It was one of the deepest, richest, and most wonderful days I had ever shared with my friend, and yet all we did was share our hearts with one another. One beautiful summer morning my best friend came to pick me up so that we could enjoy brunch at a local restaurant. We were eager to try their famous cinnamon rolls. Yet, from the moment I got into her car, until the moment she dropped me off, seven hours later our conversation was nonstop. It was an unusually focused and concentrated time, as if we had not been together for a very long time, and yet we had monthly craft time dates–making cards.
At one point during our conversation, she surprised me as she began to discuss the millennial kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. It wasn’t the topic which surprised me, as we always enjoyed our frequent theological discussions, rather her sheer delight on this topic. Knowing my sister’s suffering, I listened closely as her focus and hope was Christ. With a child like eagerness, she excitedly detailed wonders of Jesus earthly kingdom. In fact, I will never forget her expression, as an angelic glow completely washed over her face, seemingly filled with a heavenly peace and joy. Though she was oblivious, I could not stop gazing at her, as she vivaciously described what she looked forward to. What joy our fellowship brought to us as we enjoyed the inexplicable “oneness” we have in Christ.
Sadly, that was the last day I would see my sister in Christ, as God called her home, only a few short months after our extraordinary brunch date. The horror, grief and shock felt almost debilitating for my inability to grasp the idea that my dearly and deeply loved friend was gone brought tremendous sorrow. As I tried to go about each day, my friend was everywhere I turned, meaning that her influence and blessings were woven into the very fabric of my life. Even now as I turn to craft time, I see her “fingerprint” as she was instrumental in getting me started making cards. As time passed, I began to realize that I was not yet rejoicing as I believed I ought, knowing my beloved sister was in the very presence of our Lord Jesus. Recognizing that grieving loved ones takes a long time, I knew I needed to balance my perspective. So, I sought perspective in the Bible and found the most amazing hope, which I would like to share what I discovered with my sister’s in Christ.
The first point I would like to make is the fellowship we enjoy in Jesus Christ. That fellowship or “koinonia” in the Greek refers to the supernatural gift as believers in Jesus Christ experience spiritual oneness with God and one another. Or in other words, the fellowship we experience after we have been justified by grace from the Son, received the electing love from the Father and the sanctifying fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we have been inextricably coalesced in the partnership of the saints.
Understanding from Scripture why and how we experience fellowship is important. The Bible affirms that no one can choose God (Jn. 6:44, cf. 15:16) and only through God’s divine work beginning with His foreknowledge and predestination, does God choose you, bringing you unto salvation. (Eph. 1:4-5, Rom. 8:29-30). Through the supernatural and redemptive work of God, each believer is made “one” with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as well as with each other. (Jn. 17:2-3, 11, 1 Cor. 6:17). Moreover, it is through that divine unity we experience fellowship with God and one another. Each and every time believers communicate, pray for one another, come together, serve one another, worship together; they experience the divine benefits of fellowship and its oneness. Every word and deed is building upon the other, as we participate in the building of Christ’ church. (1 Pet. 2:5).
And as surely as God’s divine work is to elect and justify each child of His, He will completely and perfectly bring us to glorification. (Gal 2:20, Phil. 2:13, 3:20-21, Rom. 8:29-30, Jn. 6:37-40, 10:27-29). Since God has no unfinished work, each child of God will be brought to a perfected state in glorification, and when we are called into His presence, and then we will know perfect fellowship. (1 Thess. 4:15, Jn. 14:1-3).
Until then, what is God’s plan with the fellowship or “koinonia” we experience? It is clear that our fellowship can only get better, enjoyed more fully and glorify God, if we understand its nature and purpose. To begin with, as a Christian seeks to be a consistent and obedient child of God, truly abiding in Christ –our fellowship with Him includes suffering. (Matt. 16:24, Luke 9:22-26, 1 Pet. 2:21). This may surprise some readers, but this fact should be stated more frequently from the pulpit and with one another. (Col. 1:28, 3:16, Eph. 5:19, Acts 14:22). Every one of us fears and recoils from suffering, but when we know its divine purpose for our lives, we are better equipped to handle it when it comes.
Our Savior is the paradigm of how we are to imitate Him, so that we can walk in obedience to Him. “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). With mercy and grace our Lord prayed to the Father for the church in His high priestly prayer knowing that the life of a Christian includes suffering. (Jn. 17:20). The suffering our Lord experienced brought salvation to those who would believe—resulting in the glory of the cross. “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil 3:10).
Preparing His followers our Savior warned that they would experience suffering. (Matt. 10:38). Furthermore with suffering there is growth which is part of the sanctification process. And when our faith is tested and proven through suffering, the fruits of the Spirit are the result as we become more Christ-like. (James 1:2-3, Rom. 5:3-5, Gal. 5:22-23). It is through this difficult walk that our love increases for our Lord Jesus and at the same time, for one another. (1 Jn. 2:5-6, 3:23). As difficult as this may be to hear suffering is part of what sanctifies us. “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:29). A key word to notice is “granted” which in the original Greek is a word meaning “grace-gift”, meaning that suffering is a gift from God- and through all preordained suffering; we increase our intimacy with the Triune God.
Furthermore, our call to suffering must have a godly response. Our Lord Jesus comforted the suffering and afflicted, and Scripture repeatedly reminds us to imitate Him. Receiving our “grace-gift” we will experience a deeper fellowship and unity as we serve those who are suffering in the body. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:26-27, cf. 2 Cor. 1:3-5). It is through our acts of mercy, grace and love when we are most Christ-like.
It is not just through the happy and blissful times but rather through the mundane, solemn and most painful experiences which the Triune God utilizes to closely unite the body of believers. All the more reason we must zealously protect our fellowship as it is a tremendous gift from God.
Through the fellowship of suffering God will glorify Himself. (Rom. 8:28). And we can rejoice in the knowledge that God loves His children so much and will never require us to endure more than we can handle. (1 Cor. 10:13). God’s supernatural work in each believer is unique and complete as the grace-gift in the fellowship of Christ is incalculable.
The very pain we experience when we lose a loved one reminds us that our love and fellowship is a gift from God. (Dt. 7:9, 1 Jn. 4:9). As Christians we know that one day we will be reunited and when we are, we will see one another glorified, in perfect righteousness, and without sin influencing our ability to completely appreciate the beautiful and fully realized design of God in each believer. When we are brought face to face with Jesus, we will not simply become more Christ-like but we will become formed into His image, and still be uniquely ourselves. (Rom 8:29-30, Gal 4:19, 1 Cor. 15:49, 52, 53, 1 Jn. 3:2, 1 Pet 5:4).
Longing to fellowship with our loved ones is natural and a good thing, as we are longing for the perfect fellowship to come. The fellowship of suffering we experience in Christ brings us a deeper intimacy and unity with God and others; blessings in this life and our eternal life. That fellowship will be realized the day Jesus will resurrect all the dead from their graves, and then rapture all the believers who are alive as all are gathered together in the presence of our Lord. (1 Thess. 4:15, Jn. 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:52, Rev. 3:10). After our reunion all will fully participate in the most anticipated event in redemptive history, when the Lord Jesus returns to earth. We will not see the Suffering Servant but rather the conquering and triumphant King Jesus in resplendent divine military regalia, on His horse, surrounded by thousands of angels, and every believer singing and praising Him. (Rev. 19:11-15). The One who is the Prophet, Priest and King will reign from His Davidic throne in Jerusalem, in the breathlessly beautiful land of Israel for one thousand years as the Holy One of Israel will rule with perfect righteousness over all Israel and all the nations, “They will see the glory of the LORD, The majesty of our God.” (Is.35:2, 2 Sam 7:16, Zech. 12-14, Luke 1:32-33, Rom. 11:26, Rev. 5:13, Is. 2:4, Micah 4:2, Ps. 72:8, 89, 110, Matt. 19:28, Acts 2:30-35).
What perfect fellowship it will be! If we remember that every moment of fellowship anticipates our perfect fellowship with the Triune God and with one another, our lives will become markedly changed, comforted by these truths which are so ostensive in the Bible. These hope filled truths have brought me much comfort and even greater anticipation, which I hope my sister’s in Christ will receive as well.