What are they based on.
Some years ago I went out to dinner with some Christian friends - in fact a lot of Christian friends - it was a great night one that will stand in our memories probably for the rest of our lives.
I have vivid memories of laughter and happiness - jokes and frivolity and good friendships based on our mutual love for Christ and our openness to one another.
Since that night some of us have gone on to serve God in various places - at least one has died others have become Pastors - formed ministries or just been faithful to God where they are another - the life of the party that night - in fact has broken up his family through adultery.
One of the great words that floats around the Christian church is fellowship it is a word that is used to describe deep relationships between people - it can be just as easily used in relation to the kind of relationship between people in say the red Cross or a Rugby club - Fellowship is not a particularly Christian phenomenon - it is part of being human.
I guess we could see some Maori people here on this plain some three hundred years ago gathered around an umu with a Moa cooking in it enjoying fellowship.
As a Christian church we need to ask what are is particularly profound about our time together our fellowship.
The book of Romans in the bible is a marvelous book and has had a profound effect on many people over many years -
It is helpful to look at one or two examples because it is these examples that give us some insight into what is unique about our Christian fellowship:-
On May 24th, 1738, a discouraged missionary went very unwillingly to a religious meeting in London. There a miracle took place. About a quarter before nine, he wrote in his journal, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
That missionary was John Wesley. The message he heard that evening was the preface to Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. Just a few months before, John Wesley had written in his journal: I went to America to convert the Indians, but Oh! who shall convert me? That evening in Aldersgate Street, his question was answered. And the result was the great Wesleyan Revival that swept England and transformed a nation.
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans has changed the lives of many. Augustine. Luther, John Bunyan and Wesley all trace their conversions to encounters with God’s truth in this letter. Countless other less famous men and women have encountered God in mighty ways through Romans.
There is something of an x factor in the book of Romans that locates the core of the Christian faith - the "x" factor is of course the cross and whatever it is that binds us together in fellowship obviously revolves around the cross of Jesus Christ
As Paul says in:-
1CO 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
I used to be involved with the Southland vintage car club - we used to drive around Southland and other places in our 1928 Studebaker commander 8 car and people would wave to us and come and talk with us about the cars they used to own, but they weren’t part of it.
There was something to do with enthusiasm about old cars that kept us together as a bit of an oddity in those days. Some would have called it foolishness.
But there was something about preserving history and enjoying history that we considered quite important away back then.
Of course the cross of Jesus is far more important - but a similar principal applies - it is foolishness to those who don’t understand on it but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
This morning I would like to talk of what Paul reveals in Romans chapter one that are the basis of Christian fellowship.
I want to begin in the most difficult place which is the last part of Romans:-
The heading in my New International Version of the bible is headed:-
God’s wrath against Mankind.
RO 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
It is impossible to read this passage without experiencing some sense that it is possible to become subject to God’s wrath or anger.
Two matters are quoted as being the cause of wrath to God.
Godlessness and wickedness.
Godlessness is the failure of people to give God His place in our lives.
In Paul’s day and often in the world today people made their own God’s - as Paul says they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles - it seems to me that the vacuum that people do this stuff in is often caused by deciding that God is not to be taken seriously
We cannot spend much time on this here but if we look at :-
DT 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.
DT 6:10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you--a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant--then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Here God looks forward to the prosperity that Israel was going to enjoy and warns against complacency coming when all begins to go well for them.
This is a danger that New Zealand society is running today - as prosperity increases people often think that they have done it themselves.
The words "He is a self made man." Epitomizes this for me.
That is why it is so important that as a Christian community we come together once a week to celebrate God’s love and to refocus on him at Church. There we obey God’s command to remember the Sabbath and to keep it Holy.
Watchman Nees says - We each have some particular sin which easily entangles us. Some are troubled by this sin, while others are caused to fall by that sin. Some cannot overcome pride, some cannot overcome jealousy, some cannot overcome ill temper, some cannot overcome the world, and some cannot overcome the lusts of the flesh.
I have frequently mentioned in the past that the secret of victory is trust and obey. Any weakness at any point in obedience will undeniably weaken one’s faith and consequently incur God’s wrath or anger.
Failure to pay due attention to godliness or righteousness is in fact to incur God’s wrath to remove oneself from our place with God.
As Paul goes on to say in Romans - The wages of sin is death.
A fellow skeptic once asked the famous atheist Voltaire if he would speak some words of comfort to a friend who was dying. Voltaire responded, "I don’t think I can do that. The thought that there might really be a hell plagues me continually."
Life is from God.
God is life.
So whenever we get a sense of well being we need to acknowledge that what we are enjoying is the life that god has given us - to sin is to cut ourselves off from life.
The wages of sin is death that is removal from the source of life - God himself.
It seems to me that all discussions about God’s wrath come back to this point that God’s wrath - judgment and Hell come back to personal choice - Any discussions about God’s judgment that picture God as a harsh judge omit the fact that God is the source of life, love and all things good and they ignore the fact that if we personally ignore God or rebel against him we position ourselves outside the place of God’s love. David Yarbrough
Many years ago a man conned his way into the orchestra of the emperor of China although he could not play a note. Whenever the group practiced or performed, he would hold his flute against his lips, pretending to play but not making a sound. He received a modest salary an enjoyed a comfortable living. Then one day the emperor requested a solo from each musician. The flutist got nervous. There wasn’t enough time to learn the instrument. He pretended to be sick, but the royal physician wasn’t fooled. On the day of his solo performance, the impostor took poison and killed himself. The explanation of his suicide led to a phrase that found its way into the English language: "He refused to face the music." (Just Like Jesus; Max Lucado) Today you can pretend to be a part of God’s orchestra by just blending in with the crowd and going through the motions. No one notices here, because you say the right things, go to the right places, and hang out with the right people. And you can enjoy the comfort of being accepted by the crowd of your choice. But there will come a day when you must face the music, one day you will be separated from everything. On that day you will stand alone before God and give an account for your life, your decisions, and whether or not you were taped into the living water.
Some years ago Captain Scott’s ill-fated trip to the south Pole ended up in despair - the team were left in an Antarctic storm and time passed as they waited on the recovery of one of their team members Captain Oates. Oates realised that he was never going to recover in enough time for the rest of the team to go on safely - he very bravely then went to the door turned on his companions and uttered the memorable words "I am going out - I may be gone some time."
Of course he died so that his companions might live.
Which is a wonderful picture of what Christ has done for us -
But think for a moment when he was in the tent he was in warmth and safe - when he left it he left the place of blessing and protection.
He was not thrown out he chose to walk out.
If we come under God’s wrath then we have done so as a result of our own choice
As it says in Romans chapter one:-
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
We have no excuse - for coming under God’s wrath because God has revealed himself to us.
It is only when we come to understand our position before God that we can begin to grasp what it is we have been rescued from - it is this sense of mutual appreciation that draws us together in a depth of relationship that is beyond understanding.
Paul says to the Romans - First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
Paul has never met these people but something very deep draws him to them and that something is their mutual deep appreciation of what they have been rescued from.
It is this appreciation that should bind Christians together.
One of the things that has happened in the Christian world in the West in recent years has been a high emphasis on the love of God which is quite appropriate but what has provided an imbalance has been the lack of emphasis on what Paul describes as the Wrath of God.
The truth is there is a judgment -
It seems that in the early part of the twentieth century there were many preachers who were described as hell fire and brimstone preachers.
Billy Graham says -
THE BIBLE SAYS THERE IS NO POSSIBLE WAY OF ESCAPE FROM JUDGMENT. SOONER OR LATER WE MUST LEAVE OUR DREAM WORLD AND FACE UP TO THE FACT OF GOD, SIN AND JUDGEMENT
Jesus Christ acts as a buffer between us and judgment - it is the reception of Christ and the work of the cross that allows us to escape from sin -
The truth is we are in this together and when we realise that together we are all sinners saved by grace then our fellowship takes on a whole lot more meaning.
God has rescued us and when that is expressed between us it affects our relationships.
For example - where can there be a place for pride or arrogance?
You see if we have bowed in humility at the Cross of Christ and truly recognised our sinfulness and we realise that we are in a fellowship of people who have been on this same humbling journey - where is the place for pride??
It can’t exist there -
You see it can be at the Vintage club or the sports or service club because the basis of the union there is not that we are a people who have bowed before a forgiving God and received forgiveness.
I am a sinner saved by grace and that is the basis of our friendship.
If you are a people who have been drifting in a lifeboat for several days in the ocean and some one rescues you what a deep relationship exists among the rescued - you appreciate the dilemma you were in and you deeply appreciate your rescuer.
In Romans chapter one Paul points out how we have been saved by faith in a God who has rescued us from a fate that is worse than death:-
Verse 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
So moving on from that we move from our sinful state to our rescuer.
When we understand what we have been rescued from which is really the result of our sins we realise the character of our rescuer.
Jesus by His character is the complete opposite of ourselves.
Paul says of him verse 1 RO 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace
Jesus character is the complete opposite of ours - perfect and Holy -
So we find in our fellowship not only gratitude at being rescued from our sins but we also have a deep sense of gratitude and love for our rescuer Jesus Christ.
As our relationships meet on the level of humility at being rescued from our sinful selves and a sense of gratitude and awe for our rescuer Jesus Christ and we talk that way. Then you relate at a very different level to any other kind of relationship that you will find anywhere else.
There is a third factor that we can consider to be a unique part of Christian fellowship - Paul touches on it in verse 11.
RO 1:11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong-- 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
Here Paul refers to the imparting of some spiritual gift - to make the person strong that they may be mutually encouraged by each others faith.
The Holy spirit does that - and I often think that we underestimate the importance of the Holy Spirit in our interpersonal relationships.
In Galations chapter 5 we are informed about the fruits of the spirit which really need to be well in place before we consider the gifts of the spirit.
The gifts of the Spirit as listed are
GAL 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
The spirit of god is so different to the fallen human spirit that they are easily distinguishable.
Three things we can do to deepen our Christian friendships:
1. To grow in understanding what we have been saved from
Understand that to fall into the hands of the living God is a fearful thing
2. To grow closer to the one who has saved you from this fate - Jesus.
Hebrews chapter 10 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
3. Be filled with the Holy spirit asking God to give you the fruits of the spirit.
is. Ephesians chapter 5 verse. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.