Encouragement in fellowship

Acts 28:11-16

After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island. And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days. From there we circled round and reached Rhegium. And after one day the south wind blew; and the next day we came to Puteoli, where we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.

“…When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.” Paul thanked God and was encouraged.  It is of vital benefit to each of us when we are encouraged by fellow believers.  The Lord has protected Paul all along the way and now provides the fellowship that builds us up.  It is good to remember that we come together in fellowship not just for our own personal spiritual blessing, but also to be an encouragement to those who lead and prepare as well as encouraging those who come to worship.  Our coming together feeds us all.  Not only do we receive from the Lord, we also receive from each other as he ministers to us through each of us.  We are created social beings.  We have a need for common fellowship, worshipping the Lord together.  It is good to be an encourager, the benefits fall on both the one receiving and the one giving.  Thank God for one another.

community is…

Acts 4:32-37

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

 A community of believers who experience a complete unity.  What a privilege!! The move of the Holy Spirit extended beyond a Sunday morning service, or a Friday night revival.  This move of the Holy Spirit extended to every facet of the diamond of life.  And its brilliance drew those outside this fellowship to its beauty.  Peace, love, care, concern, fellowship, a focus that extends outward rather than inward, a focus that looks to the welfare of all not just self characterized this group.  They are living, putting in action what Jesus taught.

Today there is a world-wide hunger for this same experience.  It can be heard in the rhetoric, seen in the streets, felt on the battlefields.  The hunger for unity, for a world that shares, unites, looks out for all.  However mankind tries to find this place, without God it deteriorates into self-seeking, exclusion, annihilation of all that are different.  As we continue to seek the Holy Spirit’s move in our own lives, this same spirit of community will grow and extend to brothers and sisters around us.  Our world’s change, but God does not.  It is still possible to experience a unity of belief and spirit with fellow believers.

Come together…

Acts 4:23-31

And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David  have said:

‘Why did the nations rage,

And the people plot vain things?

The kings of the earth took their stand,

And the rulers were gathered together

Against the LORD and against His Christ.’

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together  to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,  by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

When attacked they came together and prayed.  When we experience spiritual warfare our immediate response should be likewise.  Call fellow believers together and pray.  Their prayers recognized first the sovereignty of God, then remembered what he had done.  They acknowledged the threats then asked for intervention from the Lord as they indicated their intent to continue to spread his Word.  The response from God was to fill them once more with his Spirit and enable them to continue to speak his Word with boldness.  We have the same promise.  The scriptures share with us their  situation along with their response.  We can apply the same today.  We too are not exempt from spiritual warfare and it comes from all directions.  When we find ourselves in that place we too can come together for support, and turn collectively toward the One who can intervene and empower.  “they spoke the word of God with boldness.”  We too can speak with boldness the word of God.

Agents of Change

Acts 2:42-47

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,  and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Christ’s message was spread through the collaborative efforts of all.  God’s love and care for his creation was demonstrated in their care for each other.  They became a group who acted, thought and lived in ways opposite to the ways of the rest of mankind. They  came together for teaching, fellowship, eating, and praying.  Faith was exercised and practiced.  They shared what they had with one another so that all  needs were met.  They met daily, both in the temple courts and in each others’ homes.

Contrast this group with today’s fellowship of believers.  This comparison will be stated in generalities with the sure knowledge that there are exceptions though not often seen.  First there is today’s practice of meeting once a week, if then, with brothers and sisters in the faith whom we barely know, rather than meeting daily and then in each others’ homes with brothers and sisters with whom we develop intimate relationships, keeping the Lord’s teachings and love at the center of those relationships.  Eating together once a month, often as a fundraiser, not because we enjoy one another’s company nor to give honor to the Lord.  Today’s fellowship has more continued contact with the unbelieving world than the fellowship of believers.  Teaching is reduced to perhaps one hour, one day a week and that only through impassive listening to another’s lecture with no interaction, no stimulation to discussion or application.  Breaking of bread or the practice of communion is reduced to impersonal ritual practiced perhaps once a month if then.  There is a lack of community, teaching, growing in Christ.  As a result there is also a lack of faith, little exercise and practice of faith, even less growth.  Is it any wonder the present day body of believers is often weak, prone to practices that are opposite of those taught by Christ?  We look more and more like the people Christ first came to; desperately  in need of a savior and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  We have only ourselves to look to for a reason why and how to change.

The ‘rest of mankind’ lives for themselves.  They meet only with those in whose company they can find satisfaction for  their own needs.  They isolate themselves in their goals and efforts to acquire much and achieve ‘success’ as defined by humanity.  Now look at today’s fellowship of believers.  As a rule, they only meet once a week, if then.  Their time is filled up with activities that meet only their own desires and perceived needs.  They meet their own needs before considering the needs of others.  The question remains:  how do we return to the vibrant fellowship that grew and impacted the world for Christ?  It must begin with us one at a time, determining for ourselves that we will be different.  We will follow the teachings of Christ and follow the will of God, directed by the Holy Spirit’s guiding.  One at a time we will make a difference.  One at a time we will find one another and build a fellowship that once again becomes a witness to the rest of humanity.  By their love for one another, their love for God they will be known as disciples of Christ.  That love and caring is so missing in today’s society of bickering, name-calling, hatred disguised as a move for ‘change.’  The change needed must first take place in each heart given over to love the Lord, in submission to His will.  That change will come as the Holy Spirit is permitted to work in each of our lives, without our blocking or hindering it through selfish desires. “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”  Be an agent of change, allow the Lord to do the work through each of us.