21st Century Pharisees: Redeeming community and fellowship
This is the fourth post in a series about dealing with the hypocrisy and ‘false-following’ of Jesus in our lives. In the posts to come, I deal with more ways that we can get back to following Jesus with our whole selves, instead of being followers in appearance only, like pharisees. Please read the introductory post, and the others in the series for a full glimpse.
Christians love to speak using catch phrases. Most of the time, we barely even understand what the words mean; we just know that we are supposed to use them. One of these is the term fellowship.
We say fellowship when we talk about the church, small groups, Lord of the Rings (another thing most Christians like), or just hanging out with other Christians. However, fellowship actually does have an important part of our lives. We have to remember that fellowship is more than potlucks and hanging out.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.“
— 1 John 1:7 (ESV)
A Real Definition of Fellowship
Fellowship is more than just a random collection of people hanging out. Fellowship is a way to describe a profound unity in which Christians ought to be investing.
Fellowship is when people come together in unity exercising care for one another and working towards a common goal. It also includes (as 1 John pointed out above) “walking in the light.” This means obeying Christ and refusing to hide ourselves from others in the Church. In Christian terms, this would mean members of the church that carecaring for each other deeply, serve each other, grow each other, and push one another to follow Christ and His mission.
This true, deep experience of fellowship will save us from the great danger of being a pharisee; this fellowship makes it harder to put up a facade that looks like a disciple without actually being one. If we let people get close enough to us, they will be able to see our failings and sins; and, they will not let us get away with being a disciple “in name only.”
We need to develop the ability to confess sin and own up to our own faults. The habit of pursuing accountability in our lives where we are honest about our specific shortcomings with other christians will remind us of the gospel and keep us from pride. This vulnerability builds the fellowship we have, and the Church becomes a united group of people pursuing Christ together.
Obsession with impressions
We live in a culture obsessed with being impressive. The desire to be impressive is 90% of facebook, twitter, and everyday conversation. People desperately need to appear put-together and they need to be affirmed. This turns us into pharisees, as we develop the compulsion to “exercise our righteousness before men” while making the “fringes on our garments long.” (Matthew 23:5).
Biblical fellowship and community ought to destroy the obsession with being impressive, the lying to protect our reputation, or the exaltation of us over others and God.
We need to confess sin to one another. Our pride won’t want us to confess anything. Our pride will tell us that it isn’t necessary, that we can just confess to God and be forgiven.
This idea is true, on one level, but if we live this way we rarely ever feel the true burden of our sin. When we admit sin to others, we are reminded that sin is real and it causes real pain and consequences. We are also given a great picture of God’s forgiveness when that person still forgives us, even if our sin caused great pain.
A great need
Chances are, you have had at least a few moments of your life where your sin seemed so deep that you barely believed God could forgive you of it. I’ve been there myself. At that time I needed the fellowship of a good friend. I hadn’t sinned against him in any way at all, but God used him in a profound way when I was able to own up to my sin with him.
I heard my friend fully recognize the weightiness of my sin. He didn’t diminish it or the harm it had caused me. However, he looked me in the eye and reminded me that God has forgiven me, and would give me the strength to live in obedience. We need that kind of encouragement! At a time when I was wondering if my whole life was shipwrecked, God used this fellowship to humble me, remind me of my freedom in Christ, and encourage me to continue following Him.
Now we invest in that relationship, and I have, thankfully, started more relationships like that with others. We need friendships where two people can bear their soul to one another, receive encouragement from God through the other person, and know that they are not alone. It takes effort to start those relationships, and it feels risky, but it is worth it. Just start by being honest with someone about where you are in life. Don’t use cliches and ask for general prayer; share legitimate concerns that are weighing on your soul and let them encourage you. It will be messy, but it will be beautiful.
important things that fellowship reminds us of
You are not perfect. True friends will remember that and remind you when you need to hear it most. Your best friends are not the ones that merely let you do whatever you want; your best friends are the ones that love you enough to say hard things to you.
You need other people, and other people need you. Don’t believe that you will never need encouragement, wisdom, or help from others. If we think we can live for Christ without being invested in fellowship with Christ’s people, we are mistaken.
We need to ditch the obsession with being impressive. The church is a collection of people who have publicly admitted to being sinners in need of saving. We need to be able to have humility where we can admit our sin, and help one another kill our sin, so that it does not kill us (to paraphrase Jon Owen).
Start investing in fellowship. Turn your casual relationships into friendships that build one another up unto good works (Hebrews 10:24-25), be honest and accountable to one another, comfort one another in deep moments of pain.