“Pretty much all fruit trees use the same rootstock,” you say as you dig your hands into the soil of Lenard’s backyard.
“What does that mean?”
“When I planted my tree,” you say with a laugh, “I didn’t know what I was doing. I just dropped a seed in the ground and hoped it would grow.”
“It looks like it worked.”
“It did, but it’s taking a long time for it to produce mature fruit,” you explain. “What more experienced growers do is take a rootstock from an established tree and graft a bud into it.”
“The bud they graft determines the kind of fruit you will get. You choose the rootstock based on how it does in the soil and how well it supports certain kinds of growth.”
“So, that’s what we’re doing here?” Lenard asks.
“Yeah, I got the rootstock at the nursery. We’re going to graft a scion from my tree and plant it.”
“I’ll pay you back for what you spent. How much do I owe you?”
“Not a chance,” you say. “It’s a free gift.”
You reach for the pot with the rootstock and roll it across the ground to loosen the soil. You gently pull and the burgeoning sapling comes loose. You show Lenard how to remove it from its potting and place it in the ground.
“Now we’re going to do a tongue and whip graft.” You show him how to use the grafting knife and tape. He fumbles with it a little before he gets it right, but you’re patient with him. Once he’s made the cuts, you show him how to wrap it with the binding.
“Alright,” you say as you stand and look down at the tree. “It’s planted.”
“So that branch we grafted in was from your tree?” Lenard asks.
“Yeah. This way, they can pollinate each other directly. Plus, we’ll be growing the same kind of fruit.”
“Can we graft other kinds of trees too?”
“Sure, as the tree grows, we could graft in other types. We could have a dozen different varieties of fruit on the same tree,” you say.
“What happens if they don’t pollinate each other?” Lenard asks.
“Look at my tree,” you say and turn your head. “You’re looking at it.”
“Wow! I didn’t know they needed each other so much.”
“Yeah, trees have to work together to make fruit.”
The ultimate goal of your life is to experience abundant life in the Lord. To have that kind of life, you will need to be transformed. Prayer has a transformative effect, as does Scripture study. However, if you isolate yourself from other believers, you will be missing a piece of that fruitful experience. God uses our social environment to transform us. When you are an active part of a healthy Christian fellowship, you are being transformed. In the same way that trees need each other to produce fruit, so do people. If you want abundant life, you need other Christians involved.
Paul said as much when he explained, You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.1 Each person who has believed in Jesus for everlasting life has that free, irrevocable gift forever. That means that you are free. Notice what Paul says you are free to do. You are free to either indulge the flesh or serve one another humbly in love.
Paul paints these ideas as opposites. It seems, on the face of it, that you would be able to indulge the flesh while also serving in humility and love. However, you can't do both simultaneously. They are opposed to each other. One is done by the flesh; the other is powered by the Spirit.
If you are doing fellowship in a Christ-like manner, it will drown out certain desires to indulge your flesh, allowing you to set your mind in a better place while you serve. This is why it's good to go to church, but it's great to serve other believers at church and away.
Certainly, you can't be around Christians every moment of the day, but think about it, aren't you less likely to commit your favorite sins when you're around other faithful believers? Remember, it's the Spirit that transforms you, but it seems that God uses fellowship with others to play a role in that transformation. If you isolate from God's people, you are isolating from one of God's methods of bringing about abundant life.
Many people quote the author of Hebrews as telling believers that they should not be "neglecting to meet together." However, he gives a powerful reason for meeting together. He says, let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.2
We aren't encouraged to meet together so that we can check off our church attendance quota. We're told to meet together so that we can stir up love and good works in each other. We are supposed to get together so we can encourage one another. We are supposed to gather so we can talk about how Jesus is going to come back one day, possibly soon. We shouldn't neglect our meetings because if we stop coming, we miss out on all of this.
The greatest experience of abundance, a life filled with fruit, is going to be lived out in fellowship with others who are encouraging us in the right direction. What's more, you are supposed to do the same for others. When you skip the fellowship, there is someone that needed encouragement from you. There is someone that needs to be motivated to love and to do good works. That's your job. When you serve other believers by encouraging them, it will open the doors for the Spirit to transform you.
Sin is a deceiver. It hardens us. We need help from each other. That's why the same author wrote, but encourage each other daily, while it is still called today so that none of you is hardened by sin's deception.3 Notice that the encouragement we experience from each other is supposed to be happening daily. That means that we are expected to have more than a once-a-week relationship with other believers. Certainly, you won't be texting everyone from your church every day, but there are probably at least a few people that you could be connecting with on a daily basis. They need you, and you need them. Don't miss out.
Although it may be hard to imagine, what if you fell into the trap that sin set? What if you began to be hardened by the deception of sin? What if you start to question your faith? I know many to whom this has happened.
James offers a very social remedy when he says, my brothers and sisters if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.4
There are times when you are going to need someone to steer you back to the light. There are times when you may not be seeing things correctly. If you have evacuated and isolated, then it’s going to be hard for anyone to know how to help you. This is why it’s so important that you plant yourself right in the middle of a vibrant fellowship.
Your ultimate goal is to experience the abundant life God has for you. To do that, you will need to be transformed. One of the places the Spirit performs that transformation is through Christian fellowship. If you run from the church, you are escaping from one of God's vehicles that can bring you to abundant life.
Remember this proverb as you consider how you will fellowship. One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound wisdom.5 Your life goal is abundant fruit. You will get there by setting your mind in the right place. The tools you use to align your mind are prayer, scripture, and as we’ve seen in this section, fellowship.
1 Galatians 5:13
2 Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
3 Hebrews 3:13 CSB
4 James 5:19-20 CSB
5 Proverbs 18:1