One in Christ

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12–13

We have our annual congregational meeting tonight, a time to give thanks to God for His grace that has brought us thus far, and a time to recommit ourselves as a church to trusting in that same grace to lead us forward in ministry together.  

As I was preparing for my Pastor’s report for the meeting, I came upon my notes from when I read through Jerry Bridges’ book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia.  Bridges does a fantastic job of defining koinonia (a Greek word that is best translated as “fellowship”) to mean more than just the social activities of the church, but has more to do with the idea of community in Christ.

Bridges writes:

It is not the fact that we are united in common goals or purposes that makes us a community. Rather, it is the fact that we share a common life in Christ. There are many organizations, both secular and Christian, whose members work together to pursue common goals. Some of these groups may call themselves communities. But biblical community goes much deeper than sharing common goals, though it ultimately involves that. Biblical community is first of all the sharing of a common life in Christ. It is when we grasp this truth that we are in a position to begin to understand true community.

We share the life of Christ together as the Church.  It is wonderful to have a place that cares for you, that shares in the joys and sorrows of your life; a place where everyone knows your name.

But the Church, the true fellowship of Christ, must go deeper. The Church is one, not because of a shared interest in music, or because of the local projects and activities it offers. The Church is one because it is in Christ, and Christ must be at the center of our fellowship, of our life together. 

Bridges goes on to write:

How different is our present-day concept of fellowship? Take those typical times of “coffee fellowship.” We discuss everything else except the Scriptures. We talk about our jobs, our studies, our favorite sports teams, the weather — almost anything except what God is teaching us from His Word and through His workings in our lives. If we are to regain the New Testament concept of fellowship within the community, we must learn to get beyond the temporal issues of the day and begin to share with each other on a level that will enhance our spiritual relationships with one another and with God.

I am thankful to be able to serve Christ’s Church, and to serve a Church that loves to share in one another’s lives. Let’s be intentional about that this year. As we meet for fellowship, get caught up on the kids and their lives, but also be sure to ask about what the Lord has been teaching them as they’ve been reading Scripture this week, or what they learned from the sermon that morning.  Encourage one another to come to Bible Study or Sunday School, find out how you can be praying for one another.  Let us celebrate the blessing of being one in Christ, and may we grow in our shared life together.

Grace and peace!

Excerpts from: Bridges, Jerry. True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia . Navpress. Kindle Edition. 

Staying on the Vine

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
(John 15:5)

I have a knee jerk reaction whenever I hear someone try to succinctly state what the Christian life is all about.  Because we are talking about life, any description cannot be succinct.  Any attempt to summarize the Christian faith and life will inevitably leave something out.  Given the nature of this brief, hastily written, belated midweek message, I know I will omit a thing or two as well, that’s why I keep writing week after week.

Still, in preparation for my sermon this week on Matthew 21:18-22, the story of Jesus cursing the barren fig tree, my mind has been racing around the idea of how the Christian life is about being fruitful.  The fig tree represented Israel.  The tree’s show of fullness and health only masked it’s emptiness; there was no fruit to be found.  Israel’s pomp and hyper-religious production only masked it’s emptiness; they failed to recognize their King, they had turned a house of prayer into a marketplace and den of thieves.  What had been meant to be a light for the world had become a Sun-Tan salon for the spiritually superior, with the ensuing cancer eating away at the soul of the nation.

Those who are called God’s people are meant to be fruitful; to be a blessing to the nations, to be the light of world, the salt of the earth.  This was Israel’s calling, and the fig tree stood as a symbol, a parable, of the curse that would come because of their fruitlessness.

The message serves as a warning to the Church today.  Are we fruitful?  Is the evidence of God’s Spirit working among us showing forth in a growing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – showing in the fellowship of the congregation and in the individual lives of its members?

This isn’t a call to work harder at being a better Christian.  The Pharisees and Priests in Israel, the “religiously serious” had a pretty good handle on how to work harder at doing right by God – and Jesus called them whitewashed tombs.

No, the answer to fruitfulness in the Christian life is not doing more stuff.  And here’s where I might narrow the focus a bit:

The purpose of the Christian life is not in the doing, it is in the being.  Christ did not come so that we could be better people, so that we could have the encouragement to try harder, or so that we could have a better example of how to live.

No.  Christ came to make us a new creation, to cover our brokenness with his perfection, so that our lives would become lives of thanksgiving and praise to God for such a gift of salvation.  The fruitfulness that Christ is looking for in the life of His church, in the lives of His disciples, is not the product of harder effort, but of true fellowship with him.

This is what Jesus is getting at in our reading from John.   We are branches grafted into the vine.  Our strength, our fruitfulness, does not come from the branch, from ourselves, but from the vine which is our source of life.  When we are connected, fellowshipping, in union with Christ, our lives will bear the natural consequence of that union: fruitfulness.  When we are absent from Christ, when we fail to listen and obey His word, when prayer and fellowship with Christ is forsaken, then we will cease to bear fruit.

Fruitfulness is the natural consequence of faithfulness to Christ.

We have some friends who like to burn scented candles in their homes.  When you go to visit, the aroma of their candles permeate and saturate your being.  When you leave, you carry that aroma with you.

So it is with Christ.  The beautiful aroma of sweet fellowship with Christ permeate and saturates your life, until everything you do is an overflowing of that fellowship, and comes forth like fruit from the vine.

May your fellowship with Christ be seen in the fruitfulness of your life.