The Fellowship

“I hear of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; And I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.” Philemon 1:5-6

One of the greatest challenges of a minister or member of a local fellowship of believers is the maintenance of the balance between a love for The Lord of the work, and a passion for The Work of The Lord. Without an understanding of the difference between these two powerful forces, ministers and members lose their intense, immediate intimacy with The Lord Jesus, and the life-changing joy He provides for His work.  

In December of 1975, while completing my first year of ministry in the local church, I was invited to attend a Christmas luncheon held to honor the ministers and paid staff of our local Baptist association. It was held on a Monday, and the pastor of the host church was invited to say a few words of welcome to the hundreds of ministers. He failed to keep in mind that the crowd was gathered for a meal, not a message. This never ends well.

Our host began his weary remarks with, “On Monday I am not looking for any place to speak, because I don’t have anything left to say.” It was a rough start, a weak effort, and a poor ending. The words of the late Jerry Clower came to my mind, while enduring the insufferable, “Shoot up here amongst us! One of us needs relief.”

As I looked around that room, I was overwhelmed with the suffocating air of fatigue and mediocrity. It was a sea of earth tone suits, scuffed shoes, Expandamatic slacks, rumpled shirts, and nodding heads. It looked like a Sleep Apnea Convention, not a fellowship of soldiers celebrating a fresh victory and the birthday of The Champion. It chilled me to the bone, and I made a promise to myself, to never end up in that sorry state.

Paul referred to Philemon as a brother, a fellow worker, and fellow soldier. Philemon exhibited a priority for a love and faith toward Jesus, and he also expressed this same love and faith towards the saints. Paul’s use of the conjunction “towards Jesus and towards all the saints” forms the junction of the unction for effective ministry.

“Love and faith” are the essential oils needed to soothe the soul of The Body of Christ.  Undefeatable good will towards the saints and absolute trust in Jesus are powerful, life-giving components. Minsters and members of the fellowship must protect them from becoming cold-blooded theological terms.

Without the life-giving intimacy of a consistent companionship with Jesus, minsters turn ministry into a science, and members become glorified lab rats used for the next best experiment. When Love and faith is expressed towards Jesus, they build a fire in the heart of a minister that will never leave the saints cold. Energy expended in ministering to the saints, without intimacy with Jesus, loses the blessing of His unction, and the joy of the function. Again, this never ends well.

Note to self: Take a page out of Philemon’s playbook. Keep moving closer and closer towards Jesus. He fuels the flame of your love and your faith in Him, and turns it into a light that guides the way, and a fire that warms the hearts of the saints.

Paul interceded for Philemon, “And I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective.”  There is a difference between effective faith and efficient work. The knowledge of effective faith is found in spending time in The Presence of Jesus, not in doing more efficient work for Him. Paul honored Philemon’s love and faith expressed towards Jesus. He prayed that Philemon would continue to grow in “the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.”

Believers reach a great turning point, when they come to the learning curve in their knowledge that The Father never withholds any good thing from His children. Anything that looks better than The Son is a myth, or a mirage, not a more effective method. Seeking better methods, and missing Jesus may lead to a good idea, but will never lead to God’s idea, focusing on love and faith towards Jesus.

Some gifts take time for a recipient to appreciate their value. Jesus is no exception. When God gave His Son as His gift of love to sinners separated from Him, there was no greater love that The Father could give. Growing in the knowledge of God’s love takes time. The old Gaither song says it best, “The Longer I Serve Him, The Sweeter He Grows.” Thanks, Bro. Swank!

What The Son willingly gave, many have quickly grabbed, but then selfishly ignored. The Fellowship begins and ends with Jesus. Those who embrace His love for them, should race to walk and to talk with Him. Too often The Fellowship becomes a focus on the service to the saints, without intimacy with The Savior.

Two “Lines That Linger” my Dad often states are,
     “Never let the system overshadow The Savior.”
     “Anything that cools your love for Jesus is sin.” Don Miller

The Work of The Lord “towards the saints” must never overshadow a ministers “love and faith” towards Jesus, The Lord of The Work. When ministers focus more on the fellowship of the saints, than intimacy towards The Savior, they are out of fellowship with Jesus, and of little use to the saints. Prayer restores fellowship with Jesus, and provides His unction for the function of ministering to the saints.

Prayerless ministers and members of The Fellowship become trapped in the function of ministry, by losing the touch of The Savior’s unction for ministry. Function without unction leads to the junction of dysfunction. Prayer puts the priority of ministry where it belongs.  Prayer points ministers towards Jesus, and then Jesus points ministers towards the saints.  TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!