Why do people not attend church? For what reasons do believers not partake in the Christian fellowship? The Malphurs Group, which is a church consultation firm, offered 15 reasons that should cause us to think:
- THEIR FAITH IS STRONG, BUT THEY FEEL THE CHURCH IS NOT MEETING THEIR NEEDS.
- THEY ARE TIRED OF THE ROUTINE EACH SUNDAY.
- THEY HAVE LEARNED SO MUCH ABOUT GOD, AND THE CHURCH ISN’T CONNECTING WITH THEIR LIVES.
- THE CHURCH HAS CHANGED AND DOES NOT HOLD THE SAME INITIAL APPEAL AS IT ONCE DID.
- THEY HAVE PROBLEMS WITH HOW CHURCHES ARE RUN.
- THEY HAVE PROBLEMS WITH HOW PEOPLE ARE HANDLED (OR NOT HANDLED).
- HEAVY-HANDED PASTORS OR TEACHERS SHAME PEOPLE INTO “BEHAVING IN A GODLY WAY”.
- THEY DISLIKE THE CONFLICTS WITHIN THE CHURCH.
- THERE’S A LACK OF INSIGHT INTO PERSONAL AND PRACTICAL ISSUES WITHIN FAMILIES.
- CHILDREN’S NEEDS ARE NOT MET.
- THEY DON’T WANT TO GIVE TO SOMETHING THEY NO LONGER BELIEVE IN.
- THERE ARE TOO MANY RULES.
- THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE.
- NO “GOOD” CHURCHES NEARBY.
- THEY NEED TO HAVE DOWN TIME BECAUSE OF WORK OR FAMILY STRESS.
Whether we are young or old, there are reasons in this list that might resonate with us. In our society, the Christian fellowship has lost what it means to be the body of Christ. At large, we no longer know how to relate to people outside our church walls. So I must ask these questions: Are we meeting real needs? Are we focused so much on programming that we miss people? Have we translated the Gospel wrongly, so that it seems irrelevant in our society? Have we lost our excitement and our loving appeal? Have we become a place of burden rather than a place of restoration? Even if we have not lost what it means to be a Christ-centered fellowship, this study will be a good reminder for us as we live.
In the first century, there was a slave who had a good master but desired freedom. For reasons unknown to us, this slave ran away from his master and met with the apostle Paul. This slave had come to know Christ and Paul writes about this in a letter to the slave’s master.
Philemon 1-7 (HCSB)
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother:
To Philemon our dear friend and coworker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints. I pray that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for the glory of Christ. For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.
How Paul and Timothy viewed Philemon
Philemon was a believer in Jesus Christ and, thus, a brother in the faith. He volunteered his home as a meeting place for a local church and as we read, we discover that his genuine love was such that the hearts of the saints were refreshed through him. There is no doubt that Philemon had his flaws. Nonetheless, Paul and Timothy saw him as a friend and a coworker.
When I read this, I realize just how narrow our view of the Christian faith is at any given moment. Paul was writing to Philemon from Rome and Philemon was in Colossae. These two men were miles apart, yet Paul refers to Philemon as a coworker. In our culture and in our society, we might be able to conceive this better than anyone before us. The internet, phones, and social media all allow us to be miles apart and converse freely with one another. No matter the distance, we can collaborate, plan, strategize, develop, and implement any number of things in an instant. We can be on opposite sides of the world and still work toward the same goal.
Paul referred to Philemon specifically as a coworker in the Faith and under Christ. This will have several implications as we move forward in this letter, but for now we can glean that everyone who has believed in Christ is a coworker in the faith. My local church is to work with the local church down the street and to partner with believers in Christ worldwide. As believers in Christ, we are part of the greatest network on the planet. If we are in Christ, we are coworkers, brothers and sisters.
Let me briefly consider this scenario with you. Paul was writing to Philemon regarding his slave Onesimus. In the letter, Paul is going to tell Philemon that he should treat Onesimus as a brother and set him free. Even though Paul was about to criticize Philemon’s keeping a slave who was a brother in Christ, he greets him as a brother and as a coworker. Imagine for one moment that we disagree with a brother or sister in the faith. If I am under the impression that you are acting in a way that dishonors God, my first responsibility is to you as a brother or sister and a coworker. Even if I might need to address something in your life, my first priority is to treat you with respect and honor. We do not have the right to condemn one another and Paul exemplifies that here, referring to Philemon, with whom he disagrees, as a coworker and a brother.
In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul writes something very similar: “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:1-2 HCSB).
If we have this law of life in Christ, being people of Christ should we not also share this law of life among one another: not condemning one another for sin, but addressing that sin with respect and honor toward one another? If we do not condemn brothers and sisters because of their sin, should we not accept brothers and sisters no matter their appearance, mistakes, personality, age, level of education, etc. (for these are of lesser significance than sin)?
The true Christian fellowship is about perpetual revival, not about condemnation and death. This is what any group after Christ’s own heart should epitomize.
Philemon’s participation in the faith
As we continue to walk through this introduction, Paul mentions that he prays Philemon’s participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in “us” (Paul, Timothy and Onesimus) for the glory of Christ.
Paul seems to insinuate, here, that there are two ways that one might participate in the faith, or in God’s kingdom on this earth. There is an ineffective way, which yields little for God’s kingdom and an effective way. Paul will use this in his argument through the rest of the letter, but we can glean something just in this introduction. The way Paul writes that Philemon can participate effectively in the faith is by knowing every good thing that is in himself, Timothy and Onesimus.
Maybe, like Philemon, we are in Christ and consider ourselves to be very active in God’s work. If we fail to intentionally look for good things in other people, Paul’s statement seems to suggest that we will participate in the faith ineffectively.
Because of this, we must ask ourselves whether we look at others and look for the good or look for ways that we can criticize them. If we automatically jump to criticism, we will live ineffectively for Christ no matter what else we do. We look for the good in people. We compliment others as often as we can. I can also make this claim from my own experience because I used to be the most critical and condemning person. I will ask this again: if we have this law of life in Christ, being people of Christ should we not also share this law of life among one another?
The true Christian fellowship is about refreshment, not about fatigue. This is why we resolve to build one another up, refreshing the spirit of our brothers and sisters in Christ and refreshing the spirit of our communities and our world. Meeting together as people of God should be a cure of fatigue and of being burned out in life, not the cause of it.
Hearts of the saints refreshed
As we read, the hearts of the saints were refreshed through Philemon. Even though Paul believed he was wrong in keeping a slave who was also a brother in Christ, the hearts of the saints were refreshed through Philemon.
This is a great encouragement in my life. Even when I do wrong or even if someone has a complaint against me, I can live an effective life for the kingdom of God. I can, myself, experience forgiveness, revival and refreshment within the great community of believers!
As you read this, then, I hope that you can experience refreshment in Christ. As we read in this introduction, Paul specifically addressed Philemon in the context of human fellowship. This perpetual revival and refreshment is accomplished as we live together in community. You may be able to love and worship Christ and not be a member of a local church, but we cannot live effectively in Christ without being a committed member. It would also seem that we cannot experience this perpetual revival and refreshment unless we are a part of a local body of believers and committed to them.
If you are not a member of a local church, please find one to commit to. The local church is here to meet the very real needs of revival and refreshment for each person. If you look for the negative in others, now is the time to begin shifting your focus and looking for the good: complimenting others as often as you can. Let us treat one another with respect and honor, for that is how living for Christ works out in our relationships: especially those relationships with brothers and sisters and coworkers in God’s kingdom.