To say that churches kept their doors closed far too long during the pandemic is an understatement. Fortunately, most have reopened and resumed normal schedules.
Just because the doors have reopened, however, doesn’t mean that all the people have returned.
A recent Lifeway Research study reported, “98% of Protestant pastors say their churches are back to meeting in person, but three-quarters say they are still below pre-pandemic attendance.” In fact, most pastors reported their in-person attendance being down roughly 30% to 50%.
I’m sure some of those are “attending” online services. I certainly don’t want to disparage the ability to meet virtually for those who truly can’t attend physically. It can be a blessing.
But let’s be honest. The vast majority of professing Christians not faithfully attending in-person services at this point are simply without excuse.
Those forsaking the assembly do so to their own detriment. They are missing out on the privilege of fellowshipping with other believers.
In Acts 2, we have the record of the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came down, Peter preached a powerful sermon, the people were pricked in their hearts, and then about 3,000 souls were added to the church.
That’s a quick summary of verses 1-41.
Right after all that took place, Luke records for us how these new believers proceeded. He tells us in Acts 2:42 these new believers “… continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
If a church ever wonders what it should be doing at the very basic level, verse 42 is a pretty good blueprint.
They were in the Word, fellowshipping, breaking bread with each other, and observing Communion, and they were praying.
Certainly, there are things beyond those four basics, but if a church is doing those things, they’ll be in pretty good shape.
I want to discuss just one of those topics – fellowship.
Very early on in the life of Christ’s church, we notice a strong bond within the body of believers.
Luke said, “they continued stedfastly in … fellowship.”
This wasn’t a one-time occurrence. Nor was it something they fit in if they had time. They had a steadfast devotion to fellowship. They made it a priority.
The word “fellowship” is interesting.
It comes from the Greek word koinonia, which means “association, community, communion, joint participation.”
It has the idea of “intimacy,” and it also has the idea of “sharing.”
In fact, New Testament Greek is called koine Greek because it was the common language or shared language of that day.
What I find interesting is that this is the first occurrence of this word in the New Testament.
Surprisingly, this word is not even found in the Gospels.
To me, that’s a big deal. The Gospel writers never saw fit to describe the relationship the disciples had with each other, or with Jesus, in this way.
The point being, we get the idea that this is something new. This is a type of fellowship that simply did not exist before the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In other words, all these believers coming together under the name of Christ created a bond, unlike anything the world had ever seen.
Think about this gift of fellowship, and then consider how many people neglect it.
When you’re tempted to forsake the assembling of the saints of God, it is just the Devil trying to rob you of a blessing.
The Christians who claim they don’t necessarily need to be a part of a local body are badly mistaken depriving themselves of an intimate fellowship unrivaled by what the world has to offer.
That’s why Hebrews 10:24-25 says,
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
I like what John MacArthur said concerning this matter:
“For a Christian to fail to participate in the life of a local church is inexcusable. … The Bible does not envision the Christian life as one lived apart from other believers. All members of the universal church, the body of Christ, are to be actively and intimately involved in local assemblies.”
I’m sure we’ve all heard the same excuses from those who neglect fellowship: “I don’t like so and so, or that person is a hypocrite, or that church did this, and this church did that” and so forth.
Most of us have likely heard C.H Spurgeon’s words about that summarized: “If you ever find a perfect church, don’t go to it or you will ruin it.”
Let me offer you his specific quote on the matter, as the paraphrased version lacks the depth of the full quote.
“You that are members of the church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.
…the Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers.”
There is a reason Paul told the Colossian believers to “bear” with one another.
In Colossians 3:12-13, we read,
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also [do] ye.”
The Greek word for “bear” means “to endure something unpleasant or difficult.”
How many of us have church members who are unpleasant or difficult? As a pastor of 15 years, I’ve dealt with some unique personalities. And if I’m honest, I’m not always the most pleasant person to be around either, and sometimes I can be quite difficult (at least that’s what my wife claims).
The fact is, there is nothing easy about bearing with one another. It requires work. It implies a willingness to put up with differences and offenses by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Don’t misunderstand. That doesn’t mean we are to be pushovers. It just means, as Paul told the Roman believers, “if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
So, I implore you to make sure you are a part of a local assembly where you can experience this God-given bond that only the Body of Christ is privy to.
Kent Hughes points out an aspect of fellowship that is often overlooked.
He says that every time we find the word fellowship in the New Testament, it denotes some form of sharing – either sharing something you have with someone or sharing in something that someone else is experiencing.
“…the fellowship of the early church rested on a mutual generosity and sharing. Fellowship cost something in the early church, in contrast to our use of the word fellowship today. Fellowship is not just a sentimental feeling of oneness. It is not punch and cookies. It does not take place simply because we are in the church hall.
Fellowship comes through giving. True fellowship costs! So many people never know the joys of Christian fellowship because they have never learned to give themselves away. They visit a church or small study group with an eye only for their own needs (hardly aware of others) and go away saying ‘There is no fellowship there.’ The truth is, we will have fellowship only when we make it a practice to reach out to others and give something of ourselves.”
As I thought about this I perused the New Testament and the 20 or so times the word fellowship is used, I thought, “What an oversight on my part. How could I miss something so profound?”
Let me conclude with the following example.
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul encourages the Corinthian believers to contribute to a collection being taken to help the suffering believers in Jerusalem.
He tells them about the Macedonian church and how they essentially begged to take part in this offering.
In the first 3 verses in 2 Corinthians 8, Paul explained to them how the Macedonian believers wanted to give, in spite of the fact that they had endured great difficulty, and were also very poor themselves. He also explained that they gave far beyond what they could afford, and did so of their own free will.
Vere 5 is the interesting part because it’s there that we read the Macedonian believers described their great sacrificial giving as koinonia, or fellowship.
In other words, though they seemingly received nothing in return, and it cost them greatly, they considered what they had done, not to be a burden, but a form of fellowship.
May we be reminded that fellowship is not always about what we get out of gathering with the saints, but is just as much, if not more, about what we give.
What a blessing it is to be a part of the Body of Christ, and to enjoy a fellowship like nothing else the world has to offer.