FELLOWSHIP: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT ISNʼT
“And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
I was recently asked to write a devotional on fellowship….this church-y word that gets a bad rep. After digging in, I now see why fellowship is considered a spiritual discipline. It is fundamental to our lives in the church and it is fundamental to the journey of sanctification we find ourselves walking along.
So, what is it? Fellowship is not partying or hanging out, but it does require other people. You can’t be a lone ranger in the kingdom of God, but being in a group is not enough. You could be in a small group but not enjoy true fellowship, because fellowship must have a spiritual component. In fellowship, we are all connected vertically to God, as well as horizontally to each other. In fellowship, we do life together with other people who share a relationship with Jesus Christ. For this reason, fellowship is not a luxury, it is a spiritual necessity.
The problem is that we, as humans, suck. We hurt each other, both intentionally and accidentally. So when we live in intentional community with other believers, whether that is a small group, a Bible study, or another group, fellowship is going to be hard. It would be so much easier to isolate ourselves, or only spend time with people who think exactly like us.
But that is not what God calls us to do.
FORGIVENESS & CELEBRATION
“Within the discipline of community are the disciplines of forgiveness and celebration. Forgiveness and celebration are what make community.” -Henri Nouwen
One of my spiritual mentors, Henri Nouwen, takes the discipline of fellowship and expands it into two fundamental disciplines: forgiveness and celebration.
Forgiveness is at the top of the list because we will undoubtedly hurt each other. Fellowship is blocked by unforgiveness and unreconciled relationships. You cannot be in fellowship with someone who you hold a grudge against. It’s not possible.
But what about celebration? Is it really important to God that we celebrate?
I have been thinking about this quote for two years. Two years ago, the celebration didn’t make sense to me. But after living through rejection, miscommunication, hurtful words and all of the shrapnel of broken relationships, I now think I get what Nouwen is talking about. Now, the discipline of celebration makes perfect sense. It is the counterpart to forgivness. Forgiveness is the lament, celebration is the praise, and we must always have a hand firmly grasping each one.
Once we forgive each other and release each other from the expectation that our horizontal relationships can give us what only the vertical one with God can, it becomes easier to set pride aside and truly celebrate each other.
But this requires that we see each other how God sees us.
GIANT SPARKLY DISCO BALL
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)
My friend Brandon says that every person you encounter is a unique, never-before-seen reflection of the image of God. I’ll add: there are no duplicates. We are created in His image, and reflect Him back to others.
Okay, just think about that.
This means that you and every single person in your community is reflecting back some characteristic or trait of who God is. This means that they are hand-crafted by God to display a part of His nature to all of us. This means that even the most difficult person in your community has something to teach you about God. They are one tiny facet of the giant sparkly disco ball that is God’s community here on earth. We need each other, and we should celebrate each other’s differences.
And what about this truth bomb: while you were reading this, thinking about a difficult person in your community, chances are someone was thinking about you.
This is why fellowship is important.
Fellowship forces us to humbly admit that we are all hurting, broken people, and then to humbly accept that God is not just asking us, but is commanding us to devote ourselves to living in community together. None of us is excused from living in community. Even the Triune God is fellowshipping with Himself.
It’s not going to be easy, but we get the rest of our lives to practice forgiving and celebrating the beautiful people God has surrounded us with.
This post originally appeared in a devotional on spiritual disciplines.