The Purpose of the Church is Fellowship
I want to talk to you tonight about fellowship.
A salesman out driving in the country one day when somehow, his car ends up in a ditch. He walks to the nearest farm to ask if he has a tractor to get his car back on the road.
"Nope, but I got my old mule, Blue," replies the farmer.
"I doubt a mule is strong enough to pull it out."
"You don't know Blue! He’s pretty strong when he has a mind to be. So old Blue was led out to the car and hitched to the vehicle.
"Pull, Blue!" The farmer yells. The car doesn't move. The farmer calls out again, "Pull, Elmer!" It begins to budge just a little. The farmer yells, "Pull, Biscuit," and the car’s back on the highway.
"Thank you so much," said the salesman. "But I noticed you called out three different names before Blue finally got the car out."
"Yeah," said the farmer. "I did that because Old Blue is blind. If he thought he’s the only one pulling, your car’d still be in the ditch!"
A lot of us are like Old Blue—we need to know we’re not in this thing all alone. That’s why fellowship is so important in the church of Jesus Christ.
We’ve been looking in the Bible at the five-fold purpose of the church:
Worship Ministry Fellowship Evangelism Education
Our focus this evening will be on fellowship. I want us to talk about what fellowship is, and why it’s so important, and then how we can improve on the fellowship here at Gray’s Chapel.
First of all, let’s look at how fellowship is as expressed in 1 John 1:7. The Greek word here
is a common word: Κοινωνία and it has two primary meanings:
1) to SHARE TOGETHER in the sense of partnership, and
2) to SHARE WITH in the sense of giving what we have to others. [Ministry]
We covered the 2nd sense of the word when we discussed the importance of ministry, but I want to focus on this first sense of the word fellowship as a partnership. The idea here is that the Christian life is never supposed to be lived in isolation, but shared with others as
Eph 3:6 …fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel
Fellowship in this sense is based on a common relationship, not just with Jesus but with each other. We are going in the same direction, walking the same road, companions on the same journey. Nobody walks this road alone, nobody has a “just-me-and-Jesus” type of relationship with God. We are not only members of Christ, but the Bible also says in Eph 4:25 …we are members of one another.
Jesus gives us some clues about this fellowship when He says in
Jn 13:34-35 34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The fellowship we have with one another is based on the love Jesus told us to share with one another—a love that mirrors the love He has for us. Fellowship between believers is based on love—the kind of love Jesus modeled when He laid down His life for us.
1 Jn 3:16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
This is the purpose of the church: to be a fellowship where we all love one another the way Jesus loves us.
D. L. Moody writes In Chicago a few years ago a little boy attended a Sunday school I know of. When his parents moved to another part of the city the little fellow still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far, and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer his home.
“They may be as good for others, but not for me,” was his reply.
“Why not?” she asked.
He replied “Because they love a fellow over there.” [i]
This church understood the importance of fellowship based on the love of Christ.
This all sounds very wonderful, but is it really possible? With all the fighting between churches and in churches, with all the different personalities and opinions, how can we ever experience this kind of fellowship?
I want to suggest 3 words I believe can help our church grow deeper in fellowship with one another. They are simple words: humility, unity, and community.
The first word is humility and it is essential to true fellowship.
Php 2:1-4 1Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
For real fellowship to happen, you have to deal to some degree with the problem of pride. Proud people don’t enjoy much real fellowship because nobody likes to be around them.
How many of you enjoy a conversation with somebody who’s always talking about themselves? Have you ever tried to talk with somebody who was just waiting for you to shut up so they could speak? You don’t tend to feel real close to that person, do you? In fact, you might be looking for the nearest escape route.
The problem with pride is all of us struggle with it to some degree. Our default setting is to focus on ourselves—our own feelings, our own thoughts, our own opinions. .
When it comes to humility, you have to take the spotlight off yourself, and put it on somebody else. Humility isn’t trying to act as if you don’t matter, but it does mean realizing that other people really do matter. It takes some effort and some practice to really focus yourself on the feelings, thoughts, and needs of others. It’s not easy, but it is essential if you want to enjoy true fellowship with others.
You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. - Dale Carnegie
This is essentially true for fellowship—you’ve got to humble yourself by focusing on other people. You simply cannot have true fellowship without a good dose of humility. You’ll especially need it when you get to the next word: unity. Look back in
Php 2:2 ...fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Unity is absolutely essential for real fellowship. But people are different—sometimes very different. How do people who are so diverse unite? I think this verse gives us 2 keys:
You’ve got to agree about some things. Being like minded…of one mind
Am 3:3 Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?
Not for very long. If you and I are walking down the street, and you want to go right, but I am determined to go left, we’ll go our separate ways. In the same way there has to be some level of agreement for there to be real fellowship.
Nowhere is this more important than in church. We ought to be united in our doctrine, united in what we believe, united concerning aspects of church government and other issues. Say what you will about the problems of different denominations, but they help us clarify what we agree on, and help us fellowship with others who share our convictions. What kind of fellowship do you suppose there would be in a church where the pastor preached one thing, the Sunday school teacher taught something else, and the deacons all had completely contrary convictions? That would be a church split waiting to happen.
Having said that, I also recognize there is a difference between unity and uniformity. Unity doesn’t mean we have to see eye to eye on everything. Unity doesn’t mean denying your convictions for the sake of getting along. But it does mean that to some degree, we have to be united on essential aspects of doctrine and practice, or there can be no fellowship among us. But unity also means
You’ve got to love people who disagree with you. Having the same love
I have noticed most of the disunity in churches is not so much over doctrinal differences, but over a lack of love. Love is an essential characteristic of true fellowship. Not just the kind of gushy, warm and fuzzy feelings, but a tough love, a love that is willing to work hard, a love that never gives up on each other. It’s the kind of love that helps us forgive when we are hurt, the kind of love strong enough to turn the other cheek, the kind of love that is willing to do whatever is necessary to restore a broken relationship---even if it means saying words like please forgive me, or I was wrong.
A preacher once asked a man, “What do you believe?”
“Well, I believe what my church believes.”
“And what does your church believe?”
“Well, they believe the same as me.”
Seeing he was getting nowhere, the preacher finally asks, “And what is it that you both believe?”
“Well, I suppose we both believe the same thing.” [ii]
We don’t all have to be clones, mouthing the same words. But we do have to be willing to disagree agreeably, and to love one another in spite of our differences. Unity is essential if we are going to fulfill the purpose of fellowship in the church of Jesus Christ.
There’s one last word about fellowship I want to mention: community.
The idea here is that we share all our lives with one another, not just coming together on for worship services. Sharing your life involves getting personal.
Mamie made frequent trips to the branch post office. One day she confronted a long line of people who were waiting for service from the postal clerks. Mamie only needed stamps, so a helpful observer asked, "Why don't you use the stamp machine? You can get all the stamps you need and you won't have to wait in line." Mamie said, "I know, but the machine can't ask me about my arthritis."
Being a community includes being personally involved each other’s life. It can include spending time with one another, maybe having meals together, or celebrating special events or holidays. You can build community through special projects of ministry, or even personal projects (barn raising?) Community is built through sharing experiences—sometimes happy occasions, sometimes tragedies or hard times.
I’ll never forget the night when the church I pastored in TN burned to the ground. As the fire destroyed the 113 year old building, I stood there with my brothers and sisters helplessly. But I also saw how this tragedy brought the church closer together, how we met in a small building down the road and filled it up, how we worked hard at rebuilding the new building. My pastor friends told me horror storied about how churches argued and fussed over building a new building, but I remember almost no cross words ever said. I remember how eager we were to move in, how everybody was so excited at the dedication service where 223 people squeezed into the new building. I remember how all that work drew the church closer together.
It shouldn’t take a tragedy to draw us together as a community of God’s people. But it also doesn’t happen automatically. God has given us the plan for being His community in 1 Cor. 12:12-27.
This is what fellowship is all about: humility, unity, and community. This is the purpose of the church.
Some churches never really experience real fellowship. They become a clique, or become family owned and operated instead of family friendly. The people meet for worship services, and once in awhile have an extra event in the social hall. But they all stay on their separate islands, all dealing with life alone, never really becoming the warm fellowship of believers God wants them to become.
Randy Frazee has a son who was born without a left hand. One day in Sunday School the teacher was talking with the children about the church. To illustrate her point she folded her hands together and said, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple; open the doors and see all the people.”
She asked the class to do it along with her - obviously not thinking about Frazee’s son’s inability to pull this exercise off. Then it dawned on her that the boy wouldn’t be able to join in.
Before she could do anything about it, the little boy next to Frazee’s son, a friend of his from the time they were babies, reached out his left hand and said, “Let’s do it together.” The two boys proceeded to join their hands together to make the church and the steeple.[iii]
The purpose of the church is fellowship, sharing Jesus’ love with one another through humility, unity, and community. Are you and I committed to this purpose here at Gray’s Chapel?
[i]Moody’s Anecdotes, Page 71–72 10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press,
[ii]10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).
[iii] SermonCentral Weekly Newsletter