This message is called “Longing for fellowship.” As this time of being “torn away” from fellowship due to lockdown, this message looks at the importance and nature of Christian fellowship.
The video is below followed by the notes that are prepared for those who cannot watch the video.
Lansdowne’s bank has us registered as a “club,” and the electricity company as a “business”.
Yet, the church is not a club or a business. We are the church. We are the people of God. We are the body of Christ. We are the living temple made of living stones. We are God’s family.
All of these Biblical statements about church mean that fellowship is not just important, it is a natural outflow of what Christian people are. While each person must come to Christ individually, we immediately become part of the family.
One of the pillars of the early church found in Acts 2:42 is “fellowship.”
In today’s passage, Paul expresses his longing for fellowship with the church of the Thessalonians. As he expresses that longing, we see how precious and vital fellowship is.
I) The passion for fellowship (2:17)
Paul says, “we were torn away” (v17). The word could be translated, “orphaned” (as in the NIV). This reflects the intensity of love in Christian fellowship, and the sense of loss when that is missing.
Paul heaps phrase upon phrase to express the longing for fellowship:
- “Person not heart” – physically absent, but longing in the heart.
- “Endeavoured the more eagerly” – great zeal.
- “Great desire.” Very strong word – burning passion or longing.
Do we have “great desire” (a burning passion or longing) for fellowship? Or do we feel indifferent? It may be that the Lord, in His sovereign care for us, has allowed this time apart to reveal the condition of our hearts. If you are indifferent, ask the Lord to kindle a longing for fellowship.
II) The priority of fellowship (2:18)
Paul actively sought to come back to them, but “Satan hindered us.” We are not told what the hindrance was, nor are we told why God didn’t stop it, but if He had stopped the enemy, we wouldn’t have this letter. So God does overrule.
The message to us here is that fellowship must be important if it is opposed by Satan! So, if we are to say that being together as God’s people is not important, we are effectively doing what the devil wants! Coming together in fellowship and worship, prayers, teaching, the Lord’s Supper – all of these things are vital, which is why the enemy opposes it. Let’s not give any place to the enemy by neglecting meeting together.
III) The eternal joy of fellowship (2:19-20)
In these next verses, Paul is further showing how vital fellowship is. He links his standing before the Lord at His coming, and rejoicing and receiving vindication, with them – the church of the Thessalonians.
These are difficult verses, but what he seems to be saying is that the joy of seeing people come to Christ on earth, will somehow (and Paul is not specific here) be part of our eternal joy.
But Paul speaks in the present tense. So there is joy now. Why? Because fellowship with God’s people on earth is a foretaste of the shared eternal joy of God’s people in heaven. We will see the Lord face to face, and we will worship alongside those that we shared imperfect worship with on earth.
This is why fellowship on earth is so important – it is the sign of the glorious perfection that is to come.
IV) The pain of fellowship (3:1-5)
Fellowship is also costly. There are two aspects mentioned:
1) v3: “that no-one be moved by these afflictions.” He was concerned for the well being of the church. When the church is going through a time of pressure, as the Thessalonians were, this increases concern and even anxiety for one another.
We see this in v1 and v4 – “we could bear it no longer” – such a deep concern that Paul is moved to send Timothy to find out how they were doing and to encourage them – to strengthen them (v2) and to stir them to persevere (v2).
This is a vital part of Christian fellowship. We are not a club, we are a family and we are called to bear one another’s burdens. It was costly for Paul to send Timothy and be alone (v1). It may be costly for us emotionally, financially, and in terms of time.
We haven’t got Timothy to send, but we have time to pray, time to call, time to send a card, time to receive calls and listen to those who are struggling. This is fellowship. This is what we are called to as one body.
2) Differences/misunderstandings/disagreements. v6: “you always remember us kindly and long to see us.” Paul was concerned that in the time he was away from them, misunderstandings had grown, and that his relationship with them had broken down.
V6 shows Paul’s concern was unfounded. But the prayer in v12 (increase and abound in love for one another) reminds us that we can offend one another, through our sin, through someone else’s sin, and through misunderstandings. This, also, is part of the pain of fellowship.
Therefore it is vital that we don’t allow misunderstandings, sin and unforgiveness to hinder fellowship. Fellowship can lead us to being hurt and needing to put things right, but fellowship is worth it.
V) The necessity of fellowship (3:3-5)
Paul’s concern for them was increased because they were suffering for their faith. The passage reminds us (v3b) that persecution is normal. It is even something that they were “destined for” (v4); it is God’s purpose. It identifies us as belonging to the suffering Saviour. Although there are seasons in the life of the church where there is peace and there is freedom to worship according to scripture and to share the gospel, that is not the norm in the history of the church. From the beginning, from Cain’s attack on Abel, through to the actions of the government of N Korea, there has been a history of God’s people suffering. In our day, let’s be thankful for the freedom we have, and pray that the Lord would make us ready for whatever lies ahead.
The reality of the struggles of the Christian life make fellowship more important. They are things that the enemy uses to discourage us (v5). That is why, when Paul couldn’t go, he made sure Timothy went and that, through his visit, they would receive encouragement. We are not meant to fight the battles alone but to seek fellowship.
VI) The encouragement of fellowship (3:6-9)
In these verses, we see the report of Timothy, but also the effect on Paul. They are going on with God (v6). Notice that Paul is concerned primarily about their spiritual welfare. Of course, it is right that we should express concern for people’s physical well-being and their health, but the greatest priority should be spiritual well-being.
Paul is also reassured that they remember him kindly (v6). The concern that they had been taken in by the false accusers was now allayed.
This encourages Paul in the battles that he is facing (v7). He even says (v8), “Now we live,” which suggests that the encouragement of their growth in faith is inspiring Paul’s own spiritual life. When we are connected in loving fellowship – the growth of others stirs us. The growth of others also causes us to praise God (v9) because it is ultimately His work that enables both salvation and spiritual growth.
If this can happen for Paul, when he is hundreds of miles away, through messengers coming on foot, how much more can we encourage each other through the instant communication that we have available? May the Lord help us to do so.
VII) The prayer of fellowship (3:10)
We will come back to this next week, but it would not be complete to stop at v9. Paul is praying in v10 that fellowship will be restored and that fellowship will be fruitful (“supply what is lacking in your faith”). This isn’t that they weren’t saved, but that they need to grow in maturity. Paul is praying for restoration of fellowship to enable him to bring God’s word.
This also shows us that fellowship is not just about being together, but about building each other up. Fellowship happens when we come together for worship and the Word, but it also happens as we spend time together outside of church, and we encourage each other in the Lord.
Fellowship is so important, we all need to pray for it and pray for each other. Fellowship is not true fellowship unless it is accompanied by prayer. I quoted Matthew Henry in an earlier message: “The best way of manifesting our affection to our friends is by praying and giving thanks for them.”
Pray that we would meet together again soon. Pray that everyone’s faith would be strengthened in the meantime, and even further when we meet.
God hears the prayers of His people. He strengthens His church through the prayers of His people.
What is your attitude to fellowship – are you longing to be together? Ask the Lord to stir up within you love for the fellowship of God’s people.
What is going to change when we get back? We will get back. This is not going to be forever. Do you recognise the benefits of fellowship? Are you going to give yourself to fellowship and be prepared for the burden of concern for one another? And perhaps of putting right disagreements and misunderstandings so nothing hinders our fellowship?
Is your concern merely that people are doing well physically, or are you going to pray for people’s spiritual welfare and encourage them in their faith?
Are you committed to prayer for fellowship to be restored and for fellowship to be fruitful?
Brothers and sisters, these things don’t need to wait until we are together again. Let’s start now, expressing our fellowship in these ways, to the glory of God. May He help us by His Spirit, Amen.