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“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

Have you been to a church fellowship recently? Maybe a Super Bowl party? If so, what was it like? Typically it involves a lot of food (put me down as a “chips and dip” man) and some conversational banter. This seems to be the modern definition of “fellowship.” It’s all about “getting together” in a cloister or a holy huddle with most, if not all, energy being focused on self-oriented “feeding” or being “fed.” I’m not saying this is totally wrong but I’m of the persuasion this is not the complete biblical model.

Have you recently heard church leadership talk about the importance of fellowship, living in community, or doing life together? These are important as well, as long as these activities aren’t done in a vacuum and we become isolated from the culture we are called to engage with the Gospel. As we all know, fellowship, as we’ve come to define it, can be overtly comfortable and myopic, especially if it is an end and not a means to something larger and more outward in focus.

Let me make it clear that fellowship is important! After all, it was one of the key activities of the early church (see our focal passage above). But the Greek word for fellowship (koinonia) used in Acts 2 has much broader implications than just self-focused social gatherings. As it is used in other New Testament passages, the word demonstrates something more sacrificial and missional than what we have become used to. It can also be translated as “partnership,” “sharing,” “communion,” and, get this, “contribution.” Many of its uses in Scripture point to a sacrifice or service to one another, not some gluttonous social festivity. Here are some examples of this word and its context (the word(s) translated from koinonia is highlighted):

  • “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints– and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).
  • Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16.).
  • For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26).
  • “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you” (2 Corinthians 9:12-14).

I think it should be clear now that koinonia is much more than a party or idle, shallow chit-chat. It is about loving and doing and serving among one another (do a biblical word study on the phrase “one another” and you’ll get an even more in-depth look at what true fellowship is). It is such a dangerous, radical, sacrificial expression of community, in its deepest sense, that it produces a Gospel scream that pierces the insulated walls between us and unbelievers. For this type of dynamic fellowship inevitably grants us favor with outsiders (Acts 2:43) as we become reflections of the favor (grace and goodness) God has shown to us. This, in turn, is used by God to draw those observing to Himself (Acts 2:47).

In other words, the rich, self-denying fellowship Scripture describes can be the very tool God uses to transform those who don’t yet know His favor. And something tells me, if what we call fellowship isn’t touching the community around us, we aren’t experiencing the same type of koinonia that God expects.

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Imagine with me a fictional Small Group. In order to offer a more positive alternative to the ghoulish Halloween holiday that has become so popular, they decided to have a Holy-ween costume fellowship (we don’t have parties, you know). They determined that attendees would dress up a Bible characters instead of ghosts and goblins. The following will be a mythical (and somewhat silly) effort to capture what might have been the scene (and the insights of the party hosts) as each character came through the front door – which was decorated as a very large Bible – and acted in character. Here is a snapshot of some who showed up: 

  • The “Apostle Paul” –  he was first  through the door. Stooped over and blind, ‘Paul” was scratching the hardwood floors with his ball and chain and clumsily knocked over the punch and hor douvres table. 
  • “Noah” – bringing with him a host of animals (2 by 2, no less), he and his entourage created quite a stir. Although well behaved, the animals kept leaving “residue” behind while “Noah” kept checking his iPhone to see when the weather forecast was calling for rain. 
  • “Peter” – brandishing a sword and a 4 day old beard, “Peter” came in dirty sandals and smelled of freshly caught fish. He impulsively moved about the room carrying around a tray of snacks muttering, “Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.” 
  • “Pontius Pilate” – one rather unique (OK, strange…all Small Groups have someone who is a bit off-beat. Usually it’s me.) attendee thought coming as the 5th Prefect of Judea would “different.” However, “Pilate” seemed out of place, guilt ridden, and spent the entire time in the bathroom washing his hands. 
  • “Judas Iscariot” – he showed up carrying a bag with 30 pieces of silver, a forlorn look, and kept attempting to jump off the elevated deck at the back of the house. 
  • “John the Baptist” – dressed in camel-hair and with honey dripping from his beard, “John” brought a covered dish of locusts and said nothing all night but a repeated, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Later in the evening he was observed filling up the bathtub in an effort to create a makeshift baptistery. 
  • “Abraham” – brought his son along with a live ram and they continuously dramatized the saga of “Isaac’s” near sacrifice. All the attendees were fearful that, as the climax of the play, the poor ram would inevitably be slaughtered right before their eyes . 
  • “Jonah” – sopping wet, “Jonah” arrived smelling of whale vomit and kept asking, “I really don’t want to go, but which way is it to Ninevah?”  
  • “Rahab” – an older woman thought the most famous prostitute of the Old Testament would be a good character for her. Frighteningly, the costume was far too skimpy and certainly not age-appropriate. Much gossip and unwarranted accusations ensued. 
  • “Salome” – entered the door dancing provocatively. Carrying a platter in one hand she kept asking, “Where’s’ John? I need to see him for just a minute. If he’s around, please give me a heads up.” 
  • Jezebel – loud, rude, and arrogant, “Jezebel” annoyed nearly everyone (including “Satan,” who had not yet arrived) at the fellowship. Ironically, she brought her 2 pet dogs with her. 
  • “Moses” – came in carrying 2 large stone tablets and claiming he was very thirsty. All night he continued “smiting” everything that looked like a rock (including the Apostle Paul). 
  • “Satan” – he slyly slithered in wearing a serpent’s costume. “Satan” spent the entire fellowship time attempting to beguile and deceive all of the guests. Especially the last ones to show up. 
  • Adam and Eve – they were the last to show up and “The Serpent” was thrilled at their arrival. The rest of the crowd, however, felt quite awkward as the couple came wearing their “garden attire.” 

The original family’s appearance (and exposure) was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. A chaotic and mass exodus commenced with Moses leading the way and Peter not far behind. Simultaneously, the church’s new young pastor called and said he was on his way. As guests were fleeing to the exits and, amidst the pandemonium, giving Satan, Adam and Eve, and Rahab a very wide berth, the hosts apologetically explained to their tardy minister that the “party” (train wreck) was just breaking up.  

The pastor couldn’t hide his disappointment as he softly commented that he had created just the perfect costume. The hosts obligingly asked, “And what was that?” “I was going to be the Demoniac of Mark 5.”  Which makes me think: too bad “Legion” didn’t come as well – he and the other guests would have had much to talk about. 

Happy Holy-ween!


“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground…the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading….Then [Nehemiah] said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:5-10). 

I know I’m dating myself but the 1980 Kool and the Gang Song Celebrate comes to mind when I think of a celebration. Its rhythmic chant tends to stick in your head. Unfortunately, I never really could connect with the song because I can’t dance (Trust me, I’m indescribably awful!). And the song tells me to dance. But I can identify with a New Year’s Eve party or the rejoicing that accompanies your team winning the Super Bowl (Yeah Packers!), NCAA Tournament (Go Vols! I still believe you can do it!), or World Series (poor Cub fans). Entire communities go nuts when that kind of thing happens. For many these are events deserving of a huge party. And that’s the point: we only celebrate those things we consider of great significance and worthy of our exuberant praise. And such should be the case with our faith as well; I think even more so! 

The Old Testament, like this example in Nehemiah 8 of Israel pausing to honor the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall destroyed by the Babylonians, is filled with feasts and festivals. They include Sabbath, Yom Kippur, Passover, Pentecost, Sabbath Year Feasts, Rosh Kodesh, Feast of Purim, and Jubilee (Ironically, there is no indication this celebration was ever practiced by the Jewish people. For a foreshadowing of my next post, see: http://captivatedbychrist.org/2010/12/28/jubilee-2011/). I would urge you to find a Bible Encyclopedia and do some research on these events. I think you will find the principles in these celebrations quite insightful and practical. God instituted these and others as a means to praise Him, unify, restore and cleanse His people, and build their faith. There are striking themes in these celebrations; focus on God’s goodness, eating and drinking, rejoicing in community, rest from work, praise, memorializing God’s sovereign guidance, the reading of His Word, and blessing. These celebrations were designated for certain times to commemorate specific events. 

Here are some things that I gather from God’s intention of His people celebrating: 

  • We often fail to stop from our labors and celebrate God.
  • We need to occasionally pause and rest in God’s goodness.
  • Celebration is facilitated by community.
  • Setting apart a specific time to rejoice in the Lord is a valuable spiritual discipline.
  • We need to practice celebrating Him as an overflow of the joy He brings to us and for His mercies.
  • Today, for His children, Jesus is the sum and source of our ability to joyfully celebrate: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:4, 7-8). 

This is why we have “Celebration Wednesday” at our house. It was strategically chosen to fall in the middle of our hectic work week, when we are often prone to lose sight of God’s overwhelming goodness towards us. During dinner Rebekah and I shut down any possible distractions (TVs, mobile phones, computers, etc. – OK, our cats are sometimes hard to herd) and, while enjoying God’s provision of food, we start with a Scripture that speaks to God’s goodness towards His children. Then we begin to recite lists we’ve made during the week or spontaneous thoughts on the blessings God has showered on us, both “big” and “small” ones. It is a very intentional time of rejoicing in God and His goodness. We verbalize His blessings and then have a time of prayer for the specific things we have recalled. Then she creates a journal entry to memorialize what we discussed and celebrated. 

I encourage you to try it. This practice is not intended to be some obligatory duty, some religious exercise devoid of deep-seated and sincere meaning. It is designed to reflect genuine joy and marvel over God’s guidance and provision. I know it encourages and edifies us. It helps us to see the bigger picture of life and focus on an infinitely generous, caring, and loving God. And that, my friends, is truly worth celebrating. Because, after all, He is worth celebrating!

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