Fellowship is More Than Coffee and Cookies After Church

Title: Fellowship is More Than Coffee and Cookies After Church

Text: Galatians 6:1-5

Time: May 21st, 2011

 

The first church I can ever remember attending was located in Ann Arbor. This church always had an after-church coffee, cake and cookie time in what was called the “Fellowship Hall.” I’m pretty sure that when I first started attending as a small boy they didn’t have the “Fellowship Hall,” but because someone suggested that the church needed more space for classrooms and fellowship, a new section of the church was built. There were room dividers that could be used to separate the long hall during the Sunday School hour, but then these dividers could be rolled back to create a place for fellowship after church. So as a boy growing up I always thought of this place when I heard the word “fellowship.” But as I got older – and I hope wiser – I began to realize that there is a lot more to Christian fellowship than simply having a place for people to gather after church for coffee, cookies and cake, as well as a place to talk and meet other people. However, even today, after all these years I still run into people with an idea of fellowship similar to the one I had as a small boy. They equate fellowship with something like a cocktail party – although I’ve never, technically been to a cocktail party, I know what they are, I mean, I know what I’ve seen on television. It’s a gathering were everyone talks superficially and about things that don’t cause controversy or division. It’s a place where everyone avoids any deep or heavy topic, but rather talks on the surface about the weather or sports teams or other harmless things. Everyone usually goes away feeling ok, not really good or bad, just pretty average. But it did get people talking and socializing at least. For many people, church fellowship is like a cocktail party where not much takes place other than small talk or chitchat. Nobody shares their deep sorrows or joys, nobody admits to doubts or fears, but just keeps all the important issues of life inside while appearing perfectly fine on the outside. How awful, but that’s what church is for many people. But as we learn from the Bible, Christian fellowship is a lot more than simply getting people together for a kind of Christian cocktail party. It involves more than just sharing the superficial topics of one’s life. It’s more than simply coming across happy and positive. It’s more than just encouraging people in whatever they are doing in life at the time. As we’ll find out from today’s passage, part of Christian fellowship is confronting people when they’ve fallen away from the faith in some area and carrying their burdens with them in life, and finally, refusing to compare ourselves one with another. Galatians 6:1-5, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” Let me say a few things about this passage in respect to Christian fellowship.

 

First, true Christian fellowship confronts those who have fallen into sin in some area. Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” Now most Christian churches today are more like cocktail parties today in respect to Christian fellowship, then they are following the instruction of this verse. Why? Because the Apostle Paul here in the Book of Galatians – a book we are almost completely through by the way, only a few more weeks – gives instructions in how Christian churches should operate, not how they often do operate. This just shows how desperately we need to listen to the Bible for our guidelines of church operation, not the common sense opinions of people today. What Paul says is that true Christian fellowship doesn’t just cover-up sins, or ignores immorality, or pretends heresy or false doctrine doesn’t matter in the church. No. True Christian fellowship is where we are encouraged to believe the truth and do what is right, while at the same time we are discouraged from believing what is false and confronted when we do wrong. The Christian church should operate more like a healthy family and less like a cocktail party. At a cocktail party, everyone puts their best face forward and pretends everything is fine. Nobody causes a scene or confronts anyone on the error of their ways, because there is an unwritten rule that says, “This gathering is for light, pleasant, superficial conversation. Don’t ruin it by talking about something that might cause hard-feelings or offend someone.” Now that’s ok for a cocktail party, but not for a church. There is a time and a place for pleasant conversation, for example, at receptions and banquets. It’s nice when everyone decides they’ll be polite and pleasant and not open up any conversation that could get carried away and upset others. But to make this format the normal, typical format of church fellowship – like most churches do all the time – is not the biblical vision of church. Paul says that within the church fellowship, among the people who attend and participate in a local Christian gathering, if someone is believing or living outside of Christian standards, they should be gently confronted. Now you can see why cocktail fellowship is so popular in churches today – because when you confront someone you risk alienating and offending them. Some people would rather have a church where nobody was ever confronted in sin or error, where everyone is just free to do whatever they want or believe whatever they want. But that is not what Jesus wants from his church. He wants people growing and maturing, advancing in the discipleship process. One of the most important aspects of Christian discipleship is Christian discipline, being held accountable to believing and living the teachings of God’s Word. Now if someone is off the mark either doctrinally or morally, others are to attempt to restore him gently, being careful not to fall into sin in the process of trying to restore someone else. In other words, with the proper attitude and approach. Now most offenses aren’t important enough or big enough to confront, but when the offense is large enough to deal with, it must be dealt with, not just swept under the rug like most churches do. Matthew 18:15-17 gives us the basic order: First, talk to the person individually. If they acknowledge and repent, no further action needs taken. Second, if they won’t listen, get a few others to talk with you to the person. Hopefully they’ll see it’s not just your opinion, but something more serious. Third, if they still won’t stand corrected, take it to the whole church, which means, the church leadership to begin with, then eventually if the person is still unrepentant, take it to the full church. This is how church discipline should take place in a true Christian church.

 

Second, true Christian fellowship helps carry the burdens of life for others. Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Now we see where true Christian fellowship in another place is different from cocktail party Christianity. Like I said before, at a cocktail party you don’t get in any deeper than the surface, you don’t want to risk offending or alienating anyone, so you just flit about like a social butterfly from one person to another, passing on warm feelings and friendly smiles. You obviously won’t hold anyone accountable for his or her faith in that atmosphere. That’s not true Christian fellowship. Well, another way that cocktail Christian fellowship is different from true Christian fellowship is that real fellowship shares the burdens of life with one another. In other words, Christians care enough about each other to share in the joys and the sorrows, the good times and the bad times of another person’s life. At a cocktail party, you might walk away from a conversation and think about the person you just talked to and about their problems and say, “Boy, I’m glad I’m not going through what they are going through. Better him than me.” That shows no commitment to the other person. But in true Christian fellowship we care for one another and we want to help each other carry the problems and struggles of life. Is someone going through financial struggles? Then true Christian fellowship means people are going to rally around that person and try to help in some way. Or maybe a person is having problems in his or her marriage. If so, then the other Christians in the church will be praying for the couple and doing anything and everything they can to help keep the marriage together. If one or the other isn’t doing what they should be doing, for example, if the man or woman is cheating on the other, then it should be confronted and brought to a stop. That could get tricky, but at least there will be a clear standard of right and wrong upheld. Or maybe, the couple just needs counseling, so the church will try to help the couple get counseling. Cocktail Christianity simply leaves it up to the couple to figure out on their own, by themselves. Now some people might not like this arrangement, this Christian fellowship format. They may want to solve their own problems without any outside help, but that just shows that they need to learn to enter into true Christian fellowship and not try to carry on in a Western-style individualism. The fact is, Christians need to share with other Christians their struggles and problems. That’s hard for some rugged individuals in America today. It’s why in churches couples all of a sudden announce they are splitting up suddenly. Why? Because they weren’t sharing their problems, they weren’t allowing their brothers and sisters to help them carry their burdens. That’s not right. So true Christian fellowship cares and is dedicated to helping one another. This fulfills the law of Christ which is “Love they neighbor as you love yourself.”

 

Third, true Christian fellowship guards against pride. Galatians 6:3-5, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” The original sin, the sin of Satan, is pride. You probably know the account in the Old Testament passage Ezekiel 28:11-19 where Lucifer is an angel in God’s heaven with the other angels. But something at some point caused this angel to compare himself with God and desire to be out from under God’s control or even over God in control of everything. Whatever the exact motive was, Satan rebelled against God and led one-third of the angels away. But the original sin of Satan was some form of pride. That same sin exists everywhere on earth today, wherever two or more are gathered, because it thrives on comparing one with another. For example, in a church, it can take the form of Christians comparing themselves with other Christians in knowledge, spiritual maturity, gifts, ministry, financial giving, wealth, status in society – any differentiation can be turned into either a case of pride or of inferiority. Some people see in themselves an edge over someone else, so they get prideful, while someone else may see a superiority in someone else and feel inferior. Both responses are bad. Both feelings can hurt the health of the church. We must all guard against both spiritual pride and spiritual inferiority; both are based on comparison, which we really shouldn’t be doing at all. I talked about the need sometimes in the church to confront people who are getting off track either in their doctrine or their behavior, but there really shouldn’t be a lot of this kind of accountability going on compared with how much encouraging should be going on. The atmosphere in the church should be encouraging, not confrontational. Plus, once everyone knows what the expectations of Christian discipleship truly are, they won’t need to be confronted by others; they’ll confront themselves mostly. That’s what the verse says here, “Each one should test his own actions.” We can receive the encouragement or rebuke of the Lord through prayer and the Holy Spirit mostly. As we learn to live disciplined Christian lives we won’t need other Christians to confront us as much because we’ll be holding ourselves accountable in prayer and in God’s Word. Although everyone from time to time needs reminding of certain truths or behaviors that they are blind to. Christian fellowship is ultimately for the goal of making us all into the image of Christ on earth. Jesus is the goal, and as we can see, we have a long way to go. But the vision is that through encouraging one another and holding each other accountable, we can make progress in Christian discipleship. We can be lights for God in a dark world of sin.

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