by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Basis and Values of Fellowship

Reading: John 17:20-23; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Cor. 9:10; 2 Cor. 13:14.

Fellowship is a matter about which the Lord has expressed a desire. We do not have far to go to know that this is the will of the Lord. But that is not all. The Lord very often presents a matter in apparently simple language, but we must never think that because He does that, the matter is a simple matter. We must remember that it depends entirely upon who it is who speaks as to the value of that which is said. There are those people whose words we do not take much account of, because we know the people; that is, we feel that we cannot take them very seriously, and therefore put down their utterances at a somewhat small value, or discount what they say. But when we are dealing with the Lord we can never put things too high. The danger is always of not recognising how great is the thing which the Lord says.

There is this one premise which we can establish once and for all in relation to anything which comes from the Lord, that is that it always carries a value and importance commensurate with such a One as He is. The Lord is never casual. The Lord is never merely sentimental. The Lord never says things for the sake of saying them, or for the time being. The Lord is eternal and infinite and universal, and everything which comes from the Lord takes its character from Him, and is therefore of eternal significance, of infinite value, of universal importance. We must adjust ourselves, therefore, to every matter with that in mind. And when we speak of fellowship we must never just feel that the Lord wants us to be on good terms with one another, to get along well together, and to have no friction because that is the nicest thing, the most pleasant thing, the happiest way of getting on. That is very small. It may be very good, but it is of dimensions much less than are worthy of God. When the Lord speaks about fellowship He has things of infinite meaning and value in His mind, in His thought, and in the background of His utterances. We should be learning to approach everything in the Word of God on that ground; that we never take anything just as it stands, but that we go behind the thing and see the vast range of Divine significance, value, and importance which lies behind what looks like the simplest thing, and until we do get behind things, we have not the adequate impact of that thing to realise all that God has in mind. And if that is true of anything, it is true of the matter of fellowship.

In the Gospels it is presented quite simply, because it was not the regime, the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and therefore men were not yet prepared to inwardly apprehend the full thought of God. By the Holy Spirit's inward illumination they came to apprehend the far greater meaning of these things, so that in the epistles we have the deeper meaning of fellowship opened to us.

I want to remind you that associated with one compound word in the epistles, the greatest things with which we have to do are found. That is the word "together". The prefix σύν (Gk. "sun") is linked with all the most vital and far-reaching matters of our relationship with God. I just remind you of some of them, not to stay to study them, but by way of emphasising how important this matter of our relationship in Christ is. We are carried back into the before times eternal with this word, and we are told that we were chosen or elected together in Christ before the world was. That is stated definitely in Ephesians 1:4 and in 1 Peter 5:13, so that fellowship is no incidental thing. It is not something which has just come in time, that we get on well together in this life. It dates back to the timeless counsels of God in eternity, and there together in Christ in those eternal counsels, we were chosen. Get the force of this. It does not just say that we were chosen in Christ, and it does not say we were chosen together with Christ. It says that we were chosen together in Christ. That means that we were seen as one in Christ, we were together, not Jesus Christ and ourselves as individuals brought together, but brought together in Christ in the thought and intention of God from eternity. So that God's eternal thought before we came into being was a togetherness of His own. You can understand why the enemy takes such pains to destroy the fellowship of God's people if God has regarded this thing of such immense importance as to have it as a definite part of His plan, His thought-out intention, and purposed it from all eternity.

Then in time God's thought is brought into expression, and we are called together in Christ. Then all those things about this togetherness follow. We are said to have been planted together in the likeness of His death. That is not just planted together with Christ. It is planted together with one another in Christ in the likeness of His death. This was not an individualistic thing merely. This was a collective thing. We are all together in the death of Christ. If we may use another word, we are banded together in the death of Christ. Then we have been raised together in Him. Our translation says "with" Him, but if you look in the Greek you will find that it is the little word ἐν (Gk. "in"). We were raised together in Him, not only with Him.

Then we are seated together in Him; gathered together into one; joined together; framed together; knit together; built together; loved together; workers together; with one mind striving together. It is that great togetherness of the people of God. And there is much more in the Word about that, but this is sufficient to bring home to our hearts something of the tremendous range, the many-sidedness and the infinite importance of fellowship, oneness, togetherness in Christ.

I want to try and gather that up in three or four very inclusive, far-reaching statements, that is, as to the great spiritual meanings of fellowship, as I see them, in the Word of the Lord. It will be a matter for further investigation and enquiry, and I trust you will follow it out.

The Values of Fellowship as Revealed in the Word of the Lord

1. Fellowship is related to the exaltation of the Lord Jesus. In the first place fellowship, or togetherness, is most clearly related to the exaltation of the Lord Jesus. To put that in other words, the Sovereign Headship of the Lord Jesus is immediately and intimately related to the fellowship of His people, or the fellowship of the Lord's people touches in the closest way the very Lordship of Christ, the very Headship of Christ, the very fact that He is Sovereign. That means, on the opposite side, that failure, breakdown, weakness in fellowship or anything like disintegration among the Lord's people - schism, division, strained relationships; anything like independence, separateness, detachment, isolation - touches the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus in a direct way, and takes from the glory of His Sovereign Headship.

When David was eventually brought to the throne in Jerusalem, the great step, the crisic point of his coming to universal dominion, was at Hebron. Hebron means fellowship, and it was there that we find that the throne for David came immediately into view, and it came in on this wise: "Then all Israel gathered to David at Hebron and said, Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. In times past, even when Saul was king, you were the one who led out and brought in Israel; and the Lord your God said to you, You shall shepherd My people Israel, and you shall be prince over My people Israel. So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and David made a covenant with them in Hebron before the Lord; and they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the Lord through Samuel" (1 Chron. 11:1-3).

Hebron means fellowship, a league, and these men all gathered themselves together in one purpose, with one object, as one man, to make David king. On what ground? "We are your bone and your flesh." That is organic union, not organised unity! That is something inward, something in the very constitution of things, so that David's kingship was, in the first place, based upon an inward oneness.

"When Saul was king, you were the one who led out and brought in Israel." David's kingship, then, in the second place, was based on his practical values as leader.

I challenge you, in the presence of the Lord Jesus, is He worthy, by His leadership, to be King? We can answer the first question, "we are Your bone". It is an inward organic oneness. Then as to His worthiness, He has proved Himself. Yes, Saul was king, but did not prove himself worthy of kingship. "Even when Saul was king, you were the one who led out and brought in Israel." There we see the supremacy of Christ in virtue of His own ability. The Lord said, "You shall be prince...".

Then thirdly, the foundation of the throne is the Divine designation. The Lord had spoken by Samuel, and the people fell in with the Divine decree, and anointed David king.

Hebron was that. Hebron was inward union, the right of kingship by reason of his own value, and the right of kingship by reason of the Divine appointment. When you recognise those things and come to them, you know what fellowship is. It was therefore at Hebron, in fellowship, on that threefold ground, that David came to Jerusalem. They made him king in fellowship, and then he went up to Jerusalem for the outworking of that.

That is only an illustration, a type, but it is true in its spiritual principle that the Lord Jesus in His sovereignty is deeply and directly affected by the fellowship of His people, by the oneness, and there is much taken from Him if that oneness, that fellowship, does not obtain, does not abound.

2. Fellowship involves the meaning of Christ's Cross. Fellowship involves the meaning of Christ's Cross in a measure and in a way more than most matters. That is not a new thought perhaps, that the Cross of the Lord Jesus was not only a dealing with sin as sin, and with Satan as Satan, not only an atonement for sin, but the undoing of all the work of Satan through sin.

One of the works of Satan through sin was the disintegration of the creation, the causing of a discord to be shot clean through the creation, so that in its fallen state it is, as it were, in fragments. There is no harmony. There is no oneness. There is a warring element: strained relationships, conflict, rivalry, and all those things which set fragments against fragments, and lead to this state of eternal unrest. It is in the very constitution of things. You will never destroy that by the councils of men. With all that may be got in postponements and getting round difficult corners and so on, our leagues and our round tables will never solve that eternal element in the very constitution of the creation. There will be wars unto the end, and they will become worse and worse. It is in the nature of things, not only in man, but in the whole universe. The unity of the race was destroyed by Satan through man's sin. Now the Cross of the Lord Jesus is the destroying of the works of the devil, and that is why in John 17, as standing right before the cross, in the presence of the altar upon which He says, "I consecrate Myself", right there as now entering into the shadows of the Cross, He prays this prayer: "That they may be one". It is all unto that. The cross is going to effect that, and the cross is God's way in Christ of ending that work of the devil in the severance, the division, the schism, the strain, the warfare, the conflict in the very nature of things.

In the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in which we are together in Him, there is to be, there should be, the testimony to the fact that that work of the devil has been destroyed, nullified, and here is a people who are one. So you find that when, after His resurrection, the Spirit eventually came, they continued in fellowship among other things, and it was that fellowship which became the object of God and the activity of the enemy, because it was the testimony to the destruction of his work in the Cross of the Lord Jesus. We know quite well that when divisions come, and strains in relationships, the only way of getting over it is to have a further application of the Cross somewhere to the old creation. Personal rights, personal sensibilities, jealousies and rivalries have to come under the smiting power of the Cross again before there can be a coming back to that complete fellowship. The great work of the Cross of the Lord Jesus is touched in a way more than most things by fellowship.

3. Fellowship demands and reveals a life in the Spirit. As we have seen, it is not in us at our best to triumph with Divine love. At its best our human love will be strained to breaking-point when brought up against certain situations. Nothing but the mighty love of God, energised by the Holy Spirit in us, will really triumph, and that means a life in the Spirit. If you and I in any way live in the flesh, there will be schism, there will be division, there will be a decrease in fellowship. Somewhere, somehow, someone or other has got out of the Spirit, and it is only as you and I live in the Spirit and are energised by the Spirit that this fellowship will be maintained, with the maintenance of the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus, unsullied. The work of His Cross is the glorious testimony of His accomplishment by His death. This life in the Spirit is demanded, and is revealed as to its measure and degree, by fellowship. A life in the Spirit will lead to fellowship: a life not in the Spirit will lead away from fellowship.

4. Fellowship determines the measure and value of the fulness of life and effectiveness of service. Fulness of life is determined by fellowship. This again is no new truth, but it needs constantly re-emphasising, that individuals as such can never come to the fulness of Christ. Neither you nor I will ever come to Christ's fulness as individuals. It requires the whole church, the whole Body of Christ to come to His fulness. It is the church which is the fulness of Him that fills all in all. You and I will only come to the fulness of Christ in relation to all other members of His Body. If we isolate ourselves we simply limit our spiritual growth; we at once put a limitation on our spiritual development. We shall grow and increase more abundantly as we are in fellowship. Our mutual faith, our mutual love, our mutual helpfulness means the increase of all. Sometimes you may think you would get on much better, and make much more rapid growth if only you could get away by yourself. Believe me, you would limit yourself, and it would not be long before you wanted to get back among the Lord's people. Some of us have tried it, and the enemy is so often trying to get us to run away, get out and alone, not just for a time (sometimes it is good to have a day or two alone with the Lord) but to get right away altogether, finally away. Ask anybody who has tried it, and they will tell you that their spiritual increase has been far greater in fellowship with others, though that fellowship may sometimes have cost and been a strenuous thing, and called for some of the greatest conflicts and victories. Nevertheless it is thus that we make increase.

Read the chapters in the Epistles on that matter in Ephesians and Corinthians, and you will see that the law is there stressed tremendously, that it is each one contributing to the building up by relationship. Effectiveness of service is governed by the same law. We shall not accomplish the fullest and most effective service for God on an independent line. Anything like that only goes so far and no further. It goes no further in its spiritual fulness, neither does it go any further in its real effectiveness. It just goes so far, and it cannot go one wit beyond that. But when truth of the Body of Christ comes in, then there is increase. The Lord is in that and it goes through. Fellowship is not just a matter of getting people to pray for you when you are going out to service, any more than it is to get people to give money to support you. Fellowship is a much bigger thing than that. There are more tremendous implications in fellowship than that. It is an organic thing, not an organised thing. It is an inward thing, a mighty thing in its values. The losses are tremendous where it does not obtain, and where it is not recognised.

Costs Associated with Fellowship

There has to be a sinking of what is personal and merely individual. There has to be a subjecting of ourselves to one another in the Lord, but the gain is along that line, and it is always a dangerous thing to go out into the service of the Lord, to meet the enemy in Christian life, if you are not in living organic fellowship with the Lord's people; not that they just assure you they will pray for you, but that by inward, real fellowship there is a oneness. If the enemy can get you isolated he will break you.

This is one further emphasis from the Lord's own heart, that we should seek with all our hearts to work towards fellowship, repudiate isolation, independence and anything that works in that way. If we have to fight our own inclinations, our own feelings, let us stand strongly for the positive aspect of fellowship, and seek to be in with the Lord, and anything that possibly can be put aside to realise this is going to be for the increase of all, and for the far greater effectiveness of the work of the Lord.

May the Lord help you to take this on your heart, as having the importance which it does have in His heart.

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