When you read the book of Acts, it’s hard not to get excited. The Christians were together all the time praising God and witnessing miracles. It didn’t matter if you were a Jew or a Gentile, slave or free. Their love for our Lord and Savior became a powerful uniting force that caused them to live what many would call a radical Christian life.
These first-century believers were so united that they were constantly fellowshipping together, praising God, and taking care of each other’s needs in extreme ways. Imagine if this happened in our churches today. What if Sally came in and told her small group that she needed $40K for a life-saving medical procedure? And then what if Mr. and Mrs. Johnson spoke up agreeing to downsize their home and move their family of seven into a two-bedroom apartment so that Sally would be taken care of? Doesn’t it suck you in? Don’t you want to be a part of a community that loves like that? What was their secret? Let’s take a closer look.
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need" (Acts 2:42-45).
What’s the deal? What are churches today missing that the early church had? Most of today's churches place a lot of value on the apostle’s teaching and prayer and rightly, but what about that other element? Do we devote ourselves to fellowship?
For most churches, I think not. Let’s make it personal. Ask yourself for a moment: do I devote myself to fellowship with believers? That word “devote” implies that there is a commitment involved. So many of us have limited ourselves to a drive-thru version of Christianity– hop into church on Sunday for an hour or two and slip out as soon as you can so you don’t have to bother with people.
I don’t believe Jesus ever intended us to live this way. God designed us for community and yet there is a fellowship deficiency in the church. I believe there are three main reasons that Christians do not make fellowship with believers a priority in their lives.
1. We are selfish.
I get it and I’ve been there. People are weird and sometimes, I’d just rather spend the night at home watching Netflix and eating Oreos. “Let’s just skip small group tonight, honey,” you say and you both sigh in relief. But then the next week comes around and you think, “It sure was nice to have an evening to ourselves,” and eventually your desire for self-gratification overshadows your devotion to fellowship and becomes a habit.
While it’s true that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places (Luke 5:16) to pray and recharge, more often than not we see him with the people – perhaps just investing in his twelve closest disciples or maybe preaching to the crowds that constantly seemed to press in around him. He hung out with tax collectors and sinners and what some would call “weird people!” If Jesus is an example of loving people, we should follow his lead. I might also add, it doesn’t matter what your Myers- Briggs type is or whether or not you are a “people person.” If you are a follower of Christ, you must learn to love people.
2. We are afraid of accountability.
A few years ago, my husband and I were asked to lead a young adult group at our church. We opened our home and began hosting activities with our small group. As we started getting to know people, we began to genuinely feel the need to share their burdens. This meant being more accessible, praying for each other, and getting involved in each other’s lives.
Several months later, a situation arose where we noticed a dear friend struggling in a big way. My heart was grieved because I wanted to see
this individual set free from the bondage of a certain sin threatening to destroy their life. “Someone should talk to them about this,” I thought. And then as soon as I thought it, the Lord moved on my heart. “You do it.”
It was then that I realized that God had perfectly positioned me to speak into this person’s life. They knew me. I knew them. They knew that I loved them. And so, I put Matthew 18:15-17 to work which instructs us how to confront a brother or sister and I approached this individual privately and in love.
And you know what happened? It worked. I saw this person take steps to repent and honor God in their life. But I never would have had the guts to confront them if I hadn’t first formed a relationship. When you devote yourself to fellowship it grants you necessary access into a person’s life and they have access to yours!
People often say that the church is filled with a bunch of hypocrites because they see Christians struggling with pornography, lust, greed, pride, etc. Maybe secretly, one of the reasons we do not allow ourselves to get close to genuine believers is because we fear being called out on our sins.
3. We don’t realize how incredibly valuable it is.
Just look at how fast the early church was growing! I believe that when you form communities that prioritize fellowship, this kind of unity is irrefutable. It draws unbelievers who want that special something you have. If we truly understood this, I think we would live differently and maybe the Lord would add to our number daily those who are being saved.