Fellowship Practice According to the Scriptures (2)
We continue our survey of the Biblical principles of fellowship. Following the pattern found in several New Testament letters, last month’s article focused on the doctrinal basis for our fellowship practice and this month we turn to the powerful exhortations that follow from these principles.
Our Christadelphian fellowship is truly different from that which is common in most other communities. There is a strong sense of family, a closeness that most of us have experienced, especially when we travel amongst our brethren. We welcome them into our hearts and homes no matter where they come from, and we have visited in their homes in all parts of the world, language and cultural differences notwithstanding. There is a shared feeling that we are all working together in our Father’s vineyard. Whether it is the work involved in performing our ecclesial activities, or the more personal efforts directed at ourselves as we seek to mold our characters into our Lord’s example, we are all fellowshipping in these tasks. God’s work is our common calling.
VI. One hope of your calling
We recall Paul’s exhortation, “I… beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called… even as you are called in one hope of your calling” (Eph 4:1, 4). Being a child in God’s family has serious implications for us and our spiritual careers, the vocations to which we have been called.
In the Bible, trade guilds use familial language to describe their leaders and members:
Guilds are called “families”: “the families of the house of them that wrought fine linen” (1Chr 4:21).
The founder of a guild, its current head, and its master craftsmen are each called “father”: “Jubal: he was the father [i.e., founder of the guild] of all such as handle the harp and organ” (Gen 4:21); “Joab, the father [i.e., head] of the valley of Charashim <02798: craftsmen>; for they were craftsmen <02791 cheresh>” (1Chr 4:14); and “Now I have sent a skillful man, endowed with understanding, Huram my master craftsman [literally, father]… skilled to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, purple and blue, fine linen and crimson, and to make any engraving and to accomplish any plan which may be given to him” (2Chr 2:13, 14 NKJV; cf. Tanakh), that is, the King of Tyre sent no mere journeyman to work on Solomon’s temple, but a highly skilled master, perhaps even the head of the profession (compare Bezaleel and Aholiab, Exod 31:1-6; 35:30-35).
The members or apprentices of the guild are called “sons”: “Next unto him repaired Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, of the goldsmiths. Next unto him also repaired Hananiah the son [i.e., apprentice] of one of the apothecaries… After him repaired Malchiah the goldsmith’s son [i.e., apprentice]” (Neh 3:8, 31).
The same familial terminology is used of a school of prophets (1Sam 10:1, 5-13; 1Kgs 13:11-15, 20:35; 2Kgs 2:3-7, 12, 15; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:12; Amos 7:14).
The Bible has other examples of such family professions: Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3), the son of a carpenter (Matt 13:55); James and John the sons of Zebedee followed their father’s craft of fishing (Mark 1:19-20).
“Apprenticeship was in fact analogous to adoption: the verb ekdidosthai is used for both.”1 To join a guild was to become an “adopted son” of its “father”.
Even today, trade unions and guilds are often referred to as brotherhoods; for example, International Brotherhood of Steelworkers, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (i.e., Truck Drivers), and Brotherhood of Police Officers. The Mathematics Genealogy Project is documenting the “family tree” for those who have doctorate degrees in mathematics: advisors are parents and their students are children in the tree.
In a natural family, the Jewish father is expected to teach his son, especially the Torah and the history of God’s salvation of Israel (e.g., Exod 12:26-27; 13:8-10; Deut 4:5, 9-10; 6:1, 7, 20-25; 11:19; 32:7, 46; Psa 78:1-8; Prov 1:8; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1). The same is true in a trade guild: the “father”, a master craftsman, trains his “sons”, the apprentices and journeymen learning the craft. Jesus alludes to this growth of a master’s disciples, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master” (Luke 6:40). Moreover, this emphasis on training is also true of God’s family guild: “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa 54:13).
Jesus was the Son of God, so Jesus was his Father’s apprentice:
“Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel” (John 5:19-20).
“Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him. They understood not that he spake to them of the Father. Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. As he spake these words, many believed on him” (John 8:25-30).
Jesus was God’s apprentice: the Son could do nothing of himself, but what he saw the Father do; he was taught by his Father everything that he needed to know in order to finish the works that had been assigned to him. These works were the works of the One who sent him:
“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
“But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17).
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:1-4).
Jesus finished these works that God had assigned him to do, and by doing so he turned in his masterpiece and so became the master craftsman in God’s family guild:
“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4).
“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:28-30; cf. Gen 2:1-3; Exod 39:32; 40:33; Psa 22:31).
In like manner, we have been called to be part of God’s family guild: we are sons of God, taught by God to do His work:
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
“Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:43-47).
“But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another” (1Thess 4:9).
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2Tim 3:16-17).
Our Statement of Faith, valuable as it is, must be understood to be more than a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied. God’s Word instructs us in His ways. We are called to be His children, following His commandments. Repeatedly the Bible tells us that God’s teachings must be believed, and that beyond mere acknowledgment, they must be lived.
Paul uses familial language to describe his relationship to his disciples. He writes to the Corinthians, “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1Cor 4:14-16), and to the Thessalonians, “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory” (1Thess 2:11-12). He calls: Timothy “my beloved son” (1Cor 4:17), “my own son in the faith” (1Tim 1:2), “my dearly beloved son” (2Tim 1:2), and “my son” (2Tim 2:1); Titus “mine own son after the common faith” (Titus 1:4); and Onesimus “my son” (Philemon 10). Peter calls Marcus “my son” (1Pet 5:13). Similarly, in the Kingdom Age, Christ shall be called “the everlasting Father” (Isa 9:6), “a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah” (Isa 22:21), “Behold I and the children which God hath given me” (Heb 2:13; cf. Isa 8:18).
Being in God’s family guild means that we need to be doing God’s work, the good works we have been created for:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5:16)
“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2Cor 9:8).
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Col 1:9-11).
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:13-14).
“Now the God of peace… Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (Heb 13:20, 21).
Jesus gives a simple definition of his true family: “My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it” (Luke 8:21). In short, being in God’s family means being in God’s family guild, hearing His word, and doing it. This is the true meaning of fellowship, of being true Christadelphians.
VII. One spirit
We recall Paul’s exhortation:
“I… beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is… one Spirit” (Eph 4:1-4).
Transforming our minds so that we think and act like Christ is the key to effective fellowship. Like the Word made flesh, we must reflect the Word of God in our lives. This is the essence of the fruit of the Spirit:
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest… of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith [faithfulness, fidelity], meekness, temperance [self-control]: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal 5:22-26; cf. Rom 8).
The fruit of the Spirit are the watchwords of fellowship: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness/fidelity, meekness, and self-control.
We are to be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind, not thinking more highly of ourselves than appropriate, counting others better than ourselves:
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ.” (Phil 2:1-5).
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom 12:3).
We are to take on the mind of Christ, becoming last of all, servant of all, submitting to one another:
“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it… If a man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 8:34b-35; 9:35).
“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph 5:21).
“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (1Pet 3:8-9).
In our society, accepting that we must submit to others is extremely difficult. The culture we live in tells us that we must stand up for ourselves, we must demand our rights, that submitting is for fools and the weak. In addition, there are many misconceptions about self-denial. In contrast, the Scriptures are clear: submission is the key to true self-fulfillment.
The repetition of these ideas—loving others, foregoing our rights, seeking the benefit of others, following the example of Christ — emphasizes their importance:
Love thy neighbor (Lev 19:18; Matt 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:7-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8; Matt 5:43-44).
Love one another as Jesus has loved us, by which we shall be known as his disciples (John 13:34-35).
Love without hypocrisy (Rom 12:9-18 NKJV).
All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets (Matt 7:12).
Forego our “rights” to promote the progress of the gospel (1Cor 9:1-12; 2Thess 3:7-9).
Become servants to all, for the gospel’s sake (1Cor 9:19-23).
Seek the benefit of others, please all men (1Cor 10:23-24, 31-33).
Live not unto ourselves, but unto Christ (1Cor 5:14-15; Gal 2:20).
Constrained by the love of Christ (2Cor 5:14).
Please not ourselves, receive one another (Rom 15:1-9).
Follow the example of Christ (Mark 10:42-45; John 13:3-5, 12-17; Eph 5:1-2; Phil 2:5; 1Pet 2:21).
This collection of exhortations indicate that the new commandment, to love one another, and the golden rule, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, are the essence of true fellowship.
Reflecting these spiritual characteristics is the key to peace:
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom 12:18).
“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Rom 14:19).
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Col 3:15).
“For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1Pet 3:10-12).
Understanding and obeying fellowship principles according to the Scriptures is essential for our community today. These principles can be summarized as follows:
Fellowship is a collection of covenant relationships, of mutual interactions with our heavenly Father, His son, and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Fellowship is based on a common set of agreed Scriptural first principles.
Fellowship is an ecclesia’s responsibility to implement for its members.
Fellowship excludes those who do not share the same Scriptural first principles.
Fellowship excludes those who do not walk after the commandments of Christ.
Fellowship between ecclesias is a corporate responsibility that requires recognizing all ecclesias that follow the same doctrines and practices, and necessarily excludes those that do not.
May the God of peace bless us, and keep us; may His face shine upon us; may He be gracious unto us. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon us, and give us peace. Amen.
The Tidings Publishing Committee
1. C. H. Dodd, “A Hidden Parable in the Fourth Gospel,” chapter 3 of More New Testament Studies, p. 33.