Most everyone has played with Legos, either our own or those of our children or grandchildren. Philip Nation points out the genius of the engineering of Legos, as the blocks connect and tie together to become creative, beautiful, and functional objects because they connect! It’s not pushing the comparison too far to say that they are able to connect with other blocks because of something that first happened to the individual Lego block. Christians are made to connect and be with other Christians, but first, something must happen in our hearts that prepares us for and gives us the capacity to experience this deep, beautiful, meaningful connection to others.
Matthew 22:36–39 (ESV) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Love is not possible for the unredeemed heart – at least not the deepest, most real form of love for God and for our neighbors. Sin shattered everything, including our capacity for love. Fellowship, for the unredeemed sinner, is no longer natural – isolation is natural. So people live daily in spiritual and social isolation.
Only as Christ invades our lives can we begin to experience the beauty of what God has engineered in us for our joy and His Glory. When I am in fellowship with God, I can be in fellowship with others of His children. But, as sin blocks and dominates my fellowship with Christ, it robs me of even desiring fellowship with other Christians.
It is easy to see why Philip Nation categorizes fellowship as a spiritual discipline. Fellowship takes effort! Fellowship is a matter of choice and will. Fellowship must be developed as a habit of our lives, because sin makes it more natural to run and hide and deceive one another than it does to long to be with one another in Christian love.
Ephesians 4:14–16 (ESV) so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Paul explains what the relationships we have with others in Christ’s church are to be. Isolation is never a viable option for the Christian. Note, too, this is a part of our maturity – our growing up as men and women redeemed by the savior. It is both a sign that we are “working properly” as a part of what God is building and it is a sign of God’s love freely working in and through us. Philip Nation rightly points out that yours is a personal faith, but not a private faith. Those two things are very different. No one can walk with the Lord for you, but as you walk with the Lord, He will put others alongside you.
So, what does this suggest, especially to those of us who are natural introverts and seek ways to be alone and avoid crowds? It is a call to exercise discipline to pursue something we know we need and is ultimately for our good, though we naturally resist it. There are unending stories of people who now love to walk or run, but who used to think of exercise as the last thing they wanted to use time and energy doing. How many foods do you enjoy, even crave, that you once said you’d never eat? For many of us, we resisted what we had never even tried!
Yes, for introverts, the discipline of fellowship can be a struggle. For extroverts, your challenge is to go beyond and deeper than your natural abilities to talk to people non-stop. Biblical fellowship for you will be a challenge to go deeper and to be quiet in the presence of others, encouraging them to talk while you truly listen to what they are saying.
To me, one of Nation’s great statements comes on page 113 where he says, “The antidote to all of our selfish sins of hiding from the world is to imitate the radical generosity of Christ.” Don’t miss his call to Christian hospitality. This is another area where the outgoing have an easier time of it than the quiet ones, but to be fully Christ-like, I must discipline myself and learn and practice being generous with my time, home, food, and all of God’s gifts to me. Christ’s generosity will always result in missional discipleship, as we live and serve together to advance the Gospel in the world. Quoting C.S. Lewis, Nation reminds us that we have never talked to a “mere mortal.” And, if you listen closely, you can hear the influence of his friend Henry Blackaby when he says “You have never met someone accidentally.” If you ever read “Experiencing God”, you’ll recall Blackaby’s memorable teaching about how our days are full of “divine appointments.”
PRAYER: Father, thank you for not leaving me in isolation from you. Thank you for your radical generosity – for your willingness to forgive and be merciful to me. Help me and our church to pursue fellowship with you and with your people.