I was blessed to have a vacation this week. Thanks, Mike, for helping lead service!
1 John 1:1-4
1We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
The great English scholar and theologian, N.T. Wright, was once quoted as saying, “The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world … The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.”
This morning we are beginning a new 4-week sermon series on the letter of 1 John. As we heard in its opening verses, the letter had dual purposes of bringing joy to its author and the community of whom he spoke and bringing us into fellowship with that community. They want us to experience their joy in knowing the Father and the Son but also to share in fellowship with them. But what does fellowship mean? Does it simply mean being in conversation with each other or is it more? This idea of fellowship is an interesting idea that I want to dwell in this morning.
Wright helps us to see that fellowship is more than simply being in conversation with each other and with our neighbor. The church exists to worship God and work for his kingdom but it is made up of people. This means it is built with the frailties and limitations of people. Sure, it’s built on the foundation of Christ’s unchanging and everlasting love but we provide its structure. We are the materials that form its shape and purpose. Without a structure resting on its shoulders, a foundation has no purpose. Of course, without a foundation a structure can’t stand. You see, a structure and its foundation are irreplaceably linked together and crucial for each other’s purpose. They need each other if they are to serve their intended purposes.
Now then, a foundation can only do what it is intended to do—provide basic support for the structure. But a structure must also rely on itself if it is to serve its purpose of providing shelter. A structure must support itself if it is to resist forces of nature like gravity and the elements of weather. The foundation helps ensure solid ground but it can’t hold a structure together. Jesus is our rock and foundation. He keeps us on solid ground but he can’t hold us together, at least not directly. For that we must rely on each other.
And we are limited and frail materials. None of us can provide all the materials needed to make a structure. Some of us are the wood; some of us are the steel; some of us are the wiring; some of us are the plumbing; some of us are the lighting…you get the point. Each of us provides a unique material in this structure we call a church. And like all resources in this world, our materials are limited. Each of us can only give so much which means we have to rely on each other’s materials all the more. We have to maximize the use of what each of us has to offer. How do we do that? Wright noted several ways: “encourage one another, build one another up in faith, pray with and for one another, learn from one another and teach one another, set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform.” In doing these things, we are getting the most use out of each other’s unique set of materials in the limited amount of time we have them. It is our duty and our responsibility to use what God blesses us with to the best of our capability. We must maximize the use of all available resources to help keep the structure of God’s church upright.
Of course, Wright’s thoughts on fellowship are not all that unique to him. Time and time again, Paul encourages his congregations with similar thoughts in his letters. In his letter to the Thessalonians, he writes, “therefore encourage one another and build each other, as indeed you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11) In his letter to the Romans, he writes, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.” (15:2) In his letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “Do not seek your own advances, but that of others.” (10:24) Wright was simply reiterating what Paul advised us nearly 2,000 years ago! We need to recognize the importance of each other if our church is going to survive another 2,000 years! Jesus is the foundation but we are the structure. Together we are the church! We need to recognize the unique material or set of gifts each of us has to offer and maximize their use.
All too often we think that fellowship is simply sharing a laugh or a story along this journey of life. But Paul certainly didn’t think so. Fellowship is recognizing each other’s use in the structure of God’s kingdom and putting each other to work. I like what Hebrews add to this discussion on fellowship: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:24-25) We recognize each other’s use and put each other to work because the day is coming when God’s reign is apparent in this world and the next. We might as well work to hasten its approach. Let us be in fellowship…who knows, we may experience the same overwhelming joy as those in John’s community!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.