In this series we’re learning practices that will help us grow spiritually. So far we’ve looked at surrender, study and prayer. These practices are for our individual spiritual growth. This week we move from me to we. Because the truth is we were made for each other. We need each other. We cannot grow, heal, or become holy without community.

Good morning.

We’re in a series called Practicing the Way of Jesus.

We’re learning together how to live as disciples and as followers of Jesus.

This whole idea is based on the promise of Jesus that he has the power to transform lives — and that’s really available to you and me — but what we need is an accessible, concrete, non-legalistic, tangible way of life, and not just a random smorgasbord of devotional activities, and not something that is unintentional.

We need a way in order to experience that kind of change, and we’re learning it practice by practice.


The first practice is surrender. I surrender my life and will to the care of God.

The second practice is study. Read the Bible. Have the constant flow of thoughts in my mind renewed by engaging in Scripture regularly.

The third practice is prayer. Stop living in prayerless striving and ask God to give me the knowledge of his will for my life, and the power to carry it out in every moment.


Now, here’s the deal. Each of these practices is something I can do on my own (just me and God), but this week we move from me to we.

I cannot grow spiritually all by myself. No one can.

There’s an old saying in AA — “We can get drunk on our own; we get sober together.”

I can sin on my own; I get healed by God together in community.


The fourth practice is Community.

I get into a community of people who I can love, and these practices I’m doing on my own (surrender, learning from Scripture, prayer) I begin to also do with other people, and we enter into what might be called — shared life.


In child development, there’s a stage (some of you know all about this) where little kids engage in what’s called parallel play.

The capacity for this often begins when they’re around 2 or 3 years old.

You put them in a room with another 2-year-old and their bodies are right next to each other, but they can’t really interact or cooperate, so they’re not really playing together.

They’re playing separately in the same space.

Parallel play is considered an early inevitable step in a child’s development. It’s characterized by egocentric behavior and the inability to de-center, or to put someone else first.

In parallel play, you don’t have to share your toys. In parallel play, you’re free to do whatever you want.


Now, how long this stage lasts depends on culture and geography.

In Midwestern towns with a high emphasis on community, it lasts maybe till the age of 5 or 6.

In more competitive and individualistic areas, it can go on longer. In the Bay Area, generally it lasts until about retirement.


But the truth is we are made for each other. We need each other. We cannot grow, or heal, or become holy without each other.

And spirituality is not a parallel deal. It’s not something that’s just between me and God.


Now, there’s a word in the Bible for this. It’s a great word, but I promise you you’re going to be underwhelmed by it.

The word is fellowship.

You rarely hear that word outside of church.

It’s become a cliché. It conjures up the idea of having churchy small talk with churchy snacks in a churchy setting.

But in the early church it was the opposite.

In the early church, they had such a profound experience of honest, reconciled, barrier-transcending life together that they had to find a word to describe it, and they adopted a little-used Greek word — koinonia.

Because they needed a way to describe this radical kind of sharing, and participation, and communion, and generosity, and identifying with — which meant if you became part of this family, unlike any other human community, you were never alone.


When someone goes through heartbreak or loss and people without being asked bombard them with food, and caring, and meals, and visits, and gifts, and errands getting run, and help being given — that’s koinonia. That’s the church.

When someone is without a job, or without a home, or struck by a crisis, and they don’t have adequate financial resources, and another person or brother or sister in Jesus comes forward and says, “I can help. It would be a joy,” and resources get shared and generosity flows without it even being requested — that’s koinonia.

Now, because koinonia isn’t soft — when someone is going down the wrong track, making big mistakes and a deeply loving friend says, “I care for you too much to simply watch you self-destruct,” and they courageously speak the truth in love — that’s koinonia.

When someone secretly puts cheap romance novels on my bookshelf in my office so that every time I’m on a Zoom call people think I read that tacky, trashy stuff, which some of our staff did to me during the pandemic — that’s not koinonia. That’s koinonitis. That’s actually a disease.

Actually, forgiveness is part of koinonia, too.


Now, to get very focused and very clear about this — fellowship is the practice of engaging in common activities like worship, learning from the Bible, praying, sharing, confessing, and serving with other people for the purpose of our mutual growth together in the community and the blessing of other people outside of the community.

That’s what fellowship is.


It doesn’t so much mean doing new things. It means doing what I’m already doing (surrender, study, and prayer) now sometimes together with others.

In fellowship, I ask for God’s help to move from isolated living to community.

I commit myself to a group of people, and they become like my new family.
I make them a priority.
I commit to worshiping together with them regularly.
I will talk with them about my temptations.
I will allow them to tell me the truth about myself.
I find one or two people to be spiritual companions to know and care for everything about my soul.


Now, we’re trying in this series to make each practice as simple as possible.

The first practice is surrender.
The second practice is read the Bible so that it changes my thoughts.
The third practice is prayer.
The fourth practice is do life together.

Do life together and, in particular, do spiritual life together.


Because we’re like little logs in a fire. We can sustain the fire of God when we’re in contact with each other, but when we get isolated, the fire kind of goes out.

For some reason, it’s like we can hold more of God when we’re together than we can when we get isolated and separated and scatter.


Now, the most powerful and gripping description of this way of life, of this fellowship, is found in Acts 2.

It’s a quite famous chapter about the church.

This became a new way of life for human beings to do together.

And anyone could do it.

It was costly. It was compelling. It was outrageously joy producing, and, oh, by the way, it changed the world.


I want to look at it today, and walk through what fellowship requires, and invite all of us to commit to this practice.

This is Acts 2:42-47. This is kind of the creedal text of the church.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

There has never been anything like the church or like this fellowship.


I actually want to start with an observation that comes toward the end of this passage, where Luke, the writer of Acts, says that they ate together.

Now, eating together has been an important part of fellowship from the very beginning, but just because you eat with someone, even a Christian, doesn’t make it fellowship.

Luke says they ate with glad and sincere (a very interesting word) hearts.

In other words…

Fellowship requires authenticity.

People were so gripped by the good news that Jesus gives grace and forgiveness that when they came together and ate — they took off their masks; they came out of hiding.

They got real about their struggles and their temptations and their sin. — “Here’s the truth about me.”

It’s quite amazing. They ate with sincere hearts.

Fellowship is where who they were on the outside is the same as who they were on the inside.


Ironically and paradoxically, way too often, churches — I think because we aspire toward being like Jesus — can often engage in fake fellowship where people smile, are polite, and superficial, and pretend like everything is fine, and everyone likes everyone, and no one has doubts, and everyone has perfect children.

That’s not fellowship.

Fellowship does not mean pretending to be more spiritual than you really are.

Fellowship does not mean shifting into superficial, safe, religious small talk.

But we sometimes in churches kind of train each other that that’s what you’re supposed to do. So don’t get too real.


A mom was being visited by her pastor when her young son comes running into the living room.

He’s super excited. He’s holding a dead rat by the tail, but he’s so thrilled he doesn’t notice the pastor, and he says to his mom, “Mom, I was playing behind the garage, and I saw this rat running around, and I threw a rock at it, and I hit it, and it just laid there, so I threw another one. Then, I went over and kicked it. Then, I picked it up and threw it against the garage as hard as I could. Then, I threw it again.”

Then, he sees the pastor, and he realizes if looks could kill, the way his mom is looking at him would make him a dead man.

And he holds the rat up by the tail and says in a very pious voice, “Then, the dear Lord called him home.”


Fellowship is not that.


Fellowship is not boring. It’s not surface talk. It’s not trying to look good. It’s not cliché.


One of the most striking features of the disciples’ fellowship is how much they messed up.

Peter denied Jesus.
Judas betrayed Jesus.
Thomas doubted Jesus.
James and John self-promoted to Jesus.
Paul persecuted Jesus’ followers.
Zacchaeus cheated people.

Jesus was famous (actually, a better word is notorious) for engaging in table fellowship with sinners.

I think part of that is maybe because they were willing to be real, while religious people so often hid and pretended.

That kills fellowship.


Once the church got started, the first two people who tried to pretend and who tried to hide were a couple named Ananias and Sapphira.

They pretended to be more generous than they really were to get other people to think quite highly of them, and they both dropped dead. Because pretense will kill a church.

The message is really clear — no pretending.


On the human level, we often think getting real is dangerous and pretending is safe, but with God, or with addiction, or with sin in the spiritual realm with my soul — getting real is what is safe (no matter how much it might hurt), and pretending is what is fatal (no matter how good it might feel).


Fellowship is raw, and real, and honest, and hard, and messy.

It involves risk, and we’ll only do it where we are made safe, not even primarily by each other but by God — by the love and grace and mercy of Jesus.


The word translated sincere was actually made up of two words — the word for sunlight and the word for judge or discern.

To be judged or tested in the sunlight — you can’t hide in the sunlight.

It’s ironic. In our world, intimacy is often thought of as something that happens in the dark behind closed doors.

In the Bible, darkness is where we hide stuff.

Jesus’ friend, John, put it like this.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

There had never been a community like this.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

We make him out to be a liar, and we kill the fellowship.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7-9)

The blood, the death, the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross has cleaned me up in God’s eyes way beyond what I could ever do, so I can come out of the darkness into intimacy and into light together with you.


That’s all we do (misfits, failures, and sinners in the church loved by God and forgiven by Jesus).


Fellowship requires — or demands — authenticity.



Fellowship requires commitment.

Luke says in the beginning of this passage in Acts 2:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

Now, the apostles’ teaching was all about the life, and message, and death, and resurrection of Jesus.

That’s what we devote ourselves to as we read the Scriptures so they can change our minds.


Really, this entire passage of Acts 2 is about their devotion to the fellowship, because they’re involved in all of these activities of learning, and eating, and praying, and sharing together.

But here’s the key — this way of life, this fourth practice of fellowship, doesn’t happen by accident, especially in our culture.

No one drifts into it.


This is one of the most remarkable and countercultural aspects of this passage.

Luke says:

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. (Acts 2:46)

Every day.

He doesn’t say they continued to meet together in the temple courts when they felt like it.


Let me ask you a question — do you think everyone in the church felt like meeting in the temple courts every day?

Do you think they could come up with excuses for not showing up on any given day?


Imagine if, when Kathy and I had three children at very young ages, Kathy said to me, “What time will you be coming home for dinner?”

I just said, “Well, I’ll be there if I feel like it. It may not be convenient for me. I might not be in the mood. I may have had a hard day. Sometimes the kids spill or fight or make a mess, and honestly, I find it a little draining, so I’ll let you know if I can make it or not.”

Table fellowship with my family was non-optional. I promise you.


When you sign a contract to go to work somewhere, you don’t say, “I’ll show up tomorrow for work if I feel like it.”

Unless you’re a very talented professional athlete. They seem to get away with it.


If I devote myself to fellowship, I will lose the freedom to do whatever I want with my time whenever I want to.


Now, I promise you, if you don’t devote yourself to fellowship, you lose the freedom to be truly known, and loved, and healed, and march together side by side in a great cause. You’ll never know that.


They devoted themselves to this fellowship.

People really did this and have done it across the centuries in all kinds of contexts — not because someone in charge coerced them, not because God said they had to do it or they were in trouble.

But they knew — they knew they were part of a movement that was both changing their lives and changing the world, and the more they devoted themselves to it, the more they learned and prayed and shared and struggled and cared and loved, the more they received from it.

I’m telling you, when you devote yourself to the fellowship and to the practice of certain basic activities together with other people, God will work in your life, because we contain more of him together.


I talked recently in a sermon about sexuality and how some people might be violating God’s standard when it comes to sexual intimacy.

A young guy came up to me after the service and said, “I almost didn’t come this week, and I’m so glad I did. I have a girlfriend, and she’s beautiful, and we’ve been on a trajectory where I was going to violate the values that I hold to. God spoke to me today, and I’m so grateful. I can’t imagine if I had not come.”

We’re going to talk about accountability next week. This guy actually found a guy in his small group and told him about his struggle and asked him, “Would you help me stay accountable to my commitments to God in this area?”

God does that. Only God can do that.

I promise you, if I just walked around the Bay Area in human power saying to people, “Don’t have sex with your girlfriend or your boyfriend,” people would not come up and thank me for that.

But here’s a man who will have a sense of integrity and transparency before God that will give him a surrendered spirit and a clean heart.

That comes when people devote themselves to fellowship.


Alright, another thing about fellowship:

Fellowship requires sharing.

In fact, if there’s a single word at the core of this notion of fellowship, it’s the word sharing.

Sometimes that word, koinonia, is used simply to describe a financial gift early Christians would share with each other.


In their world in ancient Palestine, poverty was worse than we could imagine.

Slavery, imprisonment if you were a debtor and couldn’t pay it off, and starvation were everyday occurrences in that world.


Then, there arose out of nothing a community where people were so filled with love for God and each other that rich and poor would come together on equal footing.

And sometimes people who had possessions would want to help others so much that they would sell a piece of property and bring the money back to the fellowship and say, “Make sure this gets to someone who could really use it.”

Do you understand, there had never been a community like this before.


There was a fellowship that emerged where people who had homes and who had food opened them up to people who had no homes and who had no food, and they ate together with glad and sincere hearts with no condescension and no separation based on status. This really happened.


I was thinking about this — Do you think any of the people in that first-century church ever took advantage of their generosity or ever got into the church because they were starving and they heard there was free food?

It must have happened, but they just stayed generous.


I was talking with someone once who lives and works in under-resourced communities, and I asked him, “If I give money to someone in need, how can I make sure they don’t waste it?”

And his response was, “Do you ever waste money? Do you think God is still generous with you?”


They lived as joyful stewards — not as owners — because they saw in Jesus the goal is not to prolong and enrich this temporary life.


We all think we know how long we’re going to live and how in control we are, so in isolation we just want to gather more and more and more.


I know a family that is very wealthy. They’re some of the most wealthy people I know, and they’re also the most generous people I know.

They sat their kids down one day to explain to them that they would not be leaving any money with them when they die. Their plan is to give it all away before they die.

They’re doing that partly because they believe they’re doing the best thing for their kids. They’ve seen money ruin kids lives.

They’re also doing it because they believe fellowship requires sharing. And God has blessed them so they can be a blessing to others.


I think it was this spirit of sharing that led to outrageous joy even in the middle of suffering.


I think it was this spirit of sharing that made the rest of the people outside of the church glad that the church existed.

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Something else we share is the truth about each other.

The writers of Scripture say, “Speak the truth in love,” and that’s how we grow in the fellowship.


When a difficult truth needs to be spoken, it’s always easier to keep silent.

Churches especially become places where people suffer sometimes from terminal niceness.

Often, relationships or even whole groups stagnate. They never get to true fellowship because when a subject is brought up that creates tension, someone jumps in to change the subject, or smooth ruffled feathers, or make everything go back to a surface level.

Jesus never did this.

Jesus ruffled a lot of feathers.


Sometimes, people read a passage like Acts 2, and they think the early church must have just been filled with a lot of really nice bland people and that’s why they got along.

Actually, the early church had all kinds of conflicts.

They fought over which groups of widows got the most food.
They fought over what to do about the Gentiles coming in.
They fought about what rules to keep.
Paul and Barnabas fought so badly over one colleague that they split up.
A man named Simon Magnus got jealous and tried to buy the Holy Spirit, and Peter told him off in no uncertain terms.
Paul got into Peter’s face for ethnocentric prejudice legalism.
They fought with each other.
They fought with the government.
They fought with scammers.

This was not Paradise Island. These were the real disciples of ancient Palestine.

Speaking the truth is what they did, and it didn’t kill them. It grew them.


In some spiritual relationships or some small groups, there’s a stagnant blandness going on because no one is willing to speak the truth in love.

Speaking the truth in love is one of the secret weapons of fellowship.

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Also, in fellowship we share our sufferings. “Share each other’s troubles and problems,” Paul wrote, “and in this way, obey the law of Christ.”

Shared suffering (not just suffering but shared suffering) has a strange power.


If I were to ask about other things we have in common — if I were to ask:

Who here likes the 49ers?
Or who here owns a German Shepherd?
Or who here works in tech?

There would be a certain kind of affinity, but if I were to ask, “Who here has survived cancer?” Then we’d have a fellowship.

If I were to ask, “Who here has lost someone who you love?” Then we’d have a fellowship.


The Big Book of AA says:

We are a people who normally would not mix, but there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.

Because they’ve been saved together from something they all knew would destroy them.

That’s the church. They got that from the church.

We are a people who normally would not mix (Jew and Gentile, slave and free, rich and poor, male and female). That’s fellowship.


Now, God will lead you how to take a tangible step toward fellowship.

As you know, the impact for all of us of this series in our lives depends not so much on what we hear in the sermon as what we do in between the sermons.


So maybe it will mean making a decision that when our congregation gathers for worship, I’m going to be here. If I’m out of town, I will join online, but maybe it’s making that decision.


Maybe it’s becoming more than an attender — going from convenience to commitment.


But for all of us, I want to give one very simple action step — I want to challenge everyone to take this week. This is really simple. We can all do this.

Find one person and ask if they would be a prayer partner for your spiritual well-being for the rest of this series.

Ask if they would pray for God to give you knowledge of his will for your life and the power to carry it out.


Then, actually pause and pray together with that person at least one time.

Ask someone if they would pray for you. Then pray with them at least once.

You may have never prayed with someone before. That’s okay. You don’t have to be an expert.

The only way to learn how to do something well is to begin by doing it badly.


This is a true story. A friend was in a small group, and there was a young woman who was from a very, very unchurched background, so prayer was very new territory for her.

She had a boyfriend who was abusive and foul-mouthed. He had taken her money. He had cheated on her and dumped her, and they were praying for the first time, and she was so troubled by this, she just blurted out, “God, I want you to kill him!” That was her first prayer.

Another woman in that small group who was a leader in the church for a long time, prayed, “Oh, no, God! We don’t want you to kill him. We want you to redeem him and forgive him and heal him and restore him.”

The first woman said, “No, God! No, we don’t! Then, he’d get away with it. This is my prayer, and I want you to kill him!”

It was like dueling prayers. This was never covered in seminary as far as I know. Do they cancel each other out? Is there a tie-breaking prayer?


Well, it took time and honesty and acceptance and love, and eventually, the first woman got past that killing prayer to, “Your will be done.”


There are some prayers in the Bible and some prayers in the Psalms that look a lot like that prayer.

God can handle it when you’re real honest in prayer.


Pray with another person, and if you’ve never done this before, this would be a great step in your own spiritual life.

You could do this with a friend.
You could do it with a spouse.
You could do it with a relative.
You could do it with someone in your small group.
You could do it with someone before you leave this room today.


I would love for everyone in our church to know that someone else is praying for them and for everyone who’s part of our church to be blessed by another person in prayer.


I promise you… I promise you… if you follow Jesus in the practice of fellowship and shared life together, you will know a greater level of meaning and acceptance and joy and love than you could ever know in the safety of spiritual isolation.

You will be given a glad and sincere heart.
You will have meals you will always remember.
You will know the freedom of being able to take off your mask.
You will know the strength of being able to give to others.
When you get to the end of your life, you will not be haunted by whether or not it had meaning.
You will be flooded with love.


Please don’t leave here without loving someone here today.


Next week, we’ll take this to a whole other level, so don’t miss that.

Alright, let me pray for you.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA