Greeting with a Holy Kiss – Romans 16:16

Greet one another with a holy kiss. – Romans 16:16a CSB

If you are like me, you might get a bit uncomfortable when you read Paul’s instruction to greet one another with a holy kiss. The only people I am comfortable with kissing are my wife and 16 month old granddaughter. But this instruction is not really about kissing. Instead it is about greeting. In the context of the day, a kiss on the cheek was a form of greeting between two people. But that is no longer the custom today, at least in the US. Instead we will shake hands, or sometimes hug. And so, if Paul was writing this to an American church today, he might tell us to greet one another with a holy handshake.

I don’t know what would make a handshake holy. But our greeting should be more than perfunctory. Within the body of Christ, we are all fellow members, joined together into one body. While that union is largely a spiritual one, our physical greetings, whether a kiss, a hug, or a handshake, can serve to symbolize that union. When we shake hands together, let’s do it with the acknowledgement that we are connected together in spirit. Greet one another joyfully. Be thankful for the opportunity to connect physically, however briefly. Maybe that is what would make our handshake holy!

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Mutual Encouragement – Romans 1:12

For I want very much to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. – Romans 1:11-12 CSB

How important is it for believers to gather together? I know some who seem not to think it is all that important; believing that they can live as Christians without being a part of a fellowship of believers. As a person for whom social interaction is draining, I can understand at least one of the motivations that keep people from being an active part of a church. And I also understand that the church, like every other collection of people, is filled with hypocrites.

But we need each other; even the Lone Ranger had a companion. If any believer would have been strong enough to stand alone, you would think it would be Paul. Yet even he saw the need to fellowship with other believers, for mutual encouragement, if for no other reason. While I can learn, pray, and even worship alone, I am very thankful for the other believers in my life who encourage me and share their lives with me; and pray that my life might also be an encouragement to them. 

Walking in the Light – 1 John 1:7

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7 NIV

I periodically hear someone ask how they can know that they are saved. That is not an easy question to answer, but John gives us a number of ways that can help in answering it. The first of these indicators is, “are you walking in the light of God?”

John tells us that God is light, without any measure of darkness. A result of this is that we cannot walk in the dark and claim to be in fellowship with him; light and darkness cannot coexist. On the other hand, if we are walking in the light, we do have fellowship with God and with others who are walking in the light.

While not an absolute test of salvation, one mark of those who are walking in the light, and thus in relationship with God, is that they are in fellowship with other believers. In contrast, living without the companionship of other believers is an indication that you are probably not in relationship with God and are walking in darkness. So how is your relationship with the church?

Acts 2:42 Groups

I have grown most during those times in my life when I have been a part of a close knit group of committed believers.  Most of the more significant steps on my spiritual journey were made in step with a handful of others who walked with me along the way.  I remember and cherish those times and those people.

But all too often my fellowship within the body of Christ has been more superficial and casual.  I seldom develop close relationships with others; even though I crave them.  I willingly and freely share surface chatter; while struggling to share anything that is below the surface.  Far too often I flounder along on a solitary spiritual journey that never seems to go very far.  I freely admit that it is my own fault; but it is a problem none-the-less.

This summer, while hiking through Oregon, I was challenged to leave my comfort zone, to trust God, and work to develop a greater sense of intimacy and commitment within the church where I serve.  The Small Group ministry that Kitsap Lake Baptist is beginning had its genesis somewhere north of Crater Lake with God impressing Acts 2:42 on my mind.  Hours, and miles, were spent on this passage and on how to bring something like it to life within the body of believers I am a part of.

Since returning from the trail I have spent many hours with our pastor and a small group of other like minded believers in taking that dream and developing a ministry to implement it within the life of the church.  Our Acts 2:42 Groups ministry has taken shape over the past five months and is now, at least on paper, compete.  Enlisting and training small group leaders will be on going during the next couple of months, with a launch currently scheduled for April 1st.  This is an exciting time for me, and I am eagerly looking forward to seeing it change my own life as well as others who make up the body of Christ.  And the health of the body will not lag behind the health of its members.

Acts 2:42 Groups are not Bible studies; although they do include Bible study.  They are not prayer meetings; although prayer is an integral part of them.  They are not just an opportunity to fellowship; although intimate fellowship is an intentional activity with the groups.  Following the Acts 2:42 model, our Acts 2:42 groups will be devoted to the Apostles teaching (Bible study), the fellowship (development of unity and intimacy), the breaking of bread (social activities), and prayer (uniting together in prayer).  Acts 2:42 Groups will also work to develop a sense of accountability between group members, and work together on mission projects.

How will we know if our Acts 2:42 Groups are a success?  If we find Acts 2:46-47 happening; the church praising God and worshiping, hanging out together, having a good reputation in our community, and growing from those who want what we have; then we will have done well.

Koinonia: Yearned for; and Feared! – John 17:20-23

In Acts 2:42 we find that the earliest church was devoted to four things: the Apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer.  The second of these, fellowship, is the Greek word koinonia; a word that means ‘communion by intimate participation.’

The first time I remember hearing this word was at the place and time when I came to know Christ as my Lord.  That was over 40 years ago, but the discussion left quite an impression on me.  Koinonia was described as being much more than just friendship, hanging out together, or a potluck.  Rather it described an intimate sharing of lives under the headship of Christ.  Just like the parts of my body are pretty tightly integrated together, so, as members of the body of Christ, we should be tightly bound together with one heart, mind and spirit.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.John 17:20-23 NIV

While the word koinonia is not in this passage, the idea of participating together in an intimate communion is. Jesus prayer here is as much for me and other believers of today as for believers of any age.  Jesus prays that we would be one.  And more specifically, that we would be one like he and the Father are one.

Over the past 40 years I find myself drawn to this passage frequently.  I can’t help but believe that I am missing something in my experience as a believer.  Jesus explicit desire for me is that I experience an intimacy with other believers that is, at least in some ways, similar to the intimacy he experiences with the Father.  I must confess that I do not understand just all that entails, or how to achieve it.  But I am convinced that I have failed to reach that oneness with other believers; although some times it seems like it is closer than at other times.  And I must confess that the fault is largely mine: it scares me.  But at the same time, it is something that I yearn for.

Humans are generally social creatures, although some are more or less social than others.  And I tend to land on the side of being less social.  I am quite comfortable with being alone; and even need a certain amount of alone time to be emotionally healthy.  But at the same time I long to have closer relationships with others, to be a part of something bigger than myself.  Marriage helps in this regard, but I still feel the need for more.

But how do I get there?  How does a nearly 60 year old introvert break out of his shell, convince others around him to do likewise, and begin to experience koinonia?  I have waited a long time for someone to come along with a big enough rock to break my shell from the outside; and it has yet to happen, apart, of course, from my wife.  I guess I am going to have to start pecking away at the shell from the inside, trusting God to help me break free.

But I am afraid to.  What happens when the people I hang out with discover who I really am?  Will they laugh?  Will they be shocked?  Will I end up even more isolated? All of those are certainly possibilities.  And that uncertainty acts like extra strength mortar, holding together the bricks of my security wall.  As much as I hate to admit it, rejection is hard.

But maybe, if I take the first step, with a few trusted friends, then just maybe I might find that the risks that I fear are just overblown, and they in turn might be willing to let down their barriers a bit, and we might discover that it is good.  And who knows; maybe, just maybe, we might be encouraged to continue to tear down the walls, brick by brick, until we experience koinonia.  Yes, it is a risk.  But how much greater is the potential reward.

Doing Church, an Old Look – Acts 2:42-47

There is a passage in the book of Acts that I have been drawn to recently.  This passage describes the life of the church in the earliest days after Pentecost.  And I am wondering if maybe what worked for them might not also work in the church today, should we be daring enough to break from our traditions and follow what appeared to be a very successful model.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47 NIV (1984)

There no doubt is more in this passage than I am capable of pulling out.  But it seems clear that there were a few simple things that this early church was doing.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching

Verse 42 says that the members of the early church devoted themselves to four things.  And the first of these was the apostles’ teaching.  For the early church, I do not believe this meant that they had constant Bible studies.  Rather they spent as much time as they could listening to what the apostles had to tell them.  They were hungry to hear what God had to say through them and were committed to applying those teachings to their own lives.

I do not believe we have any apostles living among us today.  But we do still have their teachings, as well as those of Jesus, in the words of the New Testament.  Are we devoted to it, both in our private lives and our time together?  Are we actively seeking to apply its teachings to our lives?  Or is it just something we browse through occasionally, not really finding much application or need for change in its words?

They devoted themselves to the fellowship

For many Baptists, and I assume other denominations as well, the word fellowship is almost synonymous with potluck.  But I do not believe that is the case in this passage, especially since the next phrase deals with food.

I believe instead that the fellowship here is the body of believers.  They were devoted to each other.  But not just as individuals, like I am to my wife.  But rather to the body itself.  I believe that what Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23, that we as believers might be one, just as he and the Father were one, is what this early church was devoted to; becoming one.  That means they were sharing their lives together, not just at the surface, but down in the depths where we are often afraid to go ourselves, much less let anyone else see.  That means they were looking out for the interests of the body, over their own.  That means they were spending time together, and not just an hour or two a week.  They were leaving their TV’s off and hanging out together and really talking, not just about the weather, but about themselves and about God’s working.

They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread

There are some who see this as referring to communion, or the Lord’s Supper.  But it seems to me more likely that it is as simple as sharing meals together.  This could be communal meals, like a potluck.  But since it later says that they broke bead in their homes and ate together, it seems more likely that they were spending time together in their homes and sharing meals together.  And I do not think it is much of a reach to extend this from simple meals to other types of activities; the members of the early church were doing stuff together; meals, shopping, playing, yard work.

It would seem like this sharing of our ‘outward’ selves would enhance the ability to share our ‘inward’ lives together. As we break bread together, we are more inclined to enhance the fellowship by sharing our inward lives with each other.

They devoted themselves to prayer

In this verse, it seems to me that the second and third elements are related to relationships between members, while the first and fourth are dealing with their relationship with God.  They were devoted to prayer.  And not just to open and close their worship services and for meal blessings.  They gave themselves over to communicating with the Father.  I have no doubt their prayer included praise and adoration of the Father, as well as intercession for needs.  But it is also clear that their prayer included requests for boldness (Acts 4:23-31) and probably included request for a better understanding of God’s purpose and how he equips them for more effective service (Ephesians 1:15-23).

Meeting in large groups and small groups

Verse 46 says that they met daily in the temple, and that they also met together in their homes to share meals, and likely the rest of their lives.  Coming together as a body to worship and serve is important.  We are called to be one body, and corporate worship and other full body activities are necessary if we are to be one body, bound tightly together and effectively serving (Ephesians 4:15-16).

But the small group activities are also important.  I am very limited in my ability to get to deeply know a large number of people, especially when in large scale settings.  But in the intimacy of a home with a few other people it is much easier to let down the curtains and allow others to know me, and for me to come to more intimately know them.

I am convinced that real growth within the body requires both of these elements: a time together to develop an identity as the body of Christ; and a time with smaller groups to develop relationships within the body.  I do not believe there is any magic formula for success in either large or small group settings.  But I do believe verse 42 gives a pretty good outline: time in the word, sharing our inner person, sharing the outer person, and spending real time in real prayer.

The Lord added to their number daily

And the result was two fold.  First, they were enjoying the favor of all the people.  While not all of the community joined them, they did respect them and recognized that something was going on there.  And secondly, and more importantly, the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  The church was not only growing in spirit; they were also growing numerically as more and more people were being saved.  It is interesting that nowhere in this passage is it mentioned that they were evangelizing, although undoubtedly they were.  It appears instead that the impetus for growth was in how appealing their life was to those watching them.  People saw what they had and wanted it as well.

I wonder what would happen in my community if FBC Jerusalem from 30 A.D. was swapped out with the church I serve in.  Would what they were doing then work today?  Would they continue to grow dramatically, enjoying the favor of the surrounding neighborhood?  I have to believe they would.  Would it work for us, should we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer?  Are we willing to try?

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