When Saturday comes around, you are ready. You are knocking on Lenard’s door as soon as the sun is up. He comes to the front dressed in overalls and looks as if he’s ready to work.
“Good morning,” you say. “I’m looking forward to planting that tree.”
“Oh, yeah.” His tone of voice leaves you in doubt.
“Do you still want to?”
“For sure,” Lenard says. He rubs the back of his neck and looks at the ground. “It’s just that my car is broken. I only have today to fix it. I’m really sorry. Could we do it next week?”
“No problem,” you say. You hide your disappointment well. As you walk back to your house, you stop by the shed and drop off your gloves and tools. Standing in the doorway, you do a quick personal pep talk and head into the house.
It feels like the week is taking forever to finish. When Saturday finally comes back around, you’re up bright and early once again. This time you call first, preferring to spare the embarrassment you likely caused Lenard the previous week. The phone rings a handful of times, but Lenard doesn’t pick up. You set your phone down and look out the side window.
“Oh, there he is,” you say. He’s standing on a ladder that is leaned up against the side of his house. You pour out the back door and make your way to the edge of your yard.
“Hey, neighbor,” you say. Even with your hand shielding your eyes, you still have to squint. Lenard half turns and looks down.
“Hey.” Lenard comes down and stands awkwardly by the foot of the ladder. “Listen. I know I said we could plant that tree today, but I’ve got some rotten boards on the house that I have to replace.”
“That’s ok,” you say. This time you’re feeling a little hurt. “You think we might try to do it next Saturday?”
“That would be great.”
You head back into your house and watch Lenard nailing the boards up. You check on him every few hours, hoping he will finish in enough time to work in the garden, but he’s out until it’s dark.
The following week feels like a month. You decide you’ll give it one more try, but if he’s too busy, then you’ll stop pestering him.
You ring his doorbell at seven in the morning. He has his work overalls on again, which is a good sign, but he has a pipe wrench in his left hand, which isn’t.
“Feel like doing some gardening?”
“That sounds great. I wish I could,” he says. Your eyes go to the red handled tool he’s gripping. He holds it up when he notices you looking. “Yeah, I’ve got a clogged toilet. I started taking things apart last night, and it’s looking like an all-day job.”
“No problem,” you say, but your words don’t match your emotion. You don’t try to arrange for the next Saturday. What’s the point? You step off his porch and walk toward your house.
“Hey,” you say as an idea sparks. “Can I help you with your plumbing?”
“That’s nice, but you don’t have to do that.”
You come back up the porch feeling a spring in your step. “Maybe with the both of us on the job, we can make quick work of it.”
“Are you sure? It’s a mess.”
“Positive.” He smiles and lets you in. As you enter the house, you spot a woman sitting on the couch, crossed legged and tapping her toe on the floor. Lenard points with the wrench. “Have you met Beth, my wife?”
“Nice to meet you,” you say.
“She’s pretty eager for me to get our bathroom back together,” Lenard says. “Clock’s ticking.” He smiles awkwardly and turns to go down the hall. You take a second to realize what Lenard means.
“Oh,” you say. “You can use my restroom. My house is unlocked. No one is home.” Beth rises immediately and steps forward.
“Seriously?” she says. Without waiting for a response, she moves toward the front door. “Thank you so much. I was panicking.”
In the hall, you glance into a room decorated for kids. “That’s Josh and Andrew,” Lenard says. Two young boys wave and say hi as you pass. You greet them and follow Lenard into the small single sized bathroom.
Plumbing parts are all over the floor, some broken. You survey the damage and get ready to work. As you look around Lenard says, “Honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing.” After a few minutes of studying the problem, you stand upright.
“It looks like your s-trap is clear and there’s no hard water build up on the drain lines. Have you checked the tank volume?”
“Like I said,” Lenard reiterates, “I don’t know much about plumbing.”
“Here I’ll show you.” You show him how the float valve works and explain how to adjust the tank volume. “Since there are no other problems that we know of, we just need to put everything back together and try it out.”
“Where’d you learn this stuff?” Lenard asks. “You a plumber or something?”
“Nah, just kind of picked it up over the years, I guess.” You help him reattach all the threaded pipe fittings around the sink. There’s no reason he had to dismantle them, but you don’t say so. In a few minutes, you have the water back on, and the toilet works perfectly. By now, Beth is back and extremely thankful.
Now that his task is complete, Lenard gladly shows you to his backyard where you plan out the fruit garden with him. His wife and boys come out and join in the conversation. You feel great having served them. You can sense a genuine bond growing.
It’s possible to go to meetings but not have fellowship. Fellowship in the original language of the Bible basically means "sharing." In talking about the early church, some Bible translations say, "They devoted themselves to… fellowship,” while others use the phrase, They shared everything they had.1 So fellowship means to share what you have.
Often, we think of modern church fellowship as sitting around and talking about our feelings. If that’s what you think of as fellowship, then you’re missing out on a huge aspect of this Christian concept. In fact, if you think of fellowship as just talking a lot, then you may not like fellowship all that much.
So, how do we turn bland meetings into fellowship? The answer is the same thing I tell my kids all the time, "share." Obviously, sharing will include talking, but it's much more than that. About the first generation of the church, Luke said, The whole group of believers was united in their thinking and in what they wanted. None of them said that the things they had were their own. Instead, they shared everything.2
What an amazing experience that must have been. Believers are expected to share whatever is needed with each other. Fellowship is when we take care of one another. We are expected to be good to all people, but especially good to our Christian brothers and sisters. That’s why Paul said, Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.3
Fellowship doesn’t mean only sharing monetary resources. In fact, we all have a lot more to share than just money. Things a group of believers can share also include their time, experiences, talent, love, service, and much more. I want to focus on that last aspect for a moment. Not only are we told to share ourselves with other believers, but we are instructed to serve.
To a group of believers in Corinth, Paul said, serve each other with love.4 When you serve a person, that means you love them. To love someone means to serve them. You can’t disconnect these ideas. John expressed a similar idea when he said, This is the teaching you have heard from the beginning: We must love each other.5 The church will be functioning most successfully, in God's eyes, when it is full of people who love one another. You can recognize the exchange of love in a group of believers because they will be serving one another.
Many might be tempted to think; I don’t like this church because no one serves me. That’s the wrong mentality. If you find yourself bored with church, or Bible study, or believer’s meetings of any kind, there is a question you ought to ask yourself. You should say, “How can I serve these people in a way that would bring me joy?" When you begin serving others, things will change. This is especially true when you serve other believers with your own talents and spiritual gifts.
My spiritual gift, as far as I can tell, is teaching. I have some God-given ability in this area. What’s amazing to me is that the thing I’m good at is also the thing I love doing. Serving other believers with this gift is a blessing to me. I feel abundant life happening when I get the chance to teach.
One of my spiritual gifts IS NOT administration. Not long ago, I was beginning to struggle with some of my own limitations. At the church where I used to serve as teaching pastor, I felt as if my lack of administrative skills was hurting the church. I sensed imminent failure was just around the corner. Trying to do administrative tasks brought stress, and was hard for me to call my feelings on the subject a blessing.
Beautifully, one of the elders, who is also a former pastor, asked me to get together for coffee. He told me that he wanted to take on an administrative role. I can't tell you how happy this made me. After bringing it to the elder board, we hired him as the administrative pastor. He is a natural planner and organizer. He occasionally taught, which he is great at, but primarily he handled administrative issues. I occasionally administered, which I'm not so good at, but primarily I handled the teaching tasks. I got to serve the congregation with my gifts, he got to serve the congregation with his gifts, and we both felt blessed to do so.
Paul lays out how we ought to use our spiritual gifts to serve one another. He says, We all have different gifts…Whoever has the gift of prophecy should use that gift… Whoever has the gift of serving should serve. Whoever has the gift of teaching should teach. Whoever has the gift of comforting others should do that. Whoever has the gift of giving to help others should give generously. Whoever has the gift of leading should work hard at it. Whoever has the gift of showing kindness to others should do it gladly.6
He expects people to stay in their lane. Why, because using your gifts bring you joy. It's an amazing feeling to use what I'm good at and enjoy doing to serve others. Paul goes on to explain what kind of experience will be shared when we use our God-given spiritual gifts to serve each other.
He says, Your love must be real… Love each other in a way that makes you feel close, like brothers and sisters. And give each other more honor than you give yourself. As you serve the Lord, work hard and don't be lazy. Be excited about serving him!… Share with God's people who need help. Look for people who need help and welcome them into your homes.7
Those instructions are laced with expressions of joy. I once had a pastor who often said, "as we serve the Lord and others, we should be moving toward destination joy." He said this to my dad, who was leading music at the time. Dad was burned out on having to lead worship every Sunday as a volunteer. My dad eventually came to the conclusion that he wasn't leading music because it brought him joy; he was doing it because he felt too guilty to admit he wanted to quit. That wise pastor talked with him about it and meant what he said. He encouraged Dad to quit and pursue other things. Now, we often sit around the living room playing music at Dad's house. He loves it, and he couldn't be happier not to be leading music at church.
Have you resisted serving other believers? Have you ever used your spiritual gifts, enthusiasms, and talents you’re passionate about to serve others? This is a big part of experiencing abundant life. There is a place for everyone to serve in the body of Christ.
In the next section we’ll discuss another important aspect of fellowship.
1 Acts 2:42
2 Acts 4:32
3 Galatians 6:10
4 Galatians 5:13
5 1 John 3:11
6 Romans 12:6-8
7 Romans 12:9-13