New Testament LIFE
Paul was writing to Philemon about restoring Onesimus, a runaway
slave, to his household. In the greeting to his friend he wrote, “the
church (or congregation) that meets in your home” (Philemon 2). The
use of that phrase was the consistent pattern of those who began the
church. To Jesus and the apostles, the church was never a building—it
was a group of people. And, when the New Testament identified “ a
church”, it was a group of people in a certain location.
The implications of this truth are enormous. If church means
people and not structures, then people were the only focus of attention
by our Lord and His apostles. The force of their teaching and writing
was about relationships between individuals and with God, not
buildings and organizations. Their emphasis was not on structure or
construction, but on bringing people to Christian maturity.
In His prayer to His Father, Jesus explained that principle in a most
profound statement. It forms the cornerstone of the Gospel: “Now this
is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus
Christ, whom you have sent” (John 1 7:3). Entering into eternal life
means coming into the most dynamic experience possible to
humankind: Personal, intimate relationship with God.
Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ. That incredible
statement has confounded humanists over the centuries. Yet, entering
into this all embracing union is not some difficult or demanding task.
As Jesus announced to the multitudes, “Come to me, all you who are
weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke . . . and
you will find rest for your souls” (Mat thew 11:28). Jesus’ invitation is
open to all who would “become like children.” With all our energy, we
want to partake of that relationship.
Four elements stand out as being necessary for the kind of vital
connection Jesus talked about with His heavenly Father. Love is the
Putting Love into LIFE
While God’s redemptive love is seen throughout the Bible,
perhaps one person wrote more about it than anyone else. John, the
Beloved Disciple, expressed in unmistakable terms God’s love for the
world and for us His children. In the most quoted verse in the Bible, he
wrote “For God so loved with world that he gave . . .” (John 3:16).
Love is God’s essence.
From one of his later books we read, “So we know and rely on the
love God has for us.” That fills us with hope. To those reassuring
words, John added “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God,
and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that
we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world
we are like him. There is no fear in love” (I John 4:16-18). As you read
those verses, you begin to see the meaning of putting love into LIFE.
Living with God requires a life of love.
John is placing love of God into our life experience in the way that
conquers argument. If we truly love God, His love will saturate what
we do like the rain from a springtime shower. To underscore the point,
he stated, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love
God,’ yet hates his brother , he is a liar” (I John 4:19, 20). Yes , those
are strong words.
But John was only rephrasing what Jesus had earlier told His
disciples: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this
all (people) w ill know that you are my disciples, if you love one
another” (John 13:34, 35).
Love is the foundational characteristic of a home fellowship. Love
represents the first letter of LIFE. A home fellowship is where people
can express and experience love for God and love for each other in a
unique way. Love makes the New Test ament fellowship authentic, then
and now. Without love, true fellowship cannot exist. Let’s examine the
Scriptures to verify these truths.
Expressing God’s Dynamic Love
As we read the first chapter of I John, we discover an unbreakable
link. Love for God grows into love for each other and expands as we
fellowship together (1: 3-7). The Apostle John explained the dynamic
effect from putting love into life: “And this is his command: to believe
in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he
commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in
them” (I John 3 :23, 24). When we link God’s life and love toget her,
John writes, w e have an unbeatable combination. “No one has ever
seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is
made complete in us” (I John 4:9-12).
When we express God’s love in our fellowship, Jesus said that
something fantastic would come into our experience: “If you obey my
commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my
Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that
my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command
is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:10-12).
It is apparent that love is essential in the home fellowship. L et’s
summarize the reasons we have looked at:
• Love is the character of God
• Jesus commanded us to love
• Love fulfills God’s will for us
• Love makes fellowship with others possible
• Love brings us heaven’s joy
• Love shows we are Christ’s disciples
• Showing love attracts people to God.
In sum, John is saying, “The substance of New Testament
fellowship is shown when we are experiencing God’s love in our
group.” As we read the rest of his writings, we realize why he wanted
to make it so clear. A believers’ fellowship without expressing love for
God and others is a contradiction.
This means that as we meet as a home fellowship, we declare our
love to God through the worship of singing, praying, confessing, and
sharing our devotion for Him. Everyone contributes to this time—
mature, young, women, men and, yes, boys and girls. Always
remember that children came to Jesus gladly. He never turned them
Building on God’s Dynamic Love
These are also times for affirmation of each other in the Lord. Tell
others in your fellowship how they minister to you and how much you
appreciate their prayer and concern for you. To the Ephesian believers
Paul wrote, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by
every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each
part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).
As we individually use our gifts, we help each other grow up in
Christ. That great principle is indispensable to a home fellowship. The
key word in all of this is love, proceeding from God’s inexhaustible
supply and flooding our meager capacity.
The more we appropriate God’s love, the stronger our love
becomes. As John said it, when we “. . . love one another, God lives in
us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4 :12). As we include
others in our fellowship, the circle of God’s love expands—it becomes
more inclusive and complete in us.
Expressing our love for God is to be matched with the outworking
of that love for others. Jesus told the questioning Pharisee that there
was only one great commandment : Love God and your neighbor as
yourself. Looking at the early church, we see that those who had
plenty, shared with those who were in need (Acts 4:32-35).
Today, can we have a New Test ament fellowship when love is
absent? Isn’t something wrong if love is not in our experience?
However, what happens when we use our individual gifts to complete
and support the gifts that others have? We nurture each other. It is
called growth in love.
Instruction and Intercession in LIFE
The book of Acts gives us another element that distinguished the
New Testament fellowship: “They devoted themselves to the apostles ’
teaching” (Acts 2:4 2). During that time, the New Testament as we
know it was not yet written. That the Scriptures were studied we know.
Jesus and the apostles knew and quoted freely from the Old Testament.
Now the Acts 2 reference is specific to the Jerusalem church. So
we ask, Who were the apostles’ the writer was referring to? Well,
Matthew was one. So were John and Peter. James and Jude, halfbrothers
of our Lord, would be included in that group. Mark would also
join with them when not traveling with Paul. In later years, Paul as well
as Luke would visit the church in Jerusalem.
Although not apostles, the other writers of our New Testament
were part of the “apostolic circle” who approved and validated their
teaching. What they taught, they later wrote down. As they wrote, their
letters were circulated among the church fellowships. Out of this
process we have the New Testament. The distribution of their teaching
reaches us even in this the 21st Century whenever we pick up and read
the New Testament.
Why is understanding this so important? To the young church, the
“apostles’ teaching” represented for them what the New Testament is
for us. When we pick up the New Testament, we hold in our hands
“the apostles’ teaching.” As Jesus had told them, the Holy Spirit
would tell them what to write and bring back to their memories what
He had taught them (John 14:25, 26; 16:12-14).
Just before Jesus returned to His heavenly Father, He told His
disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching
them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20).
Their instructions from Jesus included writing and teaching others, as
well. They did both.
Learning from God’s Book
To follow the New Testament example, the home fellowship is a
place where God’s Word is read and applied. You may wish to
examine books by other authors on your own. However, let me
recommend for your discussions, keep to God’s Word. We are acting
on what Jesus said: The Author would lead you into all truth. That is
His promise. Appropriate it. (John 161:3, 14).
When the Apostle Paul gave his final charge to his young assistant,
Timothy, he directed him to “Preach the Word.” “All Scripture is
God-breathed . . . ” (II Timothy 3:16; 4:2). People want to hear from
God. Don’t defraud them by studying other books when you have
available THE Book. As you read, pray, meditate and talk about it you
will discover the Living Word comes to life in people’s lives.
You can use a formula similar to the one Bishop Sundo Kim of
Korea gave to several of us one evening around the dinner table. He is
the pastor of a Methodist church in Korea which has over 3,000 small
groups, growing and multiplying every day. Bishop Kim called it “the
trinitarian formula.” He said three questions should guide your study of
1. What is the principle in the passage?
2. What is the meaning?
3. What is the application for us?
That is a healthy way to take God’s Word and “ rub” it into your souls
and apply it to your living.
Upholding God’s people
Intercession as well as instruction was critical to the New
Testament church. “They devoted themselves . . . to prayer” (Acts 2:
42). What Jesus had taught them and what He had practiced was part of their daily experience.
Recall Jesus’ words to Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as
wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail”
(Luke 22:31, 32). Jesus’ promise was personal and powerful. As you
form a circle of ten or twelve in your home to pray, you are following
Jesus’ example to intercede for those who are in the battle with you.
We also find the Apostle Paul asking church fellowship to pray for him
that he might fearlessly preach the Gospel.
Fellowship Brings Zest to LIFE
The shortest definition for fellowship is one I heard as a boy: Two
fellows in one ship. If two of you are in the same boat, you are going to
do lots of sharing. Problems, success, difficulties, progress, ups and
downs are going to be equally your experience. A big plus is that you
have each other to rely on. More importantly for the believer, however,
is that you have the presence of God, always.
Imagine the following: A small group of believers, meeting
regularly to experience God’s love and to express love for each other.
These people are open and supportive of each other. The Apostle John
explains what’s going on: “If we walk in the light, as (God) is in the
light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his
Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:7). A couple of verses earlier,
John said his writing was “so that you also may have fellowship with
us . . . to make our joy complete” (1:3, 4).
These verses reveal that:
• Jesus walks in the light
• When we walk in the light, it makes fellowship with Him
• Outside of this light, fellowship with each other does not take
• This fellowship leads to forgiveness and purity of living
• This fellowship leads to true joy.
Since this fellowship is so powerful, we need to unders tand what it
means “to walk in the light.” The Psalmist said “the Lord is my light
and my salvation” and that His Word “is a light to our path.” (Psalms
27:1; 1 19:105). Quite simply, when we have light, we can see where
we are going. We see the truth of the path, the stones, holes, good
parts, ruts and smooth parts; everything becomes visible to us. When
we walk in the light we can also see the truth of our condition and the
vastness, greatness and completeness of God’s grace for our salvation.
The Apostle John said, “God is light; in Him there is no shadow at
all.” He is transparent and open for inspection without fear. He has
nothing to hide. That is how He wants us to walk with Him–in the
light. It means being authentic with God—no pretense and no faking.
Since He knows us completely, why contest Him? If we walk openly
with Him, it leads to the incredible joy John talked about.
Walking in The Light
Walking openly with God encourages us to fellowship in the same
manner. That means being open, real and authentic with each other.
This kind of living requires being vulnerable and being held
accountable. That may be threatening in our culture, but God Himself
has called us into this fellowship with His Son and with each other. (I
The Apostle Paul taught that this relationship with God bears a
certain kind of fruit. It is supportive, helpful, understanding and puts an
end to worldly divisions (I Corinthians 1:10-13) . James, the brother of
our Lord, said we can even confess our sins and pray for each other for
healing (James 5:16).
That is the fellowship that Jesus declared should be the regular
experience of His followers. He said it clearly: “For where two or
three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt hew 18:
19, 20). That promise was fulfilled in thousands of homes during New
Testament times. Christians all over the Empire met in small groups to
love God and experience love for each other.
There, they received instruction from the Word, given by apostles,
pastors and teachers ( Ephesian 4:11, 12). They were walking in the
light, meeting in genuine friendship to share and support each ot her
through prayer, receiving the promise of God’s presence. Is that kind of
fellowship available for us today? Yes! Yes! YES ! Why? Because it is
part of the Gospel—the good news brought to us by Jesus Christ.
Jesus said that as He came to bring us that good news , so we must
carry that news to others. Being part of a home fellowship, expressing
and experiencing love, receiving instruction, praying and having
fellowship with others is not yet complete. A New Testament
fellowship is unfulfilled without expansion.
The Focus of LIFE on Evangelism
Deat h is contagious. So is life. Life is characterized by growth.
The opposite is death. In all likelihood, we would be pagans today if
the apostles and their followers had not believed in evangelism and
expansion. It would be folly and dangerous for us to be different. Our
Lord’s command is to go into all the world—even across the street.
Evangelism becomes the focus of the home fellowship.
This truth is self-evident: Without growth, fellowship dies . The
closest and nearest to you in relationship and geography are
opportunities for inclusion in your home fellowship to expand God’s
First, we must put aside the temptation to claim that growth equals
numbers. That notion is filled with peril. It can lead us into grievous
error. The four essential elements of the New Testament fellowship
(LIFE)—love, instruction and intercession, fellowship and evangelism—
lead us into the primary will of God, being transformed into the image
of His dear Son. He wants us to grow—into maturity.
It’s possible that no one will come into the fellowship in your
home. Just remember Noah, the preacher of righteousness; he preached
for a century while building the ark. Outside his family, no one
believed him (I Peter 3:19, 2 0). But he remained faithful to what God
had asked him to do and today we read his story.
Still, remember Jesus’ words , that all people will recognize us as
His children when they see the dynamic love relationship in a
believers’ fellowship. People are starving for that authentic intimacy.
They are tired of the phoney-baloney and exploitation so prevalent in
our culture. They want to be accepted like Jesus has accepted us. They want to be real.
The goal of Christian fellowship has not changed—maturity in
Christ. Nonetheless, I also believe that people will be attracted to the
life that will be seen in your fellowship. Give people a chance to enter
into and experience the love of God and they will come running.
These four elements I believe make up the healthy New Testament
fellowship. It is how God’s people, the church, expanded across
borders and into hostile cities in the first century. Led by the apostles,
they moved forward in the power of the Holy Spirit. They were living
examples that pointed the way for us to follow:
Love for God and others
Instruction in Scripture and Intercession in prayer
Fellowship of the believers—being vulnerable and accountable
Evangelism–extending God’s love to the world.