4-Part Harmony

Third in the The Purpose Driven Life series.
Delivered May 4, 2003 by Rev. George Antonakos, Andy Gathman, Bill Pitts and Michael Batley.

Theme: Fellowship: You were formed for God’s family.

George Antonakos

We’re Beatles fans, Ellen and I. Remember this one? (Play “All You Need Is Love”)

You know, when you get right down to it, that’s pretty hard to argue. Love is really all you need. . Something we all affirm as a common need in every human heart. And yet we ask where is it sometimes? Where does love come from? Why is it lacking in so many places? Why, even in the church, is it sometimes not felt? Let’s pray.

Lord, we ask that you would guide us and open your word to us. Help us understand it in a way that perhaps we have missed. We pray for the Holy Spirit’s illumination. Make these words more than just words on paper and speak them to our hearts and then, when we gather around this table, and remember again and see again the word made visible help us to know that we are one in you and you are one in us. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Why is it not felt even in churches? Studies of many congregations reveal that as many as 1/3 to 1/2 of church members say that they do not feel as connected as they would like to in their churches. Years ago I was developing a men’s fellowship at the church I served and we were using a Serendipity study for men. I’ll never forget the response of the men in the group when we read the first lesson about a men’s group at another church that was stunned when one of its own members took his life. In a farewell letter he spoke of his feelings of aloneness. This tragic event challenged the men in that group to question the depth of their connections. It did the same for us who were doing the study. We knew that we were falling short and that we were missing out on something we all needed.

Perhaps this has always been a challenge and perhaps it is why the apostle John wrote the following words to his late first Century listeners. Turn with me to 1 John 4:7-12,19-21.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

We are continuing in our series on the 40 Days of Purpose for our lives. Last week we looked at God’s first purpose, which Mike Batley so clearly unpacked for us. That purpose is to get to know God and to love him which the Bible calls WORSHIP: You were planned for God’s pleasure.

Today we’re going to look at the second purpose which is titled – YOU WERE FORMED FOR GOD’S FAMILY. God created you to be part of a family that will last forever. In fact one way to describe the Bible is that it is the story of God building a family.

Our first purpose is to get to know and love God, we are then commanded to work on this second purpose.

Why? Three brief reasons

Your physical family is eventually going to fall apart. (Some are saying that’s already happened for me). But your spiritual family is going to last forever! We need to practice here on earth what we will be doing for eternity.
The mark of a Christian is to bear the family resemblance to our loving heavenly Father. I don’t think the text we read can be any clearer. I John 4:7 – “… let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” God says I want you to learn to love the people in your family because I love you. Look at end of verse 12 – “…if we love one another, God lives in us” (doesn’t God live in/among us if we don’t love each other? – sort of, but not fully) If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. God’s image is most fully expressed and realized in a loving church community.
God, as any parent, longs for his children to get along. It breaks God’s heart like it does ours when our children are fighting. Show of parental hands or even teacher’s hands – any parents or teachers who DON’T want their children to get along? That’s what I thought.
So, would you write this down – My second purpose in life is FELLOWSHIP. That’s the word the Bible uses to describe loving each other.

Fellowship, like the word worship, is often misunderstood. Ask the person on the street to define it and you usually get definitions ranging from casual conversation to hanging out or eating out. Like in the concourse after church – How ’bout them O’s? Hey, how ’bout the Ravens draft picks? Awesome…. How you doin’?…. I’m doin….Later…..YO , later. Hey, great to fellowship with you! That was fellowship? NOT! – that was just banter, chit chat.

No, FELLOWSHIP is what we read about in the scripture lesson – it is loving God’s family – look at v.10 – This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us (true eternal type love starts with God) and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Love gives, sends, sacrifices, costs. The Greek word for love here is agape, an unconditional, self-sacrificing love. Verse 21 – “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

The fact is we need each other; that’s why the Church is designed by Christ to be a family not just another institution. People mistakenly say, “I’m going to church”, as if it is mainly a place to go to. That’s not accurate. Church is not a place you go to; Church is a family you belong to. Huge difference.

Now some have described growth into God’s family by four steps. They are not necessarily sequential but usually happen in the following order. The first step is MEMBERSHIP which basically means – Making a Commitment to Belong. Watch this.

1st Video Clip – Lord of the Rings, Disc 1, Chapter 27
Start 1:43:16 – End 1:45:28

Frodo: I will take it. I will take it. I will take the ring to Mordor… though, I do not know the way.

Gandalf: I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long is it is yours to bear.
Aragorn: If by my life or death, I can protect you, I will. You have my sword.
Legolas: And my bow.
Gimli: And my axe
Boromir: You carry the fate of us all little one. If this is indeed the will of the council, then Gondor will see it done.
Sam: Mr Frodo’s not going anywhere without me.
Elrond: No indeed, it is hardly possible to separate you, even when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not.
Merry/Pippen: Wait! We’re coming too.
Elrond: Nine companions. So be it. You shall be the fellowship of the Ring.
Pippen: Great! Where are we going?
I do know where we’re going – so I give you the Fellowship of the Sermon!!!! Here we go. We have another few guys here to help this out. See I decided not even to preach this sermon alone so I brought these guys along to help me out and take a different part.

But you noticed from the film, each had to make a commitment to belong. We are the fellowship of the King. We have to make a commitment to belong. As Presbyterians we are quick to remember that we don’t really choose God, Jesus said very clearly in John 15:16

“you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last.”

The Lord initiates us into the family but we have to cooperate as healthy members. Fellowship like any other important relationship begins with commitment. People say ‘Well I’m a Christian but I don’t want to belong to a church. That is understandable if you have been hurt in church but at another level it doesn’t make sense because church is where we live out what it means to be a Christian. What would you think if Ray Lewis said, “I’m a football player but I don’t want to be part of any team.” Think that’s a stretch of a metaphor? The Bible goes even farther when it states in I Corinthians 12:12 – The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many they form one body. SO IT IS WITH CHRIST.

I Corinthians 12:27 continues the metaphor – speaking to believers – “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” Back to verse 21.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”
And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

That’s the Apostle Paul’s metaphor and yet many Christians say this very thing to other Christians (internally mostly – but when it is external, as in when a congregation splits, it becomes an ugly case of self amputation). Paul would say it is theological insanity.

So just like your hand is a member of your body, that’s how tightly we’re tied to each other from God’s perspective. When a church member thinks like a rotary member we’re in trouble – how’s that? – pay your dues, attend the meetings, obey the rules. That’s it! You don’t have to love anyone. Yet many people in congregations today operate in this way.

At Central Church we try to make it clear that membership is about connecting with each other. we don’t always do it perfectly but I am so excited that when you add up adults and students there are over 600 people in small groups during 40 Days of Purpose!

And we realize that there are many who wish to unite with Central Church. The welcome cards indicating this are stacking up. we are now in a planning mode to offer a more streamlined membership class and our goal is to provide that opportunity shortly after 40 Days concludes.

But when it is offered remember it is just one step, not the entire goal. I’m thinking of a new slogan for it actually – Membership at Central Pres is like Chinese rice – we need to stick together!

2nd Video Clip – Lord of the Rings, Disc 2, Chapter 11
Start 50:00 – End 51:17

Galadriel: Do not let the great emptiness of Kazak-Dun fill your heart, Gimli, son of Gloin. For the world has grown full of peril, and in all lands, love is now mingled with grief.

Elf Lord: What now becomes of this fellowship? Without Gandalf hope is lost.

Galadriel: The quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the the ruin of all. Yet hope remains, while the company is true. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Go now and rest, for you are weary with sorrow and much toil.
Andy Gathman

I love this part in the movie-it is so full of tension and suspense… It’s a very dark scene, an almost mystical pause in the film: The fellowship has been compromised, their leader and guide has perished, they are beginning to question each other’s loyalty, each of them is fraught with discouragement, and the question now on everyone’s mind is, “What now becomes of this fellowship?”

This scene makes cinematic great drama, but transfer it to real life, your life, and all of a sudden the suspense is no longer exciting, but rather terrifying.

The members of this fellowship are finding out that fellowship is goes beyond affinity. Fellowship may begin with a commitment to a common cause or a common ideal, but it is more than the hope of a shared adventure. It is risky, difficult, exposes your vulnerability. The very fabric of the fellowship will be attacked by the enemy, and there are no guarantees of coming out on the other side unscathed.

You see, there comes a time in every relationship, when the seeds of friendship have been sown, that the fellowship will be tested. This second part of fellowship is friendship–a commitment to love. And it is when the quest for community will stand upon the edge of a knife.

The Bible talks of a knife’s edge in speaking about community. Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This is the knife’s edge in fellowship: when personal space closes in, when we start to rub elbows with other people, when we begin to see the imperfections in other people and, God forbid, they get close enough to see our imperfections, the question again rings out: what now becomes of this fellowship? Will we continue to push so closely that, like two knives scraping off the rough edges, dullness, and impurity, we are sharpened by the friendship? Or do we choose to pull back to the safety of relative anonymity and loose affinity with one another?

For most of us, this edge of a knife will not be extreme dejection brought on by the death of our leader or the weight of evil bearing down on us. Instead, in the relative banality of our every day living, the test is, will we be vulnerable enough to let others get close? Will we quit pretending, take off the mask and let others see us for who we really are.

In Mike Yaconelli’s book, Messy Spirituality, he speaks rather forthrightly about the high state of pretense that is generally accepted in the church.

Pretending is the grease of modern unrelationships. Pretending perpetuates the illusion of relationships by connecting us on the basis of who we aren’t. People who pretend have pretend relationships. Being real is a synonym for messy spirituality, because when we are real, our messiness is there for everyone to see.

If we’re honest, each of us knows that to some extent we’re all pretenders, and each of us instinctively senses that if only we could remove the mask, if only we would show our messiness and be real, then we could enter into a kind of friendship that we have only dreamed of having. But that kind of vulnerability also leaves us terribly exposed. And that terrifies us; we fear for our reputation and pride, fear that others will ridicule us, and ultimately, we fear that we’ll be rejected.

And so there we teeter, on the edge of the knife, and wonder what will become of our fellowship, And the answer, which comes from the angel-like elf queen Galadriel is also at the heart of the gospel: “Hope remains while the company is true.”

For if we commit to love one another, in spite of our failings, we reflect the grace that God has shown us in Jesus Christ. When we choose to love someone else first, before we worry about what is in it for us, we are following in the very footsteps of our Lord, and the Gospel comes alive among us. It is as the apostle John said in today’s reading: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

God knew that if he were going to have a relationship with us, even though we are in a wretched, self-centered, and imperfect state, he would need to initiate in love. Because the love that sustains fellowship is ultimately, as the apostle John says earlier in his letter, not with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.

3rd Video Clip – Lord of the Rings, Disc 2, Chapter 19
Start 1:29:00 – End 1:30:02

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf (remembered): So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.

End Scene: After remembering Gandalf’s words, Frodo puts the ring in his pocket and heads toward the boat.
Bill Pitts

What a great scene from this movie – Frodo is remembering that no matter what has been thrown at him and his friends so far, he still has an important part to play. It’s great to be member of a fellowship; it’s vital to have friendships in the fellowship; but if we want to have fellowship to the fullest, we need to live out our unique role in the fellowship as well.

The third part of fellowship is Partnership. Partnership is Making a commitment to serve. Partnership is realizing and doing my part that I’ve got a contribution to make; that the family of God needs you. Listen, God did not bring you to Central to sit and soak in some spiritual spa. That’s not why you’re here. He brought you here to serve. He wants to make a difference through your life; and just as in every family, there are family responsibilities. You divide up the chores being part of that family and you do your part. This is a Christian family, God’s family. And every one of us has part. The Bible is filled with the fact that you and I are to work with one another in getting this job done. There are 58 times in the New Testament the Bible says we do it with one another. We serve one another. We love one another. We pray with one another. The Bible even says we have to put up with one another when we’re doing all of this. That’s how it works together. This is love in action. Not just in words. You see, it is great to share your heart, that’s level two. But it is even greater to do your part. That is what part three is all about.

Listen to what the Bible has to say in I Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 9. “We are partners working together for God.” Paul once wrote to some people and said “we’re partners spreading the good news of Christ everywhere.” In Greek, the language of the New Testament was originally written in, the word “fellowship” is often translated “partnership.” That’s how close these two words are. You ever want to be part of a great team, something that just did something great? Some you guys maybe had a dream of being a part of a team that went to the super bowl or won the World Series. You’re part of the greatest team there ever was in the church. What we do is going to last forever. Ever want to be a partner in a — maybe a great business that went to the top of the Fortune 500? In the church, we are part of the greatest enterprise that’s ever existed. We get to be part of God’s plan for the universe. That’s what it is all about, when we cooperate and participate together in the family of God.

But in order to be a part, you’ve got to find your niche, you have got to find out where do I fit, how I do I fit? And the Bible tells us we all have a niche. Look what Ephesians 4:16 says. “The whole body is fitted together perfectly” — This is God’s job; he does this — “as each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole Body is healthy and growing and full of love.” You might circle those words “each part.” That’s you, that’s me. We are a part of God’s body. And it is working together that we get things done.

You have a part to play. You have a part to play in the Body of Christ. And when we cooperate, we get more done together than we could ever get done by ourselves. There is an attitude — a heart attitude that is key to me, to you, to all of us –that we’re doing it for Jesus Christ.

Mother Teresa spent her life working — as many of you know, with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. And she was once asked, “How do you handle all the death and disease on a daily basis? How do you do the tough things when it comes to serving?” And her answer was – “Every person I bathe, every person I bandage, I imagine seeing the face of Jesus and I do it for Him.” That’s the attitude that’s behind this. It’s the attitude of Matthew chapter 25, verse 40, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are the members of my family, you did it to me.” So I encourage you to make this practical this week a practical action step, if you want to experience a deeper level of fellowship, look for a practical need in your group to meet this next week, just some practical thing and watch what it does for your relationship for your fellowship with one another.

As we make this part of fellowship practical in our daily lives, we’ll begin to experience another exciting part of fellowship as well…

Mike Batley

Let me again reiterate why this is so important. Why fellowship among believers is so central. Why we are spending a Sunday to focus on it. Why Rick Warren was wise to include it after Worship in our 40 day adventure.

This quote by C.S. Lewis from his book “The Weight of Glory,” takes us to the heart of the matter.

“…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

Lewis goes on to say,

“… Your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses… If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

Do you see how fellowship is not-then-just a good idea, but absolutely essential for growth in Christ and your relationship with Him?

Just to quickly review…

George said the mark of a christian is to love the members of this family, this church–like God does.
Andy told us how commitment sharpens into committed friendship in the environment of true fellowship.
Bill explained that partnership is essential to making fellowship happen.
But now we need to turn our time toward what are the fruits of fellowship when it is pursued seriously, and spirit-filled. For if you do that you will find yourself in relationship to others in the safest place on earth. In spirit-filled community – or fellowship-called “kinship,” or Godly devotion to one another.

Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Notice the comparison there? A man of “many companions.” These are friends of convenience. They are there to hang out with. To make life more enjoyable. But because they are “many” the relationships are a mile wide but only an inch deep.

But-it goes on to say-there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. That this friend is more devoted, more committed than even a family member. Here is a supernatural relationship.

Again, in our movie clips in Lord of the Rings we see this devotion when Samwise Gamgee, the devoted friend of Frodo, as Frodo tries leave the company of the fellowship and set out on his own. Watch the devotion of Sam.

4th Video Clip – Lord of the Rings, Disc 2, Chapter 19,
Start 1:30:03 – End 1:32:02

Sam: Frodo, No! Frodo! Mr. Frodo!
Frodo: (paddling the boat away) Go back Sam, I’m going to Mordor alone.
Sam: Of course you are. And I’m coming with you. (starts wading into the river)
Frodo: You can’t swim. (Sam goes under water) Sam!
(Sam sinks. Frodo’s hand grasps his and pulls him up and into the boat)
Sam: I made a promise Mr. Frodo. A promise. Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee. And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.
Frodo: (they embrace) Oh Sam. Come on.
(they begin to paddle off)
Do we see this kind of devotion-produced by true fellowship-anywhere in scripture? I think we do. In the lives of David and Jonathan. After David kills Goliath, God moves in the heart of Jonathan and it says, “that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.” This started a rich relationship that threatened the kingly line of Saul. It so enraged Saul that Saul threatened to kill his own son over this jealousy and Saul also sought to kill David.

Here is where we see Jonathan step in to protect David at the cost of himself becoming king. He knew the ramifications of his actions. Here I read from 1 Samuel 20:27-42

But when David’s place was empty again the next day, Saul asked Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse been here for dinner either yesterday or today?” Jonathan replied, “David earnestly asked me if he could go to Bethlehem. He wanted to take part in a family sacrifice. His brother demanded that he be there, so I told him he could go. That’s why he isn’t here.” Saul boiled with rage at Jonathan. “You stupid son of a whore!” he swore at him. “Do you think I don’t know that you want David to be king in your place, shaming yourself and your mother? As long as that son of Jesse is alive, you’ll never be king. Now go and get him so I can kill him!” “But what has he done?” Jonathan demanded. “Why should he be put to death?” Then Saul hurled his spear at Jonathan, intending to kill him. So at last Jonathan realized that his father was really determined to kill David. Jonathan left the table in fierce anger and refused to eat all that day, for he was crushed by his father’s shameful behavior toward David.

(Now the next day David and Jonathan secretly meet-they know for the last time to protect David.)

Then David bowed to Jonathan with his face to the ground. Both of them were in tears as they embraced each other and said good-bye, especially David. At last Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have made a pact in the LORD’s name. We have entrusted each other and each other’s children into the LORD’s hands forever.” Then David left, and Jonathan returned to the city.

Here really is the fruit of fellowship. A relationship of friends that are closer than brothers. A relationship that goes higher than a father/son relationship-higher for the sake of righteousness. A relationship that honors God and creates an aroma of Christ.

One of my favorite magazines that we subscribe to is National Geographic Adventurer. They have a staff writer who I love by the name of Tim Cahill. Recently, in fact in the current issue, he finally got to go to a place where he’s wanted to go his whole life-the region called Patagonia at the southern tip of Chile, and-believe me-this guy has been everywhere. Listen to how he starts his article.

“I was on my way to my favorite place on earth. I hadn’t ever been there before and wasn’t exactly sure where it was, but I knew, in the way a man knows these things, that we were drawing closer and that the place I found would be my new favorite place on Earth. Never mind the slight tug of airsickness. The float plane was following the deep valley of mud-choked river. Its colors were intense in this corridor of ice: The river below ran over gold sandbanks that rose sharply to become grassy hillsides, bright green against the dazzle of the ice above. It was incredibly beautiful.”

Hopefully this morning that has been your experience too as we have flown over this beautiful thing called fellowship. Maybe your feeling a tug of airsickness because you know that this will require more of you than you think you’re ready to give. That this will require your heart. It will. But you’ll get back more than you’ve ever bargained for.

But maybe you’re feeling like me and the other men up here and Tim Cahill in that article. That maybe this week as you begin your exploration of this place called fellowship it will become your new favorite place on earth.

Let’s pray. Lord, thank you for these good men up here, that in preparing for this talk, we experienced that fellowship as well. And because of that, our hearts are knit even closer together, so thank you for this process of presenting this message. But more importantly Lord thank you that you invite us into this thing called fellowship because you yourself even exist in fellowship in the trinity, so being in this fellowship is to be closer to you, and like you. Help us Lord, to be vulnerable like Andy talked about. Help us us to be committed to each other, committed to belong like George said. Help us to understand our place in this partnership. Give us courage Lord, I pray, to enter in, to seek you and to seek others. And it’s in your name Jesus we pray. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Fellowship: Four Part Harmony

You were formed for Gods family.
“So in Christ we who are many
form one body, and each member belongs
to all the others.” Romans 12:5 (NIV)

1 John 4:7-12,19-21

You Were Formed for God’s Family.

Three Reasons for our second purpose:

Your spiritual family will last forever.
We are called to show our family resemblance.
God loves it when his children get along.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7

My second purpose in life is Fellowship.

Four Parts of Fellowship:

Making a committment to belong.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feed, ‘I don’t need you!'” 1 Corinthians 12:21
Making a committment to love.
“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:12
Making a committment to serve.
“Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Ephesians 4:16
Godly devotion to one another.
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24