Church (6): What is fellowship?

Why do you think we call ourselves Colin Glen Christian Fellowship?

While we answer that question in brief here, we considered what the word ‘fellowship’ means in today’s sermon.

Fellowship is not simply having a club where we all feel accepted. It is that. But it is so much more.  Church fellowship is the best experience you can have between people, but it is so much more than simply experiencing love and care and being supported by others.  Fellowship is not simply about us, it is based on God.  We have fellowship with each other, because we have fellowship with God.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetThe word which is often translated ‘fellowship’ is in the original Greek ‘koinonia’.

We read that the early Church had fellowship among their first activities:

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. (Acts 2:42, NLT)

Paul also mentions ‘partnership’ (koinonia) in the gospel:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3–5, NIV84)

Yet, fellowship isn’t primarily a human-human experience, but a God-human experience.  It is in the first place grounded in a relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

“We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. ” (1 John 1:1–4, NLT)

“God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. ” (1 Corinthians 1:9, NIV84A)

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. ” (2 Corinthians 13:14, NLT)

Fellowship has a moral/spiritual dimension therefore.  We cannot have fellowship with each other if we are sinning against each other:

So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6–7, NLT)

There is much more that could be said about fellowship.  If you are looking for true fellowship with Christians, seek first fellowship with God.  If you don’t know how to do this, a simple prayer like this one may help:

Dear Father in heaven, you know all about me and my situation.  I am truly sorry for my sins, where even my best efforts do not reach your standard of holiness.  I accept that I deserve your judgment, and that on my own there is nothing that I can do to improve myself enough or make up for my sins.

Please forgive me.  I know that I can be forgiven because Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross in my place, for my sins.  I know that you will forgive me because of your great love for me, in Christ.

Please heal me from the brokenness of the past.  From this moment on, please help me to trust in the risen Jesus, not only as Saviour, but also as Lord of my life.  Thank you for the Holy Spirit in my heart to give me the strength and guidance I need to do your will, and to teach me from your Word, the Bible.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you for your great love and forgiveness, my new relationship with you, my new life in Christ, and for the certainty of eternal life with you for ever.  Amen.

 

Church (5): Worship and praise

A woman with a lovely soprano voice sang the hymn ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ while making breakfast. The visitor staying remarked how spiritual she was in her everyday duties. She replied:

“Oh, that’s the hymn I boil the eggs by; three verses for soft and five for hard”

Click image for Sunday's service sheetSometimes our praise can be merely functional, or our lips can be moving but our hearts are not worshipping God. As Jesus said:

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God. (Matthew 15:8–9, NLT)

In contrast, we are to worship ‘in Spirit and in truth’. Jesus also said:

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23–24, NLT)

We ought to praise and worship God, because he is worthy of our praise:

Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever. (Revelation 5:13, NLT)

You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased. (Revelation 4:11, NLT)

Praise and worship should be directed towards God.  Praise is not primarily for our benefit, but when we focus our hearts and thoughts on God, we are blessed in turn.  We can praise him in a special way at Sunday services each week.  But we can worship him through all of our lives in between too.

Let’s worship God and give him the glory and praise that he deserves, and which is our privilege to give, if we have been reconciled to him by faith in Jesus Christ:

Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker (Psalm 95:6, NLT)

Sing a new song to the LORD! Let the whole earth sing to the LORD! Sing to the LORD; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. (Psalm 96:1–2, NLT)

Such were some of you!

Churches should not be places where people try to keep up appearances of being either better than others or putting on the appearance of being godly when the reality is very different.

One reason the Apostle Paul gives for not thinking too highly of ourselves, is how he speaks to the believers in the church at Corinth.  He tells them that they ought not to judge others outside of church, because God will do that if they don’t turn to him for forgiveness and mercy.  (Although they are to judge themselves, and to root out evil and not let it get established in church.)  But also, they were to remember that the immoral lifestyles that they might be tempted to look down on were exactly the same way that some of them used to live themselves; “Such were some of you” 1 Corinthians 6:11.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetBut thankfully, he reminds them of God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, whereby they have been cleansed of their sin, been accepted as God’s holy people, and have been justified or declared not-guilty.

While not everyone lived an immoral lifestyle before turning back to God, it is helpful to remember that believers are in no position to look down on others.  Instead, we are to invite them to turn to God, and away from both gross immorality or polite selfishness, through the forgiveness that comes by trusting in Jesus alone.

“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ” (1 Corinthians 6:11, NLT)

Praise God for his grace and mercy to sinners such as us.

Church (4): Love others!

How many Christian charities do you know of?  There are loads!  What’s more, many of the earliest charities or charitable organisations were set up by Christians who had a love and concern for those in need.

We ought to love and care for others, not simply because being charitable is fashionable these days, but because that is part of our calling in life.  Loving others isn’t simply something which is an optional or sideline activity that we ought to do – it is to the core of our reason for living.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 (NLT)

Click image for Sunday's service sheetNone of us loves others as we ought to.  We find it hard to love those close to us as we ought to, never mind those we don’t know, or our enemies, or those in other parts of the world.  But loving others is still our duty.

Part of our sin problem before God is that not only have we loved God and put him first in all areas of our lives, but we haven’t loved others as we ought to too.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to convince the religious man that God’s standard wasn’t a low pass mark, but perfection.  When Jesus told the man who questioned him; “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:28 NLT), he was at the same time telling him two things:

  1. This is how you ought to live all the time with respect to loving others.
  2. This highlights how much you have failed to live a sinless life before God.

While the parable of the Good Samaritan can be argued to be primarily an evangelistic message, highlighting the man’s need for grace and mercy through faith in Jesus Christ, it also highlights God’s high standard for godly living.  We fail to understand the impact of this parable, and the entire encounter with this religious man, unless we see both these aspects.

Jesus wants us to live lives where we love our neighbour perfectly.  But that is only possible (i) once we accept that we haven’t done it as we ought to have, (ii) accept forgiveness for our sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and (iii) rely on his renewing power by the Holy Spirit to be able to live the way we were supposed to in the first place.

Praise God for his holiness, his grace and mercy, and his enabling by the Holy Spirit for us to be the kind of people we ought to be, through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Church (3): Go… and make disciples

What do you think when you’ve got an opportunity to share the gospel?  Do you worry what people will think of you?  Do you worry whether you’ll share it well enough?  Are you concerned about being on your own with such a huge mission in the world?

Don’t worry, God is with you.  It’s a glorious thing we have been called to do, to take the gospel to the world.

People already know right from wrong

Click image for Sunday's service sheet‘Natural revelation’ is found in many things in life, as Paul outlines in Romans 1:19–20:

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:19–20, NLT)

Also, people know right from wrong, and know what they should do, without ever having come across God’s Word in the Bible:

“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2:12–16, NIV-84)

So, everyone knows about God from the world around them, and about sin and right/wrong from God’s moral law which is written within their own hearts.  We don’t need to tell people that they are sinners – we just need to remind them!  We are often not telling them something new, we are just making their consciences more sensitive, we are reminding them of things that they had pushed away at the back of their minds.

But the gospel is only known when the message is told, using words!

Paul argues in Romans 10:9-15 that people cannot be saved unless we go and tell them.  How can they go unless they are sent, Paul continues.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”” (Romans 10:9–15, NLT)

In a recent blog, Ed Stetzer writes:

There’s a popular saying often repeated by Christians. It has found new life on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe you have even uttered these words, commonly attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.”

I think we can appreciate what many are getting at when they say something like this. As Christians, we should live in such a way that our lives point to the person and work of Jesus. However, good intentions cannot overcome two basic problems with this quote and its supposed origin. One, Francis never said it, and two, the quote is not biblical.

The gospel requires—demands even—words.

So let’s preach the gospel, and let’s use words, since they’re necessary.

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 is the Church’s mandate to go and tell the good news about Jesus Christ.

 

Church (2): How can I join?

Whether it is trying to cross a border, or someone claim that they are a child of someone else’s, it is very difficult, although some manage to do it, on occasions.

However, when it comes to entering God’s family, it is impossible to fake it and get away with it.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetIn John’s gospel, he lists different ways which are impossible to become part of God’s family. But he also tells us one way which does allow us to become part of God’s family.

There is only one true Church of God’s people.

Only the Lord knows the heart of each person – only he truly knows who are his children, and who are not. Only God can see into the heart, where we cannot see. That is why the true Church is called the ‘Invisible’ Church. In contrast, the ‘Visible’ Church is what ‘we’ can see. We can see people go to church, attend services, take part, be baptised, take the bread and juice at the Lord’s Table. But no matter how well we can judge people at times, there are sometimes those who we don’t really know whether they are true believers or not. There are many people who go to Church who are not God’s children, not part of God’s family.

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” (John 1:12–13, NLT)

Jesus did not command us to force people to convert, but to spread the message of the gospel, and let people believe themselves.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”” (Romans 10:9–13, NLT)

John tells us that “to all who believed”…  Entry into God’s family is by faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s as simple as that.  Faith that goes hand in hand with repentance from sin, faith in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross for our sins.

Praise God for such a wonderful gospel message.

Church (1): Who or what is it?

Church - 1 - Who or what is itWe all need community, whether it is a real local neighbourhood community, a work community, or a virtual community via Facebook or TV soaps.

But more than that, we need a loving, caring family or community, not a dysfunctional one where we are afraid, insecure and unloved. We also need community so that we can love others; Jesus reaffirmed the biblical teaching that we ought to not only love God with all our heart, mind soul and strength, but that we ought to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).

Click image for Sunday's service sheetWe all serve someone or something. We often serve ourselves. Or we may serve some idol such as ambition, relationships, money, peer opinion, etc.

The search for utopia, the perfect society, is as old as mankind. But no matter how much we progress in terms of education, economy, technology, etc., we still struggle with unkindness, selfishness, abuse, jealousy, theft, murder, exploitation, and so on. While there is a lot of good being done by many people, overall we still do not live in a perfect society. The Bible calls the actions and motives which cause this ‘sin’.

Yet, there is a perfect society or community being established. It is those who have entered the kingdom of God, having their sins forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ. Each one also receive the Holy Spirit to do what his name suggests, to give us a spirit which is holy and not sinful. While this worldwide community throughout all ages is still imperfect overall, it is nevertheless being transformed. One day, when the Lord returns and establishes his final kingdom, we will see it made perfect, beautiful, and glorious.

Believers in Jesus Christ aren’t just saved for their personal benefit, in isolation from others. There is no such thing as individual salvation which is not part of God’s larger plan of salvation for his people. Believers should therefore also be united as part of a local church here and now, as they look forward to being part of the global people of God in the future.

Praise God for redeeming sinners from a world which is so imperfect, to live in a world where perfection and love will abound.

Listen as we look at the first in this series as to what the Church is, and how it should function, and how we can better fulfill our role as God’s people on earth.

Forgiveness: Conditional on repentance?

11568818_lShould forgiveness be conditional on repentance, or unconditionally given to all?

The article on ‘Healing for victims’ on page 5 of Crosstalk issue 20 answered the question of whether forgiveness should be given to all unconditionally, or only on the condition of repentance.  Space did not allow for a more thorough discussion of that topic, so a link was put in the article to this webpage.

A thorough and relatively academic discussion of the matter is available here: Forgiveness paper (updated 21/10/14)

The summary conclusions at the end of the paper are reproduced below.

Summary of paper

The subject of forgiveness is often debated. In particular, the question as to whether Christians should forgive everyone unconditionally as in Matthew 6:12-15 and Mark 11:25, or should they forgive only under the condition of repentance by the offender, as in Matthew 18:15-20 and Luke 17:3–4. This is not merely an academic theological debate, since lack of forgiveness is well known to affect mental health, and can result in deep-seated bitterness, either through inability to forgive, or under the guise of ‘being biblical’.

The Greek words used which are translated forgive/forgiveness in the passages considered all simply mean to ‘let go’ or ‘release’. Forgiveness is not equivalent to reconciliation, although it is a step in the process that hopefully leads to that reconciliation.

In the debate on whether forgiveness ought to be (i) conditional on repentance, or (ii) unconditional and not requiring repentance, proponents of each view can find Bible verses which support their view on the one hand, and reinterpret verses of the alternate view to suit their own perspective on the other hand. The conditional repentance view reinterprets verses which seem to promote unconditional forgiveness, to understand them to be conditional even when they are clearly not conditional. The view that does not require repentance before forgiving others reinterprets verses which clearly teach that forgiveness should be conditional to mean that they should be understood as being unconditional. Neither view deals with its opposing texts in a satisfactory manner. Neither view is satisfactory on its own.

However, by examining the contexts of both sets of verses, it can be shown that where the New Testament teaches that forgiveness should be conditional on repentance, that this is exclusively within the context of church, and for the good of those within church overall. That is, sin within church ought not to be passed over, or let go. It ought to be challenged and corrected, to maintain the holiness and unity of fellowship in the Lord. If repentance is not forthcoming, such people ought to be excluded from fellowship, until such time as they repent. Believers have a responsibility to bring wandering brothers and sisters back to the flock, just like the shepherd does to his sheep. This is the responsibility of church, corporately. At the same time, within this context, teaching in Matthew 18:15-22 and Luke 17:3–4 on how many times one ought to forgive another tackle the separate and personal response by those offended to the command to forgive others in church. The initial context in Matthew 18:15-22 and Luke 17:3–4 is corporate forgiveness within church; the secondary context is how the individual in that context must be prepared to forgive repeatedly at a personal level, regardless of whether the offender repents or not.

In a different context, passages like Matthew 6:12-15 and Mark 11:25 which promote unconditional forgiveness can be seen to be applicable to believers at a personal level, regardless of whether they relate to those in Christ’s Church or unbelievers in the world at large. Personal forgiveness relates to Christian character, not corporate church discipline. At the same time, unconditional forgiveness at a personal level is compatible with conditional forgiveness at a corporate church level. If believers do not forgive unconditionally at a personal level, this affects their individual relationship with God. If church does not maintain the condition of repentance before forgiving those who sin, this allows sin to grow unchecked within the fellowship of God’s people.

Other Bible passages which have been interpreted as promoting that forgiveness should be conditional on repentance, such as Ephesians 4:32, can be seen to be interpreted in ways which are either compatible with, or outside the scope of, the passages of direct concern.

Further, believers can forgive unconditionally, because matters of justice are already in God’s hands – all sin is ultimately transgression of ‘his’ moral law (the Ten Commandments). The condition for mankind to receive forgiveness from God’s eternal judgment is repentance with faith, based on Jesus atoning death on the cross for sin.  There is no such judgment applicable from one person to another, so repentance from one person to another is not a fundamental requirement of forgiveness.

Forgiveness at an individual level, and giving or withholding forgiveness in a church context, are both generally independent of the workings of the law of the land, although there may be occasions where the church discipline process will require matters to be also addressed by the civil authorities.

In terms of healing, then, there is no biblical barrier, such as lack of repentance, to believers experiencing the freedom and release that comes from forgiving others at a personal individual level, regardless of whether the offence was within the context of a church fellowship or not. There are many believers who have accumulated unforgiveness under the assumption that they are doing what is biblical, for whom it is hoped they can experience the release and freedom that forgiveness brings.

For everyone, hopefully forgiving others will result in healing and freedom from additional pain on top of the original offence. For those who can’t forgive naturally, it is hoped that they will be able to find faith in Jesus Christ, so that they will have the power to forgive others.

But most of all, it is hoped that everyone will find the joy and peace which comes from receiving forgiveness from God, through faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning suffering, death and resurrection to life.

Unity (28 September 2014)

Click image for Sunday's service sheetPablo Mandresa (from Hope Fellowship North Belfast) preached to us on the topic of ‘unity’ from John 17.

“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.” (John 17:21–26, NLT)