42 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 – Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
44 – All the believers were together and had everything in common 45- They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
46 – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
47 – praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
In the same way we are wired to worship—we are also wired to need friends. We REQUIRE meaningful fellowship with other people to be happy and whole. It is as it says in the “owner’s Manual our Creator has given us: “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)
And this is not just a RELATIONAL need—it is apparently a PHYSICAL need as well. In his book, The Broken Heart, Dr. James Lynch cites statistics showing that adults without deep relationships have a death rate that is twice as high—as those who enjoy regular caring interaction with others.
Think of it. Ironically, we live in a culture in which many people scrupulously monitor their cholesterol intake and calorie consumption—but at the same time blithely ignore their RELATIONAL life—which according to scientists has just as much impact on their physical health as obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and a lack of exercise.
Well, the Bible commands His church to be a place where people can come and have this need met. Local churches like ours are to be known for getting relationships right. This is to be a place where fellowship is healthy and strong—like it was described in our text about the church in Jerusalem. It’s one way Christians like us are to let our light shine! And this relational admonition is all over the New Testament. It’s in texts like our benediction which says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as one body you are CALLED to peace.” (Colossians 3) It’s in Ephesians 4:3 which says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” And so on.
Well, how do we do that? What are the requirements for a church to be a place of unity—a place where healthy fellowship happens—the kind of fellowship we are wired to need in life? This morning I want to hang my answers to this question on five key ingredients for fellowship suggested by Lee Strobel in his book God’s Outrageous Claims. Think of them as principles of 2nd mile fellowship. They are easy to remember because they each start with the letter “A” and pastors love alliteration—so I’m happy this morning!
(1) The first ingredient is: AFFINITY.
The word “affinity” refers to the COMMON GROUND we have with other people. It refers to those things that attract us to each other so that a friendship can then sprout and grow. Think of “affinity” as “friendship seeds.” And you know what I’m talking about. You meet someone who likes Star Trek as much as you do—or likes the Redskins as much as you—there are a couple of those kind of people left. You find people who like shopping at consignment shops like you—or whatever. Well, we all have friends like this with whom we share affinity or commonality—but most of these are just SURFACE LEVEL relationships. They aren’t strong enough to stand the stresses of life. They are like the friendships referred to in Proverbs 18:24 where it says, “A man of MANY companions may come to ruin.” In other words, when it comes to friends, QUANTITY doesn’t necessarily equal QUALITY.
Lee Iacocca would have agreed with me on this at one point in his life. He said the biggest surprise of his career wasn’t when he was fired as president of Ford Motor Company back in 1978. It was what happened AFTER his firing. In his autobiography Iacocca said, “I was hurting pretty bad. I could have used a phone call from someone who said, ‘Let’s get a cup of coffee.’ But most of my ‘friends’ deserted me. It was the greatest shock of my life.” Well Iacocca’s friends were obviously just surface level friends so when hard times CAME, they WENT.
Now—the rest of that familiar proverb says that STRONGER relationships—friends who will hang in there with us through tough times—ARE possible. It says, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” In this verse God is telling us that there are people with whom we can share a DEEP level of affinity. Our common ground with them isn’t just an ACTIVITY—its common VALUES. Strobel describes these kinds of friends by saying, “We have a consensus [with them] concerning our CORE BELIEFS. We don’t just TALK about a task we’re doing together; we share a PASSION for that task; we share emotions and personal experiences. We connect on a much more profound level.” And the, I like the way Gary Inrig puts it. He says, “The QUALITY of a friendship is nearly always determined by the QUALITY of that which unites us.”
Well the best place to find these DEEP, satisfying, high-QUALITY relationships is in a church family—because it is there that we find people who, like us, have personally experienced the grace of God. In a local church we find other people who have given their lives to Jesus Christ and because of that, THIS is where we find SOUL-mates in the truest sense of the word. It’s like it says in our text—the members of the church in Jerusalem, “…had everything in common…they were ONE in HEART and MIND.” Their commonality was based on the fact that they had all decided to ask Jesus to forgive their sins and come into their hearts and lives—to direct their decisions. You should remember that last week I said 2nd mile worship is what happens not on Sunday but throughout the week as we worship God by obeying Him—joining Him in His work—giving Him our daily LIVES as a worship offering. Well, one of the most wonderful ways to experience the fellowship we all long for is when we do that day to day worship TOGETHER. When we unite with other Christians in leading RBC camp or going on a mission trip or leading worship at Brooke Grove or working in UPWARD or whatever, we develop these deep soul-satisfying relationships as we fellowship together in these ways.
And let me leave PREACHING at this point and do a little MEDDLING. You see, this is why church MEMBERSHIP is so important for it is here by publicly committing to JOIN a local church that we find the kind of deep friendships we all yearn for. Church membership is where you are most likely to find true “extra-mile” friends—friends who will stick with you no matter what—friends who come TOGETHER to do things they could never do on their own.
I’ve met many Christians who don’t agree with this—they don’t think joining a church is all that important—or perhaps they just don’t UNDERSTAND its importance. So they say things like, “Well, I’m a Christian but I don’t want to belong to any church.” And that just doesn’t make sense to me because the church family is where we LIVE OUT much of what it MEANS to be a Christian. It’s where we commit TOGETHER to do God’s will—it’s where we pool our spiritual gifts to strengthen a local congregation making it possible to do great things. So saying, “I don’t want to belong to a church” is like saying, “I’m a football player, but I don’t want to be a part of any team.” Or, “I’m a bee but I don’t want to be a part of any hive.” And—I don’t want to sound overly critical. If you attend here we’re going to love you as if you were a member. I MEAN THAT! But I have to say in love—that without joining and getting involved—by just attending—you are missing out. Remember, the Apostle Paul often compared the church to a BODY with each of its members as body parts. Well no body part will survive long on its own will it?! When surgeons are doing a kidney or a heart transplant—they have a very limited amount of time. They have to hurry to get that body part in a functioning body or that kidney or heart will die. And it is the same with each of us. Cut off from the lifeblood of a local church body our individual spiritual life would soon wither and dry up. We need a church BODY to belong to—a place to link up with other believes in working to share God’s love in our community and world. So making a public commitment to join a church is an important thing. It’s covenanting TOGETHER to help one another as you do God’s will.
In any case, a church is indeed where people are most likely to have their relational needs met—because it is where, as a Christian, we are most likely to find the commonality—the affinity—required for kind of deep friendships we all yearn for.
(2) This leads to a second ingredient required for healthy fellowship: AFFIRMATION.
Let me put it this way. A church family is a place where you find people who care enough about you to do all they can to help you become the person God wants you to be. As Hebrews 10:24 puts it, they, “…think of one another and how they can ENCOURAGE one another to love and to good deeds.” A church family is a group of people who cheer us on. And this is a precious thing because we all need affirmation to keep on keeping on. In this fallen world it’s so easy to become DISCOURAGED—so the encouragement of affirmation is a wonderful refreshing thing.
As a middle-school student in the 1980s, Lee Buono stayed after school one day to remove the brain and spinal cord from a frog. He did such a good job that his science teacher, Mr. Al Siedlecki from Medford Memorial Middle School in Medford, New Jersey, told him he might become a neurosurgeon someday. Well, that’s exactly what Buono did. Years later, after yet another successful surgery, the patient suggested that Dr. Buono call his former teacher who had inspired him and thank him. So Buono did. Siedlecki hadn’t heard from Buono since he was in high school. “I want to thank you,” Buono told him. “I was flabbergasted,” Siedlecki remembers. “I said, ‘Of all the people in your entire career, you want to thank me?’ It was the same feeling I had when…my kids were born.” Siedlecki continued, “I started to cry. It made me feel really important that I had that influence.” Lately, Siedlecki admits, “I was almost afraid to say that I’m a teacher to some people. Not anymore,” he told Buono, “Because you called me, I’m going to help as many people as I can to find their passion too.”
A church is a place where we find friends like this teacher—people who affirm our SPIRITUAL gifts and talents and help other Christians find their passion—their calling. This is what Paul was doing for young Timothy when he wrote, “Fan into flame the gift that is in you!” (2 Tim 1:6) Think of it! Christians who affirm their friends like this join God in guiding them to the good work He prepared in advance for them to do.
(3) A third key ingredient when it comes to fellowship/friendship is: ACCEPTANCE.
Now—in most SECULAR people groups, acceptance is based on what you DO or DON’T do– and HOW WELL you do it. It’s kind of like dividing up and picking teams for a baseball game when we are kids. The first chosen by team captains are the best hitters and fielders. Nobody wants to be picked last—like I was over and over again.
Well in a healthy church family acceptance is not based on performance—on what we DO. No, it is founded on who we all ARE—sinful people Jesus Christ VALUED enough to DIE for. In Romans 15:7 Paul writes, “Accept one another just as Christ accepted you.” Think—how did Jesus do that? He accepted each of us UNCONDITIONALLY. He opened His arms and loved sinners like you and me even though we were unlovely—and church family member who truly make Jesus Lord do the same for each other. In his book The Fine Art of Friendship, Ted Engstrong writes, “We must decide to develop friendships in which we demand nothing in return. Love, in order to work, must be unconditional. Just as God accepts us on an ‘as is’ basis, so, too, must we enter into friendships based on taking the other person unconditionally into the relationship.”
Be honest—even with our disabilities, character flaws, shortcomings, insecurities, and immaturity, don’t all of us just want to be accepted for who we are? Don’t we need to know that somebody accepts us because they WANT to, not because they HAVE to or because we EARN their acceptance? You know, sadly, our natural inclination is NOT to accept people. We tend to be like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who were quick to judge, criticize, and ostracize others. Like them, we want other people to conform to us, so we set up little tests to see whether they measure up. And if they don’t—we exclude them much like we did when we were immature teenagers in the way we formed cliques. A TRUE friend—the kind of friend we NEED—the kind of friend Jesus CALLS US TO BE is more mature than that. They obey Proverbs 17:17 where it says, “A friend loves at all times.”
Please understand. This doesn’t’ mean we condone our friends’ sinful behavior or approve of their character flaws. No—of course not. It just means we follow Jesus’ example of loving and cherishing all people while extending them grace—the same unmerited grace Jesus extended to us. Do you remember Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1? He says, “Even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” In other words we love sinners—we accept them and seek to restore them—remembering that we too have sinned—we too have been forgiven. The truth is we are better able to accept others if we stay in touch with our own mistakes, deficiencies, and blunders. It’s easier to extend the hand of acceptance to a friend if we imagine our other hand simultaneously reaching out to receive acceptance and forgiveness from Christ for our own sins. In fact, I think part of keeping our fellowship strong is each of us regularly evaluating our relational life—to see how accepting—how grace-driven we have been to others. So let’s do a little of that now. Ask yourselves—have you been critical and judgmental—or accepting and gracious to others in our congregation lately? Again, I’m not saying we need to ignore each other’s sinful actions but we need to love sinners before we can help restore them and move them along to spiritual growth.
The Bible says that Jesus was scandalously generous in distributing love. As I said, wherever He went people sensed the unconditional love of God. And when Christians obey Jesus’ command, it is the same in the church. GRACE seasons—strengthens—our relationships. This is what makes our relationships especially deep and meaningful.
In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey tells the story of a concert that took place in Wembley Stadium in London back in 1988. Various musical rock groups had gathered together in celebration of the changes that had recently taken place in South Africa—the end of apartheid—and for some reason the promoters scheduled an opera singer named Jessye Norman as the closing act. For twelve hours groups like Guns and Roses blasted the crowd through banks of speakers riling up fans already high on booze and dope. The crowd yelled for more curtain calls and the bands obliged—whipping the people into frenzy. Finally the time came for Jessye Norman to sing. A single circle of light followed Norman, a majestic African-American woman as she strolled on stage. There was no backup band, no musical instruments, just Jessye and a microphone. Seeing this, the crowd stirred, restlessly. A voice yelled out for more Guns and Roses. Others took up the cry. The scene is got kind of ugly. I’m sure security people prepared to intervene. Then unaccompanied, Jessy Norman began to sing, very slowly:
Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see!
At that moment a remarkable thing happened. Seventy thousand raucous fans fell silent before her aria of grace. By the time Norman reached the second verse, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved,” the soprano had the crowd in her hands. By the time she reached the THIRD verse, “Twas grace has brought me safe this far, and grace will lead me home,” several thousand fans were singing along, digging far back in nearly lost memories for words they heard long ago.
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun”
Jessy Norman later confessed that she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night but I think you and I know. It was the power of THIRST. You see people THIRST for grace. So, when any group of Christians allows grace to flavor the way they treat each other, the world around them will stop what they are doing and listen just as they did to Jessye Norman that night. They will want to come into our church and drink from God’s well of grace.
Let me put it this way: Grace-driven acceptance is a requirement for 2nd mile fellowship.
(4) This leads to our fourth “A” — AUTHENTICITY.
Now in our culture authenticity can be hard to find and not just in the surface level, mask-wearing relationships that we all have too many of. It’s especially rare in the products we buy. I mean, tons products are designed to IMITATE the real thing. Think of it. There is plastic decking that looks like real wood and vinyl flooring that appears to be ceramic tile. You can purchase fake fur or jewelry, phony noses, eye-lashes, hairpieces, and other body parts. This week I discovered there’s even a product called, Spray-on Mud. It’s designed for use on the outside of your SUV. That way it appears you use your expensive gas-guzzler for more than taking the kids to soccer practice. Spray it on and friends might think you are a skilled off-road driver who has just returned from a wilderness adventure. Sales of the product are going well, particularly in America, and in London where the concept originated. Inventor Colin Dowse says, “If they want an authentic look, there’s not a lot else they can do. There’s not a lot of mud in Chelsea.” Apparently, $15 a can seems a reasonable price for the APPEARANCE of authenticity. Well, for relationships to satisfy—FAKE won’t do. We need friendships in which we feel free to be REAL with each other. Authentic relationships are characterized by self-disclosure, transparency, honesty, and vulnerability. There’s an increasing consistency between what we’re like on the inside and how we act in each other’s presence.
Jesus exhibited authenticity in His relationship with His disciples. For example, think how vulnerable the all-powerful Son of God was being when He conceded to His closest friends in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Mark 10:24) I believe Luke was hinting at the church at Jerusalem following Jesus’ example in this when he said, “They had everything in common.” In other words they were each fully known by others—there were no masks—no pretending. Everything was open. They held nothing back. They knew each other’s past failures—knew who HAD BEEN a prostitute—who HAD BEEN a swindling tax collector—who HAD BEEN a murdering zealot—who HAD been an adulterer. I mean they all knew WHO everyone was BEFORE they experience the grace of Jesus. Everything about everyone was COMMON knowledge. And that was okay because their mutual experience of His acceptance and forgiveness enabled them to be fully authentic with each other.
The truth is we all have failed and do fail. We all have weaknesses. True community takes place when we can stand up and admit that without fear. We can say, “My name is John. And I’m an alcoholic,” or “My name is Betty and I have breast cancer and that terrifies me.” Or, “My name is Steve and my marriage is falling apart.” Or “My name is Bill and I have AIDS.” or “My name is Alice and I’m lonely.” Or, “My name is Ed and I have a hard time being around people—I lose my cool sometimes.” Or, “I’m a new mom and I LOVE my baby but I’m feeling very overwhelmed.” For 2nd mile fellowship to happen we have to be able to take off our masks and be honest and open strugglers together, to weep and rejoice together as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
When this happens—when we are honest with each other—we open the door to the giving and receiving of the love and support we all need to continue on toward Christlikeness. Author Robert Fulghum once reminded his readers of the childhood game hide and seek. Most of us played that game as children but if you remember, there was only one problem—somebody always HID TOO WELL and nobody could find him. Sooner or later he would show up mad because everybody had stopped looking for him. And then everybody would get mad right back because he wasn’t playing the game the way it should be played. I mean, all Hide and Seek players know you have to be able to be found!
Fulghum then told of a doctor who discovered he had terminal cancer. He didn’t want to make his family and friends suffer through his illness with him, so he kept his secret and eventually died—unexpectedly from their perspective. Everybody said how brave he was to bear his suffering in silence and not tell anyone. But his family and friends did not feel that way. They were angry that he didn’t feel as if he needed them and didn’t trust their strength. It hurt them beyond words that he didn’t even say good-bye. Fulghum writes that this man “hid too well.” Well, in a healthy church fellowship members don’t hide. They say, “Come on in, wherever you are. Olly olly ox in free! Hide and seek is over It’s time to be found. You can be real here.”
And that leads me to mention something about authenticity. It requires SAFETY. People have to know it’s okay to be real. I mean many people don’t open up because they fear what others will do with the knowledge they will gain. They fear betrayal, condemnation, and judgment. Fellowship can’t happen unless people know it’s safe to be real.
So—affinity, affirmation, acceptance, authenticity;
(5) And then our final ingredient is — ASSISTANCE.
This is referring to helping each other—bearing each other’s burdens—putting the needs of others above our own. It’s what we see in the Jerusalem church where it says: “Selling their possession and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:47) Strobel writes, “Too many times people enter relationships with a solely selfish agenda. Someone said that if Galileo were a baby boomer, he would have concluded that he sun revolves around himself—and unfortunately we all share that egocentric attitude to some degree.”
The fact is, when we enter a relationship selfishly—we always end up disappointed. But Christians who embrace 2nd mile friendship—Christians who bear each other’s burdens, not just the first mile of obligation—but the 2nd mile and the 3rd mile and so on—they learn that they always end up being blessed—they learn that they benefit in the long run. Booker T. Washington once said, “You cannot hold a man down without staying down with him.” And the flip side is true as well: if you lift someone up by making their struggles your own—you’ll find yourself lifted up. Ted Engstrom writes, “You are allowed to keep only that which you consciously give away. Give away your friendship and you will receive friendship in return. Give away yourself and your ‘better’ self will return to you many times over.”
Years ago I came across a story that illustrates the importance and blessing of burden-bearing. It’s about something that happened in the Special Olympics—which of course features mentally and physically disabled athletes from around the world. There was a foot race and each of the runners had Down’s Syndrome. They were close together as they came around the track toward the finish line. Then one of the runners stumbled and fell. When that happened the rest of the runners stopped. They went back as a group, helped the runner who had fallen to stand up, and then they all started running the race again. You know, we often describe people with disabilities like this as being mentally or emotionally deficient, but I must tell you—after reading this story I wonder if that is really accurate. I mean, it seems to me that these runners were VERY sound emotionally and relationally, very Christ-like, whereas most “normal” athletes wouldn’t think of going back to help a fallen runner. No, these special Olympiads obviously understood and practiced this principle of fellowship—giving assistance to one another—bearing burdens. Paul referred to it in 1st Corinthians 12:26 when he said, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
Now—this kind of burden-bearing, joy-sharing stuff doesn’t just happen. It’s intentional. And I point this out because sometimes when we see people who have a really deep friendship like this we think, “Those people are so lucky to have close friends like that.” Well the truth is LUCK has nothing to do with it. It is a CHOICE. People have close friendships because they choose to develop them. We make this choice because of our experience with Jesus. The fact that He bore the burden of our sin on the cross inspires us to bear one another’s burdens.
If you are not a member of a church family—then ask yourself: “Is God calling me to join this body of Christ? Is He leading me to join Redland?” This church is not perfect—no church is—but I can tell you from experience that this is a great place to find GREAT friends! And I know I speak for every Redland family member when I say we would love to welcome you into our “home.” If you are not a Christian then hear this. John’s gospel says, Jesus is the “Friend of sinners!” And that “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is just what Jesus Christ has done for you. Won’t you respond by committing your life to Him as Lord and Savior this morning?
Any decision you have to make public, we invite you to do so now as we stand and sing.