Before we begin, let us pray:
O Lord, you have given us your Word for a light to shine upon our path. Grant us so to meditate on that Word, and to follow its teaching that we may find in it the light that shines more and more until the perfect day. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
This Lord’s we will hear God’s word about The Fellowship of the Saints. What does it mean to have fellowship with one another? What do we share in common and who gives us what to share with? How come it is difficult to serve another in humility? What does it mean to put off sin and put on Christ in relation to fellowship?
Our sermon will examine Scripture that gives answer to these questions we just raised. We have two points to follow: 1) Understanding Fellowship of the Saints; 2) Developing Fellowship of the Saints. First, we will learn about the term translated as fellowship and then we will delve into the doctrine of the communion of the saints. Second, we will examine the challenges pose against fellowship and look for it redemy from Scripture. Lastly, we will end with an exhortation to volunteer to participate in the ministry of the church.
Understanding Fellowship of the Saints
Fellowship in Scripture means more than friendship often associated to belongingness. Growing from adolences to adulthood, we all typically develop relationships bonding with people we share common interest. We associate with people whom we clique and do things together. In a way, it is a form of a social club we voluntarily join so we can enjoy the company of each other while doing something we all like to do. Friendship is based on common interest for the purpose of enchancing the enjoyment of what is shared.
But fellowship goes deeper than this in two ways. First, it differs in the way the object is shared. Then second, it differs in the outcome when the object is shared.
The term often translated as fellowship comes from the Greek word koinonia which means to share or to participate. This points to a common interest which also coincides with our definition of friendship above but what is shared as Christians is Christ himself and the way we share him is by the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.
Fellowship is the communion of the saints. It is the common union we share as a common property we all share into.
There are several places in Scripture we can read this reality. First, Paul referred to it in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God sends his son to die for the sins of “us all”. Here the preposition “for” contains an object possessive in form referring to “us”. And the “for” means on behalf of or concerning then the “us” refers to Paul and his readers who are saints in Rome. Finally, the modifier “all” equally distributes the receiver of God’s redemptive act in Christ to each individual saint belong to Christ.
This means Christ to whom we all belongs to becomes also our shared possession. We can read further from Paul this reality of shared possession comes from 1 Corinthians 12:4-7:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Paul stresses here the common source of God’s gifts to the church and it is from our Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He also emphasizes here variedness of the gifts we later on we will focus as well but suffice for now to say that our fellowship as saints means to share fully God and all the benefits he bestows upon his people. God redeems us and we belong to him. Everything we share with one another comes from him and it is a shared possession.
The Lord Supper demonstrates the reality of this shared possession. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [koinonia] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, it is not a participation [koinonia] in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
Rev. Vander Pol further comments: “According to this, the Lord’s Supper gives a visible reminder that each Christian’s new life comes from the same Bread, the Lord Jesus. It demonstrates the fellowship—the shared participation—that all Christians have in Christ.
So in sum, we share Christ as our common possession. We participate in him and this is what fellowship of saints mean. It is a kind of fellowship marked by those who belongs to Christ. It is a sharing of Christ and his benefits.
Now while Christ himself is the shared possession common for all believers, the saints also shared what Christ gives to his church. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit to the church and mainly he is our shared possession as well. This implies then that everything we share in Christ by the Spirit is meant to be shared as well by every individual members of the church. Therefore as Christ builds up the church as one body by his Spirit, we also participate in all his ministry and activity.
Again, we share Christ and we also share what he gives. Paul exhorts in Romans 12:4-8:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our service; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Christ, his treasures and gifts are everything Christians share with one another. This is what Ursinus points out as the meaning of the term “communion of the saints” from the Apostles’ Creed:
Q#55: What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?
Answer: First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts. Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.
We are called to serve these to one another as Christ sends his treasures and gifts to the church. And yet while members of the church are called saints, they are also simulteneously called sinners. This is why our sanctification in Christ matters. Because while the shared reality of fellowship exists in the church, they are always met with sinful tendencies that needs putting off and by the power of Holy Spirit replaced by putting on Christ. These challenges and remedy to fellowship are adressed in our next sermon point.
Developing Fellowship of the Saints
There is a tendency that comes our sinful flesh to return to what used to seperate ourselves from one another. Church background, familial ties, education, economic status, intellectual capacity, age group, gender, and even race and ethnicity are the cliques we often find ourselves identifying with and use it as a means to avoid sharing the gifts Christ sends his church. Scripture gives us examples of sinful tendencies that plagued the church and they were written for us order to exhort us against it and encourage us to continuesly mortify them.
- Paul exhorts Philemon to receive Onesimus who has become his brother in Christ despite of having been abadoned by him and was during previous conversion. Both Philemon and Onesimus are separated by eartly stations in life. They had a master-relationship but now as brothers in Christ, they are called to share Christ as brothers.
- Paul reminds the churches in Galatia and Ephesus that while as Gentiles they used to be outsiders from God’s covenant people in the past, they now belong to God because of Christ’s atoning work. And by the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, they are one body with him both Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and free, and even yound and old (Acts 2).
- Paul rebukes the church in Corinth and James reminds the churches not to give preferential treatment to the rich at the expense of the poor. In Corinth, Paul warns those who neglect the welfare of others and selfishly feed themselves without any regard to those who have not eaten yet. Paul wants everyone to consider everyone and not simply do what they want every time when they gather together. He wrote: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not (1 Corinthians 11:20-22).”
Immaturity is the root cause that challenges the fellowship of the saints. It often results to selfishness and conceit. Sanctification means to grow in holiness and it includes maturity. Mature Christians nurture. They do not settle with immaturity. Instead they encourage everyone to mature.
So the remedy to our sinful tendencies to dwell over those past divisions that separates us is to put it off an replace them with Christ. We need to continue to change our focus by dwelling our minds on Christ. Simply put, we are called to turn away from our earthly identify and turn our minds and focus on our heavenly identify in Christ.
Now this is not without any challenges as well. Only those elect regenerate believers are enabled to do it. As such we can only describe what happens and exhort all of us to follow the example of Scripture. As a pastor, I can expose Scripture and pray the Holy Spirit will bring about convinction for it. After all, it is all God’s work. So let me remind you again what God says in his Word.
In Philippians 2:1-5, Paul exhorts us to follow Christ in his humility and service. He premised it with the fact that we all share Christ and his benefits therefore we follow Christ in his humility towards us sinners and his service to everyone in his body.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5)
First, let me comment about the use of the word “if”. Modern connotation of this word is often assosiciated with computer logic and understood as a condition statement. This makes the statement after “if” a sort of a condition that must be met and interpreted as command that we first need to obey.
However, the original use of “if” in the Greek language the term means an intial condition that premises what comes after. It is best understood by the english word “when” and this communicates a sort of condition that exist prior and it enables what succeeds after it.
Now the existing condition that makes the succeeding condition possible are encouragement, comfort, affection and sympathy. And Paul qualifies each of them by its source: 1) Encouragement is from Christ; 2) Comfort is from the love of the Father; 3) Affection and sympathy comes from the Holy Spirit. These qualities comes from our communion with the Triune God. These are divine qualities communicated to his God’s people.
Then Paul command them to complete his joy but we need to remember that this is not about pleasing Paul in order to make him happy. Paul’s joy is the theme of his letter which is to rejoice in the Lord in midst of trials and suffering. Paul’s joy is his portion in Christ both in suffering and glory.
Paul shares Christ and he calls them to share what Christ gives. This what Paul meant when he exhorts them to remain in the same bond He himself shares with Christ. Concretely speaking, Paul asks them to focus their attention to Christ himself for he is the person who they share in common possession. Then as a result they are called to put away selfishness and conceit and put on Christ’s humilty and service.
Selfishness is a childish mindset and even as adults unless self-aware are prone to it as well. Everything is about them, their concerns, their needs, and their perceptions about the world are projected to everyone. In short, they are simply immature. Conceit on the other is also a childish mindset of those who as result of either self deception or poor judgment think they are mature already but in reality they are not. They are those who have high regard to self and often low regard towards others. They think they are mature and in reality they are not yet. It does not mean they will never be. It simply means they are in between.
So Paul wants us to put Christ’s humilty and service. Instead of insisting on your right to be serve, we serve one another in humility. We are called to always focus on Christ how he humbled himself to serve, lay aside our own privileges and serve each other and build up other sacrificially and not selfishly. Let us remember how Christ serves us and as he continues to give us gifts of service in church, let us be servants to one another.
ZCRC(Imus), God redeems us and shares with us everything that belongs to Christ and the Spirit. Let us continue to put off those things that used to seperates us from one another and put on Christ, his treasures and gifts. Let us serve one another in humility. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.