Christian Fellowship

"God is faithful by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:9).

The Christian's Calling

Every Christian has been called by the Gospel to the obtaining of eternal glory, and that glory is as sure as the love that brought the Gospel to us. But by that same Gospel we have been called into Christian fellowship, and our business is to attend to this with all our hearts: it is the business of every soul that has received the Gospel, though thousands of Christians never seem to give it a thought. They are most conscientious as to all the obligations that their earthly avocations lay upon them; but this, the calling of God, their divine avocation, seems to have escaped their notice; as a consequence they miss God's intention for them and the great privileges that attach to it. It is possible that they imagine that since their sins are forgiven, and they are sure of Heaven, they can choose just that fellowship that suits their taste the best, instead of seeing that the same blessed heart that planned the Gospel for their salvation, also formed the one fellowship in which their feet had henceforward to walk.

This fellowship is not formed or held intact by any regulations of men: it is established in Divine life and in the power of the Holy Ghost, and ecclesiastical boundaries and devices can only fetter and hinder its full expression and development. There are three things that are necessary to it:
1. One All-controlling Object outside this world — that Object is Christ.
2. One Divine Spirit dwelling within to fix the eyes of all on that Object.
3. The pursuit of the things of Christ here below.

The all-controlling Object outside this world will deliver from self-centredness. The one Spirit within supplies the vital and unbreakable bond between every member so that we are one body. The pursuit of the things of Christ will make us strive together in faith and love for the good of the whole.

The Things in which we have Fellowship

The things about which we have fellowship, or share in common, are not of this world, nor are they grasped by the wisdom of man. They are entirely outside the range of his highest conception, for "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for those that love Him (1 Cor. 2:9). They are the things of Christ, the deeps of God, the blessed things which were hidden in the eternal Bosom throughout the ages, that angels would deem themselves honoured even to look into: these things, the choicest that the eternal God could disclose, are opened up for our souls in infinite grace, for "God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."

The Great Benefits of it

We are all equal sharers in these things, the most advanced saint of God cannot lay claim to a greater share in them than the youngest babe: he may have realised more of their preciousness, have entered more fully into the mighty extent of them, but the things that he has learnt are for all, and if any Christian begins to hoard up what he has learnt as though it were some peculiar treasure of his own, he will at once lose the joy of it, for every other Christian has a divinely-given right to all these things; and it is strikingly true in this matter, that "there is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that witholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty" (Prov. 11: 24).

Christian fellowship may, therefore, be likened to a partnership (always bearing in mind that there is a vital bond by the indwelling Spirit), and an illustration may help us to understand it. Three men are equal partners in one concern, they go out to do business, one North, one South, and the other West. At the end of some time they return to their head-quarters; the first has had no success and fears of absolute failure haunt him; the second arrives from a similar experience and in a like mood; but at last the third comes in, his face is bright and he has good news to tell, for his success has been phenomenal. Now mark how his partners revive in spirits, and why? because his success is the success of the firm in which they all are equal sharers, and instead of his success producing jealousy or division between them, they all rejoice together.

It is even so, no Christian can claim any thing of Christ's as his exclusive possession; it is given for his own soul's joy first, but it is given for the common good of all; so that if one Christian, who has not made much advance in the things of God, meets one who has been prospering in these things, the result of that contact will be a great reviving of heart, and refreshment of soul. May God stir us up to our responsibility in this matter, that we may know the joy of giving out, and passing on, and of having common participation in the things which are the very life of Christians. "There should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:25-26).

The Great Principles of Fellowship

The three great principles of this fellowship confront us at the very opening of the subject, in verse 9 of 1 Corinthians 1, they are,
1. HOLINESS.
2. LOVE.
3. SUBJECTION TO THE LORD.

Holiness, because God who has called us is holy. Love, for it is the fellowship of His Son, and this brings before us a relationship which exists in divine and eternal love. And Subjection to the Lord for His Son is our Lord.

The greater part of the Epistle (1 Corinthians) is taken up with the removal of the obstructions to fellowship (the flesh in its different phases), but when the subject of the Lord's Supper is reached (which on our side is the constant pledge of our identification with the death of Christ; that which gave birth to the fellowship), these three principles stand out in striking prominence.

First must come holiness: the death of Christ was the full expression of the holiness of God; it was seen in all its intensity when He, the sinless One, took upon Himself the condemnation of sin and the flesh; at that awful moment He had to cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" And He Himself supplied the answer to that question, "But Thou art holy" (Ps. 22:1, 3). In the death of Jesus we are brought into contact with the holiness of God as nowhere else, so that in the eating of the Supper we are exhorted to examine ourselves, or be self-judged, and so to eat (11:28). But that which was the full expression of God's abhorrence of sin and all that we are as in the flesh, was also the telling out of His great love to us, a love that many waters could not quench, the unconquerable love of God. Then, it is the Lord's Supper, and it is by the word of the Lord that we have received it (11:20, 23).

In the following chapters this fellowship is seen in its workings. Chapter 12, gives the body formed by the Spirit of God (v. 13), and the Holy Spirit is mentioned eleven times in the first thirteen verses, so that holiness is placed at the very threshold of fellowship. Chapter 13 has love for its subject, for the word translated "charity," should be love, it is the spirit and character of the life that belongs to the body as being of God. Chapter 14 closes with the words, "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto to you are the commandments of the Lord" (v. 37).

There could be no fellowship according to God without these things, and it is the ignoring of them that has led to the terrible confusion in Christendom, which all those who love the Lord Jesus must deplore. Holiness lies at the root of all; there must be the judgment on our part of the world, the flesh, and sin, and all that has come under the judgment of God in the cross of Christ; if we are weak in this so shall we fail in the calling of God. But holiness is not a matter of outward separation from evil (though it includes that), it is an inward thing, a question of nature. It means true heart separation from what is evil, the hatred of iniquity, and the love of righteousness; and it is by this characteristic of the new, the divine nature, that we escape the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pet. 1:4). But love is as essential as holiness, it is the perfect bond; under its power we shall be ready to lay down our lives for one another, it will make the strong bear the infirmities of the weak, and make each seek the good of all.

Lastly there must be subjection to the Lord that every member may work in harmony with the other, and that each may attend earnestly to his own individual service instead of judging and finding fault with others, which is the cause of many a breach of practical fellowship.

The Great Hindrance

The flesh is always opposed to these principles; it may be legal but it knows nothing of holiness; it is utterly selfish and knows nothing of love; it is not, nor indeed can be, subject to the will of the Lord. So that it is the great hindrance to Christian fellowship, and is exposed in its various phases in this Epistle. Schism, arrogance, lust, self-assertion, restlessness, license, and indifference to others, all works of the hateful flesh, were active in the church at Corinth; these are the fruits of the flesh whether in the first or the twentieth century. But that phase of it which is most destructive to fellowship is the first, for there it intrudes into divine things; and in this form it is more subtle than any other, so the Apostle puts it first and mentions it four times (1:10; 3:3; 11:18; 12:25).

Let us not suppose that sectarianism is only to be seen where it is openly avowed; an inward sectarianism, that which is in the spirit while denied by the mouth, is far worse, for it adds the sin of hypocrisy to that of schism. At Corinth there was no open breach, but in the one assembly the devil had succeeded through the workings of the flesh in destroying the practical unity and fellowship. They were saying "I of Paul," "I of Cephas," "I of Apollos."

These servants of the Lord represented the three gifts that will remain in the church until the end. Paul was undoubtedly the evangelist, for he speaks of himself of having planted, which is the work of the evangelist; Cephas was the pastor by the Lord's own commission (John 21:15-17); and Apollos was the teacher, for he was "mighty in the Scriptures," and was the one to follow Paul in his work, and water that which he had planted — the teacher's work. Now, instead of accepting these servants from the Lord, and learning through their ministry the varied ways in which Christ may be known, (1) As the expression of the compassion of God's heart to the world, (2) His tender care for the sheep of His pasture, (3) as the Truth in which our souls may be edified, they formed their special lines of ministry into schools and sects.

When the third chapter is reached Cephas is dropped out, for most are ready to appreciate the Pastor's work, and the great division is seen to be between those who refused to sanction the ministry of the evangelist, and those who thought that the teacher was a dispensable quantity; or who leaned to one line of ministry or the other. In their folly they imagined that this was a mark of their spirituality, but the Apostle shows most scathingly that it was the one thing that gave evidence of their gross carnality. Alas, how like these Corinthians are the Christians of this twentieth century, and how Satan has succeeded, in spite of the warnings of God's word, in reproducing the sins of the first century again! May God graciously give repentance, as to this grave insubjection to Himself, and deliver His people from glorying in that which is their shame, and a sure mark that they are walking in the flesh and not in the Spirit.

The Remedy for Sectarianism

To see the way the Spirit of God took to meet this state of things is most helpful. He brought before them what the grace of God had made them; so we read "Ye are God's husbandry," "Ye are God's building," "Ye are the temple of God," "Ye are Christ's" (chap. 3). Every one of these statements shuts out the thought of division, but none of them more completely than the first.

There is great preciousness in the thought of the saints as God's husbandry: He is the Master-Gardener, they are all plants in His garden; and He cares for His plants with an infinite tenderness.

It is His gracious intention that they shall thrive and prosper, and bring forth the precious fruits and fragrant flowers of the life of Jesus, and all His dealings with them are with this purpose in view; He may have to cut and prune them, He may have to pass them through many a process that is unpleasant to nature, but it is all with one end in view.

Are we the special care of God, the lilies of His garden, planted by His grace to produce that which is grateful to Him? Then how thankfully we shall avail ourselves of every provision that He in His eternal wisdom has made for us. Suppose it possible for a plant in a natural garden to refuse water because it had sunshine and air, or sunshine because it had plenty of water, would it not languish and die? It is even so in divine things, and the Christian who imagines that he can do without the truths connected with the special ministry of either evangelist, pastor, or teacher, is sure to suffer great spiritual loss.

But if each Christian views himself individually as a plant in God's garden, he must also look at every other Christian in the same way, then will his dealings with all the Lord's people be most tender, and be will tremble at the thought of injuring any one of them no matter how feeble, for there is the danger of making to perish a weak brother for whom Christ died, and in so doing "sin against Christ" (1 Cor. 8:11-12). Instead of injuring he will seek to help all, and the priceless privilege of helping and refreshing the Lord's beloved plants is put within the reach of all. A sweet poem brings this out, it tells of —

"The Master who stood in His garden
  Amongst His lilies so fair,
Which His own right hand had planted,
  And trained with tenderest care;
He looked on their snow-white blossoms,
  And marked with observant eye,
That their flowers were sadly drooping,
  And their leaves were parched and dry."

So He sought about for some vessel with which to water His precious plants, and found an earthen vessel lying close to His feet. It was small but clean, and so suited for His service; so He carried it to the fountain, and filled it again and again, using it to pour the refreshing water upon those lilies, which were so dear to Him, until they revived and lifted up their heads, and shed forth again the sweet perfume in which He delighted. That tiny vessel was well pleased to have been of use to Him, and said, "I will lie close to His feet on the path-way then perhaps some day He will use me to water His lilies again."

There are three passages in the Proverbs that we might bring together in this connection

"As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country" (chap. 25:25).

"He that watereth shall be watered also himself" (chap. 11:25).

"As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters" (chap. 25:13).

This is the work of God and not man, but happy indeed are those who are so freed from schismatic folly and bias, that they can place themselves at God's disposal for His work in the midst of His husbandry.