A number of years ago, one of my former seminary professors was preaching at a public event for men and exhorted us to expand our relationships by saying (and here I paraphrase):
Every man needs three relationships: you need a Paul — someone walking ahead of you who will build into you, a Barnabas — someone walking beside you with whom you can share ministry, and a Timothy — someone following behind you into whom you can pour your life.
Apart from his specific encouragement, his point was simply that men (and women too!) are created by God for relationship and fellowship. We were not created to be alone. We were created for fellowship with the eternal Godhead, and we were created to have fellowship with one another on our way to and then in eternity.
After creating Adam, God put the man in the Garden of Eden with the command to cultivate and keep that garden. Apart from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, nothing was off-limits to the man. He could enjoy and possess anything (Gen. 2:16-17). In that context, then, the next comment is particularly interesting: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone…’”
Though Adam had access to all things, God’s evaluation of Adam’s circumstance was that his solitude was a detriment to him. In contrast to the rest of creation of which God said everything was “good” and even “very good,” of this lack of fellowship for Adam, God said it was “not good.” Adam needed fellowship.
The need for relationship was not unique to Adam. It is for all people everywhere. In the New Testament there are some 57 references to “one another” and “each other.” And those references come with a variety of commands, such as, “love,” “be devoted to,” “do not judge,” “build up,” “encourage,” “care for,” “be subject to,” and “be kind to.” Additionally, spiritual gifts were given to members of the church body not primarily for the benefit of the individual with the gift, but for the benefit of those who receive the actions of that gift. The overwhelming picture in the New Testament, then, is of a church that is dependent upon and only thrives in the context of mutually caring relationships — something called “fellowship” by the New Testament.
Mark Dever and Paul Alexander said it well when they wrote,
While our individual walks are crucial, we are impoverished in our personal pursuit of God if we do not avail ourselves of the help that is available through mutually edifying relationships in our covenant church family.…We can’t live the Christian life alone. We are saved individually from our sins, yet we are not saved into a vacuum. We’re saved into a mutually edifying community of believers who are building each other up and spurring each other on to love and good deeds. [The Deliberate Church]
Now on the way to this sweet fellowship, something intruded. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the early stages of the New Testament church that this disturbance came along. It’s existence began several millennia earlier.
Way back in the early stages of the Old Testament, in fact right after the initiation of the first human relationship, this intruder stepped in. The intrusion was sin (Gen. 3:1ff). And the effect was not only the disruption of man’s fellowship with God, but also with his fellow man. And it didn’t take long (Gen. 4!) until those broken relationships turned horrid, with Cain’s murder of Abel.
And the even greater tragedy is that Cain’s sin was not isolated. The history of man and the history of the church are littered with sorrowful tales of broken relationships that remained broken.
You know the tales. You know of churches, as I do, where people have avoided speaking to other members of the same church family for five, or ten, or 15 years. You know of people who have finally reached out to someone in an effort to mend a conflict, only to arrive too late — the other person had already entered eternity. You’ve heard of parents unreconciled with children, brothers hating sisters, friends erecting literal fences to keep from having to interact with an estranged neighbor.
I will regularly ask two people in such conditions of dis-fellowship, “After you have escalated in anger, how do you ‘come back down?’ You can’t stay angry for weeks and months (though some, sadly, can) — how do you begin to relate to that person again?” And too often I hear something like, “well, I go to bed and then in the morning it doesn’t hurt so bad…” It may not “hurt,” but neither is it healthy. Nothing has been resolved and no genuine fellowship is present.
Over the past two or three years, it has been our longing at GBC to help individuals in our body to cultivate deeper and more meaningful genuine relationships — places where the genuine fellowship of sharing lives and sharing Christ occurs.
In a culture where relational fragmentation is readily accepted as a sacrifice for our mobility and “personal needs,” how do you reverse the trend and stimulate fellowship? And even more, how do you teach people how to confess and forgive sin against one another so that genuine restoration of relationships takes place?
We have done and will continue to offer a variety of different ministry opportunities to those ends (like Granbury Biblical Counseling), but our main effort to that end this fall is the ministry of Sunday Nights @ Grace. Those evening fellowship groups are designed to do two things — encourage and build relationships within our church body, and equip us through those relationships how to be reconciled to one another when we sin against one another. To provide that training, we will be reading and studying together Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker.
We believe that this study will provide you with spiritual tools that will not only make you more effective in creating harmonious relationships at home, church, in your neighborhood, and at work, but will also lead you to deeper fellowship and satisfaction with God as He is glorified through your earthly relationships.
The question is not whether you will have relationships. You do have them. The question is what the quality of those relationships will be like. The goal of Sunday Nights @ Grace is to give you both more and better relationships. Won’t you consider being a part of Sunday Nights?