What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
On the day of Pentecost in AD 31, Peter preached an inspired sermon to Jews and proselytes from around the Roman world who had gathered in Jerusalem for the holy day. When he finished, three thousand of his listeners stepped forward to be baptized and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior (Acts 2:41). Just that quickly, the church—a sizable one, at that—was inaugurated.
Suddenly, three thousand people, who may have had little else in common, were thrown together as brethren. Things could have gone very badly very quickly, but to their credit, as Acts 2:42 in The New English Translation Bible (NET) informs us, "They were devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."
Among the four things to which these early converts devoted themselves was fellowship. Fellowship immediately became an important part of their reasons for meeting together. It was one of their prime objectives.
What is fellowship? We talk about fellowship, and we often tell one another that what we need is more fellowship. However, our modern ideas of fellowship may have become so watered-down that the word no longer carries the same meaning that it did during this infancy stage of the church, which is highly praised for its unity (see verse 44; 4:32-33; 5:12; etc.).
We are not surprised to read that the early church devoted itself to "the apostles' teaching" and "to prayer." These two—essentially, study and prayer—are the most important means of growth and effectiveness in the Christian life, and this is everywhere evident in the rest of Scripture. Yet, Luke records that these early Christians also devoted themselves to fellowship. They just did not have fellowship, going through the motions of being with each other; they devoted themselves to it.
This means that fellowship was a priority, and one of their foremost objectives in gathering together. To them, just being with one another was not necessarily fellowship. Instead, it was something that they devoted themselves to accomplish when they were together.
We often view fellowship as what we do. We have casual conversations and common activities. This is not wrong and can contribute to fellowship, but it falls far short of fellowship according to biblical standards, as well as falling short of the meaning and use of the Greek words that underlie the English word "fellowship."
We may be thinking, "My view of fellowship is much richer and deeper than mere social activity. True fellowship involves getting together for spiritual purposes: for sharing needs, for prayer, and for discussing God's Word to encourage, comfort, and edify one another." And we would be right. These things are certainly aspects of Christian fellowship, but even they do not comprise the full meaning of Christian fellowship in the New Testament.
The word Eden in Hebrew means "delight" or "enjoyment"—it was a garden of delight or enjoyment. When the Septuagint Version was produced, its translators used the Greek word for "parkland" for Eden, from which came the word "paradise." In the Old Testament, Eden is often a symbol of great fertility, a place where things wold grow. In other words, its environment was not only beautiful but also useful for producing things. In this case, God had in mind not merely an environment for vegetation, but for a relationship through fellowship—between God and Adam and Eve, who represented all of mankind. Spiritually, Eden symbolizes a rich and fertile place of unbroken fellowship.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 6)
How can a person, independent from consistent fellowship with the body of Christ, the church, still be a part of it? A person thinking this way is sliding away from God's intention, as His Word clearly shows. He fully intends we be active members of a physical body as well as the spiritual organism. Is the church only a spiritual organism? If the spiritual organism is the only important aspect, why even have congregations? Could congregations play a major role in preparing us for God's Kingdom?
Let's look at this from another angle. God intends mankind to be an active and contributing part of a physical community. "And the LORD God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.' . . . Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:18, 24).
Perhaps verse 18 could be rephrased as, "It is not good that man be independent." Our God establishes principles and patterns in His Word from which we can extract wisdom, the practical application of truth. Some of the most basic and fundamental patterns for His purpose are established very early in Genesis.
What is He showing here? That, in relation to God's purpose, the most and the best will not be produced in us if we are alone. If we are independent, we remove ourselves from the circumstances that will produce the most toward His purpose. In this specific context, God is not commanding everyone to marry, but He is clearly showing that marriage is generally better than remaining single.
Everyone understands from his own experiences that the more people who comprise a unit or community, the greater the number and intensity of problems. This occurs largely because our carnality drives us to compete rather than cooperate. Sometimes a person desires so strongly to be independent of this kind of community relationship that he separates himself in order to be completely free from the suspicions, distrust, offenses, and other hardships that occur within a group. To put it another way, it is similar to a soldier running away from the battlefield to protect himself.
In its rawest form, it is selfishness and self-interest. It can be self-serving avoidance of being useful, of contributing steadfast strength and encouragement, of being a right example to others, or of being found wrong and corrected. If nothing else, we are detaching ourselves from the unit to which God intends we show allegiance and service.
John W. Ritenbaugh
For the Perfecting of the Saints
This is the fourth of the Ten Commandments and is the last of the four commandments which show love towards God. It is quite a simple statement and yet causes so much controversy. Some say that the Ten Commandments were given to and meant only for the Israelites—not for the rest of mankind—and that they were part of the Old Covenant between God and Israel which was nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ. God answers this opinion through Jesus Christ in Mark 2:27, and through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 20:11-21, where He clearly puts the emphasis on the fact that they are HIS statutes, HIS judgments, and HIS Sabbaths. The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 56:2 also shows that the Sabbath blessing is available to any man—not just the Israelites.
The original giving of God's Sabbath commandment to Adam and Eve at Eden (and from them to all the nations to whom that first couple gave birth) preceded the giving of the Sabbath commandment to the Israelites at Sinai. At that time (man's beginning), God made the Sabbath for man (not for the Israelites who did not yet exist as a nation), and it was therefore to be kept by all nations (see Genesis 2:2-3; Mark 2:27). The Sabbath command, already in existence, is here repeated and included in the Ten Commandments. Even though the Old Covenant with Israel has become obsolete, the original sanctification of the Sabbath Day, made holy for all mankind at creation, still remains!
There is absolutely no scripture in the entire Bible that tells of God "de-sanctifying" His Sabbath Day! In fact, both Isaiah and Ezekiel give very strong indications that the Sabbath will be kept in the World Tomorrow (see Isaiah 66:22-23 and Ezekiel 44:24; 45:17; 46:1-12).
Some say that the Sabbath was changed from the seventh day of the week to the first. Most Bible experts and scholars agree that there is no biblical support for this idea at all and that such changes were made much later by (human) church leaders.
The Hebrew word translated here into the English "remember" is zakar (Strongs 2142). As well as "to remember" and "to recall," the word zakar can mean "to think about," "to bring to mind," "to mention," "to record," and "to make a memorial of." These meanings show the special status of the Sabbath.
Many scriptures show that the Sabbath Day should be a day of rest from work (see Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23; 20:10-11; 31:15; 35:2; Leviticus 23:3, Deuteronomy 5:14; Luke 23:56; Hebrews 4:9). Isaiah tells us that we should not do our own pleasure on the Sabbath, but rather that we should do God's pleasure (see Isaiah 58:13).
In the gospel accounts, Jesus shows us (by word and example) that:
- The Sabbath Day of rest should be a pleasure, and not a day of bondage to a list of pharisaical "do's and don'ts" (See Matthew 12:1-12; Mark 2:23-28; 3:2-4, Luke 6:1-9; 13:10-16; 14:1-5; John 5:9-18; 7:22-23; 9:14-16).
- The Sabbath is a day on which we should, if possible, attend church services. Jesus attended synagogue services, as He was a practicing Jew, illustrating the need for us to assemble together (see Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 12:9; 13:54; Mark 1:21; 6:2; Luke 4:16; 4:31; 13:10; John 6:59; 18:20).
Sons and daughters indicate the family of the priest. It surely included his wife as well, but this was all God needed to say to make His intention clear. Spiritually, the altar represents God's table, and the sons and daughters are the brethren in the church, the Family of our High Priest. Since we are eating from God's table, this shows us in communion with God. It also shows us doing or having a portion in the work of the priest and as having a claim on the sacrifice.
All who have communion or fellowship with God must share that communion with His priests and His children, the rest of the church, our brothers and sisters. If one brings an offering, he shares in it. There is an interesting example of this in Acts 2:41-42, beginning on the Day of Pentecost and continuing for an unknown time thereafter: "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." The sharing with brothers and sisters is plainly expressed in the words "fellowship," "breaking of bread," and "prayers."
Verses 43-45 add, "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." It almost seems as if the godly fear, wonders, and signs sprang directly from the sharing spirit and the sacrifices made by those who gave.
Can we feast with God and ignore His other guests? A person in communion with God must be in communion with all who are in communion with Him. Do we see the oneness this implies? We are all eating of the same sacrifice, the same meal. We are all being fed and strengthened by the same Spirit, and God expects that we share what we have with our brothers and sisters.
This era of the church has never experienced anything similar to the first era, but before the end time is over, we may. In the meanwhile, we should open our homes in hospitality, sharing our experiences in life with one another. We should be praying with and for each other to assist in drawing us together in unity.
Christ is our supreme example in all things pertaining to life. What did Christ do to bring us into oneness with the Father? Whatever He did we must, in principle, also do as burnt and meal offerings, keeping the commands of God with all our heart in complete devotion. In His final teaching before His crucifixion, He sets a very high standard: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). As means "equal to."
He also says in verse 13, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." Jesus laid down His life step by step and then concluded it by submitting to crucifixion for our well-being. Those sacrifices produce peace and unity with God for those who accept His sacrifice and submit to the burden of bearing one's responsibilities before God.
The conclusion is inescapable: The peace that God gives is directly linked to sacrifice and love. Our Father began the process by so loving the world that He sacrificed His only begotten Son for its sins. The Son followed the Father by magnanimously allowing Himself to be crucified in sublime submission to the Father's will. He did this after laying down His life for mankind, day by day, as a living sacrifice.
All of this begins the process for us so that we can have peace with God and that His Spirit can shed His love abroad in our hearts. The process of producing peace, harmony, and unity is thus also directly linked as a result of our sacrifices in devoted obedience to His commands.
The burnt, meal, and peace offerings are meaningful illustrations of what is necessary within our relationships to produce peaceful and edifying fellowship that truly honors and glorifies God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
Verses 23-26 contains admonitions to go to the place God chooses, turn the increase into money if needed, and to spend it on whatever the heart desires, rejoicing with each other before God. However, the chapter's theme remains as a vital component of the instruction. God wants us to enjoy the fruit of our labors, as He also does when we obey Him. He also wants our relationship to be many-layered. Our focus, of course, should be off the self, centered on God, and extending outward toward others.
The rest of the chapter addresses this outward orientation with teaching to share with those who are less fortunate. It tells us to make sure that the needy are also able to rejoice and enjoy this time of fellowship and prosperity. The chapter ends by telling us that when we do these things, we give God good reason to bless us in whatever we set out to do.
Throughout these verses, we see God, very active in the lives of His people, admonishing His people to follow His lead. God is quite concerned about His people and His spiritual body. He cares what we do to ourselves both inwardly and outwardly, physically and spiritually (I Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:18-22), and He cares how we treat each other as members of "the body of Christ" (I Corinthians 12:27).
While He allows us to partake of things we desire, Deuteronomy 14 shows that God does impose limits; He wants us to exercise self-control. He expects us to be givers and not just takers. This applies to sharing our money, food, drink, activities, and fellowship with others, and we should make special effort to share ourselves with Him in prayer, study, meditation, and church services during this time of plenty. After all, one of the purposes of going to the Feast is to learn how to fear God, and we do this by spending time with Him.
Whatever Your Heart Desires
Do you realize that through prayer, through Bible study, and through attending Sabbath services, we are in the presence of God? In His presence is joy evermore—not discouragement, not despair, not despondency, not guilt—joy!
He is such a powerful Personality that, when we are in His presence, it is very difficult, if not impossible, not to be affected by what He is. This is why we need to pray—it is an absolute necessity! We need to take advantage of this invitation to fellowship with Him, in study and prayer, because this great Personality wants to infuse us with what He is. It becomes part of us because we are around Him.
We have a proclivity to adapt to the environment in which we find ourselves. When we have grown up in this world, our character is set in such a way that it is against God. Only by being in His presence can this anti-God attitude be counteracted. This invitation to fellowship with Him is our salvation.
And there is not just joy in His presence but love, peace, goodness, gentleness, kindness, mercy, self-control, and every other attribute of the Spirit of God. In His presence is "where it's at."
Can we see the story that is being worked out from Adam and Eve on? Through the sins of mankind, he became separated from God. But now, through Christ, the ability to return to His presence, into fellowship Him—into the very Garden of Eden, as it were—has been opened to us again. It is only in His presence that all of the good attributes of His Spirit are available to us.
This highlights the importance of Passover. It is not just the death of Christ but the effect of His death: reestablishment of communion with God, of fellowship with Him.
Having access to His presence does not mean that the Christian will never experience depression or despair, but we will never experience it for very long if we continue to fellowship with God. It will motivate us to refocus on the reality of what God is working and doing in us. In other words, our knowledge that we are keeping the commands of God and that we love our brethren and that we believe in the name (that is, the nature and all of the characteristics) of Jesus Christ will pull us out of our doldrums. We know what we have experienced with God in the past and realize that our present dilemma is not the end of the world.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love and Fellowship
This is an indication from Scripture that, when we are in the companionship and the fellowship of others, we tend to shape each other. We rub off on each other.
A clear illustration of this is our relationship with our children. When a child is born, he is not born with the inflections or the twangs of the area into which he is born. Nobody has to teach anybody how to speak "Brooklynese" or "Southern." The nasal tone or drawl just rubs off. The child picks it up. It is ingrained within him unconsciously.
The same principle is at work in terms of character and personality. We rub off on each other. Are we rubbing off on each other for good, or are we rubbing off on each other for evil? Are we lifting one another up, or are we pulling one another down? We do not have to try consciously to do either. It will just happen. The world, largely, does not care how it rubs off on others - except that human nature wants people to think well of it, even while it is doing evil.
But in our Christian fellowship, we have the responsibility before God to work to rub off on each other for good. As long as we are conducting ourselves aright, it will rub off in the right way. In other words, all we have to do is work on ourselves. If we work on ourselves, then the projection of the self, the spirit that will go out from us, will be right, and it will have the right kind of impact.
God intends that prayer be an act of a free moral agent who consciously chooses to fellowship with God for the development of their relationship and the completion of himself as an individual.
Do we realize that, when we pray, we are in the presence of God, and He has the opportunity to rub off on us? It seems so simple as to be almost unbelievable, but it is right. Some of His Spirit reaches out and begins to affect us for good. Prayer is a major tool in our spiritual development through God's rubbing off on us. All the while this is happening, our minds are being subtly shaped by Him because we are in His presence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is Prayer?
"Your words": Matthew 12:34 says that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." The key is out of the abundance of the heart, that is, "what is in the heart," what we want to talk about. Of the four broad areas in Isaiah 58:13-14, this is probably the most difficult one for us. We wrestle with it, wondering whether "what we are saying" should be said or not.
The emphasis is on the word "your." Our conversations on the Sabbath should not be the same as they are on the other six days of the week, when our conversations would tend to be on those things that are pleasurable to us. What God wants us to do and say on the Sabbath are things that are His pleasure, not ours. But if we are growing spiritually, then what is "His pleasure" is also going to be in our heart.
The title of the first book of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy on the one ring of power is very interesting. It is called "The Fellowship of the Ring." The story is a fantasy about a group of nine people who were chosen to destroy the one ring of power. If we understand the symbolism, their enemy was Satan.
He wanted to keep the one ring alive and working among the nations. It was up to Frodo Baggins and the group of people who were with him to destroy that one ring. The whole trilogy describes what happened to this "fellowship." It contains all of the experiences they had in carrying out this quest to destroy the ring: the good times and the bad, the good weather and the bad, the fear and the courage, the discouragement, sickness, and injuries—all of the things that happened along the way, all of the things that they fought against and overcame, all of the difficulties, all of the trials—and all the while carrying the burden of trying to make sure that this one ring of power was kept out of the enemy's hand so it could be destroyed.
There are a lot of good lessons there, but this illustration should help us to understand what should be the subjects of our Sabbath conversations. It is our fellowship, first of all with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, as well as all of us who are within this fellowship. The things that we experience with the Father and Son, the things that we experience with each other—our discouragements, our hopes, our dreams, our failures, our successes, our courage, our fears, our worries, our crying, our happy times. All of these things become a part of the way.
The fellowship that we have along the way to the Kingdom of God is "fair game" to talk about on the Sabbath. Many things we might consider to be mundane contain vital lessons for us and others. We should share our happy times and sad times with our brothers and sisters in the faith.
But when we start throwing in things that we are planning to do about entertainments, sports, etc.—we are beginning to drift away. Are these part of the way? Is it part of the fellowship? Probably not, but it could be. This should begin to give us a framework within which we can see what is right to speak about.
God does not intend that we spend our whole time on the Sabbath turning to Scriptures. Certainly, to do so is right and good. But there is nothing wrong with talking about our fellowship and all it entails. There is a great deal that can be explored in these areas and that we can feel comfortable—with good conscience—talking about and sharing with one another.
A great deal of what we say is just so much vanity, but a lot of good lies in the experiences we have had, the lessons that we can pass on, the encouragement that we can share. There are multitudes of experiences and subjects that fit within positive purposes for which the Sabbath was created.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)
Malachi wrote in Judea between the return from Babylon and Christ's birth. During that period God's people had grown lackadaisical in their worship, yet a faithful few remained.
"'Your words have been harsh against Me,' says the LORD." God accuses them of calling Him into account for what was happening within the nation. They were experiencing difficult times, just as the people of God have frequently endured difficult times. These are times when we cry out to God, "Why, God? Why are you allowing this to happen? When are you going to intervene?" but He does not seem to be listening.
"Yet you say, 'What have we spoken against You?'" They did not feel that their accusations were against God, but He gives them an example (verses 14-15).
The faithful can see that these others are not very godly. Maybe they see that "the proud" are sinning openly, breaking the commandments of God. Maybe the proud do not have a submissive, quiet, and gentle spirit. Maybe they are aggressive and assertive, and they maneuvered themselves to the head of the group. And they seemed to be getting away with it!
Notice what these faithful people did in response to the difficult times they were enduring as part of the ekklesia (verse 16). All of God's faithful people should do these things:
1). They feared God. They respected and revered Him. They stood in awe of Him. Some may have even felt an appropriate measure of terror.
2). They thought on His name. They meditated on it. It can suggest that they esteemed His name. They spoke highly of it. They honored Him. They looked to Him, though they were complaining for leadership and guidance. His name, of course, stands for everything that He is. He does not have just one name, He has many names. They show, or advertise, what He is, what He will do, and what He requires.
3). They fellowshipped with one another. No doubt they spoke of their trials and their blessings, about the things that were going on in the ekklesia of that day, of their studies into God's Word, of their plans, of their expectations of the Kingdom of God. God heard! God watched and responded, maybe not when they would have liked Him to respond, but God did respond in His time, when it was right for His purposes.
So will He respond to us!
Then God makes a wonderful promise to those who fear Him: "'They shall be Mine,' says the LORD of hosts, 'on that day that I make them My jewels [special treasure—margin]. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him'" (verse 17). In Isaiah 49:15-16, God says, "Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands...." He is watching! He is aware of what is going on, and He will act!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
God listens to what we say. He wants to hear us speak to and help each other during these stressful times. He does not like to hear judgmental and condemning conversations among His people, but words of encouragement that spur others into standing fast in God. He likes to hear brethren urging each other to fix their attention on the true teachings of God and to have faith in what He is doing.
Soon, God will make us His jewels, a special treasure for Himself, and those who have conducted themselves wisely will be most prized by Him. We need to realize the dangerous times and attitudes into which we can be dragged. We must stay focused upon what God is working out in our lives and in the lives of others—wherever they may be fellowshipping. By doing so, we can fight against Satan's influences and overcome them in faith. God is preparing His own special, peculiar people (I Peter 2:9), and He will bring them all to a full and wonderful salvation!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
The Whirlpool of War
These very words of Christ clearly show He had a corporate body of human beings in mind, not just a spiritual organism. He used ekklesia, meaning an assembly of people, a group, and He confirmed this by using Hades, a pit into which dead bodies are cast. He thus shows His church to exist continuously as flesh-and-blood human beings.
It is clearly His will that all those having the Spirit of God be fellowshipping and serving together on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25). A person may delude himself into thinking he can better serve Christ and prepare for the Kingdom of God free from all the pressures of a congregation, but the Word of God shows otherwise. He could even be condemning himself to the flames of the Lake of Fire by showing God that he is not pleased to associate with God's own sons and daughters, His holy people. The "independent Christian" must repent of his independence if he wants to glorify God, truly serve His people, and become spiritually mature.
John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust
How were Simeon and Annaable to recognize the Messiah three decades before His first witness actually began? Luke provides the answer. He shows us that, in aggregate, the people of this group displayed the following characteristics:
1. They had God's Spirit. As a result, they were able to understand "the deep things of God. . . . No one knows the things of God except [by] the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:10-11). When He promised the Spirit to His disciples, Christ called it
the Spirit of truth [which] . . . will guide you into all truth; for [it] will not speak on [its] own authority, but whatever [it] hears [it] will speak; and [it] will tell you things to come. (John 16:13)
The Spirit taught Simeon and Anna, just as it taught the apostles—just as it teaches us today.
2. They heard God's Word. Anna "did not depart from the Temple . . . night and day." She often heard the reading of God's Word, which Christ defined as truth (John 17:17). That Word "is profitable for . . . instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). The Devout received frequent instruction from God's Word.
3. They talked with others of like mind. Simeon was not alone; neither was Anna. Luke 2:38 says Anna "spoke of [Christ] to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." An unspecified number of other people also waited for the Messiah! They fellowshipped with those who were "just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel" (verse 25).
4. They fasted often. Notice the plural: Anna "served God with fastings" (Luke 2:37). These were not the fastings of vanity (see Matthew 6:16-18), but she fasted in service to God. A result of proper fasting is knowledge (see Daniel 9:1-22; 10:1-21). Surely, Anna's frequent fastings contributed to her ability to recognize the Messiah.
5. They prayed regularly. Again, notice the plural, "prayers" (Luke 2:37). Many hours of prayer lay behind Anna's recognition of her Messiah.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 2:3-5, "If you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, . . . then you will . . . find the knowledge of God." Solomon should know. God greatly increased his knowledge and wisdom as a result of his prayer (II Chronicles 1:10).
6. The Devout made the right connections. As a result of hearing God's Word, they were aware of the Seventy-Weeks Prophecy (Daniel 9:20-27). They realized that it was about 69 prophetic weeks since the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the Messiah's coming was imminent. That is what Luke 2:26 tells us: God's Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.
7. The Devout saw the Day approaching and did not forsake the assembling of themselves together (Hebrews 10:25). They understood the value of Christian fellowship. The prophet wrote of them and their sort through the ages: "Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them" (Malachi 3:16).
Discussing God's Word in frequent fellowship, with humble fastings and prayers, the Devout received understanding from God. Thus, they recognized their Messiah while the superstitious and the proud did not.
Recognizing the Second Witness
His relationship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was different from the relationship He had with other people. Why? One reason is, as we find in other places, He stayed with this family when He was near Jerusalem. He had undoubtedly eaten quite a number of meals at their home, and they had had ample time to talk about the plan of God, as well as their hopes and dreams, problems, trials, and difficulties. Jesus likely counseled them in these matters. As a result of this fellowship, within this family atmosphere, grew an intimacy of thinking that He did not have with many others. The Bible does not say all that often that He loved somebody the way He loved these.
Trust in a historical fact can be essentially passive, but so what? It might not be a vital part of life. However, a Christian cannot have the kind of conviction needed unless he recognizes that he is fellowshipping with a very wonderful, living, dynamic, and gracious Personality. When we pray to Him, He wants us to think about that relationship, about Him, His power, His willingness, His purpose, and everything connected with Him in His relationship with us.
Trust in a Personality energizes the quality of the prayer. In this case, it infuses the trust with a firsthand knowledge of the Being to whom we are appealing. Prayer's most important fruit may well be the understanding gained of this Personality: what He is and what He does.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Fervency
Even as God is revealed by what He does, so will His children. Our love for God has not made this possible, but His love for us has, as I John 4:19 says, "We love Him because He first loved us." Thus, our love for Him is a response to His love for us. Since God shows His love for us by drawing us to Him, it behooves us to do acts of love toward others to draw them.
God's act of love in giving His Son defines the ultimate requirement of true love, the giving of our most beloved possession in sacrifice for another's gain. We can understand, then, that godly love will almost always have sacrifice involved in its giving. Sacrifice is the essence, the essential or vital part, of love.
God's love originates in Himself, was manifested in His Son, and is perfected in His people. God's love is perfected in us when we reproduce it in or among ourselves, primarily in our fellowship. We either use love and perfect it or lose it. This partly explains the apostle John's intense concern about fellowship. What concerned him is not just an optional blessing to believers, but a fundamental outlet for the manifestation and perfection of God's love among and in the saints.
It should be obvious that we neither have God's love by nature, nor is it self-generated. Romans 5:5 verifies this understanding: "Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given to us." We receive godly love from its Source, God, by means of His Spirit.
Only by knowing God can we have this love, and only by loving can we know Him! This may sound like a vicious cycle, but the two go together. Only by learning to love God can we learn His nature, that is, what He is like. We cannot have that love until we first come to know Him. By fellowshipping with Him, we come to know Him and receive His love, and in using His love, we become like Him and really know Him. We can only really come to know God by experiencing the use of His love ourselves.
All this is possible because God, in His love, initiates a relationship with us, grants us repentance, gives us His Spirit, and then, because of His love, takes the lead in sustaining the relationship. This is why Paul says in Romans 5:10 that "we shall be saved by His life." He primarily shoulders the burden of our salvation. How comforting!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
There was a time, signified by this day of Pentecost, when the church was unified—perhaps as unified as it ever was in its entire history. These verses reveal two elements of the time when the unity of the church was at its very peak.
1) They were devoted to the apostles' doctrine. In the first century, that was "the faith once delivered." It means they were constant. They were resolute. They were single-minded. They were determined in learning and following it. They did not drift. They did not swerve from it, and it produced what it is supposed to: faith in God; faith in His way; faith in His church; confidence and trust in putting these things into practice. They were deeply convicted.
2) They took care of each other. They were very much concerned for their brother's welfare. This was not communism, where they sold all their goods and turned them over to the administration of the church to distribute equally to all. But, rather, it indicates they voluntarily looked out for each other personally (individually), striving to meet the needs of each other.
This is the epitome of "feeding the flock"—and ALL of the body is participating, not just the ministry. Everybody is nurturing everybody else. The whole body participating in two major things, pursuing the faith once delivered and taking care of each other.
The New Testament epistles make it very clear that later, when the first century church was splitting, the people were counseled to get back to the faith once delivered—which means that they had drifted from it. They were no longer doing the things they were doing in Acts 2. Again, why? Why counsel them to get back to the apostles' doctrines?
Putting this together, asking where faith arises from, there are two major components. The first is God and what He does (I Corinthians 2). He opens up our mind. He predisposes it for us to receive something. The second is expounded upon by Paul in Romans 10. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the word of God." Those two work together. What God does, by a miraculous act of His mind, of His will, of His Spirit working in our minds, is combined with the message He gives to the person He sends. It is to be the basis and foundation of our conversion and our faith. From that point on, it becomes a matter of learning more specifically the things that are contained within the message that was delivered to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 4)
In order to grasp what it means to devote ourselves to fellowship, we need to understand two Greek word groups: koinônia and its derivatives and metochos, a word that will become important because of its spiritual relationship to koinônia.
Before we consider the Greek words, we need to take a look at "fellowship" from an English dictionary to see what it might add to our understanding. According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, it means: a) companionship, company; association; b) the community of interest, activity, feeling, or experience, i.e., a unified body of people of equal rank sharing in common interests, goals, and characteristics, etc.; c) partnership, membership. The last definition has become an obsolete usage, but it is an important one, showing how our ideas of fellowship have changed over the years.
Three key ideas come out of this:
- Fellowship means being a part of a group, a body of people.
- Fellowship means having or sharing with others certain things in common.
- Fellowship can indicate a partnership, which involves people working together.
But what about Christian fellowship according to the Greek words for "fellowship" as used in the New Testament?
Koinos is the root word, which means "common, mutual, public." It refers to that which is held in common. For instance, the common Greek spoken across the Roman Empire is called Koine.
Koinônia is the primary word that is translated as "fellowship." Two main ideas are contained in it: a) "to share together, take part together" in the sense of partnership or participation, and b) "to share with" in the sense of giving to others. The New Testament usage emphasizes that what all parties involved share in common is in some way a relationship.
Koinônos is the noun form of the word, though used less often in the New Testament, meaning "a partner, associate, or companion." A similar word, synkoinônos, meaning "one who shares with" or "a partaker of," is used in Philippians 1:7: "For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners in God's grace together with me" (NET, emphasis ours).
It is easy to see that "sharing" and "partaking together" are central to fellowship.
The same idea is found in the other relevant Greek word, metochos, an adjective, along with its verb, metechô, and its noun, metoche. The basic notion in all of these words is "to have with" or "to have together." Specifically, metochos means "sharing in, partaking of," and thus its noun form means "a partner, associate." The verb, metechô, means "to become a partaker of" or "to have a share in."
We can observe these two Greek word groups in II Corinthians 6:14, where the apostle Paul uses them in parallel fashion: "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship [metoche] has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion [koinônia] has light with darkness?" Obviously, these questions are rhetorical. We know that these concepts are polar opposites; they share nothing in common.
Devoting Ourselves to Fellowship
Two key ideas are important if we are to grasp the biblical teaching on "fellowship." The first is that, in the New Testament, what we have in common is shared, to begin with, because of a common relationship that we all have together in Christ. We can have fellowship and share with each other because we have a relationship with Christ; we share Him in common.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:9, "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." The Revised English Bible translates I John 1:3 as, "It is this which we have seen and heard that we declare to you also, in order that you may share with us in a common life, that life which we share with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ."
Fellowship is first the sharing of a common life with each other through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We were all individuals with little in common until the Father's calling separated us from everyone else in this world, and we became part of Christ's body through His Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13, 27). In this, we can see that true Christian fellowship is primarily a relationship rather than an activity.
In Acts 2:42, the young church was not merely devoting itself to common activities but to a vital, spiritual relationship. It was this relationship that produced an active sharing in other ways. Many of us have gotten this backwards—that the activities produce the relationship. Not so! The relationship comes first, then the common activities follow.
It is so important that we grasp this. Fellowship means that we belong to each other in a relationship because we share with one another the common life and grace of Jesus Christ. From this flows additional sharing of our time, experiences, wisdom, and many other things.
The second key idea derives from the fact that both New Testament Greek words for "fellowship," koinônia and metochos, mean "to share together" in the sense of a partnership. As sharers together with Christ, we are automatically copartners with Him and with our brethren in His enterprise here on earth. His work is our work.
A business partnership is always formed in order to attain a known objective, such as providing a service to the public at a profit for the partners. In the same way, the concept of a spiritual partnership implies that it is created with godly objectives, the most important one being glorifying God. Just as we are united in a relationship, so we are all united in a partnership formed to glorify God by completing His work.
Paul writes about Christian unity in Romans 15:5-6, explaining that its aim is to glorify God: "Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Peter also states that our service for God is ultimately to bring Him glory: "If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (I Peter 4:11).
Thus, fellowship also means that we have been brought into partnership with our Savior and with each other to fulfill God's will and glorify Him.
To summarize what true Christian fellowship is, relationship describes what we are, a community of people bound together by our common life that we share through our union with Christ. Partnership describes how we interact within that relationship—we are partners in a calling and an enterprise in which we are to work harmoniously with a shared purpose to achieve mutual objectives to glorify God and to do the work of Jesus Christ.
While many today consider it to be of little importance, fellowship in the body of Christ is certainly no side issue. In Acts 2:42, as one of the four activities to which the early church devoted itself, it was listed alongside Bible study and prayer. God has called us and put us together as His Family to accomplish His purpose in us and ultimately in all of mankind. We should not forget that when we fellowship, we are sharing and working together toward a common goal, the Kingdom of God.
Devoting Ourselves to Fellowship
Paul said this when making his last goodbye to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem. Eventually, from there, he went to Rome to face the authorities there. He had spent many years in his journeys crisscrossing the area of what is today western Turkey, preaching the gospel to them, as well as to the world. In making this statement, he is saying, in effect, that a disciple is not made merely by preaching the gospel to him as a witness. There is a vast difference between the two. A disciple of Christ is created through preaching, personal study, prayer, meditation, fellowship, and experience in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the church. Jesus clearly says in Matthew 28:20 that the disciples were to be taught "all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)
God initiates the relationship with us. He makes it possible, paving the way so that we can have fellowship with Him. Through this relationship, which He made possible through the gift of His Son, He desires to develop trust in us. Without that gift, without that expression of His love, the relationship never would have begun.
God is also the one who keeps the relationship going. If He did not do this, we would not have enough faith to trust Him, just like the Israelites of old. We would be too impatient, and we would not believe what He said. Obedience, loyalty, and devotion to Him would never be produced.
So, God keeps forgiving us. He keeps extending the hand, beckoning us to come back to the relationship. This is so clearly seen in the way God dealt with Israel in the Old Testament. Over and over, He forgave her and opened the way for her to come back. He deals no differently with us.
The key element in our salvation is this fellowship, which has been initiated through the death of Jesus Christ so that, through the relationship, we can begin to conform to the image of God by being permitted into His presence. If we do not do what is necessary on our part, giving our time and attention to the fellowship—to the relationship—nothing will happen.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Emotional Dimension
The question Paul poses is natural for those who do not have the faith and thus have not really submitted to God. The far more important question for the converted is, "Does He not have the right to do as He pleases with us, since He is not only our Creator, but He has also purchased us from our spiritual bondage to sin through the payment of His sinless Son's lifeblood?" We therefore belong to Him, and He sees us now as both sons and slaves. God fully expects us to be slaves of righteousness even as we were once slaves to sin (Romans 6:15-23). A slave is one whose master makes his choices.
The majority of us have been born into cultures where literal, physical slavery is no longer practiced. We have no direct experience with it, though most of us have at least an intellectual understanding of some aspects of it. Consider, then, the relationship between master and slave. The apostles had a good reason to use the word that means "slave" (doulos). They wanted us to understand that in our relationship with God we not only experience the joys of freedom as His children but also the serious requirement to obey as His slaves.
Suppose the Master summons a slave to meet with him every seventh day for instruction and fellowship with Him and His other slaves, and the slave refuses, saying he has something more important to do. This "something more important" does not necessarily have to be working for pay. Perhaps his justification for staying away is, "I learn more studying by myself at home," or "So many 'unspiritual' people are there that I no longer feel comfortable." Suppose the Master says the slave is to pay back ten percent of his increase to Him, but the slave says, "I have other, more important things to do with my money."
Once we understand this, it becomes apparent where our parent church headed in regard to sovereignty. The leaders quickly changed many doctrines—and thus the theology of the entire institution—subtly turning the tables in the relationship. They made the slave the master by giving him the right to decide what is law and what is not, as well as permission to change established priorities. This is virtually the same ploy Satan used on Adam and Eve when he said, "You will be as God."
Who is the sovereign and who is the slave is one of the points Paul makes in Romans 9. Understanding that God is sovereign and we are the slaves and translating this into loving submission are essential to our relationship with Him. This absolutely requires trusting Him. Those without the faith cannot do this because they do not believe as God does. To have the faith of Christ, we must believe what Christ believes. Will anyone be in God's Kingdom who does not believe as God does?
As we have experienced this life, most of us at one time or another have considered whether God is fair. Our Creator has designed experiences to bring this question to mind so we might consider as many ramifications of it as possible. We usually glean most of our information from the disasters and tragedies of human life. What we often lack are His perspective and truth. As He gives these through the revelation of Himself, we begin to perceive His loving grace, abundant generosity, infinite patience, ready forgiveness, stable oversight, and unswerving commitment to concluding His wonderful purpose successfully.
Those who see Him as unfair are usually ignorant of what is really going on because they have not yet been given eyes to see that they are included in His plan. Mankind's disasters and tragedies have their roots in sin, but God did not will man to sin. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 7:29, "Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes." Mankind has chosen to bring disaster and tragedy upon himself. God is gradually removing the ignorance that holds mankind in thrall to choices that kill him. He has removed this ignorance from us already, and we are therefore free to choose life, as God commands in Deuteronomy 30:19.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six
1 Corinthians 1:9
This particular verse is written in such a way as to be translated either "with" or "in": Our fellowship is with Christ, or our fellowship is in Christ. It can go either way. The case is both subjective and objective in I Corinthians 1:9.
Fellowship means "sharing," "communion with," "companionship with," or "association with." We have been called into an association—a companionship, a fellowship, a communion—with Christ. All these words are synonyms. The only difference might be the degree of the intimacy that is expressed. In addition, fellowship indicates people having things in common—they do things together because they share common interests. What we have in common is our love for Christ.
We are drawn to the brethren because of the common tie—the common love for the same Person. Even when we meet people in the church for the very first time, we do not feel as though they are perfect strangers to us because of that commonality. We recognize the spirit or attitude that emanates from them. It is almost something that we can feel or see because our senses seem to be attuned to it. This is why world travelers with the church say that they can go into another congregation and know that it is of the same Spirit as the one that they traveled from.
There is a bond or union between us because we love the same Person. To the Christian, then, Christ's friend is our friend. We are members of the same body. We are children in the same Family. We are soldiers in the same army. We are pilgrims on the same road. These same analogies are used many places in the Bible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
1 Corinthians 8:1-3
These seemingly innocuous words may be the central issue in this whole book (or both books to the Corinthians) because this was the sin that led Satan to separate from God's government. He became puffed up about himself. Likewise, the Corinthians were puffed up about how much they knew.
Satan thought so much of himself that he became twisted in his thinking, and he attacked God. We do not attack God directly—this book shows us we attack each other! Therein lies the problem. We attack each other through gossip, rumors, accusations, and things of that nature.
We begin to draw up lists in our minds of the faults of those who have offended us, and we begin to withdraw from them. We will not associate with them. Division begins to occur because they offend us. We say to ourselves, "Well, they were mean to me," or "They aren't intelligent enough," or "They are peculiar," or "They wear garish clothing," or "They have strong opinions about unimportant things."
This is not to say that these things are right and good, or that one should be able to do his own thing at anytime, anywhere, and that others should be tolerant of it. Nevertheless, Satan can, if he is given the opportunity, lead our minds to find reasons to not associate with others—reasons that have nothing to do with sin. Satan is at work.
If the feeling continues unabated, we will eventually come to the place where we will withdraw from fellowship altogether. It will not happen quickly, necessarily, but gradually. Perhaps we stop attending Bible Studies or begin to find reasons not to come to Sabbath services, or we will arrive late to services and leave early. In this way, Satan is slowly but surely moving us toward self-indulgence rather than love.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 4)
1 Corinthians 15:49
I Corinthians 15:49 shows the end of the process, which it encompasses in just a brief phrase, "we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." We were born into the human family, and we have borne the image of that family, an image that all of mankind has in common. All of us have the human spirit. We may be different ethnically. We may look different from the person sitting next to us, but now in Christ Jesus He is building a commonality, one God intends us to use to increase our fellowship with Him, as well as increase and deepen the respect and fellowship that we have for each other until we come to bear the image of the heavenly. Then, of course, the fellowship will be in totality. That is where Christians are headed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 4)
An American cliché runs, "Charity begins at home." Unfortunately, the fellowship of a local congregation is frequently the most difficult place to do good in the right spirit. This may be partly because of such misguided expectations that Christians "shouldn't have such problems," "shouldn't be causing such offenses," "should know better than that," or many other accusations about character and personality flaws that we might make.
We draw back and become weary for many reasons that appear justified: There is so much opposition to good plans for doing things. There is so much to do and, it seems, so few to do it. There are so many calls upon our time in other legitimate areas. There is all too often so much ingratitude among those whom we try to help that we become disheartened.
God has called the weak of this world, and we have brought our character weaknesses and odd personality traits with us into the church. We see people in the church who are so depressed it seems they never have a bright day. Others have cups overflowing with troubles, and they want to dump on any willing to listen. The sick, poor, foolish, weak, cynical, stubborn, critical, cutting, arrogant, aggressive, vain, discouraged, suspicious, pompous, hypocritical, and sarcastic are in every congregation. As the cartoon character Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and they is us!"
But God calls upon all of us to "strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:12). We are to open our hearts wide in listening and generously give the benefit of knowledge, understanding, comfort, exhortation, inspiration, hope, and encouragement from our experiences, especially to those in the church. At the proper time, we can give correction in meekness, considering our own weaknesses. He commands us to open our hands wide to the poor, and He says it will be as though we are loaning the money to Him. We are to "be there" for them, not as a "know-it-all," but as a "maybe-this-will-help."
Can we not be kinder in our evaluation of another's character? If we hear a derogatory story about a brother or sister, should we not ask ourselves, "If someone heard this story about me, would I not want him to disbelieve it until he searched it out and made quite sure that it was true?" Is there not as much wickedness in believing a lie as in telling one? If we are always ready to believe derogatory stories about others, what does that say about our minds? That is hardly a kind attitude described by chrestotes, the Greek word for kindness. Will such an attitude produce unity, peace, and warm, loving fellowship?
No slanderers would exist among us if no one received or believed slander, for when there is no demand for an article, no one will produce it. If we will not believe evil reports, the discouraged talebearer will leave off his evil practice or take it elsewhere.
What if we are compelled by the facts to believe the report? A kind person shows his kindness by not repeating it. He will reason to himself, "Though this thing is true, and I am very sorry, why should I spread it to others?" It is the Christian's responsibility not to expose the brother to further disgrace unless it be absolutely needful—as sometimes it is—but always to deal with the brother in the most gentle, kindest manner possible. As the Golden Rule is commonly recited, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
God's instruction here is that "as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all men." Regardless of their station in life, regardless of whether they are in the church, this high requirement stands fast. His only modification is that our brethren in the church have a higher claim on our resources. A teaching we can glean from the Parable of the Good Samaritan is that the Samaritan did not inquire whether the wounded man was "one of his own." The only criterion was that he needed an act of kindness performed for him in his desperately weakened situation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness
This creating, building, or growing that Paul writes about here is the process by which we come to have more and more in common with each other so that there can be a continuing fellowship. The Holy Spirit, mentioned in verse 18 and again in verse 22, is the mechanism by which this is accomplished.
The eradication of the differences that we bring with us into the church and the building of the commonality are primarily the creative work of God. He is the Artisan at work, and we are being created in Christ Jesus into a fellowship that is so close that it is likened to a family. Families have things in common. It begins with a biological affinity, and the children of a mother and a father are genetically closer to each other than they are to their parents. What are we called in the church? Brothers and sisters.
Families have looks and practices in common, too, among other things. What they have in common makes them a family. So, in the church, God has to build a commonality to give us the family and therefore the fellowship that will enable us to continue with Him and with our brethren.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 4)
Christian union is built around the fact that we are all partakers with one another in the grace of God. Unity, then, will vary from person to person. With some, it will be tenuous because the relationships and experiences together are just not that strong. On the one end, we have casual acquaintances. We know these acquaintances are part of the church of God, and thus we share a Spirit with them, as well as a hope, a dream, a goal. We are on a pilgrimage with them to God's Kingdom. Because they are in our minds, we have a tenuous union with them.
On the other extreme is the union that we have with our mate, who likewise shares with us the same Spirit, the same hopes and dreams. However, with our spouse, we share a great deal more intimacy and far more experience. Our union with him or her is far deeper. Spiritually, this also applies to our unity with the Father in heaven.
This epistle was written while Paul languished in prison. His fond memories of his experiences with the Philippians made him feel confident, as if he were not alone, as if they were with him in his chains, giving him encouragement in his desperate situation. It is as if he is saying, "Because of our unity, I can feel your support."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 4)
The Philippian congregation was generally a wonderful group of people. Many different commentaries state that of all the groups that Paul wrote to, Phillipi was probably the best of them all. However, Paul was writing to these people with some measure of sadness because two ladies were feuding, and it was inexorably dividing the group into rival camps. In this section, the apostle is spelling out our Christian responsibility.
Notice that nowhere in the entire epistle to the Phillipians does Paul tell them, "Don't come to church." He did not say, "Split away by yourself." That is what is happening in the greater church. Paul did not say, "Just go sit in your living room." That is not an option with God. He tells us here that we have to look to and seek higher things. He says to let our conduct be worthy of the gospel that we say that we believe.
How far did Jesus Christ go to make peace? To the death! He did not allow the hostility of the world against Him to justify hostility against those who were mistreating Him.
We should not be misled by the word "if" in verse 1. Paul is not stating a "maybe." He is stating an absolute fact. That word "if" is better understood as "since": "Since there are these things in you because of God's Spirit, sacrifice yourself. Make my joy complete and use them." What are we to use? Love, fellowship of the spirit, bowels and mercies. "Fulfil you my joy, that you be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."
Because of God's calling, because He granted us repentance and gave us His Spirit, we have already been enabled by His Spirit to use these things to make peace, to be of one accord, to be of one mind. "The mark of the beast" can be overcome by God's Spirit in us, but we must sacrifice ourselves to use it. It is already there. Thus, Paul is saying, "Use God's love in you, and be of one mind. Quit fighting with each other to gain the upper hand. Consider the other person better than you, and serve him by looking out for his interest."
When he says, "Let this mind be in you," what he literally says in the Greek is, "Keep thinking like this." How? As Jesus Christ has already shown us. He is saying, "Don't let your mind be drawn toward what you consider to be the cause of the offense." Or, "Don't dwell upon those things."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Spiritual Mark of the Beast
We all need to guard against unbelief as we would against an enemy. Paul is not speaking about a heart in which unbelief is merely present, but a heart that is controlled by unbelief, the kind of heart that will drag a person down even as Peter was dragged down into Galilee's water when he took his eyes off of Jesus. The peril of unbelief is that it breaks the trust on which our relationship with God is based. Unbelief leads to falling away, which is the opposite of drawing near. "Drawing near" is a major theme of Hebrews.
Falling away is the supreme disaster of life, the ultimate defeat, because it completely thwarts God's purpose for creation. It is essential we remember that when a person falls away, he is not merely falling away from a doctrine or even a set of doctrines, but from a living, dynamic Personality.
Faith needs to be cultivated. It grows by reading and studying God's Word, and by meditating on it. It grows in an atmosphere of trial or experience because it is exercised through use. It also grows, as we find here in these three verses, in an atmosphere of exhortation from others who are fellowshipping with us. Exhortation is a preventative of falling away, which is a major reason why fellowship is so necessary. Without it, a person may hold his own, and perhaps his faith will not slip very much, but one who is not fellowshipping with others of like mind will rarely ever grow.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith and Prayer
Stir up love means "to arouse to love." We have an obligation to do this because of both love and faith. We see it in two different contexts: In Hebrews 3:12-14, the subject is faith or belief. In Hebrews 10:23-25, the subject is love. In both cases, exhortation within our fellowship can increase either one or both of them.
The writer says that we have to confess our hope. Confess means "to make it known, to reveal." We must make our hope known. Undoubtedly, he means the great hope of the resurrection of the dead, but it is probably not limited only to that hope but includes other hopes that we have.
It is the accomplishment of these hopes that we are to exhort our brethren about: "Hang in there!" "Hold fast!" "Have you tried praying about that?" "Have you sought the advice or counsel of this person?" "Do you think it would help for you to do this or that thing?" "I had a problem like that one time." By doing this, we begin to pool our resources and experiences, and there is wisdom, God says, in a multitude of counselors. It cannot help but build people up, and our fellowship becomes stronger as we share one another's hopes and dreams.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Fervency
The New Testament stresses that Christians need the fellowship of others of like mind. An identifying mark of the true church is that the members have love for one another (John 13:35). Indeed, one of the criteria by which Christ will judge us is how we treat our brethren in the church (Matthew 25:31-46). How can we love and serve one another if we do not fellowship with and get to know each other?
God has given us ample instruction regarding how we should relate to other Christians. It is His purpose to teach us how to get along with each other so we can teach others about these things in the Millennium. We are to be unselfish and concerned for the needs of others (Philippians 2:4). God wants us to learn patience and forgiveness (Colossians 3:13), striving to be "kindly affectionate," humble, and self-effacing in our dealings with one another (Romans 12:10). We should be giving and hospitable to our brethren (verse 13).
The New Testament is replete with various admonitions on how we should interact with our brothers and sisters in the church. Obviously, God views our interaction with other Christians as vital to our training to become members of the God Family and qualifying for a position in His Kingdom. He wants us to develop interpersonal skills that equip us to deal with occasional differences of opinion and offenses.
Our fellowship should be a source of encouragement to one another. We should use this time to show love to our brethren and to motivate them to perform acts of kindness and service for others. All of these exhortations show a clear need for us to be part of an organization of God's people. God's Sabbath service is like a weekly training school for Christians. The spiritual food that God's true ministers prepare for us is vitally important for our spiritual growth and development. In discussing the relationship of the ministry to the church member, Paul explains that the ministry is given
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)
The interaction that we have with one another when we fellowship at church services helps us to develop the fruit of God's Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul shows that the church is truly Christ's body, and like the human body, each part depends upon the other parts.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
For the Perfecting of the Saints
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together - The Revised English Bible renders this verse: "We should not stay away from our meetings, as some do, but rather encourage one another, all the more because we see the day of the Lord drawing near." Since the New Testament church observed the Sabbath, it is evident that Paul is saying, "We need to be attending church services, especially since the end is coming soon!"
A good friend of mine and I were talking about how the church keeps the Sabbath. He commented that, generally, church members baptized before the mid-1970s seem to have a greater zeal for making sure they always get to services on the Sabbath than those baptized later.
This may or may not be true, but there does seem to be a trend not to consider assembling on the Sabbath as important as it used to be. In the past, we would never think of missing church services to attend a wedding or visit with family coming into town. We would never stay home because we were tired. When someone became ill, the whole family did not stay at home; we thought that everyone else should still go or at the very least one of us should represent the family at church. Since it was the most important event of the week, we would always plan to be at services, even if we "ruffled the feathers" of relatives or neighbors.
We obediently honor God in coming before Him at services. Each Sabbath is to be "a holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:3), meaning we are "called together" to worship Him. In a way, it is like a weekly Family reunion to pay homage to our Father, and in turn, He instructs us further in His way of life.
In addition, we partially fulfill some of the elements discussed in Hebrews 10:22-24. The Sabbath allows us to draw near to God and strengthen our faith. It helps us to hold fast our belief in doctrine through the messages we hear. And through fellowship with the brethren, assembling on the Sabbath enables us to know and consider others' needs, showing us how we may aid them.
Are there reasons to stay home on the Sabbath? Of course. Personal or family sickness, as when a child is ill. Business trips and family vacations will interfere occasionally with attending services, but we can still livestream services. We may have put in an especially difficult, exhausting week, but even here, we can plan and prioritize to avoid these situations so we can attend services. In fact, having a difficult week is all the more reason to make sure we make it to Sabbath services.
Many consider that keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is just a tradition, not a law. It is interesting that the only part of the Bible that God did not inspire to be written by a human being is the Ten Commandments. God wrote them Himself with His own finger. He did this because the commandments are His mind, the foundation upon which everything else stands. Thus, the keeping of the Sabbath is not a "tradition." It is a direct, eternally binding command of God, and thus we should do all we can never to forsake the assembling of ourselves on it.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
For many of us, the ability, opportunity, desire, and obligation to follow the first half of this admonition occurs without question in our lives. After all, praising and giving thanks to God is a Christian's duty. For some, the harder part is taking Christianity one step further, sacrificing ourselves in service, fellowship, and communication with others, especially those outside our "community," be it a group designated by age, experience, likes or dislikes, location, or any other boundary that applies to us personally.
This willingness to give of ourselves must be a key piece in linking one generation to another. It is and must be a dual obligation: the older teaching the younger, as well as sharing experiences widely, not just with those we are most comfortable with.
Precious Human Treasures
1 John 1:1-4
Notice the wording carefully. What is it that John says was manifested, that they experienced with their own senses? Eternal life! Eternal life is something that in the biblical sense can be seen and heard. Indeed, the apostles fellowshipped with it in the flesh! In turn, they reported it to us so we can also fellowship with it - though not to the same extent and in the same manner as they did.
Of course, John is speaking of witnessing and fellowshipping with that kind of life as exemplified in Jesus Christ. Verse 3 is the specific purpose statement of this epistle of I John: to proclaim the reality of God's eternal life as revealed in Jesus Christ.
When John wrote this epistle, the Gnostic heresy was rising in the church. We should note that John's method of countering it is highly subjective, that is, the epistle has many references to the first-person pronouns "I" and "we." The apostle uses the weight of his personal experience witnessing this life to combat the heresies of the Gnostics.
He says the life we witnessed "was from the beginning"; it is the original manner of living. It is the ultimate reality of how to live. This kind of life is not subject to change, whether over time or from culture to culture. The ultimate reality is God - in this case Jesus Christ in the flesh, who is God - and He changes not.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life
1 John 5:11-13
Eternal life is more than endless living. It includes fellowship with God and at least beginning to live life as God lives.
When God gave us eternal life, He gave us something unique, a life different from the one we were living before our calling. At that time, we were "dead" in trespasses and sins because we were living a life that produced death. Those still in the world continue to live this kind of life by nature. Do they have fellowship with God? Do they walk with Him as friends because they agree with Him about how to live and to remain at His side endlessly?
Understanding this fellowship aspect is important to understanding eternal life. "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3). God created humanity for fellowship, and by nature, we seek it out on many levels. Many find it through hobbies, the arts, politics, intellectual pursuits, social organizations, and sports. The greatest and highest form of fellowship, though, is with God and others who share the common desire to live like God always and whom He is transforming to that end. This fellowship is reserved for those whom God summons.
This means an independent Christian is a contradiction in terms. The Christian church is a community fellowship comparable to a body of which Christ is the Head (I Corinthians 12:12-31). Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Fellowship is not just friendly conversation and geniality. The Bible's writers show plainly it is a tightly knit relationship marked by self-sacrificial love manifested in mutual service, concern, prayer, labor, and helpfulness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life
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