(Seventh of eight installments)
Already now in this sinful world believers in Christ are enabled to experience the beauty and joy of Christian fellowship. We certainly can appreciate those moments in our lives when God gives us such experiences as little glimpses and foretastes of future bliss. Consider a few such moments in the lives of some Old and New Testament believers. As we hear of their experiences of Christian fellowship, we can think of times when our gracious God has led us to experience similar moments of beautiful and joyous Christian fellowship.
In Genesis 50:15-21 we hear Joseph’s brothers confessing their sin to him and Joseph saying to them: “Do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” The text continues: “And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Is this not a thing of beauty and a joy forever that believers in God’s promises confess their sins and forgive one another!
Jump ahead to Exodus chapters 35 and 36 where God’s forgiven people bring their offerings for the erection of the tabernacle. Christian fellowship is more than nice talk. It means working together for the cause of the gospel. What a joyful moment when the people reported to Moses: “The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the Lord commanded us to do.”
In Joshua chapter 22 we read of a rumor that the 2 astern tribes were building an opposition altar next to the Jordan River. A number of leaders, including the priest Phinehas, made a journey to the Jordan to investigate this rumor. After very serious words of admonition the eastern tribes explained their actions satisfactorily, and a rift was avoided.
What joy was in Phinehas’ words when he said: “This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord.” The account continues: “So the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God.” They were experiencing the beauty and joy of Christian fellowship.
Surely another such moment was when the magnificent Temple built by Solomon at God’s command was dedicated to the service of the Lord (as recorded in First Kings 8). Solomon spoke for all the people: “Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised through His servant Moses.” As in similar circumstances in our day, the joy of the people was expressed in a banquet. “At that time Solomon held a feast, and all Israel with him, a great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days and seven more days–fourteen days. On the eighth day he sent the people away; and they blessed the king, and went to their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the good that the Lord had done for His servant David, and for Israel His people.”
In Second Chronicles chapter 20 there was great joy among God’s people which they celebrated with music. King Jehoshaphat and his people were facing a threat from three enemy nations at once: the Ammonites, the Moabites, and the Edomites. The king led the people in humble prayer: “We have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” God’s people were united at this time of danger. “Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord.” God sent a prophet with good news: “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”
The people believed this word from God, and a choir of Levites “stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high.” The music continued on the next day as God gave them victory. When they returned to Jerusalem, the rejoicing continued. They went back to Jerusalem “with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. So they came to Jerusalem with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of the Lord.” Is anything on Earth more beautiful than the voices of God’s people praising their God for the good things He has done? The joy of united worship is celebrated in many of the psalms.
But Christian fellowship includes more than joint prayer in time of need and joint praise in time of victory. It includes working together in the cause of the Lord, as in the time when Nehemiah led the returning refugees in Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city. When Nehemiah said to them, “Let us build the wall of Jerusalem,” they responded by saying: “Let us rise up and build.” “Then they set their hands to this good work” (Nehemiah 2:17-18), even though their enemies made fun of them and did all they could to hinder their work. But even in that time of joyful unity we are told of some who “did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord” (Nehemiah 3:5).
(to be continued)