Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Christian's need for fellowship in the local church

Romans 15:1 "Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not justplease ourselves."

A person does not realize the value of a church family a lot of times until difficulties arise. In America the autonomy of self is held to a premium, which unfortunately affects the way many Christians view the Christian life. Christianity lived apart from the ministry of the local church is artificial and contrary to God's provision for growing believers in discipleship. In my own life, I have found as a person in the pew and as a pastor behind the pulpit the unequalled value of the fellowship of the local church for believers. Currently my family and I are processing the recent loss of my father. I can tell the reader first hand how invaluable my home church, my sister's home church and my mother's home church have been in providing the spiritual and moral support needed in difficult times. Truly the Spirit of God uses the fellowship of believers in the local church to be the hands and feet of Jesus to both His people and the world. 

To illustrate how much the New Testament speaks on the subject of the fellowship of the local church, we will consider verses from the New Testament Epistles. Why the Epistles? These were letters written by the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to churches. As we understand how the early churches expressed their fellowship, we can apply first century truth to twenty-first century life. Notice the following six reasons why Christians need the fellowship of the local church... 

1. Fellowship is needed when one is weak. 
Romans 15:1 begins our brief survey of the New Testament Epistles in regards to the need for the fellowship of the local church. When a Christian is in a season where they are spiritually, emotionally or physically weak, the church membership comes alongside to support and uphold that saint of God. At the end of Romans 15 we read Paul's assessment of the Roman congregation in verse 32 - "so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company." James 5:14 gives another example of how the fellowship of the local church can aid in strengthening those who are weak: "Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." So the Christian's need for the fellowship of the Christian church is valuable in times of weakness. 

2. Fellowship is needed because of Jesus.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, their fellowship was fractured. He introduces his first epistle to them with a reminder of how God had called them to be in fellowship with one another. Notice 1 Corinthians 1:9-10  "God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment." Such a letter as 1 Corinthians ought to remind us that even in the first century, churches had troubles and could be at times difficult places to be. However difficult things may get, Christians should not just throw up their hands and give up. Paul was urging the Corinthians to get past their divisive ways and remember their calling by Christ to be His and each other's. 

The value of the fellowship of the local church for the Christian comes when we realize that the Holy Spirit connects each believer and each local body of regenerated saints to Jesus Christ. Inasmuch the local church is a fellowship of Christians, it is spiritually and supernaturally a fellowship of Jesus with His people and He with them.  

3. Fellowship is needed to reinforce individual Christian faith.
So we have seen that the Christian's need for fellowship in the local church is due to seasons of weakness and the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:18 records the following prayer by the Apostle Paul for the Ephesians -  "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." Ephesians 4:11-12 records how the fellowship of the local church in conjunction with the ministry of the Word is designed to equip God's people to attain unto the unity so desired and prayed for by Jesus until He returns. Here we see then the third need for fellowship in the local church - strenghtening of the faith. Such a need is repeated for example in another Epistle, Colossians 1:10-12 "so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects,bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in theknowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light." Without the local church, Christians who are able to gather together with God's people cannot hope to have the illumination and reinforcement of their faith. Willful isolation from Christ's body, the local church, stunts Christian growth and short-circuits Christian vitality.

4. Fellowship is needed for loving compassion.
Philippians 2:1-2 gives us the fourth need for fellowship in the local church - compassionate love. We read in Philippians 2:1-2 "Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." I am not sure where I would be without my local church family. As a pastor and member of that body at the same time, I find that when I have been in need of a collective shoulder of compassionate love, our church has been there for me. This world is full of coldness and betrayal. The best place to find the genuine love of God is the local church. Whenever a church has begun to grow cold in the area of compassionate love, worldliness has seeped in and the church has lost its first love. (See Revelation 2:1-7). Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples by our love for one another. 

5. Fellowship is needed for a solid testimony
The fifth reason Christians need the fellowship of the local church is for a strong testimony. 1 Thessalonians 1:8 "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only inMacedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything." Whenever a church body is functioning as it ought, the Christian who is a member of that church can share with others God's love both experienced and learned. A testimony is how a Christian personally adds flesh and bone onto their witness of their personal walk with Jesus. The truth of the Gospel is the nails and the power of a testimony is the hammer that can be used by the Spirit of God to drive in the Gospel nails to the sinner's heart. Isolation cannot supply a solid testimony like involvement with a local church can. 

6. Fellowship is necessary because it is commanded 
We have seen that Christian's need the fellowship of the local church for the following five beneficial reasons:

a. Fellowship is needed when one is weak
b. Fellowship is needed because of Jesus.
c. Fellowship is needed to reinforce faith
d. Fellowship is needed for loving compassion
e. Fellowship is needed for a solid testimony

Sadly some Christians will curtail regular commitment to their local church, claiming that the above benefits can be achieved by themselves. When such a claim is made, this final reason for needing fellowship in the local church needs to be cited - namely it is commanded by our Lord. Christian fellowship is not optional, but mandatory. The Lord commands things to benefit us, not to harm us. Both Hebrews 3:12-13 and 10:24-25 both command us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves nor to allow the decitfulness of sin to jade our thinking and our hearts. 1 John 3:10-11 gives us the perfect antidote for fighting the corruption of sin: "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." Such connection to the fellowship of fellow believers is commanded and urged upon God's people not to hinder, but to help and benefit them in their Christian growth.