Many ways of communication exist which encourage various forms of personal interaction. Some are more convenient, yet they are less valuable. Others can significantly enhance relationships and can help create a greater sense of well-being. A fellowship is a form of communication that is meant to establish strong relationships and develop the individual. As members of the body of Christ, we are expected to benefit from fellowship with each other, that fellowship contributing significantly to our spiritual growth.
In 2002 AARP released a study that showed what factors led to happiness for Americans age thirty-five and older. Their key finding was that relationships are the key driver of happiness. Regardless of age, good relationships with friends, family and even pets were found to be universally important. Activities rooted firmly in relationships contributed most to happiness. The most significant were kissing or hugging someone you love; watching your children or grandchildren or close relatives succeed; being told you are a person who can be trusted or relied upon; spending time with your family or friends… such as a meal or social gathering; experiencing a special moment with a child. Thinking back in my life, these are all significant things to our lives and if you don't have them, people feel left out. They can feel that they're not part of life and can get depressed if they don't have relationships in their lives.
In the Church, we are to have these types of relationship builders through fellowship. So, what is fellowship? We talk about it frequently; we engage in it when we come to services each week and to some degree during the week. It is an important part of being a part of the Church. But, is all our interaction truly fellowship? The most common Greek word translated 'fellowship' in the New Testament is 'koinonia', which is 2842 in 'Strong's Concordance'. It means 'the close association between persons emphasizing what is common between them; by extension participation, sharing, contribution, gift, the outcome of such close relationship'. Fellowship is more than just a casual visit. It involves a deep connection with another person. It's like a partnership. In the Church, God's Spirit is the unifying source of fellowship. We may have family or business or neighborhood connections, but our fellowship in the Church should be the deepest connections we have in our lives outside of our marriage. Spiritual fellowship cannot be developed from a distance. It takes personal interaction. That is one reason that regular church attendance is so important and why staying in contact with those who cannot attend for one reason or another… such as health or distance is essential. Sometimes it is easy to overlook those that are homebound and not make those connections with them the best we can.
Social networking by computer has become popular in recent years… Facebook, and all that. Some people have hundreds of Facebook friends, but how many of them do they really know? I'm connected on Facebook with a fella that has twelve or thirteen hundred 'friends'. I have less than a hundred. I haven't really aggressively 'friended' people. I get these feeds from what they post and it's just a continual flow of stuff. I can't imagine if you had twelve or fifteen hundred. There'd be no way to ever keep up with it, it would be overwhelming I would think. Surveys show that those relationships are typically quite superficial. Humans require face-to-face contact to truly fellowship with one another. If just a delegation went up to the Feast each year and the rest of us stayed home and watched services over the Internet, it would not be the same type of fellowship. Some people by necessity have to do that, but it's so much better that we are all able to go, that we have enough Feast sites that we are all able to gather together. That is a real blessing for the Church, it helps bring us together and it's something we all look forward to each year.
Today, I will be looking at how we can have stronger positive fellowship and how to avoid some destroyers of fellowship. I know this is an area where I can learn and improve. My natural inclination is to maintain boundaries that can impede true fellowship. That's something I have to work on… to be more open in fellowship. I sense a real close fellowship here in Northwest Arkansas. Of course, there are only twenty or twenty-five. You can't have a whole lot of schisms going on. You've got to have good fellowship or it would make it really miserable to be here each Sabbath. I hope this review of fellowship can help us all see ways we can improve this important part of being a part of the Church. My title is "Growing In Fellowship".
Our fellowship has its foundation first of all with our relationship with God and Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:5-7 1 John 1:5-7  This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleans us from all sin.
American King James Version×"This is the message which we have heard from Him and declares to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all." Verse 6 "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." Verse 7 "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." Here we see that if we are living in obedience, we have close fellowship with God and Jesus Christ and with one another. We must maintain that fellowship before we can have true fellowship with one another. This is what we all hold most in common.
What are some signs of positive spiritual fellowship? It's based on love for one another. Love is the essence of fellowship. 1 John 2:9-11 1 John 2:9-11  He that said he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness even until now.
 He that loves his brother stays in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
 But he that hates his brother is in darkness, and walks in darkness, and knows not where he goes, because that darkness has blinded his eyes.
American King James Version×"He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in darkness until now." Verse 10 "He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him." Verse 11 "But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." It is sad when you see almost hatred by one brother for another or a sister for a sister. It makes everything uneasy. LOVE is the basic foundation of fellowship; it's essential to fellowship. If it's missing, it is really a shame to see that happening. I have seen it over the years… being in the Church for forty years. There have been disagreements arise that people could not resolve and it makes it difficult for everyone that's around that situation. First Corinthians thirteen is the love chapter. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 1 Corinthians 13:1-3  Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing.
American King James Version×"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." Verse 2 "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." Verse 3 "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing." This is a high standard. It is the standard of love we must attain to. If we have all the knowledge of the Bible, and about God that there is but we are always at odds with others, we're missing the mark. It is so fundamental, so important.
Another aspect of fellowship is that WE MUST STRIVE TO BE FRIENDLY AND POSITIVE WHEN VISITING WITH ONE ANOTHER. I want to look at one example that we experience at least once a year on the Day of Atonement and that's when we're fasting. Christ gave instructions of how not to be appearing all beat down when we're fasting, but to be of a positive countenance. Matthew 6:16-18 Matthew 6:16-18  Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear to men to fast. Truly I say to you, They have their reward.
 But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face;
 That you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father which is in secret: and your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you openly.
American King James Version×"Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. (The Pharisees wanted everybody to know when they were fasting.) For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward." Verse 17 "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face," Verse 18 "so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." I notice on the Day of Atonement that the spirit of the congregation is a little bit lower, but we strive to do our best but, some people feel it more than others. It's a hard day sometimes for some to get through. Even when we're having something negative going on in our lives, we should try to lift ourselves up… ask God to lift our attitude up when we go to services and when we fellowship with one another.
Another aspect of fellowship is SHARING DOCTRINE, FOOD, AND PRAYER. In the early Church there was a lot of enthusiasm there when the Church was formed. Acts 2:41-42 Acts 2:41-42  Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.
 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
American King James Version×"Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them." Verse 42 "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in prayers." We can see here what was guiding their fellowship. They were discussing the doctrine, the teachings, what they had just learned about Christ, what they had been baptized into. They weren't bringing in opposing viewpoints from what they were taught. They broke bread together; sharing meals always promotes fellowship. That's one reason we enjoy potlucks and picnics. Praying together and for one another built cohesion and unity. We put out prayer requests and when you remember to pray for the people on that list every day that makes you feel cohesion with them and concern that you wouldn't have otherwise. A prayer is a great tool for building fellowship.
Another aspect of positive fellowship is to BE LIKE-MINDED. Philippians 2:1-4 Philippians 2:1-4  If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
 Fulfill you my joy, that you be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
American King James Version×"Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy," Verse 2 "fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." Verse 3 "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." Verse 4 "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others." Here again, we see that foundation of love that is mentioned earlier… to be of one accord, minds focused on the same thing… have a giving spirit without selfish ambition or conceit and then outgoing service for the benefit of others… seeking out ways to serve one another. That just really leads to the cohesion, to true fellowship. There are a lot of disputes about various issues that really takes away from the fellowship. I came across an article from the United Church of God website titled "Fellowship Pitfall, When Sharing Can Hurt". This writer gave some topics that can promote spiritual fellowship in the article. First of all is scripture… this is something we can talk about on the Sabbath to help build spiritual fellowship. Second, what have we been studying? What are some helpful Bible study aids? Discoveries that reinforce scripture, practices that have helped us draw closer to God, "United News" and "Good News" articles, and other Church literature are all good subjects. We are becoming somewhat of a dinosaur in American culture. We see this in the latest Good News that just came out this week. "America Turns On God", I think is what the big headline is on the front. We have to encourage one another strongly in the study of God's word and then it really helps. Other topics that are good: family issues, such as dating for the young people, romance, marriage, child rearing, different stages of life. These are important parts of members' lives; they're appropriate to share with one another. Of course, it takes trust to open up in these areas. If someone does share or seek advice in these areas, we should handle it with the utmost confidentiality. That's so important that I'll be talking about that a little bit more here later.
With aging, getting older… we have a lot of issues come up with our health. So how can we encourage one another as we go through this stage? I'm just starting into that senior citizen age. I was talking to my neighbor who is in his late 70's and he said it takes a lot of strength to get through all the problems of aging… all the sicknesses that can come on, all the surgeries, all types of problems that we face. We really need to encourage one another on the Sabbath and when we have the opportunity. Another area is stress and change. We can share with one another how to adapt to the stresses and changes that are thrust upon us… sometimes involuntarily. We can talk about positive ways to keep the Sabbath… how you keep your mind focused on the right things on the Sabbath. We can talk about world news and trends. All the things in the world are intensifying; it's impossible to keep up with everything that is going on. Someone else may have read an article and came across something. I really appreciate the "Prophetic Times" that Mr. Tuck puts out. He comes up with articles every week. I watch and try to keep up with the news during the week, but I miss a lot of those things, so it's really helpful that he summarizes all that information for us. If we've read something during the week that is pertinent to scripture or fulfillment of prophecy this is good to talk about on the Sabbath. Health issues, in general, are good to talk about. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. It's good to share how we've improved our own 'house', our own health. But, a warning on that: don't offer unsolicited advice. Some people have a real tendency to do that. That can sometimes cause problems and hurt fellowship. You can make suggestions, but I've seen some people say that their remedy is the only way and they get their feelings hurt if you don't go home and start taking that herb or supplement or whatever. It's something that can be good to talk about and may be helpful.
Then there are some topics that hinder fellowship. A big one that really needs to be dealt with is: PRIVATE INTERPRETATIONS CONTRARY TO THE CHURCH'S FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS. Paul warned Timothy about this. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 2 Timothy 4:3-4  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables.
American King James Version×"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;" Verse 4 "and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." Some people are always looking for some 'new' truth rather than striving to overcome and promote unity in the Church. Seeing that happen over the years many times, it takes away from fellowship. It causes a dissension and problems. Ephesians 4:14 Ephesians 4:14That we from now on be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
American King James Version×"that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting." We've always had the tares in the Church. Christ said that will happen. Some people have used fellowship in the Church to get a following for their private interpretation or to promote someone else's ministry. I know at times in Tulsa we've had people bringing tapes from other ministries and passing them out around in the congregation. That doesn't do good for the congregation. It doesn't do good to make merchandise of the gospel either. 2 Peter 2:1-3 2 Peter 2:1-3  But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privately shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.  And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.  And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not.
American King James Version×"But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction." Verse 2 "And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed." Verse 3 "By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber." Fellowship is not a time to bring in what you think is new truth; this is something that is discussed privately with the ministry. Bounce it off them before you talk to anyone else in the congregation. In United we have the doctrinal committee. If you think something is not right about the fundamental beliefs you can turn it in to them… they have a process for that. It's not to be handled in the local congregations.
The second item that is very hurtful is GOSSIP AND TEARING DOWN OTHERS. It's human nature to want to gossip, to get the latest on what's going on with others, but it can really cause problems. 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
American King James Version×"For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies." Verse 12 "Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread." Here we have this warning to not be a busybody. The antidote is to get to work. Find a way to serve others rather than to meddle. A lot of times gossip goes back to people that don't have enough to do… in some cases. 1 Timothy 5:13 1 Timothy 5:13And with they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.
American King James Version×"And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not." (This was talking about young widows.) Here we have another admonition against tattling and being a busybody. This was directed at the young widow's, but we can all be guilty of this at times. We have to really guard our thoughts and minds. My wife sometimes when I start to talk about somebody will say, "You don't need to be saying that, it's gossip." I have to be reminded myself at times. 1 Peter 4:15 1 Peter 4:15But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.
American King James Version×"But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters." It kind of struck me… that's quite a list: murderer, thief, evildoer and then busybody. We tend to think 'busybody' is not that bad, but it's right here with that list. Here again is that warning about not being a busybody in other people's matters. This went back to: don't think you're persecuted because of doing these things… you brought trouble on yourself. It's right in there that gossip can really cause problems, persecution even this talking about others out of turn. The Proverbs are full of advice in this area about our thoughts and our words. Proverbs 11:13 Proverbs 11:13A talebearer reveals secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit conceals the matter.
American King James Version×"A talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter." We've got to avoid spreading unsubstantiated information for sure. So much stuff in innuendo with no proof, no facts behind it all. That's a part of this Internet age we're in. It has just exploded from what it was thirty or forty years ago because it's so easy for anybody to get on there and type something and have nothing to back it up but it's repeated over and over enough until pretty soon everybody believes it, but it all may be totally false. Paul clearly showed while dealing with the sins in the Corinthian church that open sin has to be addressed. That does come up, but we shouldn't spread rumors and innuendo about one another. That is a quick way to destroy fellowship.
In conclusion: Fellowship is an important part of each time we meet in the convocations commanded in Leviticus twenty-three: the Sabbath, the Holy Days… as well as our interaction during the week. Convocation means a group of people coming together to worship God. We all come from different backgrounds, but we hold much in common. Fellowship at services and during the week helps us grow closer to one another and to come closer to the unity of the Spirit that God and Jesus Christ have with one another. To grow in fellowship, we must make a concerted effort to direct our conversation to those things which will promote fellowship: DISCUSSION OF THE BIBLE AND CHURCH LITERATURE; WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE CHURCH; FAMILY ISSUES; AGING'S PROBLEMS; STRESS AND CHANGE; POSITIVE WAYS TO KEEP THE SABBATH; WORLD NEWS AND TRENDS; HOW TO TAKE CARE OF OUR PHYSICAL BODIES. All of these topics can be made controversial if we're not focused on helping one another appropriately in these areas. So, discuss in ways that don't lead to one person trying to dominate someone else with their understanding of a topic. Have respect for one another. We must avoid two major areas that impede fellowship: "new truth" that contradicts the doctrines of the Church and spreading of gossip or being a busybody. We've seen both these areas lead to splits in the Church over the years. Mr. Mann and I were talking on the way over about broken fellowships that we all mourn, it hurts to think about all the people that we've had fellowship with that many times the false rumors that have been passed around have broken that fellowship and that led to the starting of new groups and everything else. Sometimes we don't even know what happened. We ask, "How did this happen? How did this come about?" If we remember this every week when we come to services, we can grow closer together in order to withstand the times of trouble that we know will come upon the Church prior to Christ's return.