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Sep 24, 2023

The Cost of Fellowship

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Life Together

Keywords: forgiveness, fellowship, patience, peaceability


This last message in the Fellowship series looks at the need every believer has to make some commitments about peace, forgiveness, patience, etc. that, if absent, will kill anyone's fellowship and damage the corporate fellowship.


The Cost of Fellowship

#3 in the Life Together Series—Fall 2023

September 24, 2023


Left off last week doing what both is and leads to deeper fellowship:  PRAYING for one another.  Let’s pick it up there again this week and start our time in the Word with obedience to this command that creates something uniquely Christian—fellowship that enables us to experience more of Christ’s life in real-time right here.

            Fellowship is not one of those biblical topics you can simply study or talk about and then go on with your life.  Christian fellowship is deeply action-oriented.  It is the very experiencing of Christ’s life among ourselves.  Hence, it must be active in order to actually be present.  So that is why we are beginning our study today with active obedience to the call of fellowship.

[Take 60 seconds for silent prayer for 2 other brothers/sisters in the body:

  • The brother/sister you asked earlier, “What do you need prayer for this week?”
  • Someone else in the body God brings to your attention to pray for.

Q1:  How many of us got to choose our birth or adoptive family?  [Zero?]

Q2:  How many of us had conflict, argument, hurts and hang-ups in our birth or adoptive or foster families?  [All!]

            As we mentioned in the first week of this series, one the New Testament’s favorite descriptions/analogies/metaphors for the church is “the family of God”.  God is purposeful when He chooses images and metaphors.  He’s well aware that there has not been a single perfect family in human history.  He knows better than any of us how terribly dysfunctional families are due to sin.  But He still uses and chooses family to be THE primary development tool for every human being and for godly children He longs for.  

So let us move to the same questions about your divine, spiritual family in Christ: 

Q1:  Why do you suppose we didn’t get to choose who God put in his forever family, the church?

Q2:  Anyone here who has been a part of a church for more than a year NOT had a few conflict, arguments, hurts and hangups in your experience with God’s people? 

            As we study further what God calls us to in Christian fellowship with each other, I want to start with this truth:  The Church is a divine, not an ideal, reality.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book from which I’ve taken the title for this series, Life Together, has some wonderfully shocking one-liners that hit the reader between the ears.

“God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law … acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way … he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.” (pp27-28)  From a review of D. Bonhoeffer’s Life Together by Andrew Prideaux found on 9.22.2023 at https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/book-review/review-d-bonhoeffer-life-together/

This is perhaps one of the dominant diseases of American Christians today. 

God calls us to love and have Christ-infused fellowship with people who, like us, are far from ideal or even mature.  We are like every family—siblings at different maturity levels, often immature, underdeveloped, bothersome, juvenile, irritating and, yes, even hurtful.  Just as people who demand perfection of their spouse or parents or children are making daily down-payments on family resentment, so Christ-followers who have some visionary ideal of the church and demand that they never be offended or hurt or slighted or sinned against in the church are assuring that they will be judgmental, proud grumblers about the family of God. 

At best they will go from one local church to another, always finding something worth breaking fellowship over and always setting their standard of “church” up as THE standard by which they feel entitled to judge all other believers.  Still worse, many of them will drop out of church altogether, believing the lie that it is better for them to hold in isolation to their misguided ideal image of “church” rather than embrace in divine community the reality God has created.  

ILL:  Encountering recently a former classmate from Christian high school and church.  When I found out he had dropped out of church fellowship for the last 45 years, I asked him why.  His excuse was something that had happened to both of us.  He said it was because a married Associate Pastor with a family of 4 kids in a church we were both in was found to have been grooming and engaging with a same-sex attracted teenager in his youth group.  I worked under this man.  I unknowingly counseled the young man he was grooming.  I was shocked, revolted and repulsed by what this spiritual leader did.  But even in my ignorant youth, I chose not to hold an ideal of our imperfect spiritual family, the church.  It was not the first nor anywhere near the last shocking disappointment I would have about church.

The only way any one of us can escape disillusionment and abandonment of church is to make a decision to love fellowshipping with Jesus in the church more than we love holding onto our own disappointment about the church. 

Last week we started looking at some of the more central commands in the N.T. to engage with one another in certain Christ-experiencing ways that will lead us into what the Bible calls uniquely “Christian fellowship.”  Holding to a “visionary ideal of community” will lead us directly into massive disobedience of virtually every one of the nearly 60 commands to engage in family life together

APP:  Would you make a commitment to God today?  Will you tell Him that no matter how poorly your brothers or sisters act or behave, you will not abandon Him by abandoning His family?  As Father, He has promised never to abandon us, never leave us, never forsake us.  And He has commanded us to live towards our imperfect spiritual family members just as He does. 

            So let’s dive into a few more of those Christ-experiencing fellowship commands found in God’s word. 

Romans 15:7 (NIV)—“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

            Christ-experiencing fellowship demands Christ-like acceptance of each other.  It will cost us, but never as much as it cost Jesus to accept us.  It will be painful, but never as painful as it was for Jesus.  It will require that we forgive, love, be patient with and show grace towards our imperfect brothers and sisters…but never to anywhere near the depth or breadth which our Brother Jesus has and continues to live towards all of us. 

Christ-experiencing fellowship will require that we accept people we would rather walk away from.  It will require we keep coming back and back and back with people we would rather write off.  It will require that we experience and embrace day after day the acceptance Jesus has for us in order to be able to have any of His life in us that longs for them to experience His acceptance through us. 

ILL:  John 13—Jesus washing the disciples feet.

  • Demanded servant-level humility: taking the role and actions of a slave before people very inferior, very immature, very selfish.  
  • 14-- Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. Jesus clearly was not concerned about the hygiene issue of foot washing.  He was calling his followers to the heart and attitude he was modeling.  
  • Doing what is needed to cleanse others of their dirt and defilement in this world takes the character of Christ. There is so much in this very simple act Jesus did that beckons to us.  From love and humility to teaching and exhorting, this “one another” models more than almost any others what Christ-like fellowship looks like. 

And one of the most needed characteristics of fellowship with Christ is forgiveness. 

  • Jesus forgave even before one of them betrayed This demonstration of what fellowship must involve between Christ-followers happened while Judas was still there.  And Jesus washed his feet.  Knowing that Judas valued his life no more than 30 pieces of silver, he offered him forgiveness knowing what was already in Judas’ heart. 
  • Jesus forgave before Peter, James & John fell asleep when Jesus had asked them to pray at his time of greatest need.
  • Jesus forgave all 11 before they would abandon him in the Garden that very night.
  • Jesus forgave Peter who would deny 3 times even knowing Him, once with curses, that very night.

Jesus showed them all, as no one had ever done in their life that fellowship demands forgiveness…over and over and over again.

Someone recently reminded me of an excellent book for every believer by John Bevere called The Bait of Satan—Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense.  Bevere correctly identifies what any seasoned pastor knows is reality—that Christians holding onto offenses by not regularly practicing Christ-like forgiveness is THE most common and prevalent sin destroying fellowship in marriages, in families, in Christian friendships and in church. 

            Offendedness is the “spirit of the age.”  And our children are being taught a whole new evil level of it.  We are being told in our educational system that you are either the “oppressor or the oppressed.”  The more you have been offended in life, the more you deserve to lord it over other groups of people, whether or not you have been personally offended by the people in that group.

  • Women are taught to be offended by men.
  • LGBTQ+ alphabet people are taught to be offended by heterosexuals.
  • Blacks, Hispanics and first-nation folks are taught to be offended by whites and Asians.
  • People in middle and lower socio-economic standing are taught to be offended by the upper socio-economic class.
  • Secularists are taught to be offended by Christians, Jews and Muslims.
  • I would dare say even Christians are expecting to be offended by anyone who isn’t.

These are just public expressions of far more frequent private offense-building that Satan loves to bait every human being into.  As millions daily take the bait, they self-administer the poison of bitterness, offendedness and resulting isolation, arrogance and self-centeredness.

If the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t clear enough about us needing to forgive in order to experience God’s forgiveness, God underscores that forgiveness of one another is required for continued Christ-experiencing fellowship in the family of God twice in the Epistles.

  • Ephesians 4:32-- Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
  • Colossians 3:13-- Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Just to be clear, the purpose for forgiveness is two-fold:

  • To free us from bitterness and hard-heartedness that comes with unforgiveness.
  • To restore us to a better relationship with those who have offended us.

The former is within our control.  The latter is not.  But if there is repentance on the part of those we need to forgive, then restoration of an even better fellowship will be the fruit…unless we haven’t truly forgiven. 


  • Who are you having difficulty accepting in your spiritual family as they are?
  • What forgiveness needs to take place in your heart before you ever try to work on reconciliation?
  • What reconciliation needs work on your part?

The last part of this message I want to focus on a sort of ‘package’ of “one-anothers” that, in my understanding, all flow together in one command:  “Be at peace with one another.”

Discussing what love looks like in action in Romans 12:18, Paul calls the church to, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

We all probably know the difference between living in a home that is “at peace” and one that is “in conflict.”  A home ‘at peace’ is one you want to return to over and over again.  It is a home that holds rest and refuge.  It’s a group of people you like to hang out with and prefer probably to even parties or entertainment. 

1 Thessalonians 5:13—in the context of encouraging the church to heed and listen to their spiritual leaders who “exhort” them to Christ-like living, Paul repeats this command, “Live in peace with each other.”  Peaceable fellowship is not relationships without tensions.  It isn’t family without parents who correct and guide and discipline.  You can’t have peace in a sinful world without someone ‘keeping the peace’ as we say about law enforcement.  Living in biblical peace means that God’s nature and goodness dominate over our sinfulness and selfishness.  In the church, it isn’t the power of force or the threat of punishment that motivates.  It is the teaching of God’s word and the calling of the Holy Spirit that is to lead us into peace.  But every time we are challenged to move out of sin and into the life of Christ, we have a choice whether or not to live peaceably with each other or to grow rigid and be at odds with one another. 

            Interestingly, the first use of this one-another is in Mark 9:50 where Jesus is talking about dealing with sin in a radical, decisive way in our lives.  Then He moves directly to the call to “be salt” in this world.  We can certainly assume that also means among ourselves in the church.  In fact, Jesus just mentioned being “salted with fire” as a means of burning away our sinful tendencies.  Clearly, if we are being what we should be to one another in calling each other out of sinful life apart from Christ and into righteous life in Christ, there will be a little salt flying around!

Mark 9:50--“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

            Learning to live peaceably with one another is not the absence of difficult things or even of tension.  But it will be the absence of things that the Bible says will happen if we don’t learn to live with one another in the humble, peaceable mind of Christ.  Here is a short list of the negative ‘one-anothers’ we must avoid in order to experience the positive fellowship ‘one-anothers.’

  • James 4:11—“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.” The rest of the verse indicates that slander is clearly sitting in judgment of another believer more than the law of God judges them.  “Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.”
  • James 5:9— Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
  • Galatians 5:15— If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
  • Romans 14:13— Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

What we are warned against here is what happens when we do not choose to “live peaceably” with one another. 

            As I mentioned a moment ago, living peaceably doesn’t mean the absence of positive tension.  I would differentiate between “positive” and “negative” tension:

  • Positive Tension: the kind of healthy push-pull that should frequently happen between people with different gifts, different personalities, different cultural backgrounds, different sexes, different experiences, etc.
  • Negative Tension: the kind of push-pull that leads to division, conflict, distance, offense, immovable positions, belief that you are 100% right and the other party is 100% wrong, etc. 

Illustrations of Positive Tension:

  • Putting a new head on a drum. It must be tightened and pulled from every opposite quadrant in an equal fashion.  Without tension there will be no clear, good sound.
  • A church leadership team with very different gifts: faith verses wisdom and administration, mercy verses exhortation, teaching verses shepherding, grace verses truth.

In a mature, truly Christ-dominated team of leaders, everyone will so love, respect and seek to honor the other team members that very strong disagreements will not lead to negative conflict that will hamstring forward progress or, worse yet, produce a church split or fracture. 

            Without positive tension, we will never rise to the level of maturity Christ has for us.  We will never achieve the kind of ministry and effectiveness God wants us to have as a church.  But with positive tension, we will experience things that far surpass an environment of ‘no tension’ whatsoever. 

Illustrations of Negative Tension:

  • Differences of theology that lead to church splits, isolation in denominations and theological arrogance.
  • Marital tension that doesn’t drive a couple to their knees before God and to loving humility and mutual submission before each other.
  • International tension.

Dietrick Bonhoeffer had this to say about what happens when we are not humble and mature enough in Christ to experience life together that calls us into flexibility and appreciation of our differences.  He does so in the context of talking about how true Christ-like fellowship constantly calls us into various “ministries.”  But these are not the “ministries” we usually think of in a church.  They are ministries such as “the Ministry of Holding One’s Tongue,” “the Ministry of Meekness,” “the Ministry of Listening,” “the Ministry of Helpfulness,” and “the Ministry of Bearing,”--all important parts of life together. As he reminds his readers:

“God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom from me God made this person in His image…To me the sight may seem strange, even ungodly. But God creates every man in the likeness of His Son, the Crucified. After all, even that image certainly looked strange and ungodly to me before I grasped it.” (p93)

Or again …

“Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them…he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.” (pp97-98)