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The Christian church has the great gospel reminder that the morning, the dawning of light, brings forth fresh praise and fruitful fellowship of the saints (Lam. 3:22–23). Why is this important? It was in the morning that the Lord Jesus Christ was raised, defeating death and the grave, setting forth the priority of the Lord’s Day (Luke 24:1–7). The worship of almighty God is not an individual practice but a communal one. The Lord’s Day is a day for this community, when we engage in our calling as a covenant people to fellowship with God and with one another.

The fellowship of the saints is vital to our life in Christ and our understanding of being a part of the church. The marks of a true church are the preaching of the Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and church discipline. When we survey the early church, especially as Luke outlines in the book of Acts, we see the necessity of fellowship as it pertains to the marks of a true church. Consider the well-known passage in Acts 2:42–47. Luke puts fellowship in the context of worship. Notice that fellowship isn’t simply a gathering of people who want to be social or those who share similar life experiences. What makes Christian fellowship unique is supernatural unity over common truth and teaching: the gospel of Jesus.

The writer of Hebrews exhorts us:

Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet 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)

Here is a call to all Christians that we must not isolate but instead come together. To be sure, there are painful seasons of isolation for some members of the church, and there are also contexts outside corporate worship that can also fit into this exhortation. In our day, however, it is entirely possible to come to church and leave without any real meaningful conversation or investment in relationship. How subtle yet dangerous the temptation to think that church then becomes more about me and what I can get than what I can give. A Christian cannot be an individualist; the church body needs what each unique member has to offer.

When the psalmist says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ ” (Ps. 122:1), we must ask, Is that true of us? If man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever and to be exercised most chiefly in worship, does the manner by which we arrive and prepare to worship demonstrate this? As we prepare to enter worship, we have the privilege to be reminded that as we have been welcomed by Christ, we are called to also welcome others.

On the Lord’s Day, we receive a foretaste of home.

A simple application for prioritizing Christian fellowship is using the time before and after worship to encourage one another—and to be encouraged. Rather than rushing to and from church, come and get to know the community of faith. Coming early gives you the chance to greet others, to get to know those who are new, and even to notice the absence of those who were not able to make it. Those who arrive on time are able to serve by praying with and for their pastors and by meeting practical needs in the church alongside other members. Arriving early allows for the opportunity for hospitality. When we are rushed, we are not only moving faster physically, but often we are moving faster emotionally and spiritually as well. Our hearts and attitudes can be rushed and distracted and therefore not prepared to worship and love God and His people.

Time before worship, then, is not just a time for early risers or overachievers but a time for practical ministry or “family time.” We have fellowship with the family of God through Jesus Christ His Son. The worship of God never happens by chance or accident but occurs only with purpose, which requires preparation. Fellowship before the worship service gives us the opportunity to be prepared to enter into community and to invite others into this blessing as well. The week can create a fog and a weight that distracts, but there is something special about the gathering of the saints to worship. It is the Lord’s Day that instructs us in our anticipation of the Great Day, the return of Christ. Martin Luther once said, “At home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”

Similarly, staying around for a few moments after the service allows us time to meet visitors whom perhaps we hadn’t met before. Having spent time in worship, perhaps one is now more prepared to encourage others because of the truth that was proclaimed. The thoughtful, Christ-centered, purposeful worship that God has laid out for His church in His Word requires work, and yet worship works. It brings us into the throne room of grace by which we see the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the atoning work of Christ for us. We believe that the Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), and therefore, as we worship, the Word pierces us and stirs in us worship of God, conviction of sin, and comfort for the downcast. Staying after the service provides an opportunity to continue that ministry by greeting, getting to know, and encouraging others with the truth that we just confessed and received.

We gather on the Lord’s Day not simply to congregate together but to worship together and to fellowship together. We are sojourners and exiles throughout the week, but on the Lord’s Day, we receive a foretaste of home. We can come hungry, and by God’s grace we will leave blessed and filled.

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From the July 2023 Issue
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