The Challenge of Genuine Fellowship

 Author: Matt Talladay

I recently shared in a sermon the reality that as a young person, particularly in high school and some in college, that I was quite sarcastic, especially with my family. It was consistently a part of how we communicated with one another and how I “joked” with friends. Two of the best things for me as I grew up and realized the negative impact my sarcasm had was my developing relationship with Stephanie and the training I received in graduate school. What I didn’t share that Sunday, though, was the fact that as a family (my mom, dad & brothers) we were each growing significantly in our relationship with Jesus. When I was about 15 my parents, myself, and one of my brothers were all baptized and at that point began making significant changes to how we related to one another and others. It took time to realize, but sarcasm along with other unhealthy ways of relating was detrimental to having deeper relationships. We certainly don’t always relate well, and sometimes we are downright hurtful; but we have a strong commitment to see each other become more loving and more Christ-like when we are together. Relationship is one of the stated values of our congregation; and, frankly, it is probably the one which we need the most work on currently. Consider that we have recently had a number of our members depart and that a number of people have expressed feeling relationally disconnected. Consider also that one of the primary purposes of the Church is to see the members become more like Jesus. We must develop a stronger commitment to help one another become more loving and Christ-like, and that process happens in the context of relationships.

As we study 1 Corinthians together, it is hopefully becoming apparent that Paul was extremely concerned with the relational dynamic within the church at Corinth. Their collective pride and their collective embracing of sinful behaviors was causing them to abandon the way of Christ and the pursuit of holiness. In one of the commentaries I’ve been using the author claims that the biggest detriment to pursuing holiness as a community of believers is a lack of genuine fellowship. There’s a connection between the quality of our relationships and our ability as a church to be holy. This is seen in 1 Corinthians chapter 5 especially, but we can see it in our time and context as well.

Our propensity is to relate in ways which prevent the genuine fellowship that author wrote of. We find it preferable to maintain distance and autonomy in our relationships perhaps because it feels safer, often because it allows us to hide. By avoiding the deep, honest relationships of genuine fellowship, we are able to maintain a facade of self-sufficiency. We are able to maintain a very minimal connection through attending the same church and proclaiming faith in the same God, all the while fostering shallow disconnectedness. Our society certainly doesn’t help either, considering how it is normal now to relate through texting or Facebook. I even see people of all ages out to dinner on their various screen devices rather than having a deep conversation. What I think it comes down to most of the time is a lack of honesty. Even Paul draws our attention to “sincerity and truth” in 1 Corinthians 5:8.

I believe that at its core genuine fellowship is driven by an unwavering commitment to honesty. Moreover, I read once that true humility is simply being completely honest about oneself. If we are to develop the genuine fellowship that leads us to be more Christ-like, we must accept the challenge of pursuing humility and honesty in our relationships. And it is indeed a challenge. It is far easier to cover up our flaws, to emphasize our strengths and accomplishments, to minimize or even deny responsibility when we make mistakes, and to relate from a distance or from behind a veneer.

Let us work towards taking responsibility, speaking with candor, choosing vulnerability, instead of hiding behind whatever veneer we’ve created. This is in order that we might grow into Christ, who is our Lord and savior, and through whom we are able to do these things. We must lay aside our pride, condescension, prejudices and our complaining critical hearts. I hope you’ll consider how you might practically take steps towards genuine fellowship within the church body, so that we all might deepen our love for one another and for our Creator. In addition, visit the pastor’s blog on our website for The Challenge of Genuine Fellowship Part 2, where I’ll share some practical insight about what fosters genuine fellowship and what prevents genuine fellowship.