Commentary by Walter Albritton


September 11, 2005


True Christian Fellowship Grows through Caring and Outreach


Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35


Key Verse: All who believed were together and had all things in common.         – Acts 2:44


          Serving as the pastor of a congregation is not all peaches and cream, but by and large it is an extraordinary privilege. It was an enormous blessing to me, my wife, and my children. I can share this testimony because for half a century I have been included in the caring community known as the fellowship of believers.

          What did that mean and what does it mean today? It means that when I was hurting, my Christian friends were there for me. When my father died, I went home to help my siblings prepare for his funeral. On the day dad was buried, I was stunned to see the church bus drive up. It was loaded with friends who had interrupted their own plans in order to share my sorrow. Tears mingled with joy as I thought, “These folks are not merely church members; they are my brothers and sisters in Christ! They are my family!”

          Was I admired and loved by every church member? Certainly not. I even deserved some of my critics. Yet the shining truth is that over the years the church was “family” to me. I cherish the word “family.” It means everything to me. When I was down, my family helped me to my feet. When I was depressed, my family refused to let me drown in my own self-pity. When I needed encouragement, my family affirmed my gifts and lifted my spirit.

          When what I needed was tough love, I got it. One morning a dairy farmer walked into my study. We were good friends. He was a respected leader in our church. He declined my invitation to sit down. I could see the serious look on his face.

          I listened intently as he began speaking. “Pastor,” he said, “You have what it takes to be one of the best pastors our church has ever had, but right now you are not giving us the leadership we need. You have too many other concerns on your agenda. I am afraid that leading our church is not your top priority. But if you are willing to make it your major concern, I am convinced you could get the job done. If you want to do that, I am ready to help you in any way I can. If not, then you may need to move on, for your good and ours.”

          Before I could reply, he knelt by my chair and prayed for me, asking the Lord to give me the grace and strength I needed to become the pastor the church needed. Brushing back my tears, I thanked him as he embraced me and went on his way.

          I sat quietly for a long time, alone with God. My friend had said exactly what I needed to hear, and he had said it in love. At the time I was “at ease in Zion.” I was marking time. Yet I knew that God wanted me to pay the price necessary to help the church catch a vision for its future. That day I decided to heed my friend’s advice.

It was a turning point in my ministry. I discarded some of my personal goals and began to focus my time and energy on giving the best pastoral care and leadership I could offer. God blessed that decision and my ministry, graciously giving me the assurance that “His hand was upon the church.” Sometimes what we all need is not a pat on the back but a kick in the seat. I have never ceased to thank God for that friend who loved me enough to give me the kick I needed.

What Doctor Luke describes is a fellowship of believers who cared about each other and looked for others they could include in their circle of love. Our mild word “fellowship” comes from a strong Greek word, “koinonia.” It has to do with having things in “common” but in the New Testament it refers to a Christ-centered community.

Satan worshipers can have fellowship. But when Christians come together in love, they are mutually committed to the Lordship of Christ and to each other. True Christian community is immeasurably different from secular fellowship that is self-centered rather than Christ-centered.

Genuine Christian community enjoys a healthy balance between outreach and the joy of the fellowship. God does not wish for us to come together merely for praise, worship, study, and sharing. While we all need the encouragement and affirmation we receive from being loved by our family members, we need also to reach out in love to others. When the fellowship is healthy, we will with one hand minister to one another while with the other hand we will show mercy to persons outside our circle.

We should pray but we must also go. I love the story of the woman who came with her children to prayer meeting at her church. The pastor had called the meeting to pray for a man whose home had been destroyed by fire. Upset that the woman’s husband had not come to pray, he asked her where he was. She replied, “He has gone to take some food and clothes to the man whose home burned.” There is a time to pray and there is a time to show mercy.

On the day I am preparing this lesson I read an inspiring testimony in The Upper Room. Margaret Stone of Mississippi shared about taking care of her mother during her final days battling with cancer. One day she arrived home to find her kitchen sparkling clean. A neighbor had cleaned it after bringing potato soup for her mother. This simple act of love allowed Margaret precious time to sit down and visit with her mother.

Margaret observed, “If we are open to serve, God will direct us to where we are needed, at the right time and place.” She is right. When we who follow Christ truly come “together” in His caring community, when our hearts beat as one, then our Lord will indeed show us where we are needed – at the right time and place!

Thank God for the fellowship of believers where folks like us can live together, serve together, reach out together, and with one heart and soul invite others to share life in this blessed community!

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