The Importance of People & Fellowship
“THE IMPORTANCE OF PEOPLE & FELLOWSHIP”
by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
During my life, I (and no doubt you as well) have found “the nature of man” to be extremely baffling and confusing — why on earth would a person hurt someone they love? Some people may positively influence on our lives physically (health, business, etc.), while at the same time negatively impact us mentally and spiritually. Psychologists tell us it is rare that any two people are in harmony on all three levels — physical, mental and spiritual (Ostaro). Down through the ages some strong leadership personalities have exercised significant influence over the masses, be it for good or for evil; sadly some of them have misused their powers of aura to do great harm to humanity — men like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung & Edi Amin. Only those people with a deep level of spiritual sensitivity are aware of the impact others have on their lives.
Relationships are our reason for existence — relationships with God and with our fellow man. Throughout life we constantly interact with people — some of our associations are a great help to us spiritually, while others may be a great hindrance to us. All of our relationships effect our “well-being” in some way — be it physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It is through relation-ships with others that we grow and evolve into the people we become. Therefore, it is important that we cultivate relationships that improve our lives spiritually, and imbue us with godly values and meaning. Proverbs 13:20 tells us that we will be significantly affected by the people we choose to relate to — either we will become wise by associating with those who are wise, or we will suffer destructive consequences by associating with those who are imprudent. Thus our associations affect both the growth and the development of our lives. If living a healthy, produc-tive life is really important to us, we will give serious attention to the relationships we foster.
Psychologists tell us there is a strong correlation between “healthy relationships” and people’s physical health and psychological well-being. Arthur Aron, a professor of psychology at New York’s Stony Brook University says, “Relationships are enormously important for health, and there are lots of studies on the biological processes that account for the link between relationships and health” (Johnson). Conversely, the health risks from going it alone in life or isolating oneself from others, are comparable to the risks associated with cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity. Research done by the “Life Science Foundation” at the University of Minnesota shows that —
- People who have a strong social network tend to live longer.
- The heart and blood pressure of people with healthy relationships respond better to stress.
- Strong social networks are associated with healthier endocrine system and cardiovascular functioning.
- Healthy social networks enhance the immune system’s ability to fight off infections diseases. (Life Science Foundation)
Most people have read studies that link marriage to living longer in life. Study after study shows married couples are healthier and suffer far fewer heart issues than unmarried couples. This makes a lot of sense because God designed us to be social creatures; therefore it only follows that companionship, and a loving relationship and a support system, are just as important to our “heart health” as eating veggies and getting lots of exercise. Pastor Dan Walker says that relationships can bring us great joy or deep distress — unfortunately, we live in a world where relational problems abound and half of all marriages end in divorce; so marriage is now viewed as something disposable — “if it doesn’t work out, you simply look for somebody else” (Walker). Denise Webster reminds us that “stressful relationships can backfire on our good heart health… [therefore we need] fun, supportive and deeply meaningful relationships.” The bottom line is good relationships help keep us healthy, and bad ones have a negative effect upon our heart, brain, and overall health. Webster offers four practical suggestions for regulating relationships:
- Be grateful for your friends and family; don’t take them for granted.
- If you have a spat with your friend or spouse, clear it up as soon as possible (Eph 4:26); dwelling in a feud is detrimental to your health.
- If you are somewhat of a loner, try to take an active role in expanding your circle of relationships.
- To minimize the impact of people causing you stress, be mindful how you interact with them. (Webster)
A new study strongly demonstrates the value of “social relationships” for increasing a person’s lifespan. In the journal PLoS Medicine, Brigham Young University professors Julian Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith report that low social interaction essentially is more harmful than not exercising… twice as harmful as obesity… and the equivalent to being an alcoholic. The researchers analyzed data from 148 previously published longitudinal studies that measured frequency of human interaction and tracked health outcomes for a period of seven and a half years on average. Smith states that “constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically [increases our mental health] but directly effects our physical health” (Nauert). Carol Ryff has been doing research on the connection between relationships and health for a number of years. In one study which followed 10,317 people from birth over 36 years, data on social relationships was collected along with biological markers important for indicating wear and tear on the body. Measures included systolic blood pressure, urinary cortisol levels, and epinephrine levels. The data support the idea that negative relational experiences are associated with greater wear and tear on the body, and levels of oxytocin in the body (Ryff).
Have you ever wondered why some of your relationships are more effective than others? Researchers have learned a lot in the last 30 years about what makes good relationships tick, and it boils down to just a few basic things. Unfortunately, most folks are only minimally aware of those elements, and therefore aren’t doing everything they can to improve their relationships. Arthur Aron recommends giving attention to just three things —
- Mind your mental health — for relationships to be effective, keep stress to a minimum.
- Keep the lines open — conflicts are inevitable in relationships, learn to communicate.
- All relationships require effort and attention — spend the time and energy, it pays off.
Psychologist Tim Kasser, the author of “The High Price of Materialism,” has shown that the pursuit of materialistic values like money, possessions, and social status (the fruits of career successes) leads to lower well-being and more distress in individuals, and is also damaging to relationships. Kasser writes, “My colleagues and I have found that when people [place a premium on] materialistic values, they have poorer interpersonal relationships and contribute less to the community.” Such people are also more likely to objectify others, and use them as a means to achieve their own goals. In a 2004 study, social scientists John Helliwell and Robert Putnam, authors of “Bowling Alone,” examined the well-being of a large sample of people in 51 countries around the world. They found that social connections — in the form of marriage, family, ties to friends and neighbors, civic engagement, workplace ties, and social trust — “all appear independently and robustly related to happiness and life satisfaction, both directly and through their impact on health.” Furthermore, they add, “If everyone in a community would become more connected, the average level of subjective well-being would increase.” This may explain why Latin Americans, who live in a part of the world fraught with political & economic problems, but are strong on social ties, are the happiest people in the world according to Gallup (Smith). It may also explain why Louisiana came in as the happiest state in the country in a major study of 1.3 million Americans published in Science in 2009 — this surprised many at the time, but makes sense given the social bonds in Louisiana communities. Meanwhile, wealthy states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California were among the least happy, even though their inhabitants have ambition in spades, and year after year send the greatest number of students to the Ivy League. In another study Putnam and a colleague found that people who attend religious services regularly are, thanks to the community element, more satisfied with their lives than those who do not; and people with ten or more friends at their religious services were about twice as satisfied with their lives than people who had no friends there (Smith).
Barry Schwartz, a psychological researcher based at Swarthmore College, says that “relationships and community impose constraints on freedom, binding people to something larger than themselves.” The problem with our culture, he says, is that it assumes that “limiting freedom” is detrimental to well-being. Schwartz, who has done extensive research on this issue suggests that “too much freedom – or a lack of constraints – is actually detrimental to human happiness.” Journalist Rod Dreher has also come to see the virtue of constraints. He believes the secret to the good life is “setting limits and being grateful for what you have” — meanwhile, many of his East Coast friends, who have pursued the money tree, good jobs and success feel empty and alone. “Community means more than many of us realize,” Dreher says, “and it certainly means more than your job” (Smith). New York Times writer David Brooks referred to a study that started in 1938 that tracked 268 students over the course of their lives that was finally coming to a close; it has revealed two amazing finds —
- Relationships had more to do with the flourishing of life than almost any other factor.
- Humans are capable of change at any point in their life.
The director of the study, George Vaillant, summed up the research with this statement: “It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives” (Homesley). As Christians, we clearly see the reason for this conclusion — relationships are a critical component to human flourishing because humans were created to be in relationship. Part of being made in the image of God is having the capacity for intimate relationship… and the supreme relationship above all relationships is that of intimacy with God Himself. Before any other human was created, Adam knew his Creator… he communed with his Maker… there-fore the number one relationship we are to develop is with our Maker. God made us for Himself (Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16). When God is our number one relationship, we will naturally develop healthy relationships with our fellow man — that is as sure as day follows night. Following are five tips for maintaining the most important human relationship in life — that of “marriage:”
- Speak Up — In a healthy relationship, if something is bothering you, it is best to talk about it instead of holding it in.
- Respect Your Partner — Your partner’s wishes and feelings have value; let them know you are making an effort to keep their ideas in mind; mutual respect is essential in maintaining healthy relationships.
- Compromise — Disagreements are a natural part of healthy relationships, but it is important that you find a way to compromise if you disagree on something. Try to solve conflicts in a fair and rational way.
- Be Supportive — Offer reassurance and encouragement to your partner, and let your partner know when you need his or her support. Healthy marriage relationships are about building each other up, not putting each other down.
- Respect Each Other’s Privacy — Just because you are in a marriage relationship, doesn’t mean you have to share every moment and every experience with your spouse. Any healthy relationship, irrespective of its depth and intensity, calls for space, trust, equality, freedom and respect. Having healthy boundaries in marriage is not a sign of secrecy or distrust — it is an expression of genuine trust and unconditional love. No human being has the capacity to be the “end all” for another person at every moment in their life; so to demand that you be precisely that for your spouse is to not only have a poor understanding of yourself, but also of your spouse — it is to live in the world of unreality. Though each of us may be “the love of someone’s life,” none of us can be “all things” to that person, because none of us is God — we all have severe deficiencies and our fallenness has only compounded the problem.
Because this issue is so significant in some people’s lives, let me expand upon the essence of “possessiveness” at this point. When relation-ships are based on fear, power, control, jealousy and possessiveness, ultimately they become unhealthy, destructive relationships that end up consuming both persons in the process. Ultimately, possessiveness stems from feelings of insecurity, where the possessive person doubts the love and dedication of the other individual — as a result, the possessive person becomes jealous and controlling. Possessive individuals are often prone to looking through their spouse’s phone messages, emails, pockets, or purses for “evidence” to support their suspicions; obviously, such behavior is not acceptable. Possessive people are typically self-pitying, easily offended, supra-sensitive, selfish, argumentative, and lacking in self-confidence. Springing from a mix of insecurity, suspicion and fear, possessive-ness is starkly negative both in its realm and its effect. The marriage relationship is not meant to make us feel trapped, smothered, restrained, and confined; rather, it is meant to be the most wonderful, liberating, fulfilling human relationship we can experience on this planet. Loving is all about believing, caring, sharing and trusting. With that said, healthy boundaries should not result in living with restrictions that are reserved for children. Each spouse should be able to —
- Go out with his or her friends without their partner
- Participate in activities and hobbies they like
- Not have to share passwords to their email, social media accounts, or their phone
- Respect each other’s individual likes and needs (love is respect.org)
The Concept of Biblical Fellowship
The spiritual significance of people in our lives revolves around the concept of “fellowship” in the New Testament. The primary meaning conveyed by the Greek term koinonia is that of “participation” — this word is used nineteen times in the New Testament, and in addition to being translated “fellowship,” it is also translated “contribution,” “sharing,” and “participation;” and can also be translated “partnership” and “communion.” Do you see the commonality in each of these words? There is no sense of abstraction in the use of the word, but rather of actual participation in that to which the term refers. The sense of sharing and self-sacrifice that is inherent in the word is clearly evident in those references dealing with financial support in the early church (Rom 12:13; 15:26; 2 Cor 8:4; 9:13; Gal 6:6; Phil 4:15; Heb 13:16). It is clear in these passages that Paul viewed the contribution for the needy Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, taken up from the poverty-stricken Gentile Christians in the Hellenistic world, as the ultimate expression of fellowship among Christian people (Elwell, p. 445). Furthermore, that the early church maintained fellowship daily (Acts 2:42), is evidenced in the communal lifestyle Luke describes in Acts 4-5. It should also be noted, just as one may participate in God-honoring activities with fellow human beings, so one may also engage in sinful acts of wickedness (1 Tim 5:22; 2 Jn 11); so the word fellowship is not just reserved for the godly interactions of believers.
The Bible says the first-century Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship” — note the connection between the apostles teaching and fellowship. When a believer is in fellowship with God, he becomes consumed with His Word, and the desire to share the dynamics of it with other Christians. Just as sports is the topic of interest to the athlete, and music is to the musician, and science is to the scientist, so biblical truth is to the believer. When people are out of fellowship with God, however, they have little appetite for the Word and are almost always out of fellowship with other believers. Fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers go together — they are inextricably linked. As Greg Laurie puts it, “Fellowship is praying together, serving together, and growing together spiritually” (Laurie). Thus Christian fellowship essentially is a mutually beneficial relationship with fellow-believers — those who believe the gospel are members of God’s family (as such, they are brothers and sisters in Christ), and their oneness in Christ is the basis of their fellowship. Though we all have friendships and relationships with unbelievers, true spiritual fellowship can only occur within the body of Christ, because of the mutual ministry of the Spirit in our lives, and our common beliefs, purposes and goals. Just as “iron sharpens iron,” in true Christian fellowship Christians sharpen one another’s faith and stir one another to exercise that faith in love and good works (Prv 27:17; Heb 10:24-25).
Isolation (going it alone) is one of the most dangerous things that can occur in the believer’s life. Scripture tells us “we need each other” (1 Cor 12:7-21; Eph 4:16) and that there is “strength in numbers” (Ecc 4:9-12; Mt 18:20). It is good to know that when we need someone to pray for us, that we have a network of friends to draw upon… or when we need a word of encouragement, that there is someone of like faith there to share it with us (2 Pet 1:1). We practice fellowship when we serve the body with our spiritual gifts and our natural abilities, and the more we serve and care for the body the more conscious we become of the needs of the body… the Holy Spirit then moves us to help meet those needs. Church is more than a service — it is a living organism — it is a body whose head is Christ, and as long as all the parts of the body are connected to the head, they will work in perfect unison with each other (Eph 4:16). The first century church used to meet every day and partake of the Lord’s Supper, signifying their fellowship and union with Christ and with one another. The term “one another” is mentioned 54 times in the New Testament — such injunctions teach believers how to have healthy relationships with each other. Following is a partial list of the various “one another” passages:
- Jn 13:34 Love one another
- Jn 13:14 Wash one another's feet
- Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another
- Rom 12:10 Give preference to one another in honor
- Rom 12:16 Live in harmony with one another
- Rom 14:13 Do not judge one another
- Rom 15:7 Accept one another
- 1 Cor 1:10 Agree with one another so that there will be no divisions among you
- 1 Cor 11:33 Wait for one another
- 1 Cor 12:25 Have equal concern for each other
- Gal 5:13 Serve one another in love
- Gal 5:26 Do not provoke and envy one another
- Gal 6:2 Bear one another's burdens
- Eph 4:2 Show forbearance to one another in love
- Eph 4:16 Build one another up in love
- Eph 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another
- Eph 4:32 Forgive one another
- Eph 5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
- Eph 5:21 Submit to one another
- Col 3:9 Do not lie to each other
- Col 3:16 Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
- 1 Th 5:11 Encourage one another and build each other up
- 1 Th 5:15 Be kind to one another
- Heb 10:24 Stimulate one another to love and good deeds
- Jam 4:11 Do not speak down against one another
- Jam 5:9 Do not complain against one another
- Jam 5:16 Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another
- 1 Pet 4:8 Keep fervent in your love for one another
- 1 Pet 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling
- 1 Pet 5:5 Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another
The number one reason why many believers “stop meeting together” is that they think in terms of what they GET from a meeting rather than what they can GIVE to it — did not Jesus say, “Give and it shall be given to you”? (Lk 6:38). Sadly, many spouses have “getting” as their first priority; is it any wonder then that they have become disillusioned? Some really poignant verses that help us understand the importance of approaching fellowship with the right attitude are found in Eph 4:11-13 — “He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” This passage shows us that God’s people need to be prepared for works of service, because it is through these works that the body is built up… as we serve one another in love we grow deeper into unity and become mature in faith and look more like Christ. When we approach fellowship with an attitude of “what we can give,” we bind ourselves to our brothers and sisters in Christ through our service to them. This will never occur if we are TAKERS or SPECTATORS — it will only occur if we are GIVERS or SERVANTS. God wants us to be active members of the body of Christ, fully playing our part, and this cannot happen if we do not come together and serve one another. Christians are to encourage one another and stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24-25). When they do that their times of meeting together are uplifting and edifying, and everybody leaves having been built-up and encouraged; incident-ally, that kind of atmosphere causes people to want to come back for more, as opposed to a self-centered atmosphere of criticism and complaining. If you will encourage others through your service, you can be sure that God will see to it that you are encouraged as well (Mt:6:33). Thus fellowship places us in the position to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ and to exper-ience an infusion of God’s grace into our own lives. In short, fellowship involves a conscious effort of getting to know others and establish strong ties with them so that we can encourage them and also be encouraged, thus resulting in our growing together in Christ and experiencing greater measures of grace… and ultimately developing a strong healthy community of believers.
By way of illustration — years ago I remember hearing about a frustrated young minister who went to visit an older minister. While they were sitting by an open fire, the young minister began talking about how frustrated he was with the people in his church, and that he felt like throwing in the towel and giving up. As he talked the older minister took some tongs, picked up a glowing coal and sat it on the hearth. After a while the young minister stopped talking to see what the older minister had to say to him. The older minister pointed to the coal which was no longer glowing. He said, “If you neglect fellowship you will become like this coal… the glow that you once had will cool down… you can only maintain your spiritual glow while you remain in the body.” Do not underestimate the value of fellowship. Be devoted to it like the early church was, and remember what is at stake. When the church comes together, are you helping the world see Jesus? or are they just seeing “a bunch of hypocrites”? Do you approach fellowship thinking in terms of what you can give rather than what you can get? Do you think about how you can help to make things “right” rather than about what you think is “wrong”? Do you gather with other believers with the intention of encouraging them and serving them? Have you taken church for granted and allowed busyness to squeeze true fellowship out of your life? Are you on a spiritual sabbatical? Like that little lump of coal that lost all its glow, get back in the fire and let God use you to encourage and uplift others in the body through your service of love. Let it begin with you.
The Application of Biblical Fellowship
On the Day of Pentecost following the ascension of the Lord Jesus, some three thousand souls were added to the church as they listened to Peter proclaim God’s prophetic Word; by the way, these converts were all Jewish; essentially the early church was completely Jewish. The physician Luke goes on to describe the life of the church following these conversions. He states in Acts 2 –
They continually devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone
keep feeling a sense of aw; and many wonders and signs were taking
place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were
together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their
property and possessions and were sharing them all, as anyone might
have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple,
and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals
together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having
favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number
day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
The very first evidence Luke mentions of the Spirit’s presence in the church is that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” The early disciples sat at the apostles’ feet, hungry to receive instruction, and they persevered in it (also see Acts 17:11) — the life-giving content for the church is revealed truth. As John Stott says in his commentary on the book of Acts, “Anti-intellectualism and the fullness of the Spirit are incompatible, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth” (Stott, p. 82). A commitment to the apostles’ teaching is foundational to the growth and spiritual health of every believer. Peter wrote, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet 2:2). And to the Romans Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). John MacArthur says in his commentary on Acts, “Scripture is food for the believer’s growth and power… there is no other” (MacArthur, p. 83). Such words should remind us what the Lord said to the prophet Hosea — “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6). The church cannot operate on truth it is not taught… furthermore, believers cannot function on principles they have not learned. Despite the hate, ridicule and persecution the early disciples suffered, they remained faithful to the apostles’ teaching. It should be noted, contemporary devotion to the apostles’ teaching means submission to the authority of the New Testament.
Luke goes on to say that these early disciples also devoted themselves to fellowship (knononia); Koinonia comes from the word koinos meaning “common.” As believers we share in common the “life of Christ” — and as Christ was in this world, so we are also to be His eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet in the world. Luke immediately goes on to describe the way in which these first Christians “shared their possessions” with one another as anyone had need (vv. 44-45). Many of the early Jewish Christians lost their livelihoods due to their profession of faith in Christ, and the rest of the fellowship stepped in to meet their needs. It is interesting to note that the Essene leaders of the Qumran Community (an ultra conservative, monastic, ascetic Jewish community near the Dead Sea), were committed to the common ownership of property; any candidate who was accepted into its membership was obliged to hand over all of his property to the community. The issue of “common property” has been debated at various points throughout the history of the church as to whether or not this “injunction” is one that all believers should heed. It is important to note, however, that even in Jerusalem the sharing of property and possessions in the early church was “voluntary” — the fact that “they broke bread in their homes” clearly suggests that many believers had obviously not sold them. No where are we told that the church sold everything and pooled the proceeds into a common pot. Furthermore, such a principle for Christian living would have obviated the responsibility of each believer to give in response to the Spirit’s prompting (cf. 1 Cor 16:1-2). The message conveyed in Acts 2:45 is that people sold property as anyone might have need. Regarding the sin of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 — it was not one of greed or materialism, but one of deceit; they simply pretended to give everything they had so that others would revere them and think more highly of them. The “injunction” given to believers in Scripture is that of being generous toward the poor and the needy; essentially Christians are called to “generosity.” Thus Christian fellowship is Christian caring and Christian sharing.
For a Christian to fail to actively participate in the life of a local church (by serving the body) is to withhold his services to the body and to live outside of the will of God. We were not gifted for no purpose. Those who choose to isolate themselves and refuse to serve in some capacity are disobedient to the direct command of Scripture. The author of Hebrews charges us to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (as is the habit of some), but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). As John MacArthur writes, “The Bible does not envision the Christian life as one lived apart from other believers; all members of the universal church, the body of Christ, are to be actively and intimately involved in a local church” (MacArthur, p. 84).
In addition to the various individuals stated in the foregoing material, some of the themes of this study were taken from the following authors and sources —
Walter A. Elwell — Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001
John Stott — The Spirit, the Church, and the World. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990
- John MacArthur — New Testament Commentary on Acts 1-12. Chicago: Moody Press, 1994
- Dan Walker — Why Relationships Are Important — Website: www.pastordanwalker.org
- Rick Nauert — Relationships Are Important for Longevity — Website: http://psychcentral.com
- Carol Ryff — Why Health Benefits of Good Relationship Revival Exercise and Nutrition — Website: www.spring.org.uk
- Arthur Aron— Healthy Relationships Lead to Better Lives — Website: http://thenationshealth.aphapublications.org
- Denise Webster — Heart and Health Felt Relationships — Website: www.denisewebsterfuelingbrainsandbodies.com
- Life Science Foundation — Why Relationships & Family Are Important — http://takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/create-healthy-lifestyle
- Emily Esfahani Smith — Relationships Are More Important than Ambition — Website: www.theatlantic.com/health/archive
- Jon Homesley — Why Are Relationships So Important? — Website: www.thecommonsensefamily.com
- Dhruv Ostaro — The Importance of People in our Lives — Website: http://ezinearticles.com
- Greg Laurie — The Importance of Fellowship — Website: www.christianpost.com
- Love is Respect Article — Healthy Relationships — Website: www.loveisrespect.org