“All the believers devoted themselves to fellowship….” Acts 2:42b (NIV)
Recently I watched an amazing video of unusual animal behavior in the Serengeti. A huge hippopotamus was seen protecting a young wildebeest from a crocodile attack. Had it not been for the quick response and defense of the hippo, the wildebeest would not have made it. This incredible scene reminded me of the opportunity we have as the church to rescue those who are being victimized by this world, sin, or Satan, himself. It is truly why our souls long to belong!
One of the four distinctives that defined the priorities of the early church was fellowship. Fellowship is the New Testament word for belonging. Luke writes that all the believers devoted themselves to fellowship. They understood, if they were to survive in a hostile political climate and fulfill the commission that Jesus gave them before He ascended to heaven, to preach the gospel to all nations, they desperately needed one another. They needed to love one another, encourage one another, pray for one another and serve one another. That’s the dynamic of the New Testament Church, and it’s the dynamic of Christ’s church today.
This kind of fellowship risks reaching outside our own comfort zone to include others who long to belong. It certainly worked for Saul of Tarsus, in Acts chapter nine, when he was struck with blindness on the road to Damascus! He was led into the city to await the arrival of Ananias, a disciple in Damascus, to come and pray for him to be healed so that he could see. When we experience real fellowship like that, our lives are never the same. When he came to the house where Saul was staying to pray for him, despite his own objections and concerns, Ananias took a risk of faith in obeying what God was telling him to do. Saul had come to his city to arrest Christ followers and continue his reign of terror against them that he began in Jerusalem with the stoning of Stephen! Yet, God had another plan! He arrested Saul on that Damascus road! Blind and helpless, Saul was led to a house to await Ananias’ arrival to rescue him. It’s fascinating to me to see how God works! He was not only at work transforming this once-persecutor of Christians into a preacher, but He was also at work in Ananias and the church to deepen their faith and fellowship!
Luke tells us, “So Ananias went and found the house, placed his hands on blind Saul, and said, ‘Brother Saul…”
Did you notice that? Ananias referred to this hostile Pharisee as a brother in Christ! I don’t know what was in his mind at the time, but I think, if I would have been Ananias, I would have certainly been praying Saul was a brother now and this wasn’t some kind of trick to draw out more Christ followers to arrest! There’s no mention of that in Scripture though. It seems Ananias was so accustomed to following Jesus that he didn’t worry about it. He was simply doing what he was told and, despite all the terrible things that Saul had done to fellow believers, Ananias could accept him now as a brother! That’s huge! Do you struggle with accepting those who have hurt you or your friends and, yet, have now come to Christ? I’m amazed how quickly Ananias responded with grace and forgiveness. He accepted Saul as a brother, not an enemy! He said,
“‘Brother Saul, the Master sent me, the same Jesus you saw on your way here. He sent me so you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’” Acts 9:17 (MSG)
Saul had been filled with himself! He was steeped in the pride of his religion and in his position as a Pharisee of the Pharisees! He saw himself as on a mission for God to purify Judaism from this growing sect of dissidents called “followers of the Way.” Now, however, through the obedience of a Christ follower, Saul would be filled with the Holy Spirit! This man, so blinded by his own ambition, religion and culture would have his eyes opened to see the risen Christ! The Biblical account says, “No sooner were the words out of his mouth than something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes – he could see again! He got to his feet, (and) was baptized….” (Vs. 18)
God used Ananias to connect Saul with his path and help him to see. Imagine the relief when Saul could see and the first person he saw was the man who placed his hands on him and prayed for him. Imagine Ananias’ relief when his eyes met Saul’s and he could see that Saul had been transformed by the Spirit of God. Fellowship risks reaching out to others who long to belong as much as we do! No wonder it was so distinctive of the early Christ followers.
What about you? How important is fellowship in your life? Someone once defined fellowship as two people in the same ship. I like to think of it as two people on the same side of a struggle. Once, Saul and Ananias were on opposing sides, but Jesus brought them together in fellowship and they would soon be on the same side forever. Saul needed Ananias, and both Ananias and the church would benefit from the contribution Saul, who later become the great Apostle Paul, would make as he planted churches and wrote much of the New Testament. No wonder Paul wrote in Romans that we belong to one another! (Romans 12:5)
Fellowship is belonging. If you are not a part of a local church fellowship and life group, I want to personally invite you to join one! There are many Christ-honoring, Bible-believing churches, and you need to find one and join it. The church needs you and you need the church. God uses people in our lives to connect us to His path. Perhaps God is leading you today to risk reaching out to someone else who longs to belong. God’s family always has room for one more! Why not invite them to church this weekend!