Just one more word for us to think about today. We noticed this word last week in Acts 2:44 and we find the same word today in Acts 4:32. The word is ALL.
Acts 4 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind.
Acts 2 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
ALL. No exceptions. Everybody was included. Nobody was left out of the fellowship they enjoyed. ALL of those first Christians shared in their common life. As we said last week, it was Paul Simon who sang, “I am a rock, I am an island.” But there are no rocks and no islands in the body of Christ, the church. We all belong together.
Acts 4:32 The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind!
Caring for each other, sharing everything together, bearing one another’s burdens. “Sharing life.” The first Christians devoted themselves to the fellowship! So should we!