Main point – The function of fellowship is to be a better member of God’s family.
This morning we continue toward the conclusion of our series on God’s vision for us, “A fully following and faithfully functioning church.” We spent the month of January looking at the lives of 10 Biblical characters and how they illustrate what it means to fully follow God. And we have spent the past 6 weeks studying the five primary functions or purposes of the church. We will conclude this series in two weeks with the opportunity to respond to this vision.
Someone recently told me in a half-jesting and half-serious way that I have too many sports illustrations. I thought, “Well I’ll try to broaden the illustrations so that it won’t be that way.” Then, I looked at the working title of today’s sermon, which has become the bulletin title, and thought, “Well maybe next week!”
I asked this past week in another e-mail sermon survey, “Name the first sports team that comes to your mind.” This is what you said: (They are listed alphabetically and be nice as you hear the teams called off!)
Green Bay Packers
Indiana Pacers (2)
At first glance, today’s title might seem a bit shallow. A lot of people seem to “play” at and with life and not really take it seriously in appropriate ways. Now, there is a place for “play” in our lives, but can we “play for” God?
When I looked up the word play in a dictionary I came across a couple of interesting definitions: 1.”An effort to arouse liking.” 2.”To behave in a specified way.”
Let’s think about this for a moment. When we play a game or sport, we are expected to behave in a specified way. A baseball player is expected to play like a baseball player not a football player or a soccer player. The same holds true for musician in a band or an orchestra. And they are also to play with passion in order to arouse support for their team and their sports or work.
I also spent sometime looking up the word “for.” To be “for” something is to be in support of it. So, could we not combine these two word definitions and translate the sermon title something to the effect of “Making an effort to live for God in a specified and enthusiastic way?”
Last week we looked at the second of five important functions of the church – outreach. Outreach is an important function of the church. A church that does not continuously reach out to the unchurched will begin to decline and eventually die.
On the other hand, a church that exclusively focuses on outreach to the exclusion of the other functions – service, discipleship, fellowship, and worship – creates congregations that can lack the necessary spiritual nutrients required to have both fully following and faithfully functioning members as well as a fully following and faithfully functioning congregation. In other words, there is more to our faith that just being saved. I believe that it is Glenn Wagner, pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina who says, “We’ve got to do more than get the people into the kingdom. We’ve got to the kingdom into people.”
Now before we examine Colossians 3, we need to understand what fellowship is. I asked this past week for a response to the question, “What is the purpose of church fellowship?” This is what some of us said:
to get to know and learn from one another
to come together for one purpose
to build up each other in Christ
to be team players
to fulfill our place in God, family, church
to hang out with fellow Christians
to have fun in a Christian environment
to develop and strengthen the bonds of Christian friendship
to pray and be accountable to one another
to get to know everyone
to encourage one another through fun times
to nurture and encourage one another
Thanks for sharing and let’s keep these thoughts in mind. And let me also suggest that the purpose of fellowship is to help people live for God.
Fellowship is a critical element in the kingdom of God. It is an important spiritual nutrient.
One definition of fellowship is the “condition of friendly relationships existing among persons.” Rick Warren says, “You were formed for God’s family.”
Now, we all know that life with others is not 100% wonderful. There are stress and strains. But, it is God’s purpose that as His people, the church, we live well and live well together in Him. But just exactly how do we do that? Paul gives us some very important suggestion in our text for this morning, Colossians 3:1 – 16.
Good fellowship, the kind that helps us not just be converts to Christ but disciples of Christ involves, among other things, three important aspects of our lives: character, commitment, and conduct. Paul addresses all three in this segment of scripture.
When someone asks you for a character reference what are he or she asking for? They are asking for a reference on who you are. Are you trustworthy? Are you honest? Are you truthful? In other words, will this person be a good employee?
If someone asked for a character reference about us, as a congregation, what would be said? I suggest that our text for this morning gives us a good idea of what should be said about us because individually and congregationally our character does matter and as fellowship helps us live for God it also affects our character.
Simply put, fellowship can enable our character to move from self-centered to God-centered. Fellowship enables this to happen as we gather together to think about the things of God. Paul makes it clear in the opening verses of Colossians 3 that our thinking must change from being preoccupied with only earthly matters to thinking about heavenly things, the things of God.
Notice that Paul does not say forget your earthly situation. He says, at least in the translation that I use, “Do not think only about things down here on earth.” In other words, to quote an old saying, “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.”
To think the thoughts of God, to have the mind of Christ, is to think, as God would have us think about our lives and how we are to live. Fellowship helps us in this area because our confession of faith and our commitment to Christ makes us a part of the church. And in becoming a part of the church, our personal faith and life in God grows as we formally and informally gather together for the purpose of fellowship.
Now can we live without fellowship? For a time. But living without the kind of fellowship of which Paul speaks in our passage will cause our faith and walk to suffer and even collapse. Think about a plant trying to survive with out water or air. It can’t.
The thing about fellowship is that it sometimes forces us to deal our self-centeredness. I can recall in a small group meeting that took place during a very difficult time in my life asking out loud as I shared my frustration and pain, “Is this all there is?” I needed to do that because I needed to be honest about myself and asking that question actually strengthened the bond of fellowship that I had with that group and helped me move forward.
In a passage that also speaks to the issue and function of fellowship, Romans 14, Paul says in verses 7 and 8, “For we are not our own masters when we live and when we die. While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord.”
As the church came to life in the early chapters of Acts, fellowship was a key function of her strengthening and growing life and ministry. As Acts 2:46 says, “They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.”
Fellowship takes place in various ways and this verse highlights some of those ways – as they gathered for worship, as they gathered in homes to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and as they ate together. Fellowship also takes place one-on-one as well. In each case, fellowship takes place to help us live for God.
Fellowship also helps us deal with our commitments as we move from self-serving to God-serving and our conduct as we move from being self-focused to God-focused. Notice the changes in verses 5 to 11 that Paul says must take place because as our commitment is focused more and more on Christ, our commitments to a certain life-style must change.
He first speaks of the things that must go: Sexual sin, impurity, lust, greed, idolatry, slander, dirty language, rage, and lying. A commitment to these things indicates a self-serving life.
They are also conduct issues. They are habits and actions that impair our relationship with the Lord. How can we get rid of these habits and commitments and live for God? One critical way is by fellowship.
In his book, The Church You’ve Always Wanted, Glenn Wagner tells the story of a married couple whose marriage was on the rocks. “This couple had tried all kinds of remedies; in and out of counseling, meetings for men, seminars for women, marriage conferences for couples. But nothing seemed to work. The proverbial straw had broken the camel’s back. Despite everything, the marriage had come to an end.
But then. . . the miracle.
The body of Christ began to embrace this hurting man and woman, although in a different way than before. The talk and prayers and presence not longer focused on managing sin and controlling behavior but a divine relationship fully able to transform sick hearts. For months this lovingly potent atmosphere perfumed the air around Calvary, filling the lungs of a broken man and woman with new strength and hope.”
When I read that passage I saw the fellowship of the church at is best. Now, fellowship cannot always be focused on crisis experiences. But, the kind of fellowship, the kind that honors God and of which Paul speaks in this passage, is often seen in moments like this.
Paul does not continue to dwell on the negative in Colossians 3. He moves to the positive. He makes clear what kind of fellowship, what kind of relationship, helps a church to deepen and develop into a church that honors God. We read of these things in verses 12 through 17:
Clothe yourself with mercy, kindness, gentleness, and patience
Make allowance for one another’s faults
Forgive the person who offends you
Let God’s peace rule in your heart
Live in peace and be thankful
Let the word of God live in you
Use God’s words to teach and counsel
Do everything as God’s representative
Fellowship is the glue that cements a fully functioning church together. Without it a church will be unstable and in moments of conflict and stress, fall apart. But, when those things that have just been mentioned characterize our fellowship, and we allow the Spirit to really have His way, times of conflict and stress will only strengthen the bonds of love.
Rick Warren has written some of the most elegant and meaningful things on fellowship and as we move toward the end of worship this morning, I share them with you:
He speaks of community, of a sense of belonging, when he speaks of fellowship. One of the challenges to community he notes are those he calls EGR people – Extra Grace Required people. People who challenge us and some time frustrate us and try our patience. Listen to what he says about them.
“God put these people in our midst for both their benefit and ours. They are an opportunity for growth and a test for fellowship: Will we love them as brothers and sisters and treat them with dignity?”
One of the things that community requires is honesty. And sometimes honesty creates conflict. But, Warren says, “The tunnel of conflict is the passage way of intimacy in any relationship.” God wants us to be real and honest with each other. Such realness and honesty takes time to fully develop. But, it is important in the fellowship ministry of the church.
When conflict and disappointment and unforeseen circumstances occur in a church, and they do, sometimes the first casualty is spiritual intimacy. People take sides. Feelings get hurt. Pain is real. Trust is shattered. Love is diminished.
And when, and if, the time comes for healing and restoration, sometimes the last thing to return is community, fellowship. Two choices are critical in that restoration. A willingness to forgive and second, a willingness to rebuild community.
Here are some things to think about related to fellowship. How do you rate yourself?
I am deepening my understanding of and friendship with God in community with others.
I am growing in my ability both to share and to show my love for others
I am willing to share my real needs for prayer and support from others
I am resolving my conflict constructively and am willing to forgive others
What is it that makes you feel a part of a group? What is it that makes us want to do something with someone or others that we probably would not do alone? Let me suggest four things – authenticity, mutuality, sympathy, and mercy.
Being around real and honest people gives us a boost. We experience enough fakery and deception to last lifetime. I believe that when a church is authentic and real, it becomes credible. How credible, how authentic, how real is our fellowship?
When we share a common goal, a common bond, there is a give and take that challenges us and helps us grow and accomplish things that we could have not done by ourselves. Helping solve a problem or finish a project or, as we heard earlier, helping a marriage to turn around, gives us a boost. We look back and say, “Wow! Thanks God for your grace and mercy at work!” It is called mutuality.
Does our fellowship include mutuality? Are we cooperating and building bonds of love and respect? Are we living out Colossians 3: 12 – 15?
When my father passed away in 1991, two members of the church that we served in Kalamazoo drove all the way to Ohio for the funeral. I will never forget that. They were not ministers. They were layperson! They took off from work to do that. Sympathy was well expressed that day.
When we are down due to grief or the pain in life, is sympathy well expressed through our fellowship? Do we mourn with those who mourn? Grief, I would remind us is not just done during the death of a person. Grief comes when there is a loss of any kind. Do we grieve well with one another and with others outside of our fellowship?
When kids in our town play tee-ball, everybody hits and runs the bases. When one side has hit they go to the outfield. Why? There is mercy at work. In several of the softball leagues that I have played in, there has been a mercy rule that kicks in after a certain number of innings have been played and a certain run differential has been achieved. Mercy is at work.
How well do we show mercy in our fellowship? Or is there evidence that memories, and the grudges that are a part of those memories, are long? The church is a place of grace. Grace and mercy go hand-in-hand.
Now, it does not mean that we look the other way when there is sin present that needs to be dealt with. Accountability is an important part of fellowship. But when accountability is taken too far, mercy takes a hit.
Is our fellowship a place of grace? Are we embracing both accountability and forgiveness? Are we caring and loving in spite of our flaws and quirks as Colossians 3:13 indicates? How well are we showing mercy?
I am glad for the fellowship of the church. God has used it to sustain me through thick and thin. God has used it to hold me in moments of grief. And He has used it to hold me accountable for the stewardship of my life.
But, I also believe that our fellowship function calls us to more than Sunday morning worship and a few moments of “meet and greet.” It calls to care and love and respect and lift up one another. It calls us to get together in groups and pairs for prayer and study and support. It calls us to reach out to all ages and stages of life. It calls us to help one another as we live for God throughout the week.
Fellowship is part of how we do business here. Our fellowship ministry team is currently combined with our outreach team. And there is an important connection between the two. But, I hope and pray that we will have two separate ministry team this coming year.
Our current fellowship ministries are:
_______, ________, ________, ________, and _________ make up this team. Our goals for this team include developing an active men’s, women’s, and senior adult ministry. Maybe God is calling you to be a part of this ministry.
I conclude this morning with a chart that signifies something important about fellowship. It is a four-year comparison of our average worship attendance from September through February.
The first bar represents 1999-2000 when we average 43. The next year is 2000-2001 when the average bumped up to 59. The third bar is 2001-2002 when the average rose to 65 and the final bar is this year 2002-3003 when the average rose to 73. The average annual rate for the period is 20+%!
What role has fellowship played in this increase? What role has authenticity, mutuality, sympathy, mercy played? I think that it has played a major role.
Praise God! We have turned around! And now it is time to move forward and together write a new chapter in the history of this congregation.
But, for us to do so, our fellowship must be strong. It must continue to grow. it must continue to develop more deeply and more consistently. It must be unblocked by confession and humility, which Rick Warren reminds us, is “not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” It must be allowed to flow freely as we let go of grudges and past slight and hurts as we choose to forgive one another.
We can have the greatest evangelism ministry around. We can have the best worship services in which we truly meet with God. We can serve the needy like nobody else.
But when we look back at our life and involvement in the church what is it that we will remember? It is the quality of relationships, the quality of community, and the quality of fellowship, or the lack of, that we will remember.
What is God saying to you, to me, to us in this area? Fellowship is too important to ignore. Let us not forsake our gathering together. Amen.
From the book The Church You’ve Always Wanted
 From 40 Days of Purpose Small Group Curriculum, page 54.
Taken from the 40 Days of Purpose small group curriculum, published by Saddleback Church. Page 54
 From the book Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren.