Is Your Ship Empty?

painting by:  Nancy Poucher

painting by: Nancy Poucher

As a culture we celebrate feats of accomplishment by lone individuals – swimming the English Channel alone, sailing around the world in a one person boat, hiking the Appalachian Trail all by yourself, or similar single handed achievements. “I’ll do it myself” seems to be a mantra envied by society and emulated as “the American way” of reaching one’s goals. But, this independent, self-reliant, and isolated way of life is not Biblical.  In fact, we are commanded not to travel the way of life alone.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.        Ecclesiastes 4:9–10

I’ve been thinking about the word “fellowship.” What does it mean? Quite literally it means having someone else in your ship. The statement, “We’re in this boat together” is the perfect representation of fellowship. God knew it was not good for us to be by ourselves. Even the institution of marriage was given by the Lord to solve the issue of aloneness.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…        Genesis 2:18

Scripture sets the model for us not to isolate ourselves, yet our society wants us to think there’s something positive about independence and aloneness. As a result, in today’s world the average person has very few real friends and very rare genuine community.

Even Christians can get into the mode of doing life on their own. “Just me and Jesus…that’s all I need” is not a Bible-based understanding of being a Christian. If being with Jesus was all Christianity was about, as soon as people accepted Christ as their savior they would immediately go to heaven to permanently “be with” the Lord in fellowship. Someday that is exactly what is going to happen, but in the meantime God’s desire is for us to function on this earth in fellowship with each other.

In fact, it is the Christian community of the church that can attract people to faith in Christ. Our loving, supportive, fellowship can, and should, be a magnet to hurting, lonely, isolated people around us.

This brings me to what Christian fellowship looks like. Many of us would say that attending a church service is fellowship. But going to a service with a large group of believers is corporate worship not fellowship. It takes a group of people who know you and care for you to make up a “fellow” ship. Fellow Christ-followers who come along side to encourage and support you are essential to Biblical fellowship. If you only attend Sunday morning service, you are missing a wonderful part of the Christian experience… that is having someone else in your ship – “fellow” “ship.”

This weekend my church, Silverdale Baptist in Chattanooga, had a small group conference – training new small group leaders and connecting folks in our church to supportive, instructive, discipling, and mutually encouraging small groups. We have over a hundred small groups meeting needs and building each other up in the faith.  It’s a wonderful environment of faith.

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.        1 Thessalonians 5:11

I’ve been encouraged in my own spiritual walk by people in my small group and fellow believers who have gotten to know me and loved me – in spite of knowing me. I’ve grown in my understanding of Christ, in my life as a maturing Christian, and in my involvement in the community of the church all because of being involved in a great small group. There are hundreds and hundreds of others experiencing the same “fellowship” through the groups meeting throughout the week. It’s a great model of the church being in our neighborhoods, not isolated from them.

So, again, I ask. Is your ship empty? Do you have friends who follow the Biblical commands to fellowship together? Not one of the following actions can be done alone:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;      Romans 12:10

Be of the same mind toward one another…      Romans 12:16

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another….      Romans 13:8

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.        Romans 14:19

Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.        Romans 15:7

…but through love serve one another.        Galatians 5:13

…and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.        Ephesians 5:21

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.        Colossians 3:16

Therefore comfort one another with these words.        1 Thessalonians 4:18

If your ship is empty you will never experience the above blessings of the community of faith. So, do you have fellows in your ship? If you don’t, consider getting into a small group of fellow Christ-followers.

If your church doesn’t have small groups, start one. Invite four of your church friends or folks you think might like to be a church friend over for a non-threatening meal. Who doesn’t like to eat? All of a sudden you have a small group of fellows in your ship. It will feel great, will bless your life, and bless the lives of those you invite. Doing life together with Christ in your midst is true Christian community.

Once you are experiencing true “fellows in your ship” invite some non-Christian friends to visit. They may not come to church but they may come and see “church” happening in your home or out in a restaurant.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”        John 13:35

Small groups are huge!

Think about it.

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