Fellowship within the family of God resembles that of an earthly family in many ways. Family life is not always agreeable and is sometimes affronted with friction and discord. We can take comfort in knowing that God will use times of conflict to strengthen and build resolve within us. It is the love of Christ that holds us together when our spirit is broken.
Can I invite you to take your Bibles, and we’ll turn to Acts chapter 2? And from Acts 2:41:
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Father, as we take these moments now to look into your Word, we pray that your Spirit will be our teacher, that you will make us attentive to your truth and make us different as a family of faith, for your glory and for our good, and so that unbelieving people might become committed followers of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Now, we come to these marks, on Sunday evenings, of what we’ve said are the marks of an effective church. And, of course, we go to this passage somewhat arbitrarily—we could go to other places—but it seems to fit in light of what we’re doing in the morning hours. And last time, having dealt with this matter of teaching, we now come this evening to the question of “the fellowship”—“the fellowship.” And the word here, as many of us are very familiar, is the word koinonia, or koi-NO-nia, as we used to say as teenagers, and I’m not sure which is the correct Anglicized pronunciation. But it actually emerges from the root word, which is koinos, and that word simply means “common”—common.
And as I studied this again this week, it was with a great measure of encouragement as I thought about the prospect of the beginning of the building of the Commons. When we were talking about it and I said, “Why don’t we just call this area the Commons?” it wasn’t because of any great theological insight; it was simply because it gave us a tie-in to a place with which we had become familiar in our usage of Solon High School.
But as I studied this week and I realized that the very word itself, koinos, provides the basis for koinonia—for fellowship, for communion, for partnership—I said, “You know, it’s an absolutely perfect name for that space.” And it expresses quite wonderfully what we hope to achieve, in part, in that space—namely, an opportunity to allow it to be a location in which all kinds of expressions of our common life in Christ can be fleshed out in an environment that neither is a classroom or is an auditorium like this, just with pews. And it also allows us to get beyond the idea of the “fellowship hall,” which not only is an archaic term in my own mind but also is a phrase that makes me think that it causes other people to think that this is something that happens in a unique location, rather than the location is simply the servant of the activity being embraced by God’s people in the orb of their lives.
The reason it is of such pressing importance is because in the early church, their communal life was one of the great attractions to the pagan world . The pagan world was not so much attracted by the preaching; it was attracted by the commonality of these people, part of which commonality was the preaching of the Word of God. Clearly, effective preaching was part of evangelism; it was used in every city where the church was born, and I’m the last one to step back from that, as is clear on multiple levels. Nevertheless, it was the very fulfillment of the words of Jesus in the life of his people that “by this will all men know that you’re my disciples: because of the self-giving love which is characteristic of your gatherings.” And it was in the fulfillment of that, expressed in the developing church, that the pagan world was attracted to consider what it was that united these diverse people—barbarian, Scythian, slaves, free people, people from a Jewish background, people from an Athenian background, and so on—and they had no real explanation for the commonality of their existence. And so it was that God’s people devoted themselves, not only here in the early days but throughout the developing church, to the commonality of their lives.
Now, what I’d like to do is to suggest just a number of words that help us to categorize this commonality, this communion, this koinonia, this fellowship and partnership. And I only have limited time, and so, this is an outline.
First of all, and clearly, our common life is related to a common faith—to a common faith. If you turn, for example, to 1 John and to chapter 1 and the opening verses there, we have this summarized perfectly for us. In verses 3 and 4: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you … may have [koinonia] with us”—“so that you … may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. [And] we write this to make our joy complete.”
So at the very heart of the matter is this: that the common existence of God’s people is on account of their shared faith . That’s why Acts 2:41 is so crucial: it was “those who accepted” the Word who were baptized. And it was in accepting the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done and their declared commitment to his saviorship and lordship in their lives that not only were they baptized in profession of that faith, but they were then gathered into the communion of God’s people. It wasn’t that they were gathered together on the basis of ethnicity, or on the basis of the schools that they went to, or a common interest in a certain musical style, or anything like that at all. They brought all of the diversity of their lives and were united in a common faith. And this, of course, is of fundamental importance.
And that is why, as we saw in 1 Corinthians when we studied there, in chapter 10, the picture of the Lord’s Supper is a wonderful expression of this communion. And 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul says, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation”—a communion—“in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” And when the bread is passed in our Communion services and we take that to ourselves, we do so as individuals, but we do so within the expression of a common meal, albeit symbolic. And in taking the bread, as in taking the cup, we are identifying the fact that we have come to embrace Christ in all of his fullness, he is the very Bread of Life to us, he is the Life-giving Water, and it is that which unites us. United in common faith.
So, faith, and then secondly, family. It’s simply an extension of the thought. We’re all in the same family, because we all have the same Father.
Now, people would say, “Well, that is true of everyone who was ever made, because God is the Father of everyone.” Well, that is true, of course; he is the Father of all by creation, but he is only the Father by redemption of those who have been brought near to the cross of Christ and have come in repentance and in faith to embrace his offer of mercy . And it is within this context that our familial relationships are established—and indeed, to such an extent that they are supposed to transcend the issues of family itself! You remember, Jesus said, “Here is my mother, and here’s my father, and here are my brothers and sisters,” and he was pointing to his disciples, and he was making the point that ultimately, the only forever family into which we will be brought is the family of faith.
John 1:–13: “He came to his own, his own received him not. But as many as received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or of a husband’s will, but born of God.” And this, you see, is the thing. We look around at all these funny people that make up the church, and we say to ourselves, “How in the world did this group get put together in this way? What is the fact of the matter?” The fact of the matter is that we’ve been born again of the same Spirit and we have been united by the same Father.
Ephesians :[18–]19, “I pray [that] also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength.” And it is in our believing that we are brought within the framework of family.
1 John 4, again—in 1 John there is so much concerning this—verse 21, you find a similar emphasis: “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother,” and we might easily add, “and his sister too, for that matter.” “Whoever has given us this command, we must love God, and we must also love our brothers and our sisters.” It is incongruous for us not to love one another, because we have the same Father . And that is why disruption in the nuclear family is such a sad thing, because these people have come from the same framework, and we would expect that they would do everything in their power to genuinely love one another.
Now, I don’t know how much you think about that in relationship to Parkside Church; I’m not sure how much I think about it myself all the time. But do I genuinely think of this place as my family? And if I do, then presumably, it should make a difference in the way in which I come to spend time with my family. And there ought to be, as I said this morning, a genuine sense of cheer that is part and parcel of our being brought together in the one location.
Some years ago, in addressing this matter—and it’s a number of years ago, maybe eleven by now—I read a poem. As a result of reading the poem, I got one of the most vitriolic letters that I ever received from a lady who accused me of being all on the wrong side of the poem, and she ended up sounding very much like the individual who was in the poem; maybe she saw herself in the poem, I don’t know. And since she never told me who it was, the chances are she might still be here, and then you feel bad ’cause I’m using you as an illustration. Well, let me apologize up front and wait for your second letter.
The poem is entitled, “Good Morning,” and it reads as follows:
She stands by the church door in a porridge-colored suit, handing out hymnbooks like bus tickets.
I pay on entry; perhaps she smiled when she opened the door for me, but I couldn’t be sure.
I go down the unfamiliar aisle and sit among strangers, looking at the backs of strangers.
We’re all on the same bus, traveling the same road.
Her leathery handbag may be packed with sixty years of love and joy and pain, but I will never know.
Instead, we’ll pass again at the door and say, “Good morning.”
That’s not family. Nor is family all huggy-buggy, lovey-dovey stuff all the time; at least that’s not my family. So we don’t get all tyrannized about that either, right? I don’t know what breakfast is like in your house, but it’s not a major love-in in our house. It’s a nice time, but it’s not, you know, effusive. And nobody doubts the sincerity of the care around the table or within the framework of what’s going on; that is not in question, because we know we’re family. So we’re not talking about superficial expressions; we’re talking about reality.
The same faith, the same family; thirdly, the same feeling. We have a common faith, a common family, and a common feeling. We feel what others feel. That’s what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 12; if you turn to it, you’ll see that what I am telling you is the truth. First Corinthians 12, the second half of verse 25: that the body should have “no division … but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” How would that be? He says, “[Well,] if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” So that there is a camaraderie of feeling; there is a sense of living and dying with the whole event.
I had the privilege of going to one of the games along with my wife this week and found myself high-fiving people that I have never seen before in my life and hope never to meet again, frankly. And I’m sure they feel the same way about me. But we literally went up and we went down together, in unison. We were lifted up, and at times we were deflated. Nobody said, “Okay, row 14, go for it!” Nobody said, “Okay, program x, put it in your computer, pull it up, unanimously, let’s go!” No. There was a common feeling, united by a shared conviction, with a shared goal, so that the whole event moved as a single individual.
Now, should it happen at baseball games and not happen within the family of God? And should it be possible to have a greater sense of that feeling—a greater sense of that unity—than when we come amongst God’s people? Well, the answer is no, but quite honestly, the answer is, it often is a lot better there than it is in church.
Now, this same notion of feeling is pointed out again by Paul when he writes in Romans 12:13; he says, “Share with God’s people who are in need.” “Share with God’s people.” In other words, there is to be a participation of feeling—that my limitations and my weaknesses are complemented by your strengths. That’s why you’re here. That’s why we’re all here. We’re not clones. God has purposely picked us out, knowing exactly who we are; the hairs of our heads are numbered, our names are graven on the palms of his hands, and he has put the body together exactly as he determined—a funny bunch of folk, without question, and yet in order that there might be a complementary dimension to our feelings.
So, we have a common faith, we have a common family, we have a common feeling, and we have a common experience of friction. A common experience of friction. What is friction? Well, if you look it up in the dictionary, it will tell you that friction is heat generated by one or more objects rubbing against each other while moving in different directions. And I want to acknowledge what is obvious tonight—namely, that whenever you put people together, like this, you will have friction. Every church family I’ve ever encountered fusses and feuds. The question is how much it fusses, what it fusses about, and what the extent of the feuds are, but they’re there all the time, everywhere. And when you’ve just finished one fuss and you walk out the door, you walk right into another one. And when you just dealt with the final feud of all feuds, you wake up the next morning, and you hit another one full in the face.
Now, why would we be surprised by this? You put together all these sinful people, where sin no longer reigns but it remains; you put together all these people—the good they want to do, they don’t do; the bad they don’t want to do, they do—all these wretched men and women, and you rub ’em all up against each other, what do you expect is going to happen? See, we’re not perfectly created little bits of brick, all the right dimensions to fit together with the right kind of mortar and all beautifully positioned. We’re rough, imperfect .
I’ve told you before that the building of the church is like building with bananas: just awkward shapes. You say to somebody, “Okay, here’s a bunch of bananas. Now go and build me a box.”
Say, “What, with the bananas?”
“Yeah, with the bananas!”
Well, what are you going to have to do? Get real creative! But don’t you sometimes look around at our church and you say, “How’re we going to build anything with this? Look at him, he’s all… he’s got that thing sticking out the end of him, that bit; I’m going to have to break that off if ever I get next to him.” And, “Oh, man, she’s so soft; she has those brown spots in the middle. I don’t even like to sit up close to that.” Now, we’re not talking in physical terms, you understand. I don’t want letters from ladies with brown spots. I don’t even want to mention that anymore; I’m sorry I did.
But I want to tell you how to avoid friction: die! I want to tell you how you can have a completely friction-free fellowship: die! But as long as you stay alive, friction it is! And anybody who tells you anything different is neither reading their Bible nor living in the real world. Now, that’s not to say that we embrace friction, we rejoice in friction. We want to minimize friction. And that’s why the synovial fluid of the body, to prevent the grinding of the bones and the joints together, is the agape love of the Lord Jesus Christ , and that we’re not going to simply acknowledge that arthritis is what we want to have and be an arthritic body where the synovial fluid has drained out of those joints and those little sacs have been punctured and have gone, and so we just stumble and bumble along; we’re not saying that. But what we’re saying is, it should be no surprise that there would be friction amongst people who are by nature sinful.
Now, there’re all kinds of reasons for that, but when the reason is that people who are out of touch with Jesus are in charge of areas of ministry, I can guarantee you total havoc. That is why, you see, John says, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ,” and on the basis of that, we have this commonality with one another. But when it goes on the vertical axis, it’s shot on the horizontal plane.
And that is exactly what had happened, you see, in the context of 1 Timothy. And if you turn there for just a moment, I’m going to finish this morning’s sermon, as a subpoint of this evening’s. (Pure genius, huh? No, not at all.) But what’s going on with Hymenaeus and Alexander? Well, Hymenaeus and Alexander have let go of two things: “faith and a good conscience.” So that in terms of their morality and in terms of their doctrine, they’re not cutting it straight; they’re not living the life. And they’re causing total havoc within the fellowship. They are responsible for friction beyond what is tolerable. And as a result of that, Timothy, as a young pastor, is urged first of all to make sure that he watches his “life and [his] doctrine closely” so that he doesn’t become a shipwrecked sailor like these two characters—so that he is possessed by and possessing faith and love in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But since these characters are unprepared to be embraced by this, nor do they display it in their lives, what is supposed to happen to them is absolutely clear: namely, they are to be put out of the fellowship—put out of the fellowship. “Handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” In other words, put back into the realm of the world, removed from the privileges of fellowship, removed from the Lord’s Table, removed from all that represents security to them in terms of the things of the faith, and with a both punitive and remedial purpose. Notice that they are being “handed over to Satan to be taught” not to do this anymore. So Paul anticipates them back, but they’re not staying while they do this.
For example, in Romans chapter 16, I think it is, you find a similar emphasis. Romans 16:17: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.” What should we do with people like that? Look at it! “Keep away from them.” Keep away from them! Why? “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.”
Now, this comes across as very hard, doesn’t it? Because when we think of the word “fellowship,” we tend to think of it all in terms of faith and family, and all those things, and feeling. And it’s all like a big blanket; we gather all underneath the blanket and cozy up to one another. And then someone goes and introduces the issue of friction, which, of course, is nothing other than biblical honesty. And then we say, “Well, how are we to deal with friction?” Well, we’re to deal with it according to the love of Christ and in obedience to the truth of God’s Word. And if we’re going to be obedient to the truth of God’s Word, there are times in the fellowship of God’s people when we have to take dramatic action. And that is why the Reformers said that for a church to be a true church, there had to be the preaching of the Word of God, there had to be the celebration of the sacraments, and there had to be the exercise of church discipline.
So, in Titus and in chapter 3 you have a similar emphasis, again in the Pastoral Epistles. Titus 3:10: What do we do with somebody who is divisive? What do you do with a divisive person? Well, he says, “You warn them once, you warn them a second time, and after that, you have nothing to do with them.” You’re not going to let people sit at your dining room table and destroy your family because they have a bad attitude, are you? You’re going to say, “You know what? You better go to your room. And you better stay in your room until such times as you’ve figured out exactly why it is that you cannot participate happily, confidently, positively, and productively within the framework of what we’re doing here. We’re just not gonna tolerate it.”
And that’s exactly how we view our responsibility as elders at Parkside Church. Let me tell you this: if I get out of touch up here, I’m going to be all out of touch down here. And what I need is to be put back in touch up here, which involves repentance, and forgiveness, and faith, and trust.
But because churches want to be thought nice places, cozy places, they tolerate friction, tolerate division, tolerate divisive people. They mustn’t. The future of the church depends upon it.
Listen to Colson on this: he says,
No one should expect to join a church (which, after all, involves a free decision) and then refuse to accept its authority …. For failing to attend a few meetings, one can be thrown out of the Rotary Club. For failing to live up to a particular dress code, one can be dismissed from most private clubs. For failing to perform the required community service, one can be thrown out of the Junior League.
Yet when the church imposes discipline—denying the benefits of membership to those who [flaunt] its standards—it is charged with everything short of … fascism. But shouldn’t the church have at least the same right to set its standards as the Rotary Club? People who don’t like it … should go elsewhere.
We weaken the church when we fail to discipline.
So fellowship, you see, has a bite to it. It’s a Granny Smith apple, not the McIntosh Red—kind of bland, soft. It’s got a … that thing to it. And without that, the church is a laughingstock to the world. Why should the church tolerate the same immorality the world tolerates?
Okay, my time’s gone. I had another couple of words; I’ll just tell you what they were. We’ve got the same faith, the same family, the same feeling, the same experience of friction, the same focus. The same focus. Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider each other better than yourselves. Don’t look only to your own interests, look to the interests of others. Have the same attitude, the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And it is that focus which creates hospitality, burden-bearing, mutual encouragement, prayer, giving—and I’ll come back to giving. Incidentally, the word for generosity in giving is koinonikos; it’s from the same root. And that is what you find in 2 Corinthians 8 when you think about giving: “They gave themselves,” and then they went on from there.
So, we’ve got the same faith, the same family, the same feeling, the same experience of friction, the same focus, and we’ve got the same future. The same future. You know, you can live in a neighborhood and say, “You know, can’t stand the guy up the road, can’t stand his dog, hate the way he parks his car there, and everything else,” and you can say to yourself, “Oh, well, maybe I’ll get transferred, and we’ll be out of here.” You can say, “Well, I’m a junior or I’m a senior in school, and this is not very good, but I’m gonna be out of here, and we’ll all go our separate ways.” But let me tell you something: there’s no “outta here.” We’re stuck with one another. Stuck for eternity. Eternity! That seems like a long time to me. Right?
So we have the same future. We’re going to the same place. We’re going to sing the same songs. Our life is just a preparation. And so God says, in the preparatory stage here on earth, it is in the context of a loving and a caring fellowship that our individual weaknesses and our character defects and our personality problems are all complemented and supported and healed and compensated for by the other members of the body of Christ, provided we do not ask, “What can the fellowship do for me?” but ask, “What can I do for the fellowship?”
And I can guarantee you that when you and I start from that perspective, all of our self-pity and our concerns and our aggravations will begin to go right out the window. That is not to say that people are not neglected from time to time; of course, they are. We goof things up. But loved ones, do not allow impediments to fellowship to be tolerated in your own heart and mind: malice, envy, pride, criticism, slander, gossip, and all those other things.
And although we may think to ourselves that we’re seated in the ashes and everybody else is going to the ball, the fact is that Cinderella is about to become a beautiful creature—that the Lord Jesus is continuing to fashion his church into a beautiful and a glorious bride . And when we have that dream and that vision before us, then it brings everything else into line.
The little doggerel is all too true, isn’t it? You know,
To dwell above with saints we love,
O that will sure be glory!
To dwell below with saints we know—
that’s a different story!
And it is a different story, and God knows it’s a different story. But it’s the story.
And I don’t want to play the resident alien here, but I do want to say this to you in passing—and you can hear it much better from someone else than me if you read the early chapters of The Body by Chuck Colson, where he addresses the issue of “McChurch.” In Scotland, there aren’t enough churches for people to keep running off to every time they get ticked off about something. And so people stay, fight, kiss, make up, and start all over again. And as a result of that, there is a strengthening bond in that experience.
And this is not a comment on any individual either coming or going, because every week I meet people who tell me that they left such and such a church because such and such is going on, and they had to come here. I don’t want to tell them that there’re three people who just went to the church that they left for the very same stinking reason that they believe they had to come here. And it just kind of… it does my box with regularity.
Now, we have a staggering responsibility in relationship to this. And we’re not great. But this is the Lord Jesus’ church, and he’s our Servant King.
And for your encouragement, I want to read a letter that I got today—and with this we finish, and then we’ll go to these baptisms, and our evening is over. I don’t know whether to read it just straight or preserve the anonymity of the individuals; it’s hard to do. Well, let me just read a couple of paragraphs:
Comforted as we are spiritually by unending demonstrations of God’s love and mercy and grace, we have been nourished by the care and concern of Parkside Church—that is, the members of the body—who have each given so much support in their respective ministries. What a powerful and uncompromising message Michael Aquilino delivered last Monday at the service. We were all privileged to hear God’s Word spoken so clearly.
The care and concern, the consistency of Joy Care and Barnabas Ministries, have been with us for a long time. And we have learned of another ministry as the ladies of the kitchen and the men of custodial services provided food and furniture. We had despaired of knowing how to conduct or organize such a thing, overlooking that God provides. Even and especially when we fall back on “we alone,” then we are reminded who is the Lord.
And so the trial of Jesse’s illness is behind us. There are many days in which we will miss him still ahead, but we know that in God’s time, we will see him again, and all the separations will become completions. Thank you for being there to help him step forward onto the narrow path where his burden was lifted and a gentle yoke put in its place.
That makes me very glad. Because what it says is that lots and lots of people behind the scenes in Parkside Church have determined, on the basis of the same faith, living in the same family, having the same feeling, to lay aside the experience of friction and focus on making the lives of those who are in particular need their immediate concern.
Loved ones, this is a cruel and lonely world. This is not a nice place to live. And people are fragmented, and they’re fearful, and they’re lost, and they’re lonesome. And you and I, in devoting ourselves to the fellowship, may become the very hands and feet of our Master in reaching into their lives. Let us commit ourselves to that end.
Let us pray together:
O God our Father, we thank you for your church, the body of Christ. We recognize that it is far bigger than ourselves and this little location. Save us from our own preoccupations. Forgive us, Lord, if we take ourselves too seriously or want to slap ourselves on the back with congratulations and don’t see the flaws. Help us, however, on the other hand, not to berate ourselves because we experience friction, because we know that’s part and parcel of life. Even your disciples rubbed one another up and down the wrong way, and they were under your gaze, heard your words from your very own mouth.
So, Lord, look upon us in your mercy, we pray. Make us a genuine family of faith. Grant that six months from now, we will be better at this than we are today. For your glory, for our good, and for the extension of your kingdom we ask it, as we bring to you our evening offerings, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 John 13:35 (paraphrased).
 See Colossians 3:11.
 Matthew 12:49–50 (paraphrased). See also Mark 3:34–35.
 John 1:11–13 (paraphrased).
 See Luke 12:7, Matthew 10:30.
 See Isaiah 49:16.
 See Romans 7:19.
 1 John 1:3 (NIV 1984).
 1 Timothy 1:19 (NIV 1984).
 1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV 1984).
 1 Timothy 1:20 (NIV 1984).
 See, for instance, the Belgic Confession, article 29.
 Titus 3:10 (paraphrased).
 Charles Colson, The Body (Dallas: Word, 1992), 133.
 Philippians 2:3–5 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 8:5 (NIV 1984).
 Colson, The Body, 41, 44.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.