Second Purpose of the Church: Fellowship
Hebrews 10:19-25
Love one another as I have loved you.

by The Rev. Ajung Sojwal

Last Sunday we talked about worshipping God as the first and most important purpose of the Church. And I want to remind you again that all other purposes of the Church are outcomes of worshipping our God. Keeping in mind what Jesus said about the first commandment, I said that we worship what we love and desire most in life. I also said that worship has its expressions not only in what we do on Sundays in this Sanctuary, but that true worship ultimately expresses itself in how we choose to relate to one another and with the rest of God’s creation. So, if we are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God as true worship, how can we express that in our daily lives?

After Jesus tells the scribes that the most important commandment is to, " love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." He goes on to say, that the second most important commandment is to, "love your neighbor as yourself." This second commandment is what defines the second purpose of the church, which is Fellowship. I like the way the writer of Hebrews puts it, “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.” God has definitely created us to be in community, and so it should come as no surprise to hear that fellowship with each other is absolutely essential for us to grow as Christians.

The dictionary defines fellowship as a company of equals or friends. In other words it is the community where we can come together because we share something common, and that common ground we share is that we are all sinners, called and redeemed by God through Jesus our Savior. When we gather together as a church, we are meant to minister to each other in all our needs: spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical. One Christian writer says that, “The development of meaningful relationships where every member carries a significant sense of belonging is central to what it means to be the church.”

The church is something that God created so that His children in gathering together may learn to love, serve and strengthen each other. The Bible is very clear about God’s intention to accomplish His redeeming purposes for the world through the Church. Jesus told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Like I have said often, the church is not necessarily just this physical building. The primary understanding of the Church was and is always the community or the fellowship of believers in Christ.

In conversations with many Christians over the years, I have heard many who tell me that there is really no need to go to church, that praying at home alone and living a good and honest life is enough. I have heard things like, “a loving God wouldn’t really make me do things I don’t want to, would He?” Of course, nobody can make you go to church and nobody can force you to be in fellowship with other Christians, not even God. But there is a reason why God has allowed the birth and growth of the Church in our world. It is because God desires the Church to be the agent of God’s Kingdom on Earth, so the Church is God’s vision not ours. And that glorious vision of God’s church is still unfolding amongst us.

Traditionally, Pentecost is celebrated as the birth of the Christian Church. And I believe that it is in God’s providence that we happen to be talking about Christian fellowship as the second purpose of the Church on this Sunday in our preaching series. One of the most spectacular things about the first Christian Pentecost was that as soon as the Holy Spirit descended on the people who were gathered to pray, the passersby began to hear the gospel in their own languages! Which were as Luke writes, Parthians, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Asia, Egypt, visitors from Rome, Jews, Arabs and many more. It is in the gathering of the faithful that God chose to empower His church to witness and proclaim. It was not when Peter was alone praying in his room, it was not when a few of the disciples were out fishing, nor did God choose to send the Holy Spirit as a separate entity to proclaim God’s love in the palaces of Rome or in the market place. The gift of the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples when they gathered for fellowship in one place. And what did Peter do when the people on the streets asked the disciples about their ability to speak the many different languages? Peter witnessed and proclaimed about the deep love God showed toward us in His forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation of us even after we condemned and crucified God’s only Son.

There is absolutely clear in the Bible that the greatest and most valuable witness of the fellowship of believers is love. In the love that we share with one another we bring hope to the broken world outside. The writer of Hebrews choose the world “provoke” in relation to our love for each other, which is very interesting to me, because, we usually associate provoke with hate, violence or revenge. But I think his meaning is clear, which is that we must deliberately create an atmosphere to stir up love for each other. Genuine love is something that can happen and grow only in the midst of two or more. It is only in the presence of and fellowship with others that we realize what it means to follow Jesus’ command of, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

In the town I grew up, winters can be very cold and windy. Unlike here, most places in India do not have heaters. So, in order for us to be warm my father built a fireplace in our living room. Soon our home became a hub for most of my friends to hang out in winter. Most winter evenings we gathered together in my parents home, often we cooked and ate together, we sat around the fire telling jokes, sharing stories, singing silly songs, and one or two of my friends would often land up sleeping over. So through many winters, while the wind howled outside and the cold air kept people from venturing out, I grew closer to the set of friends that gathered around that fire year after year. We never really did anything much, but in the process of hanging out together, we held together our friend whose parents were going through a divorce, we found out that one of our friends could not really afford to buy cloths, so we shared from what we had, when we studied together we found out we learned more, and those friends are still some of my closest friends. Another thing about sitting around that fire was that when it was time to say our good nights, we made sure to separate all the logs in the fireplace from each other. We knew that by separating the logs the fire would eventually die out. Sure enough every morning the fire would have died out.

We need to gather together in order for the warmth of the Holy Spirit to be felt amongst us. Do not buy into this great myth that you can survive and grow on your own. God in all His wisdom and love knows that we need good, encouraging fellowship not only for our own growth, but also for the Kingdom of God to grow and flourish. The objective of the Christian life is to come to a place where we love God above all else and love others as a direct result of loving God. It is only when we gather together for fellowship that we begin to ask each other and ourselves what does it mean to truly love God and each other. I know that there is a lot of talk about love being all-tolerant and all accommodating, but we know from personal experience that genuine love is difficult, it needs a lot of courage and commitment. That courage and that commitment can be discovered only if we are willing to come together intentionally as a community.

My dear brothers and sisters, in the words of the wise writer of Hebrews, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 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 (of the Lord) approaching.” Amen