The church is God's family on Earth. When Jesus said the gates of Hades would not overcome the church he was envisioning a family that would be connecting to the Father and connected to each other to provide the valor and strength to stand against the enemy.
In college, I visited a church on a Sunday night where all the pews were roped off except for a few near the front. The stage was all cleared except for the communion table and a lone stool. As people entered they were asked to sit near the front, on the floor, on the steps leading to the stage, or on the stage itself, surrounding the table. Those who needed back support could sit on the front pews.
Here we were, a couple of hundred of us, elbow to elbow, sitting on the floor around the communion table. The worship leader led us in some choruses with his guitar. Then, the Pastor told the story of Jesus and his disciples gathered in the upper room the night before his death. He then asked us to imagine for a moment that we were Jesus' disciples sitting around the Lord's Table.
As this image permeated my mind, the Pastor broke a large single loaf of bread in half and passed it among the worshipers with instruction for each person to tear a piece off and pass it on. Then he passed a single chalice from which we each drank the juice representing Jesus' blood. The guitarist played and I contemplated on the significance of Jesus' work on the cross with the bread and the cup.
I. The implications of connecting with God's family
Amazingly in that setting, surrounded by people I did not know, I felt one with them. I felt a bond and unity like I had never witnessed before in a worship service. I felt the very presence of God. I worshiped.
A. The vertical implication
Sitting around that table I was reminded of its vertical implication. I acknowledged that Jesus died for me on the cross, shedding his blood for the forgiveness of my sins. The flesh colored bread and the blood red juice reminded me of the price Jesus paid for my relationship with him. At that moment for me to not make this recognition was only to eat dried crusty, flavorless bread and drink a small shot of grape juice that would leave me thirsty for more.
B. The horizontal implication
At the table that night I was also reminded of its horizontal implication. A table is for eating. It is not for conferences. It is not for resting. It is not for decorations. It is not a place to stay. It is a place to gather-to participate, to partake, to share one's life with one another. Few human activities are as bonding as a meal. Enemies don't eat together, but friends and family do. We are drawn together around the dinner table. Friendships are made and deepened over lunch. Many a family reunion has occurred at picnic tables. Eating is more than a biological necessity. It is a social event that bonds people together.
II. The meaning of connecting with God's family
A. Because we have a heavenly Father, we have entered into a relationship with Him
The apostle John wrote, "What we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may have fellowship along with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3 HCSB). Believers gather at the table with God at the head. We share a common father.
B. Because we are family, we have entered into kinship
Often when watching football games I will notice that these huge men will huddle together and join hands. It seems rather odd that these football players will grab a teammate's hand in tenderness one moment and then attempt to inflect pain on the opposition in the next. Yet they join hands for a common goal-to win the game. At the table, in worship, we have another reason to link hands. Because we have come into relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ, we are now a part of his family. We have an affinity, a blood relation with those around the table and seated next to us in worship
The first Christians did not devote themselves to social activities but to a kinship-a relationship with each other that consisted in sharing together the very life of God through the Holy Spirit. The language of the book of Acts indicates that these believers were not casual acquaintances-they were family. In fact, the English word church is not derived from the New Testament word usually translated church. The word church is of uncertain origin, but probably comes from kuriakos, an adjective meaning "of the Lord" or "belonging to the Lord." Apparently the term was applied at an early date to the Christians as "the Lord's people."
C. Because we are friends, we have entered into fellowship
Often, when we hear the word fellowship we think of coffee and donuts. But the meaning of the word goes much deeper than merely social activity. Fellowship means sharing. It implies that we share something with someone, like money, words of encouragement, confessions of failure, or statements of need. It also implies that we share in something with someone, such as sorrow, a joy, or an area of mutual concern. Fellowship is expressed by personal interaction within the church. Where this quality abounds, persons are free to express what is deepest within. Those emotions and experiences that lie close to the center of being can be expressed without fear of rejection.
D. Because we are followers of Christ, we have entered into partnership
Whereas kinship describes believers as a family, and fellowship describes believers as friends, partnership describes believers as the principals of an enterprise. A business partnership is formed in order to attain an objective, such as providing a service to the public at a profit for the partners. In the same way, the concept of spiritual partnership implies that it is created with the objective of promoting the gospel and building up believers.
Paul, the apostle, writing to the Galatians explained that the church at Antioch had given their approval and blessing on him to carry the gospel of Christ to the Gentile world. He wrote, "When James, Cephas, and John, recognized as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" (Gal. 2:9 HCSB). The right hand of fellowship implied more than a mere courteous send off, it was a bond, a contract, a gentleman's agreement that they would work together as partners to reach the objective of reaching people for Christ.
As we gather around the table, we must never forget those beyond the table, outside the walls of the church. Constantly we need to remind ourselves of why we link arms and join hands. The church exists not just for the convenience and comfort of believers, but also to reach out to those who are lost and seeking Christ. It has been said that the church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members. Believers who gather at the table gather for a common objective-to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The next time you gather at the table, eat your bread, and drink from the cup, remembering what Jesus has done and the family you are now a part of, express your sympathy, concern, support, encouragement to others, extend your faith and witness to those beyond the table.
The president and his son: Remember the famous snapshot of President Kennedy as he is seated at his desk in the Oval Office, surrounded by government officials. The photographer captured his look of love and amusement as he notices his little son, John-John, playing under the desk.
At the time President Kennedy was one of the most powerful men in the world. But the intimacy he shared with his son allowed John-John to interrupt his father in the very heat of national and international business.
The Church, like a bar: Chuck Swindoll wrote, "Churches need to be less like national shrines and more like bars ... less like untouchable cathedrals and more like well-used hospitals, places to bleed in rather than monuments to look at ... places where you can take your mask off and let your hair down ... places where you can have your wounds dressed."
Keith Miller and Bruce Larsen take the comparison of the church and the local bar on step farther: The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It's an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don't tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.
With all my heart I believe that Christ wants His church to be ... a fellowship where people can come in and say, "I'm sunk!" "I'm beat!" "I've had it!"
We need a little help: A Peanuts comic strip has Lucy saying, "It's my life." Sounds like Lucy, doesn't it? "It's my life and I'll do whatever I want with it. I'm my own person. It's my life and I'm the one who has to live it." In the last frame she grins and adds, "With a little help." We all need that little bit of help from our friends.
The power of a team: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Team provides a fitting example of spiritual partnership. For more than forty years they have advanced together the cause of Christ. This group of men heard a call from God early in their adulthood, and banded together to pursue the goal of world evangelization. While the world has celebrated the amazing success of Billy Graham, a share of the credit goes to the men about him who have quietly linked arms with him. And, together they have given courage, insight, and strength to each other. They chose to martial their energies and partner their resources.
Together we accomplish more: Remember the story of the draft horses. One draft horse can move two tons of weight. But two draft horses in harness, working side by side, can move twenty-three tons of weight. When we come together as partners we can accomplish significantly more than we can working alone.
Linking arms: A three-year-old girl wandered into an open field with grass and weeds waist high and became lost. The family called friends and neighbors to join in the search. Just before dusk one of the children in the group offered a suggestion, "Let's join hands and walk together up and down the field and see if that helps." Because they linked arms, the girl was found.