Early spring each year finds me traveling south to enjoy the Texas sunshine with other Christians. There’s Bible preaching and earnest prayer meetings, plus lots and lots of fellowship time. It’s a special time, and each year I find myself more blessed by what is taking place.
There is one difficulty, however, that meets me at that special place- fellowship does not feel like it comes naturally. The thing that ought to be an immense encouragement, being surrounded by so many Christians, has a way of quickly morphing into a discouragement that threatens to spoil the time for me.
How does everyone else connect so easily with other people? How come other people have deep, meaningful conversations, and I’m just standing here alone?
When took a moment to step back and I evaluate my reasons for feeling discouraged, I found each of them could be traced back to selfishness. Of all the things someone could do, fellowship is probably one of the most selfless looking things, but I learned this year that there is a way to seek selfish fellowship.
Selfish fellowship comes with preconceived notions about what is satisfactory and fulfilling. When I cut short a conversation with one person because of a desire to talk with someone else instead, that is selfish fellowship. When I make a choice not to engage on a deeper level because I don’t think it will end up being encouraging to me, that is selfish fellowship. When I refuse to begin a conversation because it makes me feel uncomfortable to get out of my comfort zone, that is seeking selfish fellowship. When I become discontent by comparing the fellowship I am having with the fellowship that others are having, this is seeking selfish fellowship. Selfish fellowship is concerned only with what makes me feel good and look good. (And, quite obviously, this is not real fellowship.)
Thankfully, the Word of God has wisdom that speaks directly to people like me who are convicted about seeking selfish fellowship:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:3-5 ESV)
Simply and succinctly, there is one answer to selfish fellowship: live with the mind of Christ. If Jesus had lived seeking what satisfied and fulfilled him, what a state we would be in now! But instead, He lived with a deep, honest, selfless humility towards all those whom He interacted with, blessing people and pointing them to God.
Undoubtedly there are times when we need encouragement ourselves. The beautiful thing about God’s plan for Christians is that through encouraging others we ourselves are encouraged. Sometimes we may need to seek the Lord to send us someone who can build us up in our particularly struggling state. But our own feelings should never be an excuse to forgo opportunities to bless the people of God through fellowship or an excuse to use fellowship selfishly.
When we find ourselves around other Christians the desire in the forefront of our minds should be to bless them. How can I build this person up in Christ? Does someone need a listening ear—let me be that for them! Does someone need encouragement to press on—Lord, give me the words to say! Where can I be a friend to someone who needs a friend?
The apostle Paul expressed the idea of fellowship beautifully when he wrote to the believers at Rome:
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11-12)