Guarding the Flock
“Most of all, let love guide your life, for then the whole church will stay together in perfect harmony.” (Col 3:14 LB)
Unity in the church is so important that the New Testament addresses the topic even more than heaven and hell. Therefore, it is our job as believers to protect the unity of our church. In His final moments before being arrested, Jesus prayed passionately for our unity. It was our unity that was uppermost in His mind and having paid the highest price for it, He wants it protected from the devastating damage that is caused by division, conflict, and disharmony. Paul admonished,
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:3 NIV)
Focus on what we have in common, not our differences.
“Let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of one another’s character.” (Rom 14:19). Remember that it is God who chose to give us different personalities and preferences. We should choose to value and enjoy those differences, not merely tolerate them, knowing that God wants unity, not uniformity. Paul stressed, “I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” (1 Cor 1:10 NLT)
Be realistic in your expectations.
The gap between the ideal and the realistic is wide so strive to love the church in spite of its imperfections. Others will disappoint you and let you down, but that’s no excuse to stop fellowshipping with them. “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” (Eph 4:2 NLT) When you are hurt by others, whether intentionally or unintentionally, instead of leaving the church, stay and work it out if at all possible. Reconciliation, not running away, is the road to stronger character and deeper fellowship.
Choose to encourage rather than criticize.
“What right do you have to criticize someone else’s servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right, and the Lord will make sure that they do right.” (Rom 14:4 CEV) When you judge another believer, four things occur: Loss of fellowship with God; exposure of your own pride and insecurity; judgment from God; harming the fellowship of the church. It is the devil’s desire to blame, complain, and criticize. Anytime we do the same, we are taking sides with his agenda. “So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.” (Rom 14:19 MSG)
Refuse to listen to gossip.
Gossip is passing on information when you are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. The fastest way to end a conflict is to lovingly confront those who are gossiping and insist they stop it. As Solomon pointed out, “Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and tensions disappear when gossip stops.” (Prov 26:20 LB)
Accept your responsibility to protect and promote the unity of your church. Put your full effort into it and God will be pleased.
Lord, in this new year, I will promote unity and love in my church family.
May it be as important to me as it was when Jesus prayed for it.
I will focus on what I have in common with others, not their differences from me.
I will overlook the imperfections in others.
I will encourage rather than criticize.
And I will refuse to gossip.
Lord, be pleased with my life as I pursue unity in my church family.
In Jesus’ Name.
Devoted to Develop
You are joined together with peace through the Spirit, so make every effort to continue together in this way.” (Eph 4:3 NCV)
It takes effort and the blessing of the Lord to produce a loving Christian community. You and I have our part in making it happen.
You have to care enough to lovingly speak the truth, even when you would rather gloss over a problem or ignore an issue. Most people have no one in their lives who loves them enough to tell them the truth(even when it’s painful), so they continue in self-destructive ways. Don’t let fear keep you from saying something necessary when courage to speak up is needed. Remember whatever you say, “speak the truth in love,” (Eph 4:15) because without candor there can be no community. Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again….By helping each other with your troubles, you truly obey the law of Christ.”(Gal 6:1-2 NCV) Real fellowship, whether in a marriage, a friendship, or your church, depends on loving frankness. When conflict is handled correctly, we grow closer to each other by facing and resolving our differences.
Pride bills walls between people while humility builds bridges. Humility is the oil that shoots and soothes relationships. “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,” is Peter’s admonition. (1 Peter 5:5 NIV) The proper dress for fellowship is always a humble attitude. You develop humility by admitting your weaknesses, by being patient with other’s weaknesses, by being open to correct, and by pointing the spotlight on others. Paul wrote, “When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. "Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others.” (Phil 2:3-4 NCV)
Courtesy is respecting differences, being considerate of each other’s feelings, and being patient with people who irritate us. God puts these people in our midst for both their benefit and ours. In a family, acceptance isn’t based on how smart or beautiful or talented you are. It’s based on the fact hat we belong to each other. That’s why we defend and protect family. “Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other.” (Rom 12:10 GW) Community has nothing to do with compatibility but rather our relationship with God. We are family. Real community also happens when people know it is safe enough to share their doubts and fears without being judged.
Only in the safe environment of warm acceptance and trusted confidentiality will people open up and share their deepest hurts, needs, and mistakes. What is shared with one another needs to stay there, health with, and never gossiped with others about. Prov 16:28 says, “Gossip is spread by wicked people; they stir up trouble and break up friendships.”
Relationships take time and the Bible says, “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25 TEV). This is why fellowship is so shallow in many churches because we don’t spend enough time together, and the time we do spend is usually listening to one person speak. Community is not built on convenience but rather a conviction that it is essential, even when you don’t feel like it. In Acts 2:46, “They worshipped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for Communion, and shared their meals with great joy…” Fellowship requires an investment of time and only you can choose to do it.
In conclusion, focus on these 9 key components of Biblical fellowship:
Striving for these components prepares us for heaven.
Personal Prayer Focus:
Lord, I take my responsibility in making fellowship happen.
I will share honestly with other in love.
I will maintain a humble attitude, always preferring the feelings of others.
I will always respect others no matter what they share with me.
What others share with me is not for others to hear.
And I know that it takes time so I will make time and invest myself into fellowship.
In Jesus’ Name.
Life together for the church is called fellowship. The word means more than casual conversation, socializing and food. Real fellowship is intended to be “experiencing life together.” God’s view is unselfish loving, honest sharing, practical serving, sacrificial giving, and comforting one another. Jesus gave us an example of life together as He ministered in the context of a small group of disciples. As was the custom of the early church, every Christian was involved in a small group within their church, whether a home group or bible study.
For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20)
What a tremendous promise in experiencing life together.
Experiencing life means:
On the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.” (2 Cor. 2:7)
Through fellowship, we are able to give the life and encouragement that can only come from one another to endure the challenges of life. It is an essential part of your Christian life that you cannot overlook. You were created for community.
Lord, I commit to experiencing life with others.
When I gather with others, I thank you for Your presence.
I will be honest and real with others as you lead me.
I will give when I am able to.
I will listen to others and try to understand their pain.
I will always give mercy instead of harshness and judgment.
I will give encouragement as often as I can because you want me to.
No Longer an Outsider
Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.” (Eph. 2:19 LB)
Wrap your head around this truth that God did not call you just to believe but rather to BELONG. Even in the perfect and sinless environment of Eden, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen. 2:18). We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves. While your relationship to Christ is personal, God never intended for it to be private. In fact, we belong to each other for eternity.
So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Rom 12:5 NIV)
We are members of His body but the true meaning of this is muddied by our society’s view of membership. We are members of clubs and mailing lists while Paul speaks of being a “member” like a vital organ of a living body - an indispensable, interconnected part of the Body of Christ. The church is a body, not a building. We are a living organism, not an organization.
For the organs of the body to fulfill their purpose, they must be connected to your body. It is the same with Christ’s body. You and I were created for a specific role, but you will miss that purpose for your life if you’re not attached to a living, local church. Rom. 12:4-5 MSG says,
….we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around…. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body…. Let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without …comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.”
The church, locally and universally, is God’s agenda for the world. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matt 16:18 NLT). His Body is indestructible and will exist for eternity, as will your role in it. Determine to find your place of belonging and embrace being an insider rather than an outsider.
Lord, thank you for giving me a place to belong.
Help me to see that I belong to my brothers and sisters in Christ for eternity.
My life has meaning as I find my place and function in the Body of Christ.
I will be what I was made to be without comparing myself to others.
Thank you for making me an insider.
The Most Important Thing
And love means living the way God commanded us to live. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is this: live a life of love." (2 John 1:6)
Because God is love, the most important lesson He wants us to learn on earth is how to love. Love is the foundation of every command He has given us. Learning to love is not an easy task because it runs counter to our self-centered nature. Aren’t you glad that the Lord has given us a lifetime to learn it? Paul encourages us,
When we have the opportunity to help anyone, we should do it. But we should give special attention to those who are in the family of believers." (Gal. 6:10)
God wants His family to be known for its love more than anything else. Jesus said that our love for each other, not our doctrinal beliefs, would be our greatest witness to the world.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:35)
Small groups are such a priority at our church because love cannot be learned in isolation. You have to be around people, yes, those often irritating, imperfect, and frustrating people.
In 1 Cor. 14:1, Paul writes, "Let love be your highest goal!" Love must be our primary objective and greatest ambition with relationships being the most important thing above everything else. Don't get caught trying to squeeze time for others into your schedule. Finding time or making time for others gives the impression that relationships are simply a part of our lives, when God teaches that relationships are what life is all about. It is not by chance that four of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship to God while the other six deal with our relationships with people. Jesus said,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-40).
Relationships, not achievements or acquisition of things are what matters most in life.
How you treated others, not your wealth or accomplishments, is the most enduring impact you can leave on earth. Mother Teresa said, “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.” Learning to love is so important because it is the one thing that you will be evaluated on in eternity. Jesus said, “…inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40).
Whether you get anything else done today, make sure that you spend time loving other people because that is what life is all about. It’s the most important thing.
Lord, open my eyes to the truth that love is the most important thing.
It may not be easy but I will determine to seek out others today to show your love.
I will be known for loving others.
It will be my highest priority today.
May I live with the attitude that relationships with others,
And cultivating those relationships is what life is what matters most in life.
I commit to make love the most important goal today.
In Jesus’ Name.
Chosen to Belong
See how much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1)
The Bible is the story of God building a family who will love Him, honor Him, and reign with Him forever.
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure." (Eph. 5:1).
God’s very nature is so relational that He chose to use terms such as Father, Son, and Spirit. God desired a family so much that He devised a plan to create us, bring us into His family, and share with us all that He has. This gives great pleasure to God. The moment you came into the family you were given the family name, the family likeness, family privileges, intimate access, and the family inheritance.
You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26)
And as children of God we get to share in the family fortune. Here on earth we are given “the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7) along with kindness, glory, wisdom, power, and mercy. The glorious inheritance that Paul spoke of includes: getting to be with God forever, being completely changed into the image of Christ, freedom from all suffering, the rewards, and the sharing in Christ’s glory. Paul refers to it as “an inheritance… that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4).
This eternal inheritance is what we should be looking forward to and working for as we live our lives. Paul writes, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23-24). You and I should be living in light of eternity.
Heb. 2:11 CEV tells us, “Jesus and the people he makes holy all belong to the same family. That is why he isn’t ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.” Let this amazing truth sink in. You are a part of God’s family, and because Jesus makes you holy, God is proud of you. Whenever you feel unimportant, unloved, or insecure, remember to whom you belong. God chose you to belong in His family.
Lord, thank you for welcoming me into your family.
You are my Father and I lean on Jesus and the Spirit today.
I choose to walk in all of the privileges of being your child.
I do this knowing that it gives you great pleasure.
I live my life today in light of eternity.
My audience is you alone. It is my desire to please you.
When I am tempted to feel unloved or insecure I will remember,
That You chose me to be a part of this big loving family.
When It Seems He Is Hiding
I will wait for the Lord to help us, though (it seems) He is hiding now. My only hope is in Him." (Isaiah 8:17)
It is easy to worship God when things are going well in your life but what do you do when circumstances are not so pleasant? What do you do when God seems a million miles away like the words of Isaiah portray? Know this, that the deepest level of worship is thanking God during a trial, trusting him when tempted, and loving him even when He seems distant.
Besides Jesus, David probably had the closest friendship with God of anyone, God calling him “a man after my own heart.” Yet David frequently complained of God’s apparent absence saying,
Lord, why are you standing aloof and far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?" (Ps. 10:1).
He has not promised that you would always feel his presence. How can we “keep the faith” when God appears to be missing-in-action in our life?
God wants us to sense His presence, but is more concerned that we trust Him than that we feel him. Remember that it is faith, not feelings, that pleases God. First of all, regardless of circumstances and how you feel, hang on to God’s unchanging character and nature. Remind yourself of what you know to be eternally true about God: He is good, He loves me, and He has a good plan for my life. Even when Job’s life fell apart, Job found things he could praise God for.
Secondly, trust God to keep His promises. It is during spiritually dry times that you must rely on the promises of God rather than your emotions. Even in the absence of confirming circumstances, Job held on to God’s Word saying, “I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread.” (Job 23:12). When you weather the feelings of abandonment, yet continue to trust God, you are worshipping God in the deepest way. This is the essence of faith and as the scripture says, the just shall live by faith. Hang onto the faithfulness of God, knowing that He has never left you despite how you may feel.
Lord, despite what is going on in my life, I trust you.
Just because I endure hard times does not mean that you’ve left me.
Thank you for promising to never leave me.
Despite what I may or may not feel, I know that you are with me.
I know your nature and character.
I see it in the Bible and I have experienced it myself.
So, I choose to focus on your goodness rather than my struggles.
In Jesus’ Name.
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