I've been thinking a lot about fellowship lately--the relationships we have and the authenticity of them, or at times the lack-thereof. The church is supposed to function as a fellowship. Part of being made in God's image means all people are relational. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are communal and relational, so too are we. More than that, the Holy Spirit calls us both to God and to each other as the church, God's family. But why is church so messy and hard? We are called to live together as God’s people, but often it falls short of the harmony God desires for us. It can feel so good and yet it can also be so difficult to have authentic relationships with one another, even as fellow Christ followers.
After God created the first person, he realized that Adam needed a partner; thus Eve came into the picture (Genesis 2:18). Person to person fellowship was now established on earth--an opportunity to share in living life as two people now bonded into one. Work would be shared, joy would be had, and life would be lived. But fellowship didn't end with Adam and Eve. Community and relationships would develop and change as more people inhabited the earth, and yet the goal was still the same. Taking two or more people and bringing them together to do "life" would still be the goal. We may live separate lives, we may be going in separate directions, but sharing, caring, and loving each other are still needed.
There is a beauty to fellowship with others. God has given us the church to be our family that cares for us, nurtures us, and challenges us to be more like Jesus. Building authentic and healthy relationships with someone offers the chance to share all of life. Needs are met by friends and homes are shared. Meals are provided, prayers are lifted up, tears are wiped, and life is lived all in the context of "we." True and authentic fellowship turns an "acquaintance" into a brother or sister in Christ. Christian fellowship reminds us that we are not an island; I need you and you need me. So if this is how we were created and called to be, then why is it so hard? If our image bearing mirrors the fellowship of heaven, then why can it be so ugly? Why is it that a brother in Christ can hurt me just as much as someone outside of the faith? Well, just as Adam and Eve gave us fellowship it was also through them that it would be broken.
Our fellowship is broken because we ourselves are broken, and that goes for believers and non-believers alike. God calls us into fellowship with each other but that doesn't make it easy. To expect that when two or more people come together that wholeness will magically occur is ridiculous. We have to work against our brokenness. Two forgiven sinners, when combined, do NOT automatically become some mighty fellowship that shines as whole and perfect. Two broken people can have fellowship, but the relationship includes our shortcomings too. Now instead of dealing with only our own life and struggles, in fellowship we experience the life and pain of others and from others too. But the brokenness of fellowship doesn't end there.
We are proud people. Having pride we guard ourselves and hide our problems from others. We want to portray a perfect life to those outside our home. We show our happy moments on Facebook, not our defeats. It's hard for us to admit that a spouse has an alcohol problem or that the kids are defiant. We broadcast our successes while hiding our pain. We don’t readily talk about our addictions and heartaches because we fear the condemnation of the community. We fear the response when others find out that a spouse wants a divorce or a family member is struggling with mental illness. Our brokenness is compounded by anxiety, isolating us from true fellowship. We fear having our secrets shared indiscriminately, so we hide the key to our hidden struggles. We project a Pinterest perfect life even as it unravels around us. It becomes hard for us to share our deepest struggles because it forces us to actually trust each other.
We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 that we are to "encourage one another." 1 Corinthians 10:24 reminds us that we are to seek good for our neighbor. Those two pieces of scripture should beg at least two questions. First, how am I to encourage you if I don't actually know your needs? And second, How am I to seek good for you if I don't actually share what good I actually need? Christian fellowship can only happen if I am authentic with you and you with me. Fellowship can exist only when full life is shared together--the good and the bad. Encouragement and hope only takes place when we choose to trust someone else.
Fellowship is about knowing that I need you and you need me. Power struggles or fear are not components of healthy fellowship. Fellowship is about living life connected with one another. Fellowship invites living daily while carrying hope for tomorrow. Life well lived in community needs God’s wisdom and his loving presence. When we gather together it should not be about fear or anxiety or secrecy; it should be about modeling God’s love lived out in relationships.
As people created in God's image, fellowship is inherent in our design. God created us in perfect love and community because that was a perfect representation of who he is and his desire for us. It should be no surprise that our hope is framed and grounded in that same divine fellowship. Our Triune God exists in the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christ died to restore our fellowship with our Heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit indwells and builds us up and invites us into deeper fellowship with God and one another. And we look forward to the day when fellowship is complete in the New Heaven and New Earth. Fellowship today is not only needed now but also speaks of our perfect fellowship to come–-and we need that today. It’s ironic how sin tries to destroy fellowship and yet fellowship is the exact healing potion for sin! Our brokenness begs for fellowship because we long to be whole. Sin attempts to destroy fellowship and yet fellowship is a healing potion for the effects of sin!
Until Christ returns, engaging in fellowship is still going to be hard. We must learn to trust each other and share our needs. We must step out of our isolation and invest in one another’s lives. Fellowship is imperfect this side of heaven, but it is also a foretaste of the joy of heaven. Choose to let go of insecurities and let love abound.