Day 4: Belong to God's Body
In this video, David Mathis explains the third means of grace: belonging to God's body, the church. He looks at the word fellowship, explaining what it really means in the Bible and how our relationships with other Christians can serve as an incredible source of strength and encouragement for our own lives.
Make the effort to talk to a Christian friend or family member today about fellowship as being on mission together, worshiping Jesus together, and being means of grace to each other, especially in covenant membership in the local church. See if your friend agrees with these multiple aspects of Christian fellowship, and ask if they can think of any others beyond these three.
About the Book
Hear his voice. Have his ear. Belong to his body.
Three seemingly unremarkable principles shape and strengthen the Christian life: listening to God’s voice, speaking to him in prayer, and joining together with his people as the church. Though seemingly normal and routine, the everyday “habits of grace” we cultivate give us access to these God-designed channels through which his love and power flow—including the greatest joy of all: knowing and enjoying Jesus.
In Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines and the companion workbook for individual or group study, David Mathis helps us to discover simple ways to cultivate habits of grace that empower us for the Christian life by connecting us to God's abundant grace.
Welcome to day four. So far, we’ve talked about hearing God’s voice in his Word and having God’s ear in prayer. Now we turn to belonging to his body in fellowship. And to start off, let's look at the word fellowship.
It’s a shame that the word fellowship has fallen on hard times in many church circles. Nowadays, fellowship means you’re just doing something social together and you just happen to be Christians. That's not at all what is meant by the richness and the strength of the New Testament word often translated as fellowship.
Maybe you hear people pronounce the Greek word as "koinonia." In the New Testament, fellowship refers to a partnership, a collective, a mission where everyone is all in together. They’re risking life. They’re risking all of their possessions. They’re risking their money, to put it in a shared venture together and to have that shared mission and enterprise.
The first thing to say about the fellowship as a means of grace is that it is a mission. Rightly did J. R. R Tolkien call his first book The Fellowship of the Ring. Because there was a lot at stake; they were on a mission together. They weren't just sitting back and having a pipe, sipping on the Gaffer's Old Winyards, and just shooting the breeze in a social situation. The world is at stake and they’ve got to get the ring to Mount Doom. This is what’s involved in a fellowship.
So, when I say fellowship as a means of grace, I don’t mean just Christian social situations but rather a shared mission together. Jesus put his church on mission in the declaration of the great commission—the commission to make disciples of all the nations. That begins locally but then extends internationally. We are on mission together in the gospel. So the first aspect of fellowship is being on mission together.
Another aspect of the fellowship is worshipping together. Let me give you a verse to go with that: Hebrews 10:24-25, where the author says,
And 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. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
He's encouraging his readers to come together, strengthen each other, and do that in a context of worship. And so, in that context of fellowship as corporate worship together, we will get various means of grace like sitting together under the preaching of God’s Word and the corporate interactions that happen before, during, and after those gatherings. There's also taking the Lord’s Table together as a means of grace. There's being baptized or watching in faith as others are baptized as a means of grace.
The third aspect of fellowship is our life together as Christians. The text for this one is Hebrews 3:12-13:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-15)
And the amazing thing about that passage is that it’s not an exhortation to individuals to watch out that their own hearts might not become hardened. Rather, it’s an exhortation to the community to be on the lookout for other people in the community who don’t have the spiritual strength—who don’t have the spiritual wherewithal—to watch out for their own souls. And so, healthy Christians are being encouraged to take notice of others—to be aware enough of others—that they'd be able to speak a gospel-word into their brother or sister's life—encouraging that person in a season of difficulty, dryness, depression, or suffering.
An important aspect of the fellowship is our external mission together, our vertical worship together, and then internal care and love for one another—our being a means of grace to someone else. One of the first questions to ask about fellowship is not "What is this body doing for me? What is this local church doing for me? What is this Christian community doing for me?" The local church will be a means of grace in your life. However, a very important question to ask first is, "How can I be a means of grace to others in this community?"
We need to think not only about how to receive God’s Word in Bible intake and how to speak to God and receive the blessing of being in communication with him in prayer, but also how to be a means of grace to someone else. How can my life in Christ be a means of grace to someone else?
Here's one way to think about it: it’s amazing that God put these holes in the side of our head. And what you can do is you can put words in those holes for somebody who’s struggling or for someone who’s dry. What that person needs is a good word—a manifestation of the gospel. Perhaps they’re so spiritually lethargic that they’re not ingesting the Bible well for themselves via reading and studying and meditation. Maybe they don’t have the heart to pray. But what they do have, typically, are holes in the side of their heads. And you can put gospel words into those holes, so that even when they're is not doing well spiritually, you can help them by speaking a word of grace into their lives.
Rooted in the Local Church
God has often used this to bring people back from dangerous spiritual situations. Bringing back a sinner from his wandering as James 5:19-20 talks about. This is being a means of grace to others. It’s most important that this would happen in covenant contexts. A lot of grace can flow in situations where it’s a Christian community. But where there is covenant membership in the local church is the place where lives flourish as we experience receive God's grace through significant relationships.
So, for instance, we wouldn’t say, "Well I love these people enough, I don’t need to commit to them." Rather, we’d say, "I love these people enough that I’m willing to commit to them in sickness and in health, when times are joyful and when times are sorrowful," as you would do in a marriage. Hopefully you wouldn’t say, "I love her enough; we don’t need a commitment and we don’t need a piece of paper." No! The question is, "Do you love her enough to commit; to be there in sorrow, in pain, and in sickness?"
That’s the opportunity we have in covenant fellowship. We say, "I love these people enough that I’m going to commit to be there in the hardest of times. In the worst of times. When they’re the dryest. When they’re the most depressed. When they the most need help, I want to be there and I want to be God’s means of grace in their life. And I want to be that means of grace in my life as well."