This is now my fourth blog in my series on Christian Community. I hope you are finding it useful and that it has inspired you to think about how you can get more involved with the Christian community you are part of, or indeed if you are not in one, to take the plunge and plug yourself in somewhere. Don’t look for somewhere perfect- it doesn’t exist. Look for somewhere you can serve and grow.
During my study of this subject I came across a couple of chapters in Rick Warrens book “The Purpose driven life” which I have found very useful. He shares 9 characteristics of biblical fellowship which I have listed below, adding my own comments and further scripture references:
- Authenticity – Authentic fellowship is ‘hearts on your sleeves’ honesty. It goes beyond the surface level to a genuine opening up of feelings, doubts and weaknesses. It says to each other “I need your help and I’m prepared to be real with you to get it.”But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1 v 7-8).
- Mutuality – This where a community develops the art of giving and receiving, those great verses of ‘one-anothering’ as mentioned in a previous post; each one depending upon each other; all of us having something to contribute “…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:25). Also “…that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”. (Romans 1:12). You are not responsible for everyone in your community, but you are responsible to them.
- Sympathy – Sympathy is not just giving advice or offering a little pat on the back and some nice words, but entering into and sharing someone else’s pain. It’s carrying each other’s burdens. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”. (Galatians 6:2). Sympathy meets two fundamental human needs; the need to be understood and the need to have your feelings validated. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12).
- Mercy – Community should be a place of grace. It happens when mercy wins over justice. We all need to give and receive mercy because we have all made mistakes and continue to make mistakes. You cannot have true fellowship without forgiveness and if we don’t have forgiveness, bitterness and resentment will destroy true community. God’s mercy towards us is the motivation for us to be merciful to each other. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13).
- Honesty – We need to care enough to speak into each others’ lives. It is not loving to let people continue in their sin without lovingly correcting them. Ephesians 4 verse 15 talks about ‘speaking the truth in love’. It also says in Galatians 6 verse 1 “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently”. Real fellowship depends on frankness. We grow closer by facing and resolving our differences. “Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favour, rather than one who has a flattering tongue.” (Proverbs 28 v 23). There is a way to rebuke lovingly which is set out very nicely in 1 Timothy 5 v 1-2 “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
- Humility – Pride builds walls, humility builds bridges. The bible exhorts us to clothe ourselves with humility or God will oppose us. (1 Peter 5 v 5). That’s a scary thought! Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.
- Courtesy – Being in community we need to be courteous to one another, respecting our differences, being considerate of each others’ feelings and being patient. We are a family and we belong to each other. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves”. (Romans 12 v 10). It’s a loving thing to take time to discover each others’ histories and see where we are coming from.
- Confidentiality – Our community needs to be safe and we need to trust each other. Trust allows people to open up and share their deepest hurts, needs and mistakes. This means no gossip-God hates it!! (Proverbs 6). What is said in the group, stays in the group.
- Frequency – To build fellowship you need to invest time to meet regularly. True relationships take time as trust is built up. I have already quoted previously the command to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10 v 25). When we do meet, true fellowship is found not just when we talk to each other but when we take the time to actually listen to what others are saying. It means meeting together even when we don’t feel like it. Many are the times I have considered not going to a meeting because I haven’t felt like it, but I am nearly always blessed when I do.
If you are already in a community, why not get together with the other members and see if you can agree to make a commitment to improving each one of these 9 characteristics. You will be glad that you do!