Immediately following his account of the start of the Church on the day of Pentecost, Luke wrote this description of the early church in Acts 2:44-47:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV 1984)
Those who heard the Gospel and responded to it were not only forgiven of their sins, but they were transformed in their way of living. They didn’t simply meet together; they shared their lives with one another. Luke summarized this kind of living in Acts 2:42, telling us, “They devoted themselves… to the fellowship….”
Too often today we reduce “the fellowship” to simply gathering together. The furor over church buildings being closed throughout the viral outbreak reveals more dependence upon a building and a specific gathering time than a devotion to “the fellowship.” Part of our problem is language and tradition; we have “fellowship halls” in church buildings and refer to the times when we gather – outside of worship – as “fellowship.” However, the word translated “fellowship” in Acts 2:42 is used throughout the New Testament to focus on followers of Jesus growing together, participating and sharing in each others’ lives. Simply stated, disciples participate.
Participation is spiritual. It begins when we put our faith in Christ. Paul describes this participation in Philippians 3:10, 11, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (NIV 1984). When we join with Christ in baptism, we participate in his death, burial, and resurrection. We share this with our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only in our own baptism but also in our shared celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (NIV 1984).
Participation is practical. Yes, participation happens when we gather to worship, but it also happens when we weed the flowerbeds and when we collect an offering to support our ministries, our missionaries, and those who are in need (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4, 9:13). It’s our partnership, working together to preach and teach the Gospel and to make disciples (Philippians 1:3-5).
Participation is relational. It begins with our relationship with God (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14), and it grows in our relationships with each other (Galatians 2:9). In fact, John reminds us that this fellowship we have with each other comes from our fellowship with God, which comes through our response to the Gospel: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ”(1 John 1:3, NIV 1984).
As important as it is for Christians to meet together (Hebrews 10:25), our participation as disciples of Jesus extends beyond Sunday morning. Let’s not give up meeting together, but let us also participate together in our everyday lives. Call, write, and visit one another. Be aware of each others’ needs and work together to meet those needs. Encourage each other through this time of separation and through other times of doubt and fear, so that we might help each other grow, as God makes us grow.