Where does our sense of community and fellowship come from? Where does your sense of community come from? Perhaps based primarily on shared interests, similar career, or a similar stage in having a family? While having common aspects with others can surely help, overall we should be getting it from God.
As 1 John 1:3 says, "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ."
What does he mean by having fellowship with the Father and with his Son? To say you have fellowship with the Father and His Son means that you have come to share their values. You believe what they believe; love what they love; hate what they hate. We seek his guidance in all we do so that we will do his will. We are to let Scripture sink more into our hearts and minds: Col. 3:1-3, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." What does fellowship then mean for our relationships (person to person)? Similarly, fellowship happens as we share and agree on the values that come from Christ. Without Christ, sin has isolated us and made us enemies of God and not friends. Sin has also made us enemies of one another. When secular and Gospel-absent attempts at friendship and community fail, we should've always seen that as the ultimate destiny - without Jesus, what chance is there at any kind of sincere reconciliation?
How do you know if you share in God's values and that your mind is set on things above? And why does this matter? This matters due to how well we maintain our relationship with God. If our minds are set more on earthly things, we will dive further into disobedience – in other words – sin. The closer we walk with Christ, the more pure our relationships can be.
Can we have close, non-Christian friends? Yes. What's the basis of our friendship with non-Christians? Presuming we love and care for them, our basis is that we hope they will become Christians as we help them see they are in eternal danger and need a Savior. But, what we share with them will be much different than what we share with close Christian friends. With Christian friends, we talk about struggles, sharing our faith, Bible learning, and pray for each other. To our non-Christian friends, that would go poorly. With them, we should try to show them who Jesus is and why they should worship Him.
For us as Christians, Paul then speaks of us in Ephesians as a family; moms and dads and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins. We’re supposed to function in loving friendship toward one another in such a public way that it’s not just something that makes the church a very warm and happy place, but that it sort of spills over. We start to truly care for others within the church. We watch others' kids, cook meals, share our homes and vehicles, help new parents out, buy them groceries, give (good) stuff to them, and just help each other throughout our lives. When the world sees that, they say, “What is going on here? Why do you do that? That’s contrary to how we do things in this world.” And the answer is always, “Well, Christ Jesus has reconciled us to God and to one another.” The world, for the most part, is selfish and self-seeking. Christians go about our lives quite differently.
As we've been reconciled and are now like a new family, how do we go about loving so many people? Do any of you feel overwhelmed? What you can do is simply love those God has placed around you. If there’s barely anyone around you, seek them out. You need to know people well enough to love them (aside from brief encounters in stores, parks, camping, etc.). People need help; you'll need help at some point. Friendships take effort. There will be inconveniences. And for some of you, perhaps your isolation is intentional because if you let someone get close to you, they'll see some of your problems or addictions and some of that may get pointed out. You will need to be deliberate in stretching yourself. Find an avenue to do so and get connected with someone or a group.
What are some benefits of fellowship? Maturity, wisdom, laughter, prayer, sanctification... God created us to need Him and others. God has ordained that much of his grace flows to us through others. As John Piper said, “Sanctification is a community project.”
By being in fellowship with the Lord, we share in the gospel, the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14), as well as His sufferings (Phil 3:10, Rom. 8:17). Most people will only get connected with other Christians once they start to suffer. The Bible says at some point, in varying degrees, in whatever ways, we who follow Jesus will suffer. Once life gets heavy and difficult, you should hopefully be comfortable enough to call on your brothers and sisters in Christ to help you out. And we can be grateful that if God calls us to a different city, state, or country, we know we can build a new set of deep relationships because Christ is our foundation.