The Marks Of Christian Fellowship
“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 15:13).
Today’s Epistle reading gives us a wonderful summary of the marks which should characterize Christian fellowship; Consideration, Scripture, Fortitude, Praise, Harmony, and Hope. Paul is still trying to get the Roman Christians to understand the duties to one another of those within the Christian fellowship, and especially with the duty of the stronger to the weaker brother or sister. Let’s take a look at each one of these marks of Christian fellowship.
The Christian fellowship should be marked by the consideration of its members for each other. Their thoughts should always be not for themselves but for each other. This consideration must always be designed for the good and for the upbuilding in the faith of the other person. People may be won much more easily to a fuller faith by surrounding them with an atmosphere of love than by attacking them with a battery of criticism.
Christian fellowship should be marked by the study of scripture and from that scripture Christians should draw encouragement. It gives us the record of God’s dealing with a nation, a record which is the demonstration that it is always better to be right with God and to suffer than to be right with society in order to avoid trouble. It gives us the great and precious promises of God. These promises are the promises of a God who never breaks his word. In these ways, Scripture gives to those who study it comfort in their sorrow and encouragement in their struggle.
The Christian fellowship should be marked by fortitude which is an attitude of the heart to life. It is far more than patience; it is the triumphant adequacy which can cope with life. It is the strength which does not only accept things but which, in accepting them, transforms them into glory.
The Christian fellowship should be marked by harmony. However ornate a church may be, however perfect its worship and its music, however liberal its giving, it has lost the very essential of a Christian fellowship if it has lost harmony. That is not to say that there will not be differences of opinion; it is not to say that there will be no argument and debate; but it means that those who are within the Christian fellowship will have solved the problem of living together. They will be quite sure that the Christ who unites them is far greater than the differences which may divide them.
Christian fellowship should be marked by praise. Epictetus (epic-tea-tus) said ‘What can I do, who am a little old lame man, except give praise to God?’ Christians should enjoy life because they enjoy God. A definition of Christian praise is the joyful thanking and adoring of God, the celebration of His goodness and grace. If we want to see a clear manifestation of God’s blessings and grace, all we need to do is to praise Him with all our heart, our mind, and our soul.
The Christian fellowship is marked by hope. It is not immature hope which is optimistic because it does not see the difficulties and has not encountered the experiences of life. The Christian hope has seen everything and endured everything, and still has not despaired, because it believes in God. It is not hope in the human spirit, in human goodness, in human achievement; it is hope in the power of God. When G.F. Watts drew ‘Hope’ he drew her as a battered and bowed figure with one string left upon her harp like lyre.
Back in chapter eight of Paul’s epistle to the Romans he said “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”
Paul also invokes the Holy Ghost into his discussion of the marks of Christian fellowship when he says “through the power of the Holy Ghost.” But how does the Holy Ghost come into play if these marks of Christian fellowship are inherent in each individual Christian? Recently Archbishop Robinson wrote; “In the final analysis we receive salvation because it is God who calls us to faith as part of the elect in Christ, God has called us to faith in Christ, not because of our deserving, or because of our good works, but on account of his good will towards us. As a result, God gives us the gift of faith; God gives us through Jesus Christ the gift of grace; and God brings us to salvation. Therefore every aspect of Christian salvation is dependent on God. Salvation is not something we will for ourselves, but something that is God’s will for us; therefore to God alone be the glory!” And Jesus said “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;” (John14:16). God has given us this comforter, the Holy Ghost, to be in us, to help guide and protect us so that some day we may be partakers of the salvation He has willed for us.
The essence of the matter is that the Christian fellowship takes its example, its inspiration and its dynamic from Jesus Christ. He did not please himself. When the Lord of Glory chose to serve others instead of pleasing himself, he set the pattern which everyone who seeks to be his followers must accept. Live the marks of Christian fellowship every day as Jesus Christ did. If you live your life filled with Consideration, Scripture, Fortitude, Praise, Harmony, and Hope your reward will not be in this life but in the one that follows, the salvation God himself has willed for you.
This year as in years past we will help a struggling family have a merry Christmas. For many families like this one they have prepared themselves for the reality that their Christmas will not be like that of many other people. There is no tree decorated with ornaments and lights. There are no neatly wrapped packages waiting to be opened on Christmas morning. There will be no Christmas feast with relatives and friends. Yet these families live every day expecting that one day, some day, they may experience these things that many have come to take for granted. What we can and will do for them is to make one day, Christmas Day, different from what every other day is like. Marked by our consideration of them there will be some wrapped packages waiting to be opened on Christmas morning. There may be a feast available for them and if only for a short time they are able to live a part of their dream then to paraphrase Charles Dickens; ‘It is a far, far better thing that we do, than we have ever done’.
Again the Archbishop wrote; “Not only should our faith and worship be a means of glorifying God, but every aspect of our lives. It should be constantly in our minds that our chief function as human beings is to glorify God, and if we truly accept that teaching it should encourage us to direct all our efforts in worship, in work, and in leisure in such a way as to glorify God.” This Christmas through our actions we can and will demonstrate the marks which should characterize Christian fellowship.