For most of us, if not every single one of us, we live in a “Christian-friendly” place. In most of our towns and cities, there is some kind of a Christian gathering or activity happening somewhere every day and night of the week. There is some kind of Christian work or service being done in the name of Jesus somewhere in our cities every day. There are Christian churches on every corner. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen Christians. The people you work with, your neighbors, your waiter, the lady in front of you at the post office — they’re all Christians. Or, at least, most of them would claim to be Christian. Now, without getting into the specifics of their connections to Christ or their discipleship to Jesus, the truth is that most of us can go for days at a time and never see anybody or talk to anybody who wouldn’t say they’re a Christian.
And I wonder if we take that for granted.
Because, I promise you, the apostle Paul and John and Peter and Luke and the other early disciples of Jesus could never have imagined in their wildest dreams a world in which most people claim to be Christian. That concept of open and public worship and devotion to Jesus and open fellowship with a huge community of believers would have been unthinkable. Our group of 750 that meets together at Central on Sunday mornings and all the things we do together and all the ways we come together would have blown those first century Christians out of the water! Our meetings together and our fellowship with one another is so… matter-of-fact. So ordinary. So expected.
The very first Christians could never relate to what we enjoy on a regular basis. To those great men and women of the faith, the physical presence of other Christians — being in the same room with a bunch of other disciples! — was not normal. It was, instead, an uncommon source of great joy and strength.
Paul’s in prison and he calls Timothy to come to him in the last days of his life. He remembers Timothy’s tears when they departed and he longs to see his beloved son in the faith “that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4). He writes to his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again” (1 Thessalonians 3:10). The great apostle John, in his second letter writes to his brothers and sisters in Asia: “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12).
There were times in their lives when these great men of God did not have the physical, visible fellowship with other believers that we enjoy on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. And they longed for it. They treasured it. They cherished it. They looked forward to it and savored it with great delight.
Good or bad, I don’t think we can relate.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about Christian fellowship in his wonderful little book, Life Together. When he wrote this in 1938, he was running an illegal underground seminary in Nazi Germany. This was five years before he was arrested by Hitler’s Gestapo police, seven years before he was executed by special order of Heinrich Himmler:
“What is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us. Therefore, let him who has the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”
Our Christian friendships should be treasured, never assumed. Our time together should be cherished, never avoided. Opportunities to be together should be seized, never scorned.
May we rededicate ourselves from this day forward to living more closely together in Christian community. May we place the proper perspective and value on the time we get to spend together in the holy presence of our loving and saving Father. And may we better understand how our life together not only serves to transform all of us more into the image of Christ, but serves to redeem this broken world in the name and manner of Jesus.