Browsing articles tagged with " fellowship"

Avoiding the Path of the Prodigal (Part 1)

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“The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble” Proverbs 4:19 (NIV)

The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31) is quite fascinating no matter where it is told. I remember the rapt attention I received once when I tried to explain the love of God to a Muslim in a village in Northern Nigeria by telling him this story. Nothing else but the extraordinary love of the Father could have given it the kind of ending that it has. A while ago I had some reflections on this story which threw some sidelights on some important truths. I will share some of these this week and more next week.

I noticed that the son did not tell the father why he wanted his share of the estate when he asked for it. It was only after he had secured it that he took off. Perhaps he didn’t want anybody asking too many questions. His attitude was “I know my right and so I don’t need to explain anything to anybody”. We must beware of fighting too hard for our right to our privacy. We need to be willing to be accountable to others around us. It’s a fallacy to think we can have fellowship without accountability.

Too many believers attend fellowship meetings without having any real fellowship with the brethren. You can’t hide behind the wall of your-right-to-your-privacy and have true fellowship. It is only “… if we walk in the light (that) we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus purifies us” (1 John 1:7 – NIV). Don’t feel you can do anything you want to do without needing to give account to anybody. That kind of freedom breeds trouble. God did not put you within the community of believers where you are presently, by mistake. Don’t get upset when those you are in fellowship with question your actions. Transparency and accountability are key ingredients of Christian fellowship.

The prodigal son went from a life of security in the father’s house to a life of wastefulness in a distant land. He went from the place of abundance in the father’s house to a place of emptiness in the pigpen. This is always where the pursuit of freedom from the Father leads to: emptiness, purposelessness and powerlessness. You can’t keep your distance from the Father and get to where you ought to go. I encourage you to set your heart to pursue increasing intimacy with the Father. Don’t allow any cloud between you and the Father. Be resolute like David and say, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps 23:6)

But it was not obvious at the first stage of his descent that he was on the way down, because he was surrounded with all that money could buy. Yet as soon as he took his first step away from the father he was on the way down. In the same way it is not often obvious to many that they are dying spiritually because they are surrounded by material comfort. Or it may be that they have the comfort of their Christian activities and position in Church. We must beware of measuring our spiritual health by the wrong parameters. It takes the help of God to be able to see our true state. And one of the ways by which God helps us is to use those in fellowship with us to speak into our lives. Indeed this is one of the reasons why we need the transparency and accountability of fellowship. For those who love us and with whom we are walking in the light can often see before we do, that all is not well.

So to avoid the path of the prodigal we must stay in the path of fellowship with the saints.


Rules for Reconciliation

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“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” Matthew 18:15

In the last article we introduced our Lord’s simple instructions for the restoration of fellowship and saw that the prerequisite for carrying it out was to have an attitude that seeks to win back our estranged brother and not one that seeks to win.

Look again at what the Lord said in the first part of Matthew 18:15(NIV) quoted above. Note that he is asking you, the offended party to make the first move towards reconciliation, and not the offender. We normally feel that if we have been sinned against it must be the other person who must come to make peace. The Lord says, ‘No’. God’s kingdom is different from the world because God’s children are called to be peacemakers. Our commitment to peace makes us refuse to nurse our wounds, but rather to nurture fellowship.

Now let me bring a balance here by pointing out what the Lord says in another passage;

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift”  – Matthew 5:23-24

Here the offender is asked to make the first move to seek reconciliation with those who feel offended by him or her. So, whether we are offended against, or whether others feel offended by us, God’s children are called to be peacemakers by always taking the initiative to see fellowship restored whenever it is broken.

Matthew 5:9 says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”. This is why something is seriously wrong when a person who calls himself a child of God is comfortable with conflict and trouble-making.

Then the Lord says that you must go and show him his fault ‘just between the two of you’. By keeping this first meeting for reconciliation just between the two of us, I am communicating to my brother that I am not seeking to expose his fault to others or to judge him, but rather seeking to get rid of something that is coming between the two of us. It shows that I value him and his fellowship. When this first step of working out the trouble ‘just between the two of you’ is neglected and others are brought in at the start, trust is lost and true reconciliation may become impossible. Many marriages have been seriously damaged because one of them has gone first to talk to a pastor or a parent about their differences, instead of seriously working at sorting things out first with their spouse.

Another reason why it is important that we begin with ‘just between the two of you’, is because it is possible that we may have misjudged the situation.  (Once again remember what I shared some weeks ago on Balaam and his ass!). There was once a brother whose reaction to what I had asked a group I was leading, to do, seemed to me like a deliberate attempt to insult me. But when I shared this with him, his explanation of what he had said and meant by it, made me realise that I had put the wrong interpretation on his action. How damaging things would have been in that instance, if I had not spoken to him first, but had discussed this with others instead.

In my experience, when this first step of reconciliation is properly applied with the right attitude, most relationship conflicts are sorted out.  As we approach our brother with a humble heart seeking forgiveness and being willing to give it, healing results. But there are complex situations when we will need to go beyond this ‘just between the two of you’ approach. That is what the Lord goes on to deal with in our text and we will look at this next week.


The Path of Fellowship

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‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ – Eph. 4:2-3 (NIV)

God’s will is that we should walk in fellowship with our brother. Yet true fellowship does not mean there would never be misunderstandings between brothers. Indeed, you cannot successfully travel in the path of true fellowship without knowing how to restore fellowship when conflict occurs. And this path of reconciliation is what our Lord outlines in a masterly way in Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV)

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

First note that our Lord makes allowances for misunderstandings among brothers, that is why he says ‘If your brother sins against you’. Our Lord knows that brother will sin against brother. It is George Verwer who has said, ‘Where two or three of the Lord’s people are gathered together, sooner or later there will be a mess.’ We must not become disillusioned when our brother sins against us, or when relationship problems occur among the brethren. Relationship mess will happen but the Lord wants us to use it to build up, and not destroy, fellowship.

Isn’t it beautiful to see the simplicity of our Lord’s instructions on how to win back a brother’s fellowship? I have observed first-hand the trouble it causes when men neglect this simple wisdom and seek to handle misunderstandings with man’s complicated ‘wisdom’. For example, many, when offended, would rather go and share the matter with others, rather than going first to the brother who has sinned against them as the Lord instructs here. This instruction is simple yet it is thorough and if we want to experience true healing in our relationships we will do well to humbly follow it to the letter.

It is important that I make one more comment before looking in detail at what the Lord instructs us to do here. I want you to note that the goal of this directive is the restoration of fellowship. It is obvious that this is the Lord’s intention when he says ‘If he listens to you, you have won your brother over’. The goal is to win over your brother into fellowship so that he is not cut off from you. The goal is not to prove that you are right, but to win back your brother’s fellowship. If we do not go about these instructions of the Lord with the right attitude we will never see his purpose fulfilled. God’s desire is that even in misunderstandings brothers should seek the wellbeing of each other. There must be a continual shalom (peace) from our heart towards our brother even when he has hurt us. This is in the spirit of the Lord’s words, ‘Bless them that curse (or hurt) you’ Matt 5:44b (KJV).

If this is the attitude with which we must apply these directives then we will need help, because when someone has hurt us, the natural thing is not to seek their wellbeing but their undoing. This is why it is important that our first step in carrying out these rules for reconciliation must be prayer. We need to seek God’s help to forgive our brother even before we approach him. We need also to come to a place where we are open to the possibility of being wrong in our assumption that our brother is the guilty one (remember what we learnt last week from Balaam and his ass). It is only when we obey the Lord’s directive with this attitude that it can bear the desired fruit.

I will conclude this next week.


Disputable Matters

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“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” Romans 14:1

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