Tag Archive | fellowship

“Be kind to one another”

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).

There is a right way and a wrong way to live. That is not popular to say but it is the undiluted truth. The right way is in accord with “the way [we] learned Christ” (Eph. 4:20). The wrong way to live involves “hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18), callousness (Eph. 4:19), and corruption through deceitful desires (Eph. 4:22).

So, there are certain things we should not do. There is a wrong way to live and act. It is damaging and even devilish (James 3:15). 

Therefore, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” We should not be resentful. Sinful anger should have no place in our lives. Foolish arguments should never be heard to come from our mouths. We should never speak wrong of others. How can we try to tarnish a person made in God’s image (James 3:9)?! Lastly, how can we have ill-will for someone when God the Son paid the ultimate price for us?! How can we not be transformed by our heavenly Father’s sacrificial love so that we extend grace and love even to our enemies?!

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The Hospitality of God and our Hospitality

First, what even is hospitality? What does it mean? It means “love for the stranger” or “to befriend a stranger.”[1] One definition says hospitality is having “regard for one who comes from outside one’s group.” That is exactly what God has done for us. God is perfectly holy and exalted and yet He has regard for us. 

The Lord God has regarded us—loved us—even welcomed us into the Triune fellowship (see e.g. Jn. 20:17), we who were sinners and strangers. And He did so with great cost to Himself.[2] And we see from the Gospels that Jesus was a friend (philos) of those we would expect to remain strangers and outsiders, people like tax collectors and other sinners (see Matt. 11:19), sinners like you and me.[3] And so Paul says, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

When we understand the amazing hospitality of God we will find it easier to love and welcome people in. Understanding the hospitality of God is essential as we think about the hospitality that we are called to practice. Because, in one sense, hospitality is supernatural. It is certainly not natural to us. We need to meditate on the hospitality of God if we hope to be hospitable as we are called to. 

It is true, however, that even “secular people” who don’t know God’s love show surprising generous hospitality (cf. Acts 28:2,7[4]). So, how much more should Christians, who have been welcomed in by God with great expense, welcome in and love others?

The LORD has shown undeserved love to us in Christ may we show love to others (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:18, 34; Deut. 10:17-20).

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Look before you… Entertainment

There is something about physical harm and pain that reminds us to look before we… leap. Why? Because we leaped one too many times without looking and our brain has trained us not to do that again. That’s the way our brains work. And our brains work well. That is, at least, for a lot of things. However, our brains may work against us when it comes to others things.

We sit down and watch a cute, funny dog video on YouTube and that’s fine; no pain. Actually, we quite enjoy it. Our brains do not tell us: Look before you… watch. So, we don’t. We don’t consider what we watch or how often we watch because, after all, we like it.

Plus, entertainment is everything.[1] But, is it? Or, should it be? We would do well to consider this question as (likely) the most entertained people in all of history.[2]

What is “entertainment”? What does that word mean? It has been defined in this way: “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” So, entertainment gives us pleasure, enjoyment, and diversion; especially by a performance of some kind. For instance, I was entertained at NitroCircus when Travis Pastrana did a double backflip on a dirt bike.

To quote someone from a different arena, it would have been fitting for Pastrana to scream out:

“Are you not entertained?! Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!”

There is a danger that people will die in entertaining us but is there also a danger for us as we are endlessly entertained?

Neil Postman wrote in 1985 about the danger of, as his book title says, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and that was before public internet, let alone social media and the smart phone. It is not an understatement to say that we are likely to amuse ourselves to death. There are serious health risks for us when all we care about is entertainment. There is the further danger that we’re not living and loving as we should. We’re liable to amuse ourselves until death, and never do anything worthwhile with the time we’ve been given.

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Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 2)

What do we learn about Onesimus?
Paul calls Onesimus his child, as he often does with converts, especially, it seems, those whom he had a special connection with through discipleship (cf. 1 Cor. 4:14-15; 2 Cor. 6:13; Gal. 4:19; Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2).

Onesimus, had a common slave name, his name meant “useful.” Paul makes a pun here. He basically says, Useful was useless to you Philemon but now he is useful to both you and me (v. 11).

So, how was “Useful” previously useless? What did he do that explains the remark from Paul? He ran away from his master Philemon and likely stole money from him to pay for his voyage and new life. He used to be useless but not now, now Paul says, he is indeed useful.

We have already seen that Paul used a term of endearment by saying Onesimus was Paul’s child. However, Paul does not stop there. Paul says, in sending Onesimus back to Philemon, he is sending his very heart (v. 12). Paul has a deep bond with Onesimus, he has been helpful to Paul (the old man!) in prison. As Paul says, “I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel” (v. 13). So, Paul is making the case that Onesimus, though once deemed useless, is indeed useful both to Paul and Philemon.

Onesimus, proves his new usefulness, as we’ve seen, by helping Paul. But not only that, he is repentant. He is willing to go back to Philemon his master, a bold step. In that day, slaves could be branded with the letter “F” for fugitive or “T” for thief (if they had a “gracious” master). Other masters may have their slave executed, perhaps even on a cross. There was a near contemporary of Philemon, a very wealthy slave owner, that was killed by a slave so in order to punish the slave and make an example all of the man’s slaves were killed; all four hundred of them (Hughes, p. 161-62). In fact, in Martin Hengel’s book Crucifixion there is a chapter titled “the ‘slaves’ punishment,” and in this chapter he tells about one occasion after a slave rebellion where there were six thousand slaves crucified (p. 55). Read More…

Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 1)

We see in Paul’s letter to the Colossians[1] that Christians are to put on the new self with new practices, new characteristics. And Paul tells us about the unprecedented unification and reconciliation that happens in Christ between all sorts of different people. Paul says, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11 cf. 1 Cor. 12:13-14; Gal. 3:26-27).

But will this really work?! Paul is talking all this big talk but can it ever be practiced. He says, here there is neither slave nor free, and yet there truly were slaves and freemen. There really were Greeks and Jews. There were and are people that are in the world and see the world in all sorts of different ways. How can they be united? Is it really possible? And if so, how?! Read More…

“Thou Shall Not Dishonor The Sabbath”

To be honest with you I am convicted that I have not in my own life placed due emphasis on the Lord’s Day. So here I want to explore the Sabbath and what it means to us today.

Four major views on the subject:

First, the Seventh-Day Sabbath view. Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and Seventh Day Baptists hold this view. This group gathers on Saturday for worship.

Second, the Christian Sabbath view. Edwards, Spurgeon, and a lot of other puritans held this position. They believed the 10 commandments are eternal moral laws and thus the 4th commandment still applies but they believed it applies to Sunday rather than Saturday.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism, for instance, says the whole day should be spent in “the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” (Question 60).

Third, the Lord’s Day view. This is the view that I hold. Many of the people that hold this view are not very distinguishable from the Christian Sabbath view because of the way they live on Sunday.

In this view Old Testament regulations are obsolete (cf. Col. 2:16-17). However, believers follow the New Testament principles about the Lord’s Day. 1) Worship with other believers is the priority on the Lord’s Day. Believers are to gather together (Heb. 10:25) and it is observed from the New Testament when they gathered (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2), on Sunday-the Lord’s day, the day when Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead. 2) This group observes Sunday as a day for remembering the Lord. It is His day! They evaluate every activity in light of this truth. This day is reserved for extended worship of our great God.

Fourth, the Oblivious view.  This is when Christians do not care and do not even consider what is and is not right to do on Sunday. This is where the majority of Christians are. However, it is also the worst place to be.[1]

What does it mean for us today?

What does “honor the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” look like now (see Ex. 20:8-11)?[2] It appears from Scripture and early church history that the Church began meeting on Sunday instead of Saturday, the Sabbath, because that is the day that Jesus rose from the dead (See 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; Acts 20:7; Jn. 20:19 see also Matt. 28:1,6; Jn. 20:17; Lk. 24:45-47; Jn. 20:21; Matt. 28:19-20; Jn. 20;22; Acts 2:1-4 for other “first day of the week” passages). That is why the majority of Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day rather than the Sabbath. This was truly a radical shift. Yet, of course, the shift came because of something far more radical, the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15).

So historically we see the surprising shift from gathered worship on the Sabbath to worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. We also see that in Mark Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:27-28 note context). What did Jesus mean? Can we just do away with the fourth commandment?

Jesus meant that Sabbath observance is not the end-all and be-all. The Sabbath is not an end in itself or the greatest good. It is designed to help, restore, and revive God’s people. The Sabbath is not to be legalistically observed like the Pharisees in the passage but neither is it to be disregarded.

Dr. Donald Whitney has said,

“Resting from work and worshiping God in prescribed ways on the Sabbath (Saturday) was a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews (Exo. 31:16-17). But it isn’t a sign of the New Covenant, and the Old Covenant Sabbath isn’t for New Covenant believers (Gal. 4:9-11). The Sabbath was a symbol, a “shadow . . . but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Jesus Christ and His work is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. A person now enters the Sabbath rest by resting from trying to work his way to God and trusting in Christ’s work (Heb. 4:9-10). Thus we should read the Fourth Commandment with New Covenant, Christ-focused eyes.”[3] 

Ok, so we have a little bit of the context set. What does that mean for us? Does the fourth commandment still matter? Yes! All of the other commandments are still very vital, thou shall not kill is a good one. All of them are good ones. So, I think it is more a matter of how we keep it. Jesus did not say I am doing away with the Sabbath or the importance of the Sabbath. He said it was important, we need it, it is for us. Yet, that does not mean that we have to count how many steps we walk on the Sabbath to ensure that we are not working on it. However, it is important!

The Lord’s Day is a great privilege and not a burden. In fact, it is a great means of undeserved kindness to us. We must remember that God told us to honor the Sabbath, which I believe now is the Lord’s Day, not to burden us but to bless us. Often people talk about not doing anything on Sunday because it is wrong, yet I think it would be more accurate to carefully consider what we should  do. We are exhorted to keep the Day holy; we are not exhorted to lounge around, though that is not necessarily wrong. I believe, however, that the Sabbath is meant for much more than just physical rest, though that for sure is a blessing which you will see if you’re at my house around 3pm on Sunday, yet what we need more is spiritual refreshment. We need the Words of life to feast upon. So yes, lounge around. But I greatly encourage you to lounge around with a Bible or a godly book. Make the Day holy!

A Few Practical Principles:

Lastly, a few practical principles for keeping the Lord’s Day holy (for myself as well!):

  • Remember, the Lord’s Day is a blessing and a grace. We do not want to neglect that which God has blessed us. “Men honour God when they come to worship hungry and expectant, conscious of need and looking to God to meet them and supply it.”[4]
  • We must prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Day. Pray that the Holy Spirit would move in powerful ways, for the pastor, for the whole service. Pray for and examine your own life and confess sin. We prepare for so many things, should we not prepare to meet the LORD God in worship?! As J. I. Packer says, “An aimless, careless, casual, routine habit of church-going is neither rational nor reverent.”[5]
  • Public worship is central on the Lord’s Day. We must do what it takes to make it central. Go to bed early, wake up early, have clothes laid out and ready to go, etc. We make plans for other important things… we must also plan to make worship gathering central. It should be a priority (Heb. 10:25).
  • Does your normal Lord’s Day use of time feel like Monday? Does it rob you of joy? How can you restructure your day to be refreshed in the Lord? At my house, for example, we often have a simple meal cooking in the crockpot so we have one less thing to distract us from worship.
  • In regard to what is acceptable to do on the Lord’s Day, I think it is helpful to ask if it is necessary, is it an act of mercy, does it celebrate the Lord’s Day, and truly revive your soul?
  • Though, the Lord’s Day is very important and very helpful we must avoid the pitfalls of legalism. I, for instance, have in the past had to miss church because of work. We should not make these decisions lightly. Individuals have to work out their particular convictions on their own based on Scripture.

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[1] From class notes from Dr. Donald Whitney’s class “Personal Spiritual Disciplines.”

[2] In answering this question, J.I. Packer’s book, A Quest for Godlinesshas been a great help. He explores the puritan’s view of this question.

[3] See: http://biblicalspirituality.org/speaking/handout-downloads/

[4] J.I. Packer, The Quest for Godliness, 252.

[5] Ibid., 253.

A Biblical Basis for Social Media?

The genesis of social media was in Genesis. No we don’t see Snapchat or MySpace but we do see the raw material. That is, theologically.

Humanity is made in the image of the triune, relational, three in one God. So we have an innate need for connectivity. We’re hardwired for it. It’s in our internal processing. We are social (media) beings.

We also see that humanity is to subdue the earth. This results in technological advances, even within the book of Genesis (you could consider the naming of the animals “technology”).[1] Of course, Facebook and the invention of the book hadn’t happened.  But advances were being made.

Humanity is made in the image of the triune, relational, three in one God. So we have an innate need for connectivity. We’re hardwired for it. It’s in our internal processing. We are social (media) beings.

So we see that the desire to be connected and the desire for technological advances is not inherently bad.  A case could be made to say connectivity and technological advances are “very good.” At the very least being connected and using advances is not bad in itself. However we also see something else really important that we must consider from the beginning of Genesis.

The Fall. The Fall didn’t do away with our need to be connected or to make advances and subdue the earth but it did corrupt it.

So what do these observations from Genesis have to do with social media?

It means that there are elements about social media that are good and there are elements about social media that are not good. It means that social media is not wholly good or wholly bad. It means that we must be careful consumers. We must be proactive and evaluative, not inactive and absorptive.

I plan to post more on this subject later but here are some other relevant posts:

“Unrestricted Consumption of Electric Candy Bars”

“The Megalomania of Mass Media”

“Technology: Connected and Out of Touch”

“Delights, Deceits, and Dangers of the Digital Age”

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[1] There were a lot of significant advances that we see in the beginning of Genesis. “Gardening and naming in Genesis 2, farming and clothes making in Genesis 3, city building and harp and pipe playing in Genesis 4, shipbuilding in Genesis 6, altar building in Genesis 8, fruit growing and wine making in Genesis 9, brick baking in Genesis 11, tent making in Genesis 12” (Steve Turner, Popcultured, 43).

Technology: Connected and Out of Touch

How surreal, I am sitting in a Starbucks and there is an older couple sitting across from me. By all appearances they do not know each other. Their “date,” from what I can tell from spying, consists of looking at their cell phone (maybe the new iPhone 6s), touching it, and occasionally showing each other something on their phone; no doubt a new high score on “angry birds” or some other profound thing like a YouTube video of a monkey.

This is surreal for two reasons: 1) When this couple got together and started dating they could never have imagined the technology that would be available in the palm of their hand. Maybe this partly explains why they are so captivated by their phone and not by the actual person setting beside them. 2) When this couple got together, maybe thirty years ago, they could not have imagined wanting to hold some device in their hand rather than their loved ones’ hand.

Yet how things change. Affections fade and technology grows. And perhaps there is a correlation between the two distancing polls. If we hold a device in our hand instead of our loved ones’ hand, if we have “facetime” instead of real face time, if we have “facebook” and not time with real faces, if we have tweets and not conversations there will necessarily be a distancing effect from technology. And it will likely be that as technology advances so will be the chasm between relationships. However, if we start to put the work in on our relationships that any computer programmer puts in on technology then we may be able to keep pace with the discordant dissidents of technology. But this will require the intentionality and work ethic of those that are bringing us these great advances in technology.

In all of this realize that I am by no means saying that technology and advances in technology are bad, they are not in and of themselves (For instance, things like Skype can help relationships). Yet we must be very conscious in our use of technology. We must consider, am I playing “Tomb Raider” (or whatever it is called) when I should be looking deeply into my loved ones’ eyes? Am I “iTexting” when I should be talking to the person beside me? When I turn on my phone do I turn off my head? Does the “feed” on Facebook or Twitter feed my soul and intellect or does it leave me malnourished and hungry for something of substance like a book? Does being connected to the internet connect me to the world or allow me to be safely removed from it? 

I have found these questions surprisingly relevant and present but often unheeded in my own life. I have noticed on more than a few occasions when my family is visiting that we will set around in the living room with more than one person on a technological device. We’ll be “hanging out” yet the majority of the people in the room are on a computer or some such thing. This form of “hanging out” is much different then I remember growing up, and I’m only twenty-eight! My kids will have to be especially careful in their use of technology.

CommUnity

Introduction. Community or community groups (or however it is worked out for you in your local context) are very important to the life and health of the  Church. Community is a critical part of sanctification and growth for a believer and is thus a crucial aspect of our lives. Community groups are simply a tool to encourage biblical and spiritual interaction with each other.

What does “Community” mean? First, it is important to understand what is meant by fellowship or community. Often we think of a fellowship meal: “food, fun, and fellowship.” We even have fellowship halls. So, if asked, “What is fellowship?” We think, Ok, the fellowship hall is by the kitchen and when we use it we are always eating so I guess fellowship is eating, yes, that’s my answer; fellowship is eating.

Community/fellowship (Gk. koinonia) in the New Testament was often used as a general Greek word and was used of a business partnership in which two or more people shared a business and this word was also at times used of a marriage. Koinonia is a common union, interest, participation, and co-operation, it is being together, united. We see many similar ideas through different biblical word pictures. I think of family, body (1 Cor.12:12-27Eph.1:22-23), and “brother/sister” references for instance.

Created for Community. Where do we get the idea that we are created for community? First, we see it in that we are created in the image of the triune God. God is relational and so are we. Second, man walked with God in the Garden. Third, we also see that it was not good that man should dwell alone. We need each other.

Community Crashed. Where do we see the crash of community? In the Fall. First, man was kicked out of the Garden and separated from God because of sin. Second, there is marital disharmony. Third, Cain kills Abel. And the problem only precipitates with the tower of Babel. Community when not united in Christ but some other cause will only lead to chaos. This is demonstrated throughout history. 

Community Recreated through Christ. So how do we have this union or community? We have it in Christ (Rom. 6:4611Gal. 2:20Eph. 2:4-6Col. 2:203:3)! We have union with God and each other. What was destroyed in the Fall is remade and being remade through Christ. So, we see that koinonia in Scripture means we have intimacy with Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9), God the Father (1 Jn. 1:3), God the Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14), and each other (2 Cor. 8:41 Jn. 1:7).

Our union one to another is much deeper than merely eating together. It is more intimate and real, it is truly eternal. Further, it is not merely we that are together, we are together with God in Christ. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

Two other powerful texts:

That He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:15-22).

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that You [pl.] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved [that is, the church], I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your [pl.] conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you [pl.] as evildoers, they may see your [pl.] good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Pet. 2:9-12).

Can you imagine the scene in some of the early churches?

Imagine a converted (and “unclean”) Samaritan woman standing next to an ex-Pharisee. Now imagine that this Pharisee is being taught by a non-Jew. And then walks in the once notorious crew: Neroious the Egyptian and ex-demon-possessed man, Phillirono the Jewish ex-drunk and tax collector, Markus a Roman Centurion that use to exploit his power to have his way with women, Allatu a Babylonian woman and witch, and Simon the Leper. Yet, all these, in Christ, are made new and united! That’s what Scripture says! And that is actually what we see in the Church! 

Our union with Christ gives us a realistic expectation for fellowship. We know that we are at the same time saints and sinners. We therefore don’t expect perfection, we expect people’s lives to be a little messy. We expect to be patient with each other and help each other out. We all need grace. And we have all received it in Christ.

When we remember where our community comes from it protects against the error of thinking that fellowship is simply socializing, i.e. food, fun, and football. It also protects us from thinking that in our community groups we will experience heaven on earth. As we understand more and more where our community comes from, we will have more community. 

So our communion is much more significant than just eating together, though that can and should be an outworking of our union with Christ as it was in the Early Church. In the book of Acts we see that people from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5) received the word and were added to the Church (v. 41) and they (the very large and very diverse group) devoted themselves not just to teaching and prayers but also to fellowship and the breaking of bread (v. 42). Also, significantly, one of the qualifications of a pastor/elder is that he be hospitable (Titus 1:8).

Community is Commanded. Community is not just something that has become trendy with the recent popularity of community groups. Community has been around since the world has been around. However, Christians are not just called to any type of community. Christians are called to Christ exalting community (cf. Ps. 133:1; Jn. 17:23; Rom. 12:4, 16; 1 Cor. 1:10; 12:12-13; Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 2:14; 4:3, 16; Col. 3:13-14; 1 Pet. 3:8). So community groups, or the way that community is worked out in your context, is not just a nice option; it is vital and life giving. God want us all to be in community.  

What is a Community Group? A community group is a small group of often diverse people that intentionally share life together in order to encourage each other. Community groups are a pragmatic way that the modern Church has sought to fulfill the various “one another” passages. Remember, the book of Hebrews says to consider, that is, intentionally think about, how to stir each other up to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). Community groups are, as the name would indicate, a good place to practice all the exhortations to community and they are a very good way to stir up each other for good works.

It is through the church that we are “equipped for the work of the ministry” and “built up into Him who is the head.” It is in Christ through connection with the church that individuals within the church our nourished and grow together (Col. 2:19). Perseverance is a community endeavor. We need to be provoked to good works.

On and an aside, it may be helpful to remember the example of Jesus. If anyone did not need fellowship with others it was Jesus. Yet, He spent almost all His time with His followers. He prayed with them, ate with them, walked with them, taught them, and went through life with them.

There are also many “one another” passages that can only be carried out in a small familiar setting. Here is a sampling of the “one another” passages. Think about each of them and about the benefit community groups are to practice all the various aspects of life together.

We are to honor one another (Rom. 13:7). We are to accept one another (Rom. 15:7). We are to bear with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13). We are to forgive one another (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). We are to pray for and confess sins to one another (James 5:16). We are to cheer and challenge one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25). We are to admonish and confront one another (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16; Gal. 6:1-6). We are to warn one another (1 Thess. 5:14). We are to teach one another (Col. 3:16). We are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We are to share possessions (Acts 4:32). We are to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). We are to not gossip, slander, or be fake with one another (Gal. 5:15; Rom. 12:9). These “one anothers” most easily take place in community groups, so please be involved in a Christian community/community group.

Elements of a Community Group. In Acts 2:42 we see a glimpse of what fellowship was like for the Early Church. It says they continually devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. There are at least seven important elements for community groups.

1) Bible Study: The Early Church was continually devoted to teaching and we also want the Word of God to be central in all we do as a church. It is the Word of God that makes us competent and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

2) Prayer: We want our ministry to be saturated in prayer and this is just what we see in Acts. They devoted themselves to prayer (2:42).

3) Hospitality: As we have seen, one of the qualifications for an Elder is that he be hospitable. This points us to its importance. We also remember that the early church also broke bread together. That is, they ate together. This likely includes both regular meals and the Lord’s Supper.

4) Confession and Repentance: This is a sensitive subject and must be done with much wisdom and tact. However, we know from James that we are to confess our sins one to another (5:16) and Galatians chapter six tells us to bear one another’s burdens (6:1-5). There is likely no better place for these things to happen than through community groups.

5) Service: The service that we are to do is varied. We are to do good to all people and especially those in the church. We are to make disciples of all nations. Yet, we are to do those things in community. Yes, we need to do them on large scale as the whole church but it is also helpful to focus on service at a smaller more intimate level.

6) Worship: We as the church must desire and seek for our involvement in community groups to lead individuals to better love the LORD their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

7) Mission: We want to intentionally stir each other up to love and good works (Heb. 10:24) by being together and devoting ourselves to Scripture and prayer (Acts 2:42) so that the result is mission to the surrounding world (v. 43-47). The purpose of community groups is not so we can create a “Christian ghetto.” We need community so that we won’t be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) but we also need community so we can be on mission together. 

D.A. Carson says, 

The heart of true fellowship… is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision… Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment.[1]

Mission of Community Groups. The mission of community groups is to encourage each other to Christ-like living for the sake of God’s Name among all the nations, to provide intentional outlets for all the “one another passages” in Scripture, to use as a catalyst to reach the lost people around us through intentional relational witness, and to promote more intimate Christian relationships.

Community Group Logistics. The church should desire diverse community groups. That is, we want people to come together in relationship that outside of Christ would likely never partner together for anything. This is for many reasons. Diversity better pictures the Kingdom of God; in heaven there will be people form every tribe, tongue, and nation. If there is diversity in age than what Paul commends in Titus 2 can be put into practice; older men teaching younger men, and older women teaching younger women.

Imagine the scene that I described above again. And remember that the world will know that we are disciples by our love for each other (Jn. 13:35). Our love will show all the more when we are not all the same; when the only thing that could possibly unite us is Christ. 

Conclusion. Although, we do not exactly see community groups in Scripture I believe that biblical community is vital to the health of individual Christians and to the corporate life of the church. Thus, I strongly encourage people to be connected to a church and to be involved in a community of believers whether in a community group/small group/cell group or some other intimate gathering. Community groups may not be exactly biblical but they are designed to do biblical, God given, things. I, thus, implore you to be connected to a Christian community/community group. I say this not merely because I think you should, not merely for my own spiritual health, not merely for your own spiritual health, but because I believe that God teaches in Scripture that it is important.

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[1] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 16.

Messy Church

I was reading in Mark 5 today, where Jesus frees a demon-possessed man, and I got thinking about the early church. The early church must have been one messed up church, one messy church, literally dirt on the floors… No really, imagine all the different types of people and all the different types of problems. Ex-demon-possessed-people for instance probably brought with them their unique challenges. Tax collectors were not real popular with people in that day. Then you have Jews and Gentiles fighting, I’m sure, over all types of stuff.

No, they didn’t fight over the color of the carpet. They didn’t have any! But if they had carpet, they would have fought over that too. I guess, what I am trying to tell myself is, they didn’t have it all together. I may think that my church or the Church universal is in shambles at times but the church throughout history has always appeared that way in many areas. I guess that is part of the beauty and wonder of the church.

God said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church and it is surely by His power that it has not been overcome. Like Paul says from 1 Corinthians, not many of us were super special by worldly standards. God so often chooses to use a rag-tag bunch, which I am very glad about, because He chooses to use people like me. He also chooses to use messy churches even though they, like the early church, are sometimes both literally and metaphorically messy.

It encourages me to remember that the Church then, as the Church now, will always face both external and internal challenges but will likewise always have Jesus the same Lord ultimately in control. It encourages me that though the church may be messy (and yes in both ways) it is doing ministry. It also reminds me that ministry is not just a church service—a meeting of people to hear a message—it is a group, a gathering, made up of individuals, and individuals with problems.

There are problems to fix, lives to be less messy, floors to mop (yes, we want the church to be presentable), but this is ministry. This is the church, a church that in a lot of ways reflects the biblical early church. Yes, a struggling church, but for a purpose, a grave and glorious purpose.

To sum it all up, I am encouraged by the church, the good and the bad, the messy and the clean. We have life (by the grace of almighty God!), and life is messy. There is a funny verse in Proverbs that says, where no oxen are the turf is clean but there is much increase from the help of an ox. The “turf” is certainly not always clean at church but there, I believe, is a lot being done by Christ’s body, and I praise God for it!

God calls us to be faithful, though we often are few. We must remember the amazing privilege it is to serve the King! Christ is redeeming His bride! Soon His Church shall presented spotless! 

Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!

~Philippians 3:14

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