Fellowship With God

 Some people would have us believe that after God created the world he went off about his business elsewhere and now pays no attention whatever to mankind not to their interests. They think that whatever happens now is merely the result of the operation of natural forces. If they consider God to be anything more than force, they think him so far away as to be totally out of our reach. They scoff at prayer and of our speaking of having personal relations with God. Such teaching does not alarm the Christian, nor disturb him in any way. Its advocates might as well tell him that there is no sun shining in the heavens when he feels the glow of its warmth and sees everything around him lighted up with its beams. The Christian knows God. He is no more stranger nor a foreigner, but he has been brought into personal and tender relations with God. John says, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:3). Fellowship does not imply cold and formal relation, or no relation at all. It implies that the relations are close and intimate. John believed that there is something very practical and very real about the relations that we are to sustain to God, and after telling us about this relationship, he said, "And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full" (verse 4). There is something in this fellowship that creates joy. Every true Christian knows that this is true. He knows it, not as a matter of theory, but as a matter of his own experience.

Fellowship implies a likeness of nature and of interests. There can be no fellowship unless there is a mutual correspondence. "For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). Sinners cannot have fellowship with God. They are utterly unlike him; they have no correspondence with him. There are tens of thousands of church-members who have never known from their own experience what fellowship with God means. They are still sinners and know that they are sinners; therefore they are shut off from fellowship with him. John says, "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth" (I John 1:6).

God makes the Christian like himself in nature and character, and therefore the Christian is in a position to have fellowship with him. Speaking of this, Paul says, "For we are made partakers of Christ" (Hebrews 3:14). In Hebrews 12:10 he says, "That we might be partakers of his holiness." Peter, speaking on this point, says, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). It is because God implants in us his very nature and likeness that we have correspondence with him. When we have the same nature, it is natural that our interests should run in the same channel.

Fellowship implies a partnership. "We are laborers together with God" (I Corinthians 3:9). We become, as it were, business partners with God. We are saved to serve, not saved for idleness. God has a great work to do in the world. For that work he wants many partners. He can fill many hands with activity. God's work is to save the world, and how glorious it is that we can have fellowship therein or have a part in this great work! We are partners with God in the salvation of our souls. True, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but, at the same time, it is God that worketh with us. Some seem to think that the burden and responsibility for saving their souls lies entirely upon their own shoulders; others think that they can do nothing to bring about their own salvation, but that it is a matter wholly dependent upon God. Both these views are extreme. We have a part and God has a part. God is as much interested in our being saved as we can be interested; therefore he joins his forces with ours, and together we work out the glorious accomplishment of his purpose. We have burdens to bear, but he is our helper. We have difficulties to meet, but he is our strength. What we can do, he expects us to do; but what we cannot do, he is ever ready to do. Dear soul, God wants your life to be a success here in this world and he wants you to reach heaven safely in the end. He desires it so much that he has agreed to go into partnership with you and to throw all his resources into the balance to enable you to accomplish his purpose. You do not have to fight your battles alone; you do not have to bear your burdens without help. Your strength is too small for this, but you have a glorious partner, one who will help you in every time of need; therefore look to him and lean upon him. Trust him, and you will make a success of it. You are sure to win if you trust your partner and do your part.

We are partners in manifesting his grace to the world. He cannot show his grace as he would like to except through humanity. He wants us to give ourselves to him and let him so manifest his grace in us that others may know how glorious it is. The world can know God most easily through his children, and so God gives to us the supply of his grace, not only so that we ourselves may be benefited, but so that the world may know the riches of his grace in us and, seeing it in us, may be led to seek it directly from him.

We are partners with God in saving others. God saves souls largely through the human instrumentality. Our part in this partnership is the giving of ourselves - our hands, our feet, our tongues, our ears, our minds, our hearts, our all, in fact - to be dedicated to this high and holy work. Let us not hold back ourselves from this fellowship. Let us join in it with all our ransomed powers, that the world may be saved.

Fellowship implies friendship. Jesus said, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends" (John 15:14, 15). We were once enemies, but now being reconciled by his blood, we have become his friends. On that friendship he places one condition; that is, that we obey him in all that he tells us. In our partnership with him, he must be the managing partner. His children are glad to have him be such. Abraham was called the friend of God. God does not want us to have merely a speaking acquaintance with him; he wants us to be on terms of close and intimate friendship. Human friendship means much to us. The man who realizes that he has no friends is lonely indeed. How little of good the world holds for him! How little his life seems to amount to! How fortunate the one who has many friends! How these ties enrich his life! If human friendship means so much to us, how much more will the divine friendship, and how much more will our lives be enriched by it! What a wonderful privilege it is, then, to be the friend of God, to have him who is greatest of all for our friend! But God is in heaven, and we are upon earth. Friendship is blessed even though we are far from our friends, far separated by space from their presence. How our memory loves to dwell upon them! How well we like to think of the associations of former days! How we desire their presence with us now! How we appreciate letters from them and news from them! But it is when we meet them and see them and hear their voices that our joy is stirred. Will God be to us only as a far-away friend? Will he be only "our Father which art in heaven"? Ah, no! our fellowship with him will be something more than this.

Fellowship means companionship. Fellowship with God means companionship with him. The angel said, "They shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matthew 1:23). Jesus said, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). "He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him" (verse 21). What gracious promises these are! Again, he says, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5). What can be dearer to us than being in the presence of those whom we love? These promises are not mere words; they are to be realized as facts of human experience. God is with us. He is not with us merely in the sense that he is everywhere, but in a special sense he comes to abide with us, to dwell in us, to sup with us, and to be our companion through life. Words cannot express what the Spirit is to the Christian. Our eyes cannot see the Holy Spirit, our ears cannot hear him, our hands cannot handle him, but nevertheless that divine presence is with us, and in our inmost heart we feel him and see him and hear him and know him. Nothing can be sweeter than the conscious presence of God abiding with us. His presence is not secret. He is not present without our knowing it. Christ said, "I will manifest myself unto him."

Oh, how blessed this companionship! How satisfying to the inmost soul! If the world could know it, how they would hasten to secure him to be their friend! but alas! they do not know it. It is a thing hidden from their eyes; it is a thing of which they cannot truly conceive. Its sweetness, its depth, its glorious realities, are hidden from them. It is also hidden from many professors of religion. It has a strange sound to them when we speak of it. They do not understand what we mean. They look at us with uncomprehending eyes. They know nothing of the kind in their experience. This is because their religion is a matter of externals, leaving the soul cold and empty. If they will but surrender really to Christ and receive him into their hearts, they may know this blessed companionship. If they will forsake their sins and submit themselves to his will, he will gladly come unto them and let them taste of the sweetness of his love and the blessedness of his presence.

Fellowship not only implies companionship, but communion. He is our Father, and we are permitted to have intimate relations and privileges as sons. There is a sense of understanding between the soul and God. It knows God, and it knows that God knows it and understands it. How sweet is this sense of being understood! How blessed it is to go into the secret of his presence and lay before him all the troubles of our souls, to tell him our desires, our aspirations, our thoughts, our purposes, and to know that he understands them all and that he gives to us his sympathetic affection! If others misunderstand us, he will not. He knows and he cares. Even when words fail us, so that we cannot tell him what we would, we know that he can read the secrets of our hearts. He not only hears, but replies. He speaks to us in our inner consciousness in a way that the soul can understand, and when he speaks to us, how sweet the sound of his words and how our souls are stirred! Like the disciples of old, we may say, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us in the way?" The sound of his voice causes our hearts to leap with joy and to burn within us. In vain do we try to describe this experience.

Fellowship with God means a partaking with or a sharing with him. This glorious privilege we are permitted to enjoy. Not only do we partake of the divine nature when we are saved from sin, but he opens the storehouse of his kingdom and gives to us of his treasures. He is not selfish with his pleasures. He wishes us to enjoy them with him. The Psalmist says: "How excellent is thy loving-kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasure" (Psalms 36:7, 8). Jesus said, "These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). It is as though the heart of God overran with joy into our hearts. There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents; there is joy in our hearts at the same time. How we rejoice to see the wanderer come home! How we rejoice at the prosperity of Zion! How we rejoice in the rejoicing of God's children!

We are made partaker of his peace. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you" (John 14:27). Again, it is written, "Great peace have they which love thy law" (Psalms 119:165). Paul says, "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and mind through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7). How wonderful is the fellowship of God's peace! It comes into our hearts dispelling all our fears, quieting all our troubles, and bringing a great calm, a joyful calm which brings our hearts and minds to sweet repose. The surface of our lives may be stirred by many a storm and the waves of trouble may beat upon us, but down underneath all the commotion there remains that settled calm - the peace of God. Sorrow may come and cause our tears to fall like rain; business disasters may rob us of our possessions; but underneath all is the peace of God in the heart. Oh the peace of God! How inexpressibly sweet it is to the human heart! and how blessed to be allowed the privilege of the fellowship of his peace!

We partake of his grace also. Of the early church we read that "great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33). We partake of his love. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). How rich the fruitage of this glorious union with God! It is hidden from the eyes of the world; how little they know of it! The Christian knows of it. He enjoys the realization of it in his own heart. It is the very life and strength of his soul. But he cannot tell it to one who does not know of it from personal experience, any more than he can tell the flavor of a fruit to one who has never tasted it. We must taste ourselves and see that the Lord is good; and this is the privilege that God freely gives to us if we will serve him. The way to partake of this fellowship is to draw nigh to God. The nearer we come to him, the more intimate relations are established between our souls and God, the more perfectly we partake of this fellowship and the richer and sweeter it becomes to our souls.

There is another phase of this fellowship quite different from that of which I have been speaking. Paul says, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10). He explains this in Colossians 1:24 - "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh." In Philippians 1:29 he says, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." Suffering is a thing from which most people shrink. They marvel that it should be a part of the Christian life, but it is a part, nevertheless. In speaking to Ananias of Paul, Christ said, "For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:16). When we read his life, we find that it was a life of suffering.

But why should the Christian have to suffer when he has turned away from his sins and is doing what he knows to please God? Why should suffering be laid upon him? Is it not a burden that he should not be asked to bear? Ah no, it is not such a burden! It is one of God's blessings to us. It is God's most useful tool in forming Christian character. Only by pain can he make us into his image.

Behold how our Master suffered for us. What ignominy, what shame, yea, what cruelty, came upon his devoted head! He suffered for us that he might bring us to God; but after he had suffered the utmost that was in the power of his enemies to inflict upon him, he went back to heaven, and now they cannot reach him. He is not here in fleshly form so that evil men may vent their wrath upon him now as in the days of his flesh. He still dwells here, but he dwells in the hearts of his people, and all the enmity and wicked rage and malice of sinners that would be directed toward him if he were here in person, is still directed toward him, but it is directed toward him in the hearts of his people. So Paul, looking at the matter thus, called his sufferings filling "up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" (Colossians 1:24). Paul looked at his persecutions as being directed, not toward him, but toward the Christ in him. It was the Christ in him that suffered. It was the Christ in him that men hated; therefore it was the Christ in him at which their evil words and actions were directed. And so, my brother, sister, the things that come upon you because you are Christ's come upon you, not because people hate you, but because they hate Christ in you. "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own," Christ said, but "ye are not of the world, ... therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19). We have only to grieve Christ out of our souls and to go back to the world again, to find out it will receive us and welcome us and love us, and that all our persecutions will be at an end.

Since Christ has suffered for us, shall not we bear the little suffering that comes to us, without regret and without murmuring? Shall we not, as our ancient brethren, rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for his name? What a privilege to bear a part of that suffering which would have fallen upon the Lord had he remained in this world! Shall we shrink from it? Nay, but rather let us glory in it. When some Christians are tried and tempted and persecuted, they wonder why it is. It seems a very strange thing to them that it should be so. Sometimes they question themselves and think there must be something wrong with their lives or their hearts, or they would not have to endure these things. On the contrary, it is rather a proof that they are Christ's. Why should the world hate us? Why should Satan hate us if we do not belong to God?

Peter explains the matter to us. He says: "Beloved think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as we are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" (I Peter 4:12-16, 19). Reader, you will do well to study these scriptures until you fully get their meaning, until you comprehend their depth.

Paul says, "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed" (Romans 8:18). Our trials and temptations and persecutions and all the things that we suffer because we are Christians are only seeds which we are planting. From them we shall reap in the days to come a glorious harvest of joy. We may sow in tears, but we shall reap with rejoicing. As Peter says in the verses just quoted, "that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy."

Shall we, then, shrink from the fellowship of his sufferings? Shall we, then, shrink from that which may come upon us in this life? Ah, no! let us rather glory in it. Let it be our delight. Not that it is joyous in the present. It is oftentimes grievous to us and sometimes hard to bear. It requires courage and fortitude, but did it not require the same thing for him to suffer? Remember the agony of Gethsemane. Remember the heartbroken words on the cross. He still suffers what his children suffer. God's great heart is too tender not to be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. The stripes that are laid upon us smite him; the pains that we feel are felt in his great heart. Jesus endured for the joy that was set before him; so let us endure for that joy also, for we shall be partakers of that joy as we are partakers of his suffering. If we suffer, he knows just how to give to us the balm of consolation. He knows just how to heal the wounded heart; he knows just how to help; he knows just how to strengthen. Let us, therefore, with joy fellowship his suffering and press on from day to day, counting it a glorious privilege. To view it thus will help to lighten our burdens, to sweeten our bitterness, and to give joy for our sorrow. It will make us strong to bear. It will give us courage to endure. It will help us to face the odds that are against us and in his name to overcome. Be strong, therefore, and endure. Bear the little portion of his suffering that falls to you; then in the day of crowning, you will have rejoicing, and he will treasure you throughout eternity as one of his precious jewels.