Welcome to Linger Longer, our mini-course on the spiritual disciplines. We've spent the past few weeks talking about quiet time routines, studying the Bible, and learning to pray. If you're new to the series, you might want to visit those posts first.
The framework that we're using for our conversation is drawn from David Mathis' book, Habits of Grace, which I highly recommend. This week, we'll be talking about the third and final category of spiritual disciplines: Belonging to God's Body through the Fellowship of the Church.
I love that Mathis includes church in his discussion on spiritual disciplines. So often, our conversations about these things focus inward, on the self, but the church plays a vital role in our spiritual health and growth. We're not meant to be lone little Christians living out our faith in isolation. We were made for community, and we find it in the fellowship of the local church.
Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (ESV)
The Christian life isn't a solitary life. No matter how hard you try, you can’t do it on your own...you need the community of faith. If you want to grow in godliness, you have to find a local church and go all in. When we talk about church here at Muscadine Press, we're talking about the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), a partnership of people who are committed to serving, worshiping, and doing life together for the sake of the gospel.
The church is for us, but it's also for others. Mathis says that fellowship "is an electric reality in the New Testament, an indispensable ingredient in the Christian faith, and one of God's chief means of grace in our lives." But as wonderful as it is for us as individuals, we should always remember that the church also has a purpose: to know Christ and make him known. We're pulled together by our common faith and held together by the grace of God that we might draw others in.
Like any other family, we sometimes mess up and hurt each other and make mistakes. We don't always get it right, but when we do, it's a beautiful sight to behold.
Earlier, we said that the church is a community of people committed to serving, worshiping, and doing life together, all for the sake of the gospel. Let's take a closer look at those three things now.
Service. The church doesn’t exist just so we can have a place to go on Sunday mornings. The church has a purpose: we are called to be on mission for Christ. So what’s the mission? It’s twofold: first to share the gospel and make disciples, and second to empower and strengthen individual believers. Many churches are stronger in one of these missions than the other, but both are important.
Worship. We were made to celebrate God’s goodness in the company of the redeemed, not just now, but forever. Have you ever thought about what heaven will be like? We’re headed for an eternity of praise with the masses of all believers throughout time, and in church, we get to practice it while we’re on earth. When we worship with the body of believers, we lift up our voices in praise, regularly sit under the instruction of sound biblical teaching, remember Christ’s death and resurrection when we take the Lord’s supper, respond to God’s goodness by giving tithes and offerings, and so much more.
Life Together. As you grow in godliness, you’ll start to think less of yourself and more of other people. You’ll start wondering: How can I share the love of Christ with others? How can I help bear the burdens of my brothers and sisters in Christ? In the community of the church, we come alongside one another in ordinary life.
Outside the church building, we watch ballgames together, eat dinner together, and celebrate birthdays together. When one of us stumbles, we pull together and walk into the mess to lift them up. When one of us has a reason to celebrate, we all have a reason to celebrate, and when one of us has a reason to mourn, so do the rest of us. We cheer each other on and push one another forward to be the people that God has created us to be.
When we do fellowship well, the outside world sits up and takes notice because it's so unlike what passes for normal these days. In a world that's increasingly self-centered and individualistic, it's countercultural to love one another enough to do life together in this way, but it's worth it. It is, after all, the way that Jesus said we would be known: by the love we have one for another.
Whether you're new to the Christian life or a seasoned believer, there's always room to grow, and I hope and pray that the past few weeks have refreshed and encouraged you in your walk with Lord.
May God use these habits of grace to empower and strengthen you for the life he has set before you. May you grow to know, love and serve the Lord day in and day out. May you know, deep in the fibers of your being, the joy that comes from faithfully hearing God’s voice, having God’s ear, and belonging to his body. Amen and Amen.
Until next time, grace and peace.
January 8 // Linger Longer: One Day at a Time
January 15 // Linger Longer: Hear God's Voice (Word)
January 22 // Linger Longer: Have God's Ear (Prayer)
January 29 // Linger Longer: Belong to God's Body (Fellowship)
Believing that God's love is better than life is the kind of thing that's easy when life goes sideways, because there really are situations when life on earth is so bad that to die and be with Jesus would be a mercy. But what about when the opposite is true? When everything is going great? When life is just as you imagined and all your wildest dreams are coming true? Is God's love better even still?