The Lord has put it on my heart to only speak for Him under certain conditions. By the way, this is not on you; it is what God has asked of me.
- Never talk about it if I haven’t struggled with it. If I haven’t struggled with it, I don’t know what I’m talking about.
- Only confront what I confess. If correction applies to me, bring it into the open.
- Identify with the body. If anyone in the body sins, own it, confess it to the Lord and repent, as if it were my own sin. Consider Ezra:
“Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, … For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands.” – Ezra 9:1-2
Even though this sin was not committed by him, he took ownership of it and prayed as if it was his own sin:
“But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.” – Ezra 9:5-6
- If I don’t own it when I speak about it, I don’t mean it.
- Show up no matter what, unless service is cancelled. Otherwise, I have no right to expect anyone else to show up.
I want to share with you what the Lord has recently put on my heart about commitment to the body.
This message is the fruit of a recent time of prayer for our church. As I prayed, the Lord clearly asked me to call a certain brother who has not been coming to church for a number of months. This brother is known to us all and has suffered a great deal, which explains his absence.
I called him the next day and we spoke for over an hour. I felt that he needed to share what he’s been going through, so I mostly just listened, lifting him up to the Lord silently as I entered a little of his pain. Part of his pain was the absence of connection that he has had from our body, his body, during these months. I was one of only two people to have contacted him since it all began.
I was shaken to the core. How could this have happened? Why did I not get involved sooner? Where was I all this time? Most troubling of all, why had I allowed his need to slip from my mind? This ought not to be!
I have given this failure to God and asked Him for His mercy and to change me, and the message I am sharing today springs from this.
Our church has recently suffered from a perfect storm of reasons that many of our brothers and sisters are not fellowshipping with us anymore. Some are attending “online” because of the pandemic or because it’s more convenient. Some have left permanently for a variety of reasons, some biblically sound, others not so much. Others are dealing with personal trauma and loss. Still others just seem to have disappeared.
We need to respond to this reality in different ways depending on the cause. Where possible, we need to come along side the ones who need it and help where we can help. Each situation warrants a different response. But no one should simply be forgotten. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ and we need to love them in word and in action.
First, we need to identify biblically sound reasons to break fellowship. Here’s what I came up with.
- Divisiveness and contradiction of sound teaching:
“Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” – Romans 16:17-18; also Titus 3:10, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:6.
“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” – 1 Timothy 6:3-5
2. False teaching:
“Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.” – 2 John 1:9-11
3. Unrepentant sin:
“But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11, actually vs. 1-13, the passage about the man who is in sexual sin with his father’s wife.
““If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17
4. The demonic or evil:
“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” – Ephesians 5:11-12
5. Being sent out:
“While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” – Acts 13:2-3
So, what are the non-biblical reasons for breaking fellowship?
Search the scriptures as hard as you can, but you will not find the following reasons anywhere.
- When a brother or sister just stops showing up, and enough time goes by that those who remain largely forget about them, especially when nobody bothers to check in on them. I can testify to the effect that reaching out can have on someone struggling to keep going, or that just wants to quit. Some years ago, I had reached a very low place in my walk with God, and had stopped going to my church. I had given up. A single, short visit from a fellow church member was all I needed to snap out of it and I started going again. Sometimes, that’s all the Lord needs to change the direction of a life.
- When you disagree with a political position or other opinion of your brothers or sisters. Paul tells us how to deal with unimportant differences and it does not involve leaving:
“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. ” – Romans 14:1-5
- When you don’t feel blessed. The body is about service, not about being served.
- When you find yourself convicted of sin and mistake it for unwarranted judgment, or feel uncomfortable about it. Rather than repent, you run or hide. Even if you were judged falsely, you are obligated to seek reconciliation.
How we look at our role in the body of Christ is key.
Fellowship is not just about us getting our needs met. It’s not just about being fed, healed, delivered, and blessed. Primarily, it’s about God using us to love others. It begins and ends with living in submission to the Holy Spirit, serving others in the love of God.
“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” – James 1:27
Christianity means serving others and avoiding worldliness. Notice here that orphans & widows are forever. Once an orphan, always an orphan. This is not about helping with short term needs. This is about long term service of indefinite duration. This is sacrificial love with no restrictions!
So how do we work this out in practice? Here are a few possibilities.
- Identify a brother or sister who hasn’t been showing up and reach out to them. Praying for them is fine, but give them a call, text them, message them on Facebook. Ask how they’re doing. Ask if there’s anything they need that you could do for them. Visit them. Share a meal with them.
- Be careful about where you get your news. Whether you favor the left or the right, avoid any news source that brings fear, anger or outrage. These emotions poison your heart and keep you from being able to love those who hold different opinions.
Yes, it’s hard, but it can be done. For this reason, I have sworn off all of the mainstream media, left and right. No CNN, no MSNBC, no Fox, no NEWSMAX, no Glenn Beck, no Epoch Times. I personally limit my sources to CBN News and World magazine.
Whatever you do, ask the Lord to make you sensitive to anger and fear so you can avoid their influence.
- Humble yourself before the Lord. We should pursue abiding intimacy with the Lord, growing in the love that only comes from Him, and that allows us to confess our sins without condemnation, that welcomes the discomfort that leads to repentance. None of us has arrived. After a while, facing your sins will no longer make you uncomfortable; you will instead share the grief of the Holy Spirit because of your love for Him.
- Join me up front every week to pray for the body. Quietly, unobtrusively, not to get our needs met, but to share ownership of the sins of the church. Honestly, can you say that you have no need for prayer? When the message ends and an invitation is given to receive prayer, come on up.
- Are there any among us that you barely know or don’t know well? Are there any that you don’t feel comfortable around for some reason? Consider making a point of reaching out to them. Introduce yourself. Listen to them. Make it your goal to be in fellowship with everyone in the body. By the way, I really have been weak in this area!
- If you have been attending “online,” please reconsider. Are there compelling reasons for continuing to do so? I know it’s easier, more convenient, maybe even a bit “safer,” but God’s design is for us to meet in person. Please join us if at all possible.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:23-25
The health of our small church depends on those of us who remain giving and loving sacrificially in every way that God calls us to serve. We all need to do our part, not leaving the work of the ministry to the leaders alone. When you see a need, don’t assume that the elders are dealing with it. They’re not supposed to do everything. Be the answer to your own prayer. What each of us has to offer is of great value to the body and there is no greater blessing than to be a blessing to others.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4
“Mission is costly and sacrificial. Maybe our lives are far too comfortable for us to begin to live uncomfortably; maybe we are too shy of the gospel’s challenge to be a challenge to others.
Amongst the poorest of the poor, amongst those who are lost beyond what we can imagine, there we should be in Christ’s name. And there will be the fragrant ‘sacrifice of praise’ (Hebrews 13:15), as we lay out our lives as ‘living sacrifices’ (Romans 12:1); there the kingdom will come and there the mission of the gospel on which Christ has sent us will truly be lived out.” – Punk Monk, Andy Freeman & Pete Greig