“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"…From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:60, 66-69)
This band of brothers would know tough times ahead, and yet they were able to bear witness to the power of God in their lives. Many in our church have been going through a series on true Fellowship and how it serves a means for perseverance in the Christian life. All will, at some point in their lives, be tempted to “turn back” and choose a less bumpy, more convenient road…even Peter, who had made this bold declaration to Jesus. So when the apostles and the early church understood the Power of God at Pentecost, and the explosion of growth among their members, they also recognized their need for each other in the midst of persecution, as God had designed it!
In Acts 2:41, They witnessed God’s amazing activity through preaching the Gospel: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. With that huge influx of new members to God’s household, there was a desperate need to maintain the proper priorities for its survival, and so: 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Verses 46-47 indicate that this was a daily commitment to one another, both in the temple courts and in each other’s homes! Why was so much effort and attention given to daily fellowship? Because a radical transformation had taken place in the very nature and object of their worship: All things they had previously known were now to be seen through the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ! Their eyes were opened to a new, living reality!
And yet, just like earlier, in the middle of Jesus’ ministry in Judea, there would be temptation to leave after the “going got tough”. In fact, the whole book of Hebrews is dedicated to those from that tradition who were tempted to go back to the “good old days” with the temple sacrifices, the Jewish rituals and liturgies, and a “salvation by works” model. The writer of Hebrews warns them, essentially saying, “You have NOTHING there to go back TO! You have EVERYTHING in Christ!” And so the author pens these words: "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first." (Hebrews 3:12-14)
I believe that our churches today face the exact same dangers as they did in the first century, if not compounded. We minimize sin’s effect on our lives, and the areas of compromise with a secular world. We emphasize the Grace of Christ, and yet we also revert to a “Works-Righteousness”, rather than relying on God and His Provisions. Finally, we fail to see how He has provided His Church as a means of persevering through the dangers of “The world, the flesh, and the Devil”. James 5:16 “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
I remember running in a very hilly 15K(?) race a number of years ago at Lake Nojiri in Nagano, Japan. In my relative inexperience, I was blessed to run part-way with a much more accomplished runner, who was chatting away as I was huffing and puffing to keep up with him! He gave me some helpful tips (on how to finish strong) and other encouragements for a couple of kilometers before he took off at his normal race pace! In the church, there are many who are constantly tempted to give up on either a certain aspect of the race, or the race as a whole. We in Christ live out of love for Him and each other, driving us to “encourage one another daily”, so that neither we nor they succumb to the lies that exist EVERYWHERE!
The primary temptations, lies not in replacing God altogether, but in replacing Him as the highest priority, with something or someone else. There are other preferences which continually fight to take higher places in our set of priorities. So we must fight together, with other believers, in complete humility and honesty, so that we can strengthen and encourage one another daily to prioritize Him over those other things. “God is better than that thing you’re striving for…. That person will not give you the satisfaction that’s found in Christ!”
The larger church gatherings are to form a springboard through which we form our closer Christian friendships and accountability groups. It is in these teams that we do battle, helping each other see what we would miss or stumble over individually. Have you found that church that devotes themselves to the apostles’ teaching (The New Testament & Old), and to the fellowship (believers focused on Christ), the breaking of bread (Communion, remembering Christ’s sacrifice), and to prayer (that pray on a daily basis for each other?).
It is in that environment that you will best persevere in Christ!
Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.