Monday, February 18, 2013

What is the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit?

Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:14  
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Paul prays that three things would be with us. We are more familiar with the first two—“the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ... the love of God”—and how essential those are to life itself. However, this third phrase, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”,or the King James, “communion of the Holy Ghost”, is not as clear. We hear many sermons on the first two phrases, not so many on the third. Considering the company it keeps in Paul's prayer, I suspect it must be very important to us.
Although the expression, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” brings comforting thoughts to my mind, grasping its meaning is a bit like trying to hold onto an entire bowlful of jello...without the bowl. Is this a warm and fuzzy feeling we get that confirms God's love for us and the grace of Christ? (Of course I never really would say it that way, but is that the thought that fills the vacuum of my lack of understanding?) For the last couple of weeks I've been contemplating what it means to have “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” I have focused on one facet of it and share that here.
The Unique Nature of Our Fellowship in the Spirit
I propose that the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the very thing that makes Christian fellowship unique. Community is a common buzz word in our culture today—both inside and outside the church. The word translated fellowship is often also translated communion which has the same root as community. Christian community, which is truly fellowship, is different than the community anyone else can offer. It is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that makes it unique.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called... (Ephesians 4:3-4)
The unity that we have as Christians has as its source the Spirit who indwells us—the One Spirit Who indwells all of us. We see this again in 1 Corinthians 12:13:
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Our union together is rooted in our union to Christ by His Spirit who dwells in us. God called us through the Gospel into fellowship with His Son and this fellowship is intended to produce a unity amongst us (1 Corinthians 1:9-10). The apostle John also speaks of this uniqueness of fellowship.
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
John writes so the saints will have fellowship with one another and that fellowship was also with the Father and the Son. That is why he proclaimed Jesus. Through faith in Jesus Christ we enter into this fellowship with the Father and the Son. In our being joined to the Father and the Son we are joined to one another. How are we joined to the Father and the Son? “...through His Spirit He has given us” (1 John 3:24).
So the unity, the community, which the church is called to is unique because its source is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is something in which we are to be actively engaged.
The Active Nature of Our Fellowship in the Spirit
Not only do I propose that the fellowship of the Holy Spirit makes Christian fellowship unique, I also propose that it is something in which we are to be actively engaged. How are we to be actively engaged in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit? As we are devoted to one another in prayer. First, consider our calling to be devoted to prayer.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2 ESV)
Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. (Rom 12:12 HCSB)
Continue steadfastly in prayer,” and, “be persistent in prayer,” in these two verses translate the same original expression. We are called to be persistent in our practice of prayer, and I believe that the phrase “being watchful” is a “one another” kind of phrase. Since the idea behind “watching” is that of standing guard at night (e.g. on the city wall), which is something the guard does for the good of those who are inside the wall, it makes sense that we watch in prayer not only for our own protection but also for those with whom we are joined together with in Christ.
Second, consider that prayer is to be in the Spirit.
praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints... (Ephesians 6:18 ESV)
Our prayer is to be in the Spirit. Jude instructs us to be praying in the Holy Spirit (Jude 1:20) So we are to be persistent in the practice of prayer for one another, guarding one another in the Holy Spirit. This, it seems to me, must be part of what is meant by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Third, consider the effect of our prayer, through the Spirit, on one another. For instance Paul writes the Corinthians:
10He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:10-11)
And he tells the Philippians,
for I know that through your prayers and God's provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (Philippians 1:19)
There is something mysterious, even mystical, that happens when we pray one for another! There is a help that the Spirit gives and a provision of the Spirit that comes in consort with our prayers. Something spiritual happens when we pray for one another that we cannot perceive with our senses or get our minds fully around. The fellowship of the Spirit will be increasingly manifest amongst us as we are persistent in our prayer for one another. In order to have true community we must be a praying community, a community that persists in prayer one for another.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Are You Finding Joy in His House of Prayer?

Reading: Matthew 21, Isaiah 56  
I don't think it is merely a passing comment that, “When [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, "Who is this?" (Mat 21:10 CSB) The city will be shaken when Jesus hangs on the cross, and the guards will shake with fear when Jesus is going to be resurrected (Matthew 27:51; 28:4). But now, Jesus, the King Who comes bringing salvation, the Son of David Who comes in the name of Yahweh (Matthew 21:5, 9) enters the city. It is shaken, and their understanding of who God's people are is about to be shaken as well—in the very next verses.
Jesus walks into the temple and begins to drive out those in charge who were selling doves for sacrifice. This is a familiar scene to us. It is here that Jesus quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah saying,
It is written,” he said to them, “'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'” (Matthew 21:13)
The first part of this quote is from Isaiah 56:7. In the first part of Isaiah we see that Israel will not trust in the Lord and will therefore be led into captivity (chapters 1–39); they will be delivered from Babylonian captivity (chapters 40–48); they will be delivered from spiritual captivity (chapters 49–55); and now, when we might expect the book to end, Isaiah 56 shakes up our expectations of who these regathered people of God are.
3Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— 5to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. 6And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— 7these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” 8The Sovereign LORD declares—he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:3-8)
According to Deuteronomy 23:1-3, eunuchs and foreigners were excluded from the assembly of the Lord. Eunuchs were people who had had mutilated the image of God in which they were created. They were excluded; and they had no heritage. Nothing he could do could change a eunuch's condition. Foreigners were not part of the chosen people. Only those with some relationship to the people of God were to be allowed in. Like us, formerly Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised," formerly separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world, these eunuchs and foreigner were excluded, “but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13) We are those eunuchs and foreigners!
Have you ever felt excluded, either because you felt there was no way God would choose you, or because you had done so much damage to God's image in which you were created that you were too far gone? When Jesus came as King, the whole city of God was shaken because He came to bring people like you right into the very temple of God—the holy place where the Most High dwells. And Jesus wants to give you joy in His house of prayer! It is because of Jesus that we can get to Acts 8:36-38 and discover that nothing prevents the eunuch from being baptized when he believes! He is not kept out!
Immediately following this scene in Matthew 21, “the blind and the lame come to Jesus in the temple,” we see children shouting praises to Jesus in the temple (Matthew 21:14-15), then Jesus rebukes the chief priests and elders of the Jews for their refusal to repent when they saw tax collectors and prostitutes believe John's message about Jesus (Matthew 21:23, 32), Jesus tells a parable about how the vineyard (always a description of Israel in the past) would be taken away from the Jewish leaders and given to foreigners (Matthew 21:43), a parable about a wedding banquet opened up for every imaginable candidate since the first invited guests refused to come (Matthew 22:1-14).
As we read these accounts, we should be convinced that we too have been invited in, not because of who we are, but purely because of God's mercy. We are the eunuchs and foreigners. And we should realize that it is vital for us to come—come to the house of prayer and find joy in God's presence. Have you responded to His invitation? Do you spend time in His presence? Your sacrifices are accepted on His altar! But if you don't ever make them, it matters not. We are invited to live our lives in His presence. We must begin to live there by His mercy! You are no longer excluded!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
For more on Isaiah 56, listen to this sermon, Upside Down Expectations.