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Purpose for Community

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Earlier we learned that first century Christians showed their devotion to the fellowship by regularly gathering in public worship at the temple and also in their homes. But why did these first century Christians come together? What was their purpose for gathering in smaller groups in their homes as a community?

In this lesson, you will learn that God intends for Christian community to nurture believers in their spiritual growth, provide them with pastoral care, and equip them for ministry. 

In this course you’ll be equipped to:

This brief video (8:29) will teach you how God created us to have relationships with others and why Christians need community to grow spiritually.

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Purpose for Community

Earlier we learned that first century Christians showed their devotion to the fellowship by regularly gathering in public worship at the temple and in their homes.

But why did these first century Christians come together? What was their purpose for gathering in smaller groups in their homes as a community

Let’s look at three major reasons given in Scripture why believers should regularly gather in Christian community.

Spiritual Nurture and Growth

The first reason is for our spiritual nurture and growth.

Since God created us in his interpersonal, Triune image, we can only mature spiritually though significant relationships with others. After God created Adam he declared “It is not good for the man to be alone.” This is the first time in Scripture where God declares his creation “not good” (Gen 2:18).

Because God created Adam in his interpersonal image, it was not good for Adam to only have a personal relationship with God. He also needed to have significant relationships with others.

Likewise, when followers of Jesus are disconnected from ongoing, significant relationships with other believers, it’s not possible for them to mature spiritually as God intends.

The problem today is that many Christians see their relationship with God as mostly private and personal. When they learn from the Scriptures, it’s only through personal study or listening to public preaching. Even when they reach out to serve others in need, that too is often through private acts.
When Edith Schaeffer addresses this concern, she reminds us that “Christianity is Jewish.” Christianity, like Judaism, is a communal religion that stands in contrast to much of the privatized, individualistic forms of Christianity today, especially in the Western world.

In contrast, when we examine how first century Christians grew spiritually, it was mostly in community, in their smaller gatherings with each other in their homes.

So what did they do when they came together? Acts 2 tells us they prayed and praised God (42, 47), they learned the Apostles’ teaching (42), they had all things in common and broke bread and received their food with glad and generous hearts (44, 46), and they sold their possessions and gave generously to those who had need (45).

And what was the result? They had “favor with all the people” and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (47).

Shepherding and Pastoral Care

These gatherings of Christians were not arbitrary opportunities for spiritual nurture and growth. They were intentional gatherings for believers to receive the shepherding care and teaching they needed from the pastors and teachers God gave them.

In Ephesians 4:7-8, Paul tells us that when Christ ascended to heaven, he gave gifts to his Church. “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says, “When he ascended on high … he gave gifts to men.”

Paul teaches that God gives every believer special abilities, he calls gifts, to serve other members of the body and those in need in their surrounding community (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12).

But Paul continues in Ephesians 4:11 to tell us that God also gives the Church other kinds of gifts. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets,
the evangelists, the shepherds [pastors], and teachers.” These gifts include pastors and teachers.

Why does God give pastors and teachers to his church?

So they will serve believers by equipping them to do works of ministry (Eph 4:12). God calls pastors and teachers to use their gifts to nurture and equip believers to use their gifts in ministry.

The assumption in Scripture is that all believers are under the authority and care of local church pastors and teachers (Phil 1:1). These leaders will one day stand before God and give an account for how well they nourished, cared for, and equipped God’s people (Heb 13:17).

Through regular, small gatherings of believers, church leaders are able to learn the needs of church members so they can better care for these members.

When someone joins a church, that should be seen as a commitment to “the fellowship” that includes not only a commitment to regularly gathering for public worship but also a commitment to regularly gathering with a smaller group of church members under the shepherding care of church leaders.
It’s through the regular gathering of small groups that the church can practice systematic care and encouragement of its members.

This is why fellowship groups should be the primary place for pastoral care. These small groups should not be seen as something a church has, but something a church is.

Ministry in Mission

We should gather regularly and have meaningful relationships for more than our spiritual growth and shepherding. We need spiritual growth and shepherding to be equipped for our service in God’s mission.

The Apostle Paul shows this purpose of fellowship in the way he uses the
Greek word for fellowship, koinonia. To the Christians at Philippi who helped him plant their church, he writes:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership (fellowship, koinonia) in the gospel from the first day until now. (Phil 1:3-5)

Paul links the word fellowship with partnership in the gospel. When people pursue significant relationships with others in the body of Christ mostly for their personal fulfillment, it ends in spiritual stagnation. Why? Because God designs the experience of true Christian fellowship not as an end in itself, but as a byproduct of being mutually devoted to Christian mission.

In Ephesians 4:14-16, Paul continues and concludes his teaching on why God gives pastors and teachers to his Church to equip God’s people for ministry:

[S]o that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

We desire Christ, the Great Shepherd, to nurture us and transform us as individuals and small communities so that through us he will bring transformation to the rest of our church body, our surrounding communities, and the nations.

The community group is the place where people discover and exercise their spiritual gifts within the group itself. Group members should also be serving together within the larger church and the world. Groups are often the place where vision for ministry and service is developed.

Community groups are also a place where people who are seeking truth are welcomed by others and encouraged to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. They should be a place where unbelievers feel like they belong before they believe, not vice versa.

What’s the normal result of devoted Christian fellowship? When we look back at the end of our passage in Acts 2 we see: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)


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Vision for Community

On the day of Pentecost, Jesus displayed his Lordship as the ascended King by pouring out his promised Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter proclaims that this means the resurrected Jesus is the promised Son of David who is now ruling over all things from God’s throne in heaven. The good news is that God’s kingdom has come to earth in a new way and the ascended King Jesus is making all things new.

This good news includes the promise of a new relationship with God by his Spirit to all who repent and believe in Christ. And it includes the promise of a new world that has already come on earth and will one day come in its fullness when Jesus returns.

This good news also includes the promise of a new humanity on earth through which God will carry out his mission to make all things new. Jesus calls this new humanity the church. He refers to it as a new society on earth that is like a great city on a hill. It’s a new and better society that stands in stark contrast to all the oppression, injustice, and brokenness on earth today.

Augustine refers to it as the City of God that is replacing the City of Man. It breaks down all barriers between people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. This new community is meant to be a foretaste of God’s kingdom to come when Jesus returns, as well as the instrument through which God’s kingdom comes on earth today.

The Apostles’ Creed calls this new community the communion of saints. This phrase means that when you are united to God in Christ by faith, God also unites you to all the members of his mystical body, the church, from all generations, with Christ as the head. And since all followers of Christ are members of his invisible body, each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all.

So what did this new community look like when it first appeared on the day of Pentecost after the preaching of the gospel and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit? Luke records it for us in the book of Acts. In Acts 2:42-47 we find an amazing picture of this new community:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The Greek word used for the fellowship in Acts 2:42 is the koinonia (Τῇ κοινωνίᾳ). There is a definite article before the word in the Greek New
Testament so it translates as the fellowship not just fellowship. It can also be translated as the communion or the community.

The use of this word in the New Testament conveys a deep level of community and participation with others. The first century Christians’ devotion to the fellowship was on the same level as their devotion to the Apostles teaching and to the breaking of bread (probably the Lord’s supper) and the prayers.

As we look closer at Luke’s record of this new community, we see two interesting patterns emerge regarding their meetings.

First, they continually met together for public worship in the temple. In Acts 2:46 we read, “And day by day, [they were] attending the temple together.” They were also regularly meeting together in smaller gatherings in their homes. Acts 2:46 continues, “and breaking bread in their homes.”

The temple was where they came together for public worship. But they also met together more informally in their homes.

Later in Scripture we find references to their meetings as “house churches.” In 1 Corinthians 16:9 Paul writes, “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.” And in Romans 16:5 Paul writes, “Greet also the church in their house.”

In Acts 20:20 Paul refers to both their public and private meetings: “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house.”

But it wasn’t just their meeting together that transformed their lives and world. It was their love for each other. One tangible display of their love was their sacrificial generosity to the poor among them:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35)

As a result, the non-believing world could not dismiss the Christian message. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Francis Schaeffer called the love Christians have for each other “the final apologetic.”

We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.

This experience of deep community cannot happen by merely meeting together for public worship. We must also meet together for informal gatherings, often in our homes. It’s not possible to have significant relationships and love people we don’t know. And we cannot know people with whom we do not regularly meet.

Devotion to the fellowship requires a group of people who know each other well by regularly spending time together.

Although the Bible doesn’t command us to structure the local church in groups, it presents us with a call to community that requires groups of people in meaningful relationships.

Granted, the organic nature of the first century church was significantly shaped by its highly communal Jewish culture. Some cultures today are still very communal. However, many cultures are not communal, but individualistic, especially in the Western world.

So when community life doesn’t happen organically, a devotion to the fellowship requires intentional organization of churches into smaller, nurturing communities.


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