Good morning, brothers and sisters, may the grace and peace of our Lord be with you!
The beginning of fellowship with God: Be baptized into Christ
Fellowship with God must precede fellowship with believers. Every believer in Christ has restored his fellowship with God, and it is with this foundation that believers can have fellowship with each other. This is known as koinonia.
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship (koinonia) with us. And our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make your joy complete. (1 Jn 1:3-4)
Before you can have fellowship with someone, you must first be sure that you yourself and the other person has fellowship with God. John and his coworkers had “fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ”, and they bore testimony to “that which was from the beginning, which is the Word of Life” (1 Jn 1:1-2), proclaiming what they have seen and heard (preaching the gospel), bringing others to trust in Christ, so that they may have fellowship together. Koinonia is not merely a group of people studying the Bible together, but koinonia only happens if every member of the group has believed in Christ and has fellowship with God.
The beginning of fellowship with God is baptism into Christ, in obedience to Jesus’ command for an outward display of your inner faith. After Jesus was raised from the dead, he told his disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28:19) On the day of Pentecost, Peter, by the power of the Holy Spirit, preached a message testifying to what God had done through Christ, and the result was “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41) Please take note of the testimony of the Bible: “Baptism” and “discipleship” are always connected. The life of discipleship commences immediately after baptism: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
The practice of fellowship with God: Draw near to God
Fellowship with God is akin to human relationships. Besides having a starting point, it also requires a continuous practice of drawing near to God in order to maintain this fellowship. The purpose of drawing near to God is not to increase spiritual knowledge or attain some sort of spiritual perfection, but to constantly look to God and align ourselves with his will, so that our thoughts and actions become increasingly pleasing to God. There are four practical ways to do this:
- Obey the apostles’ teaching: The apostles’ teaching is not their own, but comes from the Lord. The Lord said to the apostles: “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:20) The apostles obeyed his command, and taught the word of God to the disciples. The apostles did not tell the disciples to go home and study the Scriptures by themselves, but rather, the apostles personally explained the word of God to them. “Teaching” is the method prescribed by the Lord, “people” are the instruments that the Lord chooses to use, and “obedience” is the result desired by the Lord. Only by God’s word can a person look to God and align himself with God’s will. If we desire koinonia, we must first fellowship with God; if we desire fellowship with God, we must teach and obey God’s word. Conversely, there can be no koinonia if there is no teaching and obeying of God’s word.
In the book of Acts, there are two very clear examples that illustrate the importance of teaching. There were two churches which placed utmost importance on teaching: the church in Jerusalem, which was the first church in history, and the church in Antioch, which was the first church comprised of Gentiles.
The church in Jerusalem:
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:41-42)
The church in Antioch:
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26)
1 Timothy is a pastoral letter, in which Paul instructs Timothy on how to pastor a church, with a special emphasis on teaching:
Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (1 Tim 4:11-13)
In fact, no one placed greater importance on teaching than Jesus himself. In the familiar Sermon on the Mount, there are three entire chapters dedicated to the teachings of Jesus, recorded in Matthew chapters five through seven.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. (Mt 5:1-2)
Additionally, the four gospels are filled with the teachings of Jesus. Take the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, for example. Jesus was teaching the people late in the day and they had no food to eat, which was why he performed the miracle to feed the hungry crowd.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mk 6:34-36)
Brothers and sisters, we need the word of God! There is a need for faith-filled, clear, and powerful teaching in the church. Sadly, the teaching of God’s word is slowly dying out in many churches. From the podium, we hear “chicken soup for the soul” self-help inspirational stories, health and wealth prosperity gospel, and trivial personal sharing. Excerpts taken from devotional books, allegorical stories, and even testimonies of famous people are elevated to the same status as God’s word, and used in the church as instruction for God’s people. Not only is the teaching of God’s word few and far between from the podium, the Sunday school classrooms are also gradually becoming deserted and slowly disappearing. Gone are the systematic and sequential Sunday school classes, and even the Southern Baptist’s Lifeway Christian Resources, once the largest publisher and a flourishing source of Sunday school material in the United States, is facing rapid decline without a promising future. When churches try to start some Bible classes, there is either a lack of teachers, or there is a lack of interest from the congregation. Fellowships and small groups meet mainly for social activities, with the occasional Bible study, but even these are superficial, lacking in depth, and sometimes causing more harm than good with misinterpretations and erroneous applications.
If you belong to a church that teaches God’s word, this is a blessing from God that you must cherish and make the most of. May the Lord raise up more disciples to teach and obey his word among the churches, so that it may be as described in the book of Acts:
In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. (Acts 19:20)