An Assembly of the Lord’s people will be a people among whom ... Fellowship is Enjoyed - Part 2

John Scarsbrook, Killamarsh, England

Part 2 of 3 of the series An Assembly of the Lord’s people will be a people among whom ...

Precious Seed

There are two topics under consideration in this subject. First, we need to establish who the ‘people’ are. Then, we must seek to understand what is meant by and involved in ‘fellowship’.
 
According to the latest statistics provided by Wikipedia, approximately one third of the world’s population would identify as ‘Christian’. A further 25%, and rising, are adherents to Islam, followed by those who claim ‘no religion’ 16%, Hinduism, also 16%, and Buddhism 7%. The balance is made up of traditional and ethnic religions in varying lesser numbers.
 
The term ‘Christian’ is a very broad expression. Those who profess allegiance to Christianity include Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches, together with a variety of persuasions loosely based on some form of biblical interpretation. All would claim the Bible, to some degree, as their foundational guide and handbook, finding in its pages some means of justifying their beliefs and practices, even though other scriptures would clearly contradict their theology. 
 
Although the Bible, preserved through the centuries to our present day, is the book of Christianity, the word ‘Christian’ only occurs three times and each of those in the context of possible ridicule and opposition. 1 In those first-century days, the message of the gospel was being preached – a message of personal salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus. The megalithic structure of Christendom which developed over the centuries, with its vast, ornate buildings, iconic statues, sacerdotal liturgy and ceremonials was never envisaged in those early days.
 
When the Lord Jesus said, in Matthew chapter 16 verse 18, ‘I will build my church’, His reference was not to a solid structure of stone, neither did it anticipate any organization controlled by a hierarchy of ecclesiastical appointees. The church to which the Lord Jesus referred is composed of people, those who have heeded the gospel message, repented of their sin and trusted the One who died and rose again for their salvation. The doctrine concerning the church is explained and developed through the writings of the apostles. In picture language, the church in its entirety is variously spoken of: in its composition, as a body, of which Christ in heaven is the head, Col. 1. 18; in its construction, as a building, of ‘living stones’, not bricks and mortar, 1 Pet. 2. 5; and in its consummation, as a bride, Eph. 5. 25-27.
 
The New Testament uses a number of expressions to indicate those, and only those, who are part of, and belong to, the church which the Lord Jesus undertook to build. They are called disciples, saints, brethren and sisters, believers, and Christians. Again, the scripture uses appropriate words to identify those who can claim to be part of or members of the church. They are saved, converted, born again. From the day of Pentecost, Acts chapter 2, to this present moment, irrespective of age, social standing or ethnicity, all, both male and female, saved by the grace of God, cleansed by the precious blood of Christ, have a place in that great company, the church, and the assurance of a home in heaven for eternity.
 
The book of Acts describes the progress and development of the work of the apostles and early believers in spreading the gospel through preaching and teaching. From Jerusalem the message was carried by those saved at Pentecost to the far reaches around the Mediterranean and North Africa. This was followed by the missionary exploits of Paul, his companions and other of the apostles. The result was that companies of Christians were brought together in many geographical locations, identifiable by their faith in the Lord Jesus. A number of these received letters from the apostle Paul and others, teaching and encouraging them; letters which the Spirit of God has preserved to form the larger part of our New Testament.
 
Over the years there has, sadly, been a fragmentation of Christian witness which has resulted in denominational titles based on national identity, the life and teaching of a particular individual, or association with a specific doctrine or practice. Yet, from those early days, the gospel has continued to spread and, today, worldwide, groups of Christians are found meeting together, rejecting titles which would identify them as a denomination, seeking only to maintain the doctrines and practices as given through the apostles. These autonomous companies are portrayed in scripture as ‘local churches’, each being a microcosm of that great company of believers who make up the church of which the Lord Jesus spoke. 
 
One fundamental feature which marked the early disciples is found in Acts chapter 2 verse 42, which tells us ‘they continued steadfastly in . . . fellowship’; so, what does this mean?
 
Fellowship is a word we often use with a measure of understanding, but seldom appreciate as we should. We speak of being ‘in fellowship’ in a certain place; also of ‘having fellowship’ with other people. Some speak of ‘belonging to the fellowship’, and we may refer to the matter of ‘receiving into fellowship’. We need to understand, however, that true fellowship in the context of a New Testament church or assembly is not formed by association, or by identification, or even by participation. The reality of being ‘in fellowship’ essentially involves my whole manner of life. It includes what I am, what I do, what I say, what I think and what I give. Fellowship is not a position I seek to attain, but a spiritual condition that I should enjoy. We have seen that fellowship for those early Christians was not something haphazard, temporary or casual; but they ‘continued steadfastly’. There was earnest perseverance and diligence; it was an integral part of their life.

The word most often translated ‘fellowship’ in our New Testament has to do with partnership or sharing in common with others. On other occasions it is translated ‘communion’, 1 Cor. 10. 16; 2 Cor. 6. 14, or ‘contribution’, Rom. 15. 26. The essential foundation for fellowship is new birth. Without the salvation taught and explained in the scriptures there can be no basis or indeed desire for fellowship. The apostle Paul makes it clear, in his second letter to the Christians at Corinth, that, in the purposes of God, there cannot be any fellowship, communion, concord, part or agreement of believers with unbelievers, 2 Cor. 6. 14-17. This does not mean that the Christian is to take a monastic approach and avoid contact with those of the world; on the contrary, there should be a genuine concern and care which reaches out with the gospel to those not saved. However, fellowship implies single-mindedness, a desire to move in the same direction with similar aspirations, ambitions and hopes; all of which would be diametrically opposed to the wants and ways of the world. 
 
The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians of the great dignity associated with salvation. Writing to those whom he says are ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’, he assures them that, because ‘God is faithful’, they have been ‘called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord’, 1 Cor. 1. 2, 9. The apostle John later expressed a desire that believers should enjoy fellowship one with another, in the knowledge that ‘our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ’, 1 John 1. 3.
 
The heading of this article speaks of ‘enjoying’ fellowship and that should be the experience of all the people of God. It is unfortunate, however, that it is not always possible to fulfil that desire even with true, born again believers, in view of the position they adopt regarding certain doctrines or the practices they allow within their own circles. It can, nevertheless, be a worthwhile occupation to engage with them to discuss and enjoy ‘common ground’, while also applying the scriptures to determine the mind of the Lord where opinions differ.
 
Most New Testament assemblies are made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. There are differences of age, education, culture and spiritual development. On a basic human level, any friendship between many of these individuals would be unlikely, even impossible, let alone the close ties of fellowship. However, that is exactly what the new birth achieves, ‘old things are passed away . . . all things are become new’, 2 Cor. 5. 17. By salvation we are brought into a family relationship with all the potential to enjoy ‘the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him’, 1 Cor. 2. 9.
 
The enjoyment of fellowship is within the reach of all who are privileged to be associated with like-minded believers. The starting point is acceptance of the word of God and obedience to it. Regular attendance at all the arranged meetings and a prayerful involvement in all the activities of the local church will go with this.
 
It is the responsibility of all those associated with the assembly, to ‘keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’, Eph. 4. 3. For those who have a duty to watch over and ‘feed the flock of God’ there is the day-to- day care and general ordering of the assembly. Furthermore, there is a need for a ministry of encouragement. There should be concern that no member should feel marginalized or undervalued. In order that all might enjoy fellowship, there is a need to nurture every spark of spiritual progress, to encourage every evidence of initiative and well-directed ambition, and to be constantly building for the future wellbeing of the people of God.
 
Endnote
 1 Acts 11. 26; 26. 28; 1 Pet. 4. 16.

There are 22 articles in
ISSUE (2019, Volume 74 Issue 1)

A Word for Today

Adoption

An Assembly of the Lord’s people will be a people among whom ... Fellowship is Enjoyed - Part 2

Battles Christians Face – Tackling big issues with confidence - Vaughan Roberts

Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs The Proud Man - Part 5

Cover Image

Editorial - ‘Jesus standing’, John 20. 14.

TheEpistle to the Colossians - Part 4

Evolution and the Christian Faith – Theistic evolution in the light of Scripture - Philip Bell

Herod the Great

Job, part of What the Bible Teaches series of Old Testament Commentaries - David Newell

Major-General Sir Charles H. Scott, KCB, RA 1848-1919

TheMessianic Psalms - Psalm 110

Paul the Priest - Part 1

Pleased to Dwell – A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation - Peter Mead

Public Preaching and Personal Evangelism, Acts 8

Question Time

Seed Sowing in the Marketplace and the Shows

The Street Life Foodbank

TheTwelve Tribes of Israel - LEVI

What does the Bible tell us about the future? - Part 2 ‘I will come again’

TheWise Men from the East ‘We are come to worship him’

There are 2 articles in this series

An Assembly of the Lord’s people will be a people among whom ... - Part 1 - The Lordship of Christ is Recognized

An Assembly of the Lord’s people will be a people among whom ... Fellowship is Enjoyed - Part 2

There are 67 articles by this author

The Privilege

The Responsibility

The John Ritchie Library

The Church at Philadelphia

The Days when the Judges ruled (1)

OTHNIEL - the Lion of God (2)

EHUD and SHAMGAR (3)

Deborah - a mother in Israel (4)

Gideon - the weak confounding the mighty (5/1)

Gideon - the weak confounding the mighty (5/2)

ABIMELECH the ‘Bramble King’ (6)

JEPHTHAH - A Man of Contradictions (7)

SAMSON - A model of Inconsistency (8/1)

Samson a model of inconsistency

Abijah

The Throne of His father David

Church Gatherings - Part 1

Church Gatherings - Part 2 - Teaching and being taught

Church Gatherings - Part 3 - The Breaking of Bread

Developing and renewing eldership

Manasseh and Amon

Josiah - Part 1

Josiah - Part 2

Jehoahaz to Zedekiah

Poisoned Soul – the deadly effects of bitterness - Paul Young

Living with the glory of the Lord – Ezekiel’s Prophecy - Malcolm Davis

Indispensible Ordinance: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the Head Covering - Romel Ghossain

The New Calvinists, Changing the Gospel - E. S. Williams

Learning to Lead – Next Generation - David Clarkson and Stephen McQuoid

Travel with Jonathan Edwards – A God-centred life, an enduring legacy

Their Finest Hour - Esther

A Study of First Thessalonians: The Model Church, Gary McBride

The Riches of Divine Wisdom, David Gooding

Wisdom for Fools – 101 Proverbs to Live By, Shane Watson

Then came a Rich Man of Arimathea

Looking for the Glory – An Exposition of the Epistle to Titus - Adam D. Thropay

If it wasn’t for the Lighthouse Bill and Irene Ridgeway

Nathan the Prophet

Gleanings from the book of Ruth - Alex Dryburgh

How to Master the Bible - Martin Anstey

The Land and People of Israel, what does the future hold? - Drew Craig

Stories from Luke’s Gospel - Robert Craig

TheExtent of the Atonement - James Morison

TheNature of the Atonement - James Morison

Day by Day – Through the Bible Edited - Ken Totton

Insects of the Bible - Tom H. Ratcliffe

Precious Seed 70th Anniversary Edition

Beginnings: Old Testament Overview Volume 1 - Richard Catchpole

Christian Frontline Series: The Christian and Money - Hansruedi Graf

God’s weeping prophet and wayward people: Jeremiah’s prophecy and Lamentations - Malcolm C. Davis

Joshua

Judges

Ruth

Pocket Commentary Series – 1st John

New Treasury of Bible Doctrine: ‘Things most surely believed’

Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs - Part 1

Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs - Part 2: The Wise Man and His Companions

False Apocalypse, False Gospel, False Witnesses - Donald C. B. Cameron.

The People’s Bible – The remarkable history of the King James Version - Derek Wilson

Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs - Part 3: The fool and his friends

Their Finest Hour - Peter

Truth and Training from Titus - Stephen G. Baker

His Coming – A Guide to Future Events - Various Authors

New Testament Priests, Speak Up! - Mike Stephenson

Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs - The Sluggard - Part4

An Assembly of the Lord’s people will be a people among whom ... Fellowship is Enjoyed - Part 2

Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs The Proud Man - Part 5