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Christian Companionship

April 27th, 2016

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42, NKJV)

Baptism was a two-fold sign for the new believer: a sign of his faith in Christ and a sign of his association with other Christians.

There have been times in the history of the church when “who baptized you” was more important than “in whose name” you were baptized. That was because baptism inevitably brought up the issue of Christian companionship.

The English word “companion” comes from the Latin – a combination of com, meaning “with,” and panis, meaning “bread” – literally “those with whom we break bread,” and there is no better evidence of the significance of this than in the early church. When we use the word “company” we are conjuring up in modern language the ancient practice of eating together, of sharing food and the stuff of life.

The inadequacy of a private faith: One of the great meanings and applications of this passage is the inadequacy of a “too private” faith. In some way everyone’s faith should have a private and personal element – we have our own relationship with Christ, we saw our own private prayers, and the heart has burdens that it cannot easily share with anyone but God. And there are times when we must pull away in solitude for study and prayer – just as Jesus, Paul, David, Elijah, Daniel, John, and others did.

Yet the Lord calls us to community and we cannot hide out from others for ever. Even from the start of our Christian experience we need others. We must hear the gospel from someone else, and no matter how little others may have been involved we must each admit that other Christians were an indispensable element in our salvation. We must grow and mature through the teaching, instruction, encouragement, leadership, help, and examples of other Christians.

And God calls us to serve others, to return to the community the kindness and instruction that we have received, even to preach the gospel to the lost. So we cannot become a believer without the help of others, nor mature as a believer, nor function as a believer without associating with others.

The promise of the Christian community: God in his love has given us Christians to one another. This is especially seen in the gift to the church of those called to special roles, especially, today, the role of pastor-teacher. “And He Himself gave some to be … pastors and teachers, for the equipping of saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13). But this principle applies to every Christian for each is given a spiritual gift “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).

We would not know what love was without it being exercised toward us by other Christians. Even though we are imperfect servants, imperfect examples, and imperfect teachers, yet we are still God’s tools to do this essential work. And our imperfections also call upon us all to live with the constant need to forgive one another, just as we have received God’s forgiveness.

Someone anonymously wrote the little verse:

To live above
With saints we love,
That would be glory!
But to dwell below
with saints we know,
That is a different story!

And it makes us smile, even though it also challenges us to love one another. I am convinced that God allows certain people to come into our lives so that we might simply grow in compassion and love and understanding. He places people in our path and in our lives that are very different from us, that challenge us to even begin to understand where they are coming from, what has shaped their perspectives, and what has formed their opinions.

It is an easy thing to judge others and say they are inferior, to shut them out and decide they are unspiritual. I am not saying that there is not a time when such actions are necessary, just as Paul said that he handed over Hymeneus and Alexander to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). But these are the exception and not the rule. The commands are to love, to forgive, to pray for one another, to be patient with one another, to tenderly seek to understand, and not just to be understood.

There is no other way given: Christ has given us no other way to grow in the faith other than by dealing with others. Though we may experience both the best and the worst of what is in the church, though we rub shoulders with giants in the faith and those who seem to have barely “escaped through the flames” (1 Cor 3:15), yet in each situation we are better off for having done so. Either our knowledge will be deepened, or our sympathy and compassion will be strengthened through the challenge of loving those difficult to love.

“Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33), so I am not saying we should take no precautions, that just any Christian will make us more godly. Many, unfortunately, will not. But neither should we abandon them, nor cease to pray for them, nor exercise compassion and sympathy – even if it can only be empathy.

To seek to “go it alone” in the Christian life reveals pride. God did not leave us alone. He is with us and He desires to make us unified and as one as we follow him (John 17:20-23). It is Christ in us through which love is perfected and his glory revealed.

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