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The Joy that Flows from Fellowship in the Gospel

December 5, 2020 | by: Tony Sanelli | 0 comments


“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,
always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,
in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.”
Philippians 1:3-5

“…and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life,
which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us;
and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”
1 John 1:2-4

In October Sheri and I were afforded the opportunity to spend a handful of restful days in an isolated mountain cabin just outside Bozeman, Montana. This was during a period of time when there was virtually no lockdown due to the Corona Virus in that region of the country.

Because of our interest in stream fishing we took the time to visit several fly fishing and outfitter stores. Fly fishing is very popular in that neck of the woods. As I walked through the shops I bumped into people from various backgrounds and engaged in different conversations. It was eminently clear that the one thing that tied all these people together from so many places in America is their “enthusiasm” (sometimes all consuming!) for fly fishing. They share a common interest.

Tony-NewCommonality of interest is also an element of the fellowship of the church, but one must note a marked difference as well. Though these people share a common interest and enthusiasm they are still each out for themselves. That is to say, this was not a gathering of people who have set aside their own interests for the sake of a higher common goal and joy. Fishermen don’t readily give away all the secrets to their favorite fishing holes. I know because I’m one of them! After all the friendly talk in the shops everyone stealthily drove away to their private spot.

Christian fellowship is something altogether different. Paul refers to it in Philippians as a “participation in the gospel.” The word rendered “participation” is the term “koinonia” which is more commonly translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. Commenting on the meaning of this word, D. A. Carson notes, “The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision.”  The shared vision is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Specifically, defending its purity and promoting its advancement in the world. This may come at personal expense, humanly speaking. Hence, to share in the fellowship of the gospel is to belong to a community that is characterized by a willingness to set aside personal interest and gain for the sake of remaining conformed to the gospel’s truth and seeking its progress.

In New Testament times, if two men purchased a fishing boat and went into business together, this was “fellowship.” They had common goals and a common purpose. Their personal interests were subsumed under the common mission. Consider Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.” In this memorable tale there is a group of friends who have made a mutual commitment to the death to guard the ring to the conclusion of its journey.

What “ties” us together is our shared vision. Christ, via His cross, has purchased a people whom God has called out from the world through His gospel. A people that are now “participating” in the very gospel that has brought them to faith. Fellowship, therefore, involves rolling up our sleeves and getting involved in the advance of our Lord’s gospel.

The passage from 1 John provides deeper insight by noting that our fellowship is not only with one another but with the Father and the Son. Elsewhere it is clear that this fellowship is made possible via the ministry of the indwelling Spirit of God. Hence, our fellowship is with the Trinitarian God of the universe. As we participate in fellowship with one another we are brought into a deepening experience of fellowship with God.

To what end? John answers, “…that our joy may be made complete.” The mountain lake of still water to which the winding mountain stream of this passage flows is the joy of our fellowship with one another and with the Father and the Son. John the apostle longs for the fullness of joy that comes when others in the body of Christ experience this joy to its fullest.

This will be an essential spiritual reality as we turn the corner into 2021. We need spiritual strength to continue navigating the turbulence of the effects of Covid-19, the economic shutdowns and the social upheavals still gripping our nation. Scripture affirms in no uncertain terms that “the joy of the Lord” is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

This is a great time to reflect upon the joy that flows from true Christian fellowship with one another and the Father and the Son. It is a joy that gives strength. It is a joy that empowers and sustains. It is a joy that comes to each of us via our mutual sacrifices for the gospel. It is a joy that flows from our engagement with other believers. That has been a challenge this year to be sure and will remain a challenge to some degree in the coming months, but I encourage each of you to take steps to ensure that you do not become isolated but rather, pursue spiritual interaction with one another. Pursue fellowship and the joy that flows from it.

Is it really possible to experience such joy and serve others while in dire straits? Yes, in Christ this is possible. The apostle Paul exhorted the church at Corinth to consider the example of the churches of Macedonia because “… in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality” (2 Corinthians 8:2). As Murray J. Harris aptly states, “Their poverty no more impeded their generosity than their tribulation diminished their joy.” May our God make it so for each of you in the months ahead due to your fellowship in the gospel.

Tony Sanelli is a Pastor/Teacher at Grace Bible Church