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Fellowship Must Strengthen Our Faith, Not Just Lift Our Feelings

accident victim from every stock photo.com by military healthThe Goal of Fellowship

Imagine that you are leading a small fellowship group, and a young couple opens up about their struggle with infertility.

They share their heartbreak at the thought of never getting pregnant.  They talk about their battle with jealousy when others get pregnant.  They admit that their infertility has stirred up bitterness toward God.

So what should the goal of the group be?  What does God desire for the next minutes of your fellowship?

Is It Feeling Better?

Since this couple is struggling with painful feelings, it’s loving to want them to feel better.

So maybe someone in the group says “we are really sorry for all you are going through.”  Maybe someone else tells the story of a couple who, after lengthy infertility, finally got pregnant.  Maybe another member offers to pray regularly that they get pregnant.  And maybe someone else recommends a helpful infertility specialist.

All of this might help the infertile couple feel better.  But even so, has this small group accomplished God’s goal for fellowship?

I don’t think so.

Learning from Paul

While Paul was in Thessalonica people had responded to the gospel, and his heart had been knit together with theirs in love for Christ.

Which is why he was heartbroken when he suddenly had to leave the city.

So he wrote them a letter, and shared his plans to visit so they could have sweet fellowship together.

And from what Paul says we can learn what the goal of fellowship should be.

Paul’s Goal — Building Faith

Here’s what he says.  To show how often he mentions it, I will put “faith” in caps —

Therefore … we sent Timothy … to establish and exhort you in your FAITH …

For this reason … I sent to learn about your FAITH, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

But now that Timothy has … brought us the good news of your FAITH and love … for this reason … we have been comforted about you through your FAITH …

For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you … as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and SUPPLY WHAT IS LACKING IN YOUR FAITH? (1 Thessalonians 3:1-10)

Paul’s one concern for the Thessalonian believers was their faith in Christ.

  • He sent Timothy to strengthen their FAITH.
  • He wanted Timothy to find out about their FAITH.
  • He asked Timothy to report back about their FAITH.
  • What comforted Paul was good news about their FAITH.
  • Paul would visit so he could to supply what was lacking in their FAITH.

But Why?

Why so much focus on their faith?  He tells us in the verse 5 —

For this reason … I sent to learn about your FAITH, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

Paul knew that the tempter, Satan, was prowling as a roaring lion seeking whom to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

And he knew that the target of Satan’s temptations was the Thessalonian’s faith in Christ, because if Satan can destroy their faith, then Paul’s work would have been in vain.

Why?  It’s because destroying someone’s faith would destroy their salvation.  Which means they would be lost forever.

Let me clarify: I do believe that when God saves someone he starts a good work in them which he will never let stop (Philippians 1:6).   Which means that everyone who genuinely trusts in Christ will end up saved (John 10:29-30; Romans 8:28-30: Jude 1:24-25).

But — if there is someone is in my small group who I thought had faith in Christ, who is now so tempted by Satan that his faith is no longer evident, I should join Paul and fear that our labor could be in vain (Hebrews 3:12-14; James 5:19-20).

That’s why, when it came to fellowship, Paul had one aim – to strengthen faith in Christ.

Stop the Bleeding

Imagine that you came upon a horrific car accident, and a man is lying on the road with ripped pants, an obviously broken leg, and blood gushing from a gash in his arm.

It would be foolish to try to find needle and thread so you could sew up the pants.  It would also be foolish to focus on setting the leg.

Why?  Because this man will not die from torn pants or a broken leg.  But he will die if you don’t stop the blood gushing from his arm.

At this accident what’s crucial is to stop the bleeding.  And in fellowship what’s crucial is to strengthen faith.

Your Small Group

Back to your small group, where a couple has just shared their struggle with infertility.

I am sympathetic with the pain of infertility.  My wife and I felt that for years.

But this couple’s struggle with jealousy toward others and bitterness toward God shows that unbelief is dangerously strong.  Which is why the goal of your fellowship must be to strengthen their faith in Christ.

The main battle for infertile couples is to trust that Christ himself is their all-satisfying treasure — not pregnancy or babies — and that he will do whatever will bring them the most joy in him, whether that means pregnancy or not.

So what this couple desperately needs is to have brothers and sisters who, with deep tenderness and even tears, will help them see Christ in all his majesty and glory and beauty.

To do this they will listen humbly as the couple pours out their soul.  They will open God’s word and show this couple all that God promises to be to them in Christ Jesus.  And they will lay hands on them and plead for more of the Spirit’s work to open their eyes and strengthen their faith.

And when they do that, God will come, tenderly and lovingly, and breathe new life into their struggling faith.

But if we ignore their faith, and focus only on making them feel better with hopes of pregnancy, then it’s like sewing the ripped pants and setting the broken bone of an accident victim — without stopping the bleeding.

We’d never do that with an accident victim.

So let’s not do it in fellowship.

Comments?  Feedback?

I’d love to hear them.  Leave a reply below — thanks.

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(Picture is from everystockphoto.com by militaryhealth.)

Category: Fellowship, Church Life, and Relationships

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6 Responses

  1. Kathryn says:

    Please pray for my faith! That God will help me not be bitter and unbelieving and questioning Him, but that I will trust him!

  2. Kathryn says:

    And that it is possible for me to believe and be satisfied in Him; that I won’t lose heart but that he will draw me, save me if I’m still outside, assure me, satisfy me, and that my feelings that He won’t do it/it’s impossible for me will be crushed.

  3. Lisa Verret says:

    I just prayed for you Kathryn. That God would answer every desire that you have listed above. That He would strengthen your faith. That you would truly know His love for you and be able to rest in Him.

  4. j.h says:

    Steve,

    I see the importance of praying for faith, not denying that part. I am so glad you taught me the truth when people want prayer. My question is then what is the point of learning all those prayer request as a Christian? We are taught to pray “for safety,” “to get a job,” “to get strength,” “to feel better,” and many more. When friends come to them with me, should I always answer with “that is not the prayer you need, you need to have more faith.” I am curious if this will turn away non Christians.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What is FAITH ? According to the Holy Scriptures..

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