What were the first Christians like? What were they doing?
“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers”(Acts 2:41:42).
It’s easy to look at this passage and only notice only the reference to doctrine. The church was steadfastly following the doctrine of the apostles. They were carefully and diligently following the apostle’s doctrine. That’s what they were doing and that’s what we should be doing. But doctrine was only one of the defining characteristics of the first Christians. They were also diligent to follow the apostles example of fellowship, breaking bread (a form of fellowship), and praying together (another form of fellowship).
It’s certainly possible for a church to focus so much one that we neglect the other. We may diligently follow the apostle’s doctrine, but if we aren’t equally zealous in following their example of fellowship, are we really Christ’s Church? The Church is defined by doctrine and fellowship. Not just doctrine. Not just fellowship.
Fellowship in the 1st Century
Fellowship is a lot more than being friendly on Sundays. Sometimes we pat ourselves on the back if we make it to church three times in a week, but I think the first Christians would be surprised at how little time we spend with each other.
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:44-47).
The first Church had all things in common. Obviously, this included spiritual things, but the first Church shared their physical things too. They shared their money, their possessions, their food, and even their homes. Most importantly, they shared their TIME. There was no place they wanted to be more than with each other. They were together daily. They ate together daily. What was their attitude like? Gladness and simplicity of heart.
How do we become a church that looks like this? Does God even expect us to be a church like this? Maybe not completely, but surely there is room for improvement. Our time is precious to us. We’re so busy that it’s hard to make time for our church family. Our things are precious to us. We save money so we can spend it on things. When is the last time you saved money to invest it in the Church or someone in the Church?
Instructions on Fellowship
Our relationships in the Church are like the relationships we have in a family. For example, do you ask your children if they’d agree to having a new sibling? No? Neither does God. God doesn’t ask you if you want a brother in Christ. He doesn’t ask you if you want a sister in Christ. You’ve got them, whether you want them or not, and he’s not asking us to have fellowship. We have fellowship with one another just by virtue of being Christians: 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”We’re a family, and God expects us to act like one.
The first step in Christian fellowship is simple. It’s not always easy, but it is simple. Love each other and don’t hate each other.
“He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11).
How important is it that we love each other? 1 John 3:14-15,“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”As far as God is concerned, despising a brother (or sister) is like murder.
When we really (truly) love each other, fellowship comes naturally. We will want to share our possessions, our money, our food, our homes, and our time. The first Church did this, and they kept on doing it: Acts 4:32, “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.”
The Cost of Fellowship
Fellowship isn’t free. It requires some sacrifice. If I’m going to share my possessions and my money, that’s less for me. If I’m going to share my home, that requires sacrificing some privacy. If I’m going to share my time, that means sacrificing some time I might have otherwise used for myself.
Fellowship does require sacrifice, but there is so much to be gained. If you’re a part of Christ’s Church, you will never go hungry. You’ll never need a place to stay. You’ll never be without a friend. Someone will always have time for you. The friendships and fellowship we enjoy in the Church is designed to be a well-spring of encouragement, comfort, and security. This is part of the essential identity of the Lord’s Church.