Fellowship: Building a Bond of Unity
"Living as a Church"Class 6
For the first few weeks of this class, we looked at some of the key building
blocks of a healthy New Testament church. We explored the essential attributes
of the church and considered how each of those fosters unity. We also thought
about how we, as individual members, can promote unity.
Over the next two weeks, we turn to a different set of questions: How should
church members relate to one another? What should their relationships look
like? What does it mean to have healthy relationships in the church? Why should
I. Love, and why it's important
So how should Christians relate to one another? What should characterize their
relationships? The Bible actually has a lot to say about this, and the answer
is pretty simple: Christians are to love.
Love One Another
Jesus gave his disciples a very clear commandment in John 13, one that sets
the entire agenda for Christian relationships. He said:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must
love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you
love one another. (John 13:34-35)
The most important thing we can say about how we are to relate to other Christians
is this: We are to love each other. Love is the key to healthy
relationships, and it is also the foundation of our unity as a body.
LoveA Display of God's Glory and Wisdom
Why is it so important for Christians to love each other? Think back to Paul's
argument in Ephesians 3. God is glorified when very different people love each
other simply because of their shared faith in Christ. In that way, we say to
the world that the gospel of Christ trumps everything elsewhether race, class,
nationality, or personal interests.
Through our love for one another, non-believers see the amazing work God has
done in us, and most importantly, they begin to see who God is and what he
intends for humanity.
LoveA Reflection of the Trinity
There's another reason that love is so important, one that is much more mysterious:
Our love for one another reflects the love that exists between the persons
of the triune God. Jesus says so in an amazing passage in John 17:22-23:
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as
we are one: I in them and you in me.
Incredible! In some mysterious way, our oneness with each other reflects God's
oneness in himselfas we seek to share the same glory and love of Christ with
each other that the Father and Son share.
Of course there's no way we'll ever understand that fully, but perhaps it's
enough simply to stand in awe of it. Our imperfect love for one another reflects,
somehow, the perfect and inexhaustible love that the Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit share together in the Godhead.
II. AN OVERVIEW OF CHRISTIAN LOVE
Before we think practically about how to love each other, let's consider some
biblical truths about Christian love.
Love is Hard Because We Are Sinners
First, love is not natural to us. We are sinners who naturally focus first
on ourselvesour own needs, our own desiresso love is hard for us. That may
be why the New Testament exhorts Christians to love each other so often:
We need the reminder over and over again!
In his book, Love in Hard Places, (pp. 52-53, 60-61) D. A. Carson
notes that, even as Christians, we still have a sin nature; and therefore we
will naturally gravitate toward our own little circle of "in people"those
whom we consider most compatible with ourselves. Even though we are called
to love one another, our flesh still yearns to divide over fleshly characteristics
like race, culture, economic status, or age. Because we are sinners, we will
always be self-focused first, and then "same-focused."
That's exactly what Christian love calls us to struggle against. When we do
God is glorified. If Christian love meant nothing more than loving those who
are in some way like you, our love would be indistinguishable from the world's
love. As Jesus said,
If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax
collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are
you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt. 5:46-47)
As a Christian, therefore, you ought to be struggling to love more broadly
than is comfortable for you. Ask God to give you grace to love people even
when it is not easy.
Our Love Flows from God's Love
1 John 4:9 says that we love one another only because God first loved us.
Now what does that mean? Is it a quid pro quo"I invited him to dinner
because he invited me?" "God loves me, so I guess I have to love someone else?"
No, of course not. What it means is that our love has its source in God's
love for us. The fact is, we could not love at all apart from his love. Our
love is not based on our own abilities. Rather, it is a response to God's unfathomable
love for us, and especially to the greatest display of that love: God gave
his only Son, so that all who believe in him would not perish, but have eternal
Loving others requires some understanding of the depth of God's love. It's
only when we grasp something of the depth of God's love that we are able to
respond in love toward others. As John put it in 1 John 3:16, "This is how
we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." So Paul prays
for the Ephesians:
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together
with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love
of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledgethat you may be
filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17-19)
Paul wanted the Ephesians to know Christ's love so that they would respond
in ever-increasing love for others. We love because he first loved us.
Love Is Empowered by the Holy Spirit
Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit's work (Gal. 5:22). We cannot suddenly
decide one morning, "You know what? I'm think I'm going to love others more
today. Here are ten ways I plan to do that."
No, Christian love is an outpouring of our hearts enabled by God's work in
our lives. "God's love," Paul says, "has been poured into our hearts through
the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom. 5:5). In fact, he says in Galatians
5:22 that "The fruit of the Spirit is love."
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonheffer puts it rightly, saying,
"When God was merciful, when He revealed Jesus Christ to us as our brother,
when He won our hearts by His love, this was the beginning of our instruction
in divine love."
Practically, this means that you should be filling your mind with thoughts
of God's incredible love for you. That's how your heart will be softened and
you'll begin to desire to love others.
- Meditate on Scripture verses that speak about what Christ did for you on
- Think of how faithful God has been in your life, both in saving you and
in sanctifying you.
- Pray that God would give you an understanding of how deep his love is,
and that your response would be to love others.
When Jesus told the parable of the ungrateful servant who wouldn't forgive
a small debt even though he had been forgiven much more, his aim was not to
make anyone feel guilty. He was explaining something very basic about the nature
of grace. When we understand how much we've been forgiven, it empowers us to
love. If we do not love, we do not understand forgiveness.
Love Brings Great Joy
Finally, fellowship with other Christians brings great joy and strength to
a believer. Psalm 133:1 says, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live
together in unity."
Paul writes to Philemon, too: "I have derived much joy and comfort from your
love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through
you" (Phil.1:7). What a wonderful picture of how love affects the Christian
heart! Philemon's love comforts Paul and refreshes the hearts of the saints.
The bond that develops between Christians who love one another is deep and
profound. Remember Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, when
the elders wept and grieved as Paul departed from them. Or think of John's
second letter, where he tells his readers that he longs to see them face-to-face
"so that our joy may be complete." Loving others in the churchand being loved
by themis one of the greatest sources of joy God has given us in this life.
III. What Does it Look Like to Love One Another?
How can we fulfill this command to love one another inside the church? What
does Scripture say to us about what love should look like?
First, Love People Who Are Not Like
God expects you to love people who are different from you. Christ's love was
indiscriminate: Though he was perfect and sinless, he chose to befriend sinful
people just like us. Think of that contrast: the One who is flawless and perfect
in every way associated with sinners and ministered to those who were the most
despised in all society.
This kind of non-discriminating love is a theme throughout the New Testament.
James 2 tells us not to show personal favoritism. And Paul exhorts us in Romans
12:16, "Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be
conceited." Therefore, form relationships with people who don't look like you,
who are not the same age as you, who are in a different stage of life from
you, or who have a different personality.
- If you're young, visit the elderly.
- If you're elderly, talk to the young.
- If you're not a child, care for the children.
- If you are a child, play with an adult.
- If you're not a teenager, help with the youth group.
- If you are a teenager, get to know someone who's not.
- If you're an extrovert, slow down and befriend an introvert.
- If you're an introvert, force yourself to talk to someoneanyone.
- If you're well-paid in your job, make a friend of someone who isn't as
- If you're not so well-paid, learn to love those who are.
- If you're White, consider whether you're inviting your Black friends into
your life in the same way you do your White friends. Do you have any Black
- If you're Hispanic, consider whether you're doing this with your Asian
friends. Do you have any Asian friends?
Second, Love Sacrificially
When Jesus died on the cross, he demonstrated a sacrificial, selfless lovea
love that was costly. As Christians, we are called to do the same.
The Bible calls us to love sacrificially in different ways and in different
relationships. In Ephesians 5:25, for example, we read this remarkable passage:
Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself
up for her.
Also, in our relationships with other members of the church, we are to love
sacrificially. Paul tells the Galatians to "carry each other's burdens" (Gal.
6:2), and in our own church covenant we promise to "bear each other's burdens
Practically this could mean a number of things. It may involve patiently bearing
with a brother or sister's spiritual struggles for a very long time. It may
mean providing material help to someone who is in need. Or it may mean giving
up a really good Friday night to visit someone who is ill.
This kind of love is not usually convenient; that's what the word "sacrificial"
means. Just as Christ has borne our sorrows, so we are called to love one anothernot
because Christ is merely an example, but because his love compels us and empowers
us to love in a way that the world will not always understand.
Third, Love By Speaking the Truth
Christian love involves constantly speaking the truths of Scripture to each
other. We love one another by reminding, encouraging, exhorting, and admonishing
one another with God's word. That's what Paul tells the Colossians: "Let the
word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in
all wisdom" (Col. 3:16).
All our relationships in the church should be marked by truth-telling. Parents
should be teaching their children through family devotions and other activities,
and husbands should be washing their wives with the water of the Word. As God's
people teach, encourage, and admonish one another in all their relationships,
the whole body matures and deepens in its faith. Thus we are drawn closer together
as a congregation, and closer to God as well.
Paul presents a beautiful picture of this in Ephesians 4:15-16:
Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is
the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together
by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part
does its work.
Sometimes this will include gently rebuking each other. Now this is something
most of us naturally shy away from because we want to avoid confrontation.
But it is the loving thing to do.
- Leviticus 19:17 instructs, "Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not
share in his guilt."
- Similarly in 2 Samuel 12:1-7, the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to confront
David for his sin and to lead him to repentance.
- James says that "If one of you should wander from the truth and someone
should bring him back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error
of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins."
Unbelief is a constant and dangerous temptation, and our love for each other
is shown in part by helping to fight it off.
How can we show this kind of love? A few suggestions:
- Pay attention to what is happening in others' lives. Do you know friends
who once seemed to be very active in the church and have now drawn back?
Give them a call to see what's going on. Pray for them specifically.
- Be willing to talk about general patterns in a brother or sister's life
that might reduce his usefulness in the Kingdompatterns such as taking a
job that would cause particular stress and tension in the family, or going
on a trip that would put him under great temptation to sin, or failing to
take advantage of an opportunity to grow spiritually. A genuine love and
concern for others will probe into these areas as well as instances of blatant
In short, view every conversation as an opportunity to encourage and edify
another member of the church. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, "do not let any
unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building
others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
Fourth, Love by Showing Humility
God expects his people to be humble with each other, just as Christ was humble
before the Father. Paul writes about this in Philippians 2:3-8:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider
others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own
interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the
same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider
equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking
the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found
in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death --
even death on a cross!
So how do we love with humility? Paul tells us in Colossians 3:13-14:
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against
one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put
on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
We love by humbly submitting to each other, considering others better than
ourselves, looking out for their interests over our own, bearing patiently
with our brothers' and sisters' faults, and forgiving them when they wrong
All this, of course, is altogether contrary to our fleshly nature, which naturally
gravitates toward pride and self-absorption. Yet still, God calls us to have
the same humble mind that was in Jesus Christ.
Fifth, Love the Whole Congregation
Scripture calls us to love the entire congregation, not just certain individuals
within it. How can we do that? What can we do that will express love to the
entire congregation? Here are four ways:
- First, pray through our church directory faithfullya page each day, for
example. If you don't know a specific need of someone, you can always pray
for them the prayers we find in the New Testament. By doing that faithfully,
you'll develop a concern for every member of the church, not just the ones
you know well.
- Second, volunteer for tasks that benefit the whole church. Run the sound
system on Sunday morning, work in the nursery, or stand at the doors and
greet people when they arrive.
- Third, build others up through discipling and teaching, so they in turn
can minister to others.
- Fourth, tithe generously. There's no getting around it. The work of the
ministry requires money, and by giving generously to the church, you are
showing a very practical kind of love to the entire congregation.
IV. CONCLUSIONLove with Kindness and Compassion.
You know, someone could do all the things we've talked about, yet still be
cold and distant from other people. You can go through the motions of love
without really loving.
Paul makes this point clearly in 1 Corinthians 13:3 when he says, "If I give
all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not
love, I gain nothing." Love is more than doing good deeds. It's more than fulfilling
a duty. Christian love is characterized by genuine affection and desire to
see others prosper.
Think for a moment about the story of Jesus and the leper in Mark 1:40-41:
A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees, "If you are
willing, you can make me clean." Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out
his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately
the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Why does Jesus touch the leper? Did he have to touch him in order to heal
him? No, Jesus healed people many times without touching them. Jesus touched
the leper to express compassion to himto show him love in a way that the leper
had probably not experienced in many years.
Pray that God would give you this same attitude, and cause you to be marked
by a Christ-like, hands-on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness.
May/June 2008, ©9Marks
For teaching this material: You are permitted
and encouraged to teach this material in any format you wish, which includes
the ability to rewrite and personalize entirely at your discretion for the
purposes of your own setting.
For reproducing in print or online: You are permitted
and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided
that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond
the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies.
For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any
exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy:
© 9Marks. Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: email@example.com. Toll Free: