The Suburbs of Fellowship

We have a natural tendency to think about relationships in spacial terms. Some are close, some are far. It makes sense when we think about Aunt Jane who lives two-thousand miles away. We don’t see her very often; we’re not that close.

Of course actual distance between people doesn’t actually determine their unity, their fellowship, their closeness. Your spouse might be in New Zealand and yet she is in your bosom. Or your spouse might be sitting in bed next to you eighteen inches away and yet a world apart.

Some of us have been reading Dante’s Inferno and there is a sense of spiraling distance from God the deeper into hell the pilgrim descends. Sinners get the punishment they deserve. That’s why, for example, gluttons who were never satisfied on earth, will gulp handfuls of mud. That’s also why those who rejected God are judged to stay away from the goodness of God’s presence.

As Christians we might feel that we are close to God, or further from Him at times. We do grow in our fellowship as we know Him better and relate to Him in love and obedience.

But He does not choose some for His favorites and push others in the suburbs of fellowship. We are in the center circle, not out on the periphery. He is no Jacob. Through the true Israel, Jesus, we are all sons of His right hand, not just those who write psalms. Through the true vine, we are all branches grafted in; you don’t have to graduate from seminary. None of us deserve it, but “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18a).

Emmanuel – “God with us.” Hallelujah – “Praise the Lord,” us with Him. The bread and the wine is for all His children, no hierarchies to climb, no great distance to cover. We have communion with Him, seated at His Table.

Delighting in the Saints

Peter preached on the day of Pentecost about the resurrection of Jesus. He said, “God raised him [His Son] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to held by it” (Acts 2:24). Then Peter proved his point by quoting Psalm 16:8-11 and made the following application.

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:29–32)

David had the hope of eternal pleasures not just for one of his descendants, but in his descendent. This is also the hope that every believers has in Jesus.

As it says in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” These blessings were purchased for us by Christ.

Jesus is the first-fruits of those raised from the dead. When we pause around the Lord’s Table, we remember the path of life. To get on that path we believe in Him who descended from the Father, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. When we believe, we are identified with Him in life and death, with His people, and with His path. We thank Him in joy and follow His way of loving sacrifice for others.

The communion meal provides a practice place for us to rejoice in our life, in our future resurrection, and to delight the communion of saints who are on the same path.

Bread Has Never Sinned

When believers gather at the Lord’s Table, the body of Christ is represented in two loafs, the loaf of bread and the loaf of people (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). To ask which representation is more important would be to frame the question unhelpfully, as if we could do away with whichever one we deemed less important. Yet many Christians in our circles would, practically, do away with the people as long as they could have a personal ordinance experience.

Christ instituted communion. He told His disciples to keep on eating and drinking in remembrance of Him until He comes. To turn over the obvious a little bit, though, Christ did not die in order to redeem bread and wine. Bread has never sinned, neither has wine. They will be in heaven on their own merits. Christ died in order to redeem men. They too will be in heaven but only because of the merit of Christ.

Grain and grapes are gifts. We are commanded to receive them as reminders. But the reminders should make us look around at the spiritual fruit, the family of brothers and sisters with whom we share the meal.

We don’t acknowledge a common ancestry from impersonal and random elements that eventually grew legs and started to talk. We receive the truth of the Triune God who made us to share fellowship like He does and who forgave us through Christ’s sacrifice so that we could. The bread and the cup on the Table remind us what God is doing around the Table.

Hunt You Down

If you have sinned against someone, you do not need to wait for them to hunt you down. If a brother comes to talk to you, tells you your fault, and if you have sinned, then you ought to acknowledge it, seek his forgiveness, and be restored to fellowship. But confession of sin is not only a reaction when caught or confronted.

Jesus preached in Matthew 5 that a man shouldn’t even give money if he remembers that he’s sinned against someone else.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23–24)

I read an article about winnowing the givers recently, and it’s certainly not the typical approach of many ministries, or of persons who think that they can deal with guilt by giving money. Neither cash or check can cover a sinful heart. God doesn’t want even an offering unless we’ve done what we can to make it right.

Our God is a God who deals with sin and enables reconciliation. He desires worship from those who deal with sin and pursue reconciliation.

What sorts of offenses might our brother have against us? The preceding verse talks about being angry, about insulting, and ridiculing (verse 22). The list isn’t exhaustive, but it does represent hateful heart attitudes that separate us. Sin separates, and we are to pursue reconciliation with other persons before we worship, including our offering.

It Can’t Be Privatized

Paul blessed the Corinthians at the end of his second letter when he wrote, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Believers enjoy effectual favor from the Second Person of the Trinity, eternal affection from the First Person, and koinonia–fellowship–from the Third Person. God gave Himself for us, shares Himself with us, and brings us to Himself.

At the risk of oversimplification, all of these require relationship. Favor is given from the one to another, love lands on someone else, fellowship is shared between persons. We have communion by grace from love for fellowship, and it can’t be privatized.

The gospel drives us to do more than know about fellowship, it drives us into fellowship. Our liturgy each Sunday morning drives the same point. The call to worship is a call to delight in God’s presence. Our confession of sin deals with the hindrance to fellowship: sin. Christ was separated so that we could be reconciled. Our consecration includes asking Him for help because we know Him. We attend His Word because it helps us know Him better and makes us more like Him. Now we come to communion at the Lord’s Table where we have koinonia in the body of Christ and koinonia in the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). “We who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

As He invites us together to share His life, so we learn to invite one another to share life. He doesn’t do it because He is morally obligated. He does it because He loves us. We don’t share our lives because it is ethically necessary. We do it because He increases our love and it results in our unity.

MVPs at Confessing

One of the reasons that confession of sin seems so odd, even distasteful, is that we have little to no sense of togetherness.

Sin creates space between persons, whether to opposite sides of the bed, the room, the city, or the country. Adam and Eve died when they disobeyed in the garden of Eden just as God warned them. Their immediate death was a spiritual death, and that death was a loss of fellowship. Not only was the relationship damaged between them, more importantly, their relationship with God was severed. Sin causes divorce.

The apostle John wrote that when we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). That’s not all, indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son (1:3). What blocks us from Trinitarian fellowship and joy? Sin. And we all sin, so we all stumble out of the light.

What can we do?

We can confess because we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (2:1). He will forgive us and cleanse us (1:9). But that’s not all He does. He repairs the broken relationship. Sin separates but the Savior restores and unites.

Because we sin so much, because we splinter our relationships so often, you’d think that we’d be quicker to our knees and that we’d be MVPs at confessing. But we don’t. We don’t because we’re more cozy in the dark. We’re too often content at a distance from God and from one another.

Our Lord’s day worship is important because we have opportunity to clean the palate by confessing our sins. Worship is also important because it gives us a strong taste of fellowship with God as well as the intoxicating joy of harmony as an assembly. As we learn to love togetherness like the Trinity, our eternal lives won’t be the same.

Glad to Forgive and Fellowship

In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the younger son despised his father by asking for his inheritance early, then he dishonored his father by squandering the family money and the family name. After the cash ran out and he was eating the pig slop, Jesus said “he came to himself” (verse 17), headed home, and hoped that he could work for his dad as a hired servant.

We affirm his repentance. We endorse the son’s remorse. We approve the son’s confession when he said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you” (verses 18 and 21). The son knew that, even if his father showed mercy, he was no longer worthy to be treated as a son but only as a servant. We relate to this true view of sin.

We don’t relate to this true view of the Father. The greater “scandal” was the father’s grace, his compassionate reception and celebration over the son’s return. Was the son’s sin huge and horrific? Was his confession absolutely necessary? Of course. But the father didn’t want to be proven right as much as he wanted the relationship restored. He ran and embraced and kissed his son. He called for the best robe, a ring, and shoes. He threw a party, a feast for renewed fellowship.

The Pharisees and scribes (verse 2) listening to the parable related to a holy God. They hated that God was glad to forgive and fellowship with sinners.

How do you view the heavenly Father’s response to your confession? Do you see Him disappointed that you blew it again, reluctantly letting you return as a hired servant? Or does He run to receive you? Only one of those reactions is good news. The Father declares that we were lost and now we’re found, because He loves His children. He’s glad to have us back.

Calvinism as Guaranteed Fellowship

On Calvinism as a life-system, or worldview, that explains how men relate to God’s eternal purpose:

Calvinism takes its stand with a fundamental thought which is equally profound. It does not seek God in the creature, as Paganism; it does not isolate God from the creature, as Islamism; it posits no mediate communion between God and the creature, as does Romanism; but proclaims the exalted thought that, although standing in high majesty above the creature, God enters into immediate fellowship with the creature, as God the Holy Spirit. This is even the heart and kernel of the Calvinistic confession of predestination.

In other words, our enjoyment of eternal life is part of God’s eternal plan to share His eternal life with us. Among other things, His eternal life is Triune communion, and Calvinism summarizes His intent to share communion with men. This is good news, and it is the “mother thought” of all God’s “heroes and heralds.”

[P]redestination was inexorably maintained, not for the sake of separating man from man, nor in the interest of personal pride, but in order to guarantee from eternity to eternity, to our inner self, a direct and immediate communion with the Living God.

—Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 21.