Fellowship and Submission

Dallas Willard Part 10 of 11

Dallas Willard teaches through a variety of disciplines at the church where he, as he later admitted, got his start as a Christian teacher.


Dallas: You will observe on your course outline—you will see that the last topic, which is for next week is celebration and worship as a discipline but I’ve been thinking that it might be a good thing if I could give a large part of that last hour to questions. What I would like to do is to give at last half of the last hour to questions and I would like to ask that you try to make them practical questions. I would like to say whatever I can to help those of you who are seriously undertaking the kinds of activities we have suggested to deal with questions about how you do it and I don’t mean to say I won’t talk about any non practical questions; if you really are bothered by some of those doctrinal questions relating to what we have taught and there are many, many such questions. In fact, we are today seriously in need of a theology of the Christian life, which is adequate to the place of the disciplines.

One of our problems for quite a number of years now, I think in American Christianity has been that our theology was not adequate to the practices of the way as set forth in the scriptures and in part, our teaching of grace and a lack of clarity about how grace relates to works; that has greatly hindered us. So, if you do have questions like that, I will try to address them but I would like to at least also address practical questions so keep that in mind and I’ll be glad to do my best to help you along those lines if I can at all. [2:00]

Now, this evening we come to the two disciplines of fellowship and submission. As I have been doing, I want to remind you once again that a discipline is an activity, consciously undertaken involving, of course the body but consciously undertaken some process which we put our bodies through; activities in which we expect to meet God and learn by His grace to live in His character. Fellowship and submission in this respect are two of the absolutely indispensible disciplines. [2:48]

Let’s think a moment about what they are. They are very closely related. Fellowship—if you just take the word and break it up—you might think that it means “being in the same boat.” [Laughter] Fellow – ship, right? Fellow – ship. That’s a good way; I hope you remember that—fellow – ship. You have fellowship with someone when you put yourself in the same boat with them. That’s, I think pretty hard to do. It’s very hard to do.

We are going to study some passages tonight that bear on some of the problems but fundamentally when we have fellowship with another person, we put ourselves on the same plane with them. We identify with them. We identify with their deficiencies as well as with their strong points. That’s very hard for us to do sometimes.

Sometimes, we even make a condition of fellowship that whoever we are going to have fellowship with will come up to our standards on all matters. It’s very easy to slip into a kind of Pharisee-ism about our fellowship. “I don’t smoke. I don’t chew. I don’t go with girls that do.” [Laughter] You can make that pretty grim when you get right down to it and begin to push all the details that you might have in mind about what is absolutely right and all of that sort of thing.  And it is one of those things that we have to work through that being right is not necessarily the most important thing in the world. I have said that to you before and I hope you will think about it. [4:34]

Submission is a putting of ourselves under the interest of another person. It is like servants—being a servant. We talked about being a servant. It is like being a servant except it is more of an attitude. Service is normally very specific. It certainly may and should pre-suppose an attitude of submission but it means, as Paul says, “ . . . let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3) and as Paul says, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (Philippians 2:4) [5:28]

You can see I think that fellowship and submission are bound to be very closely related. Indeed, you can put it this way—that all fellowship; that is rich and right for the spirit of Christ will be one in which submission is the dominant attitude.

So, let’s think then about fellowship and about submission. Start with a couple of passages—one from Hebrews 10:24-25 and you will recognize I think part of this because it is so often used to try to get us to go to church and going to church is a very important part of fellowship, and I’ll try to say a thing or two about that just at the end of the hour this evening.

But if you will look at Hebrews 10, you will see the writer here giving some specific admonitions and he says, verse 24, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works . . .” Now, this is an expression of submission. Here are people who consider others with the purpose of pro-voking them—calling them forth—calling them forth—pro-voking, calling them forth to love and good works.

Now, if you care about other people, you will want the very best for them and the very best for them is to have a life filled full of love and good works. That’s the very best for them. So, as you love them, you will call them forth. You will think about how this might be done. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you are going to go stand in front of their house and holler them out and say, “Come on, love and do good works.” It is much more subtle than that of course. That’s why it says, “ . . . consider one another.” You have to consider other people. You have to pay attention to them. We are going to say a little more about that in a few moments.

Paying attention to people—thinking about how you might lead them into a path of love and good works—now, that’s the most wonderful thing you can do for another person—considering them and trying to call them forth. [8:06]

Verse 25 now goes along with this and we should never use verse 25 without using verse 24—“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” That is, the day when things will culminate in the return of Christ.

So, as we consider one another to call one another forth, to love and do good works, sometimes Paul uses the word “edifying”—to build one another up in love and good works, we will want to be with them. Now it’s in that context that we hear the admonition not forsaking the assembling of yourself together. We must be very honest when we come to church and be very honest with why we come to church and what we do when we come to church. If we have come into church for the purpose of provoking others and being provoked by them unto love and good works, then that’s a good reason for assembling together. [9:25]

We have to be very careful about our church services to make sure that opportunity is left for that to happen.  If we don’t, we are apt to move in the direction where you have all of these isolated people sitting in the chairs and they are all listening to one person or a beautiful choir or watching a lovely program but there is no interaction between the people. You must pray for your ministry whoever that may be that they would be able to lead in a union of souls in which people are actually called out to love and good works.

We often call our services, religious services. You may remember some time ago, there was a statement made by a wise minster and had wide circulation—he always ended the church meetings with the words “And now the service begins.” He ended the meeting with that.

The function of the assembling is to provoke people into a life of service to God and of service to man. We really have to think that through and if we do, then we may be more open to making our meetings true meetings of love and fellowship with one another. But if we don’t, we are apt to be distracted by the performances, good though they may be, and as ministers and singers and all of this—teachers, we have to learn how to behave in a way that will be pleasing, hopefully helpful to people but the point of going to church is not to “taste the preacher.” The point of going to church is to be with the people. [11:36]

Whether the preacher is good or bad, that isn’t the point. You see, when we approach it in that way, we have gotten our lines crosses. The point of going is to assemble ourselves together with one another, wherever that may be. Not to have each a kind of one on one relation with whoever is performing.

Now there should be minsters of course and the music is wonderful and all of the things that we have in the way of categories of ministry. They are wonderful things when they are blessed of God and they should be. You should pray for that and you should seek that in your church. You should have men and women who can minister—as I know you do in this church—who can minister the grace of God in a powerful way. But, you must never, no matter how glorious, nor how grand your ministers are, forget the fact that you come to church to be with other people in an attitude of love and submission and fellowship. [12:41]

Love. We have to talk now a little bit about love because the only reason for submission and fellowship is love and love also brings us into a right posture with our pride and pride is one of the main problems with fellowship as well as with submission.

Let me read you a few passages from the little letter of John—the first epistle of John. Let’s read first from the second chapter and the 7-11 verse. Now here, the old apostle is summing up everything that he had to say in one word and he says, “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word, which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment . . .” (1 John 2:7-8) Now, what John is saying—and yes, you’ve heard this before—it’s old stuff. Okay? This is old stuff but then he is saying, “No, it really isn’t.” “ . . . A new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” [13:53]

In other words, he is saying, “Well, we knew all along. We knew since Moses that we should love one another but only in Jesus Christ did we come to understand what love is like.” [Tapes goes in and out and is inaudible for a few words] . . . only in Jesus Christ and gave His love towards us in that while we were yet in rebellion He gave his life for us.

See, Moses had the words but he didn’t know what it meant. It takes a long while for these significant things to soak into us. That isn’t just true in religion. I mean, ask yourself how many of you really knew what you were saying when you got married? I mean, really? There is no way you could have. Your experience simply did not provide the substance, which you could put into the words and so someone prepared some pretty words that would be adequate to receive the substance as you grew and as your experience together filled out, then you began to understand. You know there are some fellowships in which people occasionally repeat their marriage vows? And it’s beautiful to see because normally in those circumstances, they really know what they are saying. [15:11]

And so, John likewise here says, “Sure, you’ve know about love all the time. You’ve known about it. Moses—you go back in Deuteronomy—it says,  ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ right?  It says love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5) but we didn’t know what that meant until we saw it in the true light, verse 8. [1 John 2:8)

Now then he goes on to say, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” (1 John 2:9) Ah, our world is cursed with people who say, “Oh, I’ve got the light. I’ve got the light. I know the truth. I believe all the truth;” while in their hearts there is boiling hatred and John just says, “No, you don’t have it if you have hatred.” “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:10) [16:18]

The person who is filled with love—divine love—is not the sort of person that is going to cause others to stumble because they would look at him and say, “Well, that person is filled with hatred. That person is filled with bitterness. What does his religion do for him or her?” Those kinds of people cause others to stumble. They say, “We’ve got the light” and their body and their mind and their spirit is filled with wrath and so that causes people to stumble and they say, “Religion isn’t worth anything. It didn’t do anything for him. He’s got it.” Of course, what John is saying is, “Uh-uh, he aint’ got it.” “ . . . he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blindeth his eyes.” (1 John 2: 11)

Now, if I had time this evening—and I did give you the verses in 1 John 4:7-21—I really hope that you will study that through carefully and try to take that as a literal and true description of what the life of love is and how it casts out all fear and just transforms our lives.

Now, you see, one of the reasons we have trouble with fellowship is because we are afraid. We are afraid and so, we say “I don’t want to get in the boat with him” and it may be he’s going to do something to me or maybe “If I get in the boat with him, he’ll find out about me.” [17:59]

I remembers as a little child I dreaded to go to stay overnight at other people’s homes because I was afraid that they would find out what kind of underclothes I had and silly things like that you know and this was terribly mortifying; the thought of it I just couldn’t stand that and I was amazed at others who weren’t bothered by things like that.  [18:24]

But you see if you get in the same boat with the other person, they are going to find out about you. They will know all about you and if there is in you a lot of mistrust and darkness, they will find out about that. Now, they may be ready to pretend that they didn’t and we do a lot of that, you know. We’ve learned to pretend somehow that everything is all right where things aren’t all right because we believe it’s nice to pretend that they are all right if they aren’t, right? And so, we may engage in a kind of game with one another but we will know and this is one of the things that make us withdraw and stay away from one another.

And, then of course, there is the genuine fear of being hurt—the genuine fear of being hurt. This affects our fellowship in the area of submission also because you see, I say, “If I submit myself to them, what’s going to happen to me?” If I elevate their good over my good, who is going to take care of my good? See, that’s where our faith in God makes all the difference and if we don’t really believe that God is going to take care of us, we won’t be able to submit ourselves to others as we will everlastingly be determined to make things come out right as we see it and unable to turn them loose and trust God. [19:50]

In communal matters in a church or in a family or in a business or wherever you may be in dealing with others, there is always that great temptation to push forward and be first and be strongest and say the last word. That’s by the way an excellent exercise—to train your self not to have to have the last word. That’s an excellent exercise. It really is. I commend that one to you.  I did use it once in my life before I was perfect to help ME. [Laughter] No, I did. There was a period in my life where I engaged in a very conscious exercise of “not straightening it out”—of just letting it stand. I found that the sun came up in the morning and indeed; I didn’t find anyone going severely astray because I didn’t get the last word in and it’s a marvelous exercise. I really commend it to you. It’s one of the very simple nice acts of submission that you can make and learn to dwell in. [21:12]

Now, of course never make a law of a discipline. Never make a law of a discipline and you will have to use your judgment because sometimes there are things that are so important that you do have to stay with it but normally, that’s not the case. Normally, it simply isn’t important and the only thing that is, the issue is whether or not you are going to get your everlasting last word in. It’s a wonderful thing to lay down and you can do that as an exercise in submission.

Well, in any case, I do hope you will study now in connection with the meaning of love, this passage in 1 John 4 and try to think, and this has tremendous implications for our lives as Christians and for our churches that a person who does not have love does not know God. And I’m going to say that to you again. “He that loveth not knoweth not God.” (1 John 4:8) There is no way you can avoid that. No way. [22:32]

All right. Now, let’s begin to look at some more detailed points if we have before us the general idea of fellowship and the general idea of submission and it’s relationship to love and let’s look at some of the things that come up as we approach this matter in greater detail.

First of all, a very well known passage—or at least just one verse before a well known passage in Ephesians—I guess the truth of the matter is, normally, we begin at the verse immediately after this verse but Ephesians 5 and the place we usually begin I suppose is verse 22 which says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” But the principle is in verse 21, mutual submission—“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:21) Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of the Lord. [23:42]

Now, you have to get rid of some images that you might have as you look at that verse. For example, two people trying to get one another to go through the door before they do so you could think of a picture here you know, “You go.” “No, you go.” “No, you go” and that sort of thing, right? Normally, that is a situation in which, very strangely, there is a kind of an inverse function here of submission where submission has become a matter of pride, see?

I’m going to prove to you that I am a better submitter than you are. Now, you see, the way to solve that situation is you accept the place of humility and admit the other person is a better submitter than you are and let them open the door for you and you go on, right? So you resolve that problem. And then of course, if you want to think about it that way, as you walk through say, “See how much better I am that he is?” [Laughter]” I let him have his way.” [Laughter] It’s wonderful to think about these things because you see, what they all bring out really is that what we are talking about is something much deeper than the particular action that happens. We are talking about an attitude. [25:10]

One of the things that we learn to do in submission to others is to let them do for us. That may sound strange because we think of submission as, you know, if I submit to you, then I am doing for you. But you see, it all depends on who you are and every one of you who have had children know what it is like to submit to their desire for to do something for you whether you wanted it or not.  Right? And you learn to cooperate with them in such a way that you can relate to them.

A little child, of course when they are young, they even have trouble telling a joke, and so you have to learn how to listen to them while they come to the point and get their joke just right and it’s very important to love them in that way. It’s one of the most loving things you can do for the little child because it is in that way that you open up an area of life, which they see in you and want to enter, and so, you make possible that entry. It’s a beautiful thing. [26:16]

So, one of the things we do in submitting, especially in the fellowship of the church where we do have, by in large people who are so concerned to love one another and to do it the best they can and we do it “all thumbs” much of the time but the truth of the matter is, by in large, and this is one of the main reason for going to church, is there are such lovely people there. They may have a lot of trouble getting it over but they really are there. (Laughter) They really are there, you know and their hearts, whether their mouth or their feet or whatever else is in the right place. Their heart is basically in the right place. They want to.

So, one of the thing we have to do as we live together in the church is to help one another serve us, you know? And let them help us serve them.  It’s a very important part of our act of submission—mutual submission. Let each consider the things of others and not the things of themselves and there will be a kind of blessed, loving confusion in the midst of those people as they submit themselves one to another. It’s one of the most beautiful things in the world.

You see, again, where there is love everything doesn’t have to be neat. Everything doesn’t even have to work out right. Love covers a multitude of sins and the most important meaning of that is precisely in the loving fellowship of the church because in that fellowship, because there is mutual submission and love, everything does not have to be right. In fact very few things have to be right because there is love and that kind of submission then makes the place for fellowship. [28:05]

Mutual submission—I am tempted to say a few things about husbands and wives and I am going to give in to that temptation. [Laughter] You cannot get a linear order out of mutual submission. You cannot get a one, two, three, four in order out of mutual submission. There is not way you can do that. No way. The only way you can understand mutual submission is not in terms of an order of that sort but in terms of people who are side by side supporting one another—side by side supporting one another.

And in the case of the husband and the wife, it is a matter of two people coming to know one another, coming to understand the jobs, the responsibilities, the work, the expectations, the hopes, the fears, the weaknesses and the strengths of the other and then in the measure that lies in them, doing their best to help that other person with their jobs. You cannot codify that. You cannot say things like “the man earns the money and the woman writes the checks.” There is not way you can codify that. There will be individual differences all along but the general point is very simple and very firm. You have two people standing beside one another in the Lord submitting to one another by respecting and knowing what the other person is up against and what they doing and what they are hoping for and then giving of themselves to help that others person fulfill that vocation.  [30:00]

And of course there is a difference between men and women As the French say, “Viva la difference.” You know? Let’s be happy about the difference, okay? There is a difference and God made them that way. There wouldn’t have been much point in it if there weren’t a difference, you see? In my opinion, it isn’t just a biological difference. [Tape goes silent at 30:23 to 30:28-Tape changed.] . . . child and the parent and all of these relationships—the master and servant and so on but I am going to resist that temptation.

Now, let me give you a couple of passages on relationships—one, a specific one in the church and one, a general one, to other human beings. First of all, concerning elders, 1 Peter 5:1-7. 1 Peter 5:1-7—this is a directive from Peter as to how the more advanced people—the more advanced people in the congregation will lead.  Now, I’m going to swat a hornet’s nest here and then walk off from it by saying that in my opinion, in the New Testament, the elder is not anything like what we recognize today as a church office. The elder is not an appointment to a specific job in the church. The elder is simply a person who is more advanced in the way and you know, the Presbyterian Church; that’s the Elder’s church—presbuteros is the word for elder here and the idea is very simple that those who have advanced in the way should lead. They should be the ones who lead and they will lead by the way of teaching and the way of other services which they will conduct in the congregation. [32:06]

Now, Peter says, “The elders which are among you, I exhort, who am also an elder . . .” (1 Peter 5:1) Peter called himself an elder because he was advanced in the way. He was a man of great experience in the Kingdom of God, and not only an elder but a witness to the sufferings of Christ and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. Now, he says, “Feed the flock of God which is among you . . . ” Feed the flock of God.  “ . . . taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint . . . “ Don’t let it be something you have to be pushed into or something you have to be bribed to do. “ . . . not for filthy lucre . . .” I love that word. It just somehow says it all—“ . . . filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.” (1 Peter 5:2) That is, you have in you a readiness to assume the responsibilities of the elder, without being paid or without being constrained and then here is the way you are to do it. [33:03]

“Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3) Examples to the flock—that’s the form of submission that the elder takes in relationship to the group that he leads. He leads by example, not by leading from the rear in the fashion of generals who sit back at headquarters while the others go out and die. This is the person who walks right into the guns. He does not say, “Go do it.” He says, “Follow me. Follow me. Do what I do.”  As Paul says, “the things you’ve heard and seen in me, that do and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)

And on the other hand, “ . . . ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elders. Yea, all of you be subject one to another . . .” There’s that blessed principle again of mutual submission as a basis for fellowship. “ . . . and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5) The person who walks in pride has got a heavy head wind. The person who walks in humility accomplishes things by a power that is not their own because God works with them. He gives grace to them. [24:33]

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6) Now, generally then we want to say that mutual submission is not only the rule within the home but also within the church and I want to give you a general principle also from Romans the 12th chapter and I would like to have time to read at length from this chapter because it describes the life that is in the community of the redeemed but just a few verses.

Let’s read from Romans 12:13—“Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.” I may have time to say a word about hospitality in a few moments—a bishop—for example was to be a lover of hospitality. It is a way of having fellowship and of submitting oneself to those whom the bishop leads. “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.” (Romans 12:14) This is real fellowship. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15) See, that’s being in the same boat, isn’t it? Rejoicing with them that rejoice and weeping with them that weep.[35:52]

Now, you know you can’t really do that unless you have identified with people. You can’t decide, you see someone rejoicing and just decide well, I’ll rejoice with them. No, you have to be close enough to them so that their joy touches you. You have to be so involved with them in fellowship that their weeping makes you weep. Rejoice with them that rejoice and weep with them that weep. “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things . . .” (Romans 12:10) Do not be always paying attention to what is best and greatest and first and all of those sorts of things. [36:31]

By the way, forgive an off side remark here about this, but I have noticed—I get 15 million different papers from Christian institutions. I am sure you do too. I don’t know what the U.S. Mail would do without them. Now, I get all of these and some of them of course are very good but if you just watch the ones that come across, you are apt to notice or at least, I have noticed how many very fine institutions are given to insisting how they are the first and the greatest and the biggest and the longest and whatever the “est” you know, see? That’s minding high things. Americans are generally afflicted with this awful disease of wanting to be in The Guinness Book of World Records. Can you image—a book of records? It’s not as bad as that book of lists, but almost—almost—a book of records? And it has some of the most trivial things in the world in it.

Now, you see, that’s just first-ism, high-ism, big-ism and that’s what really Paul is saying here. He says to stop looking at that. Stop looking at that. Stop competing in your relationships to others. Don’t let that determine your fellowship. The biggest, the most beautiful, the richest, the tallest, the longest, the fattest, the whatever-est. Just forget it. Forget it. We really crucify one another on these things you know and our children begin to suffer from it and our school system is in such a large manner set up in terms of comparisons, testing, numbers, ranking in grade and all of that sort of thing and we have to really be very careful about it. [36:38]

Now, Paul is giving us some advice here just on this point. He is saying, “Mind not high things but condescend to men of low estate;” (Romans 12:16) to those who are fifteenth, who never got started. Condescend! You know, we have now come to the place where, in our language, condescension is regarded as a bad attitude. It says a lot about the status of pride in our world today. Someone says, “I don’t want anyone condescending to me.” Well, why not? If I am down here and they are up there, it’s a nice way for us to get together. It’s for him to come down to where I am. Jesus condescended and came down to us. What’s wrong with condescension? See we are apt to so embed the spirit of our age and feed on the pride that characterizes a fallen world that we can’t even appropriate the truth of the scripture. [39:50]

What’s wrong with condescension? You say, “Well, that means they think they are higher than I am so they have to descend to where I am.” Well I hope someone’s is higher than I am, don’t you? I hope someone is—at least a few people. And to tell you the truth, I would like to get close to some of them. If I got close to some of them who were better, they might lift me up a bit. You see, the truth of he matter is, condescension strikes our pride. It strikes our pride. We should be able to walk beyond that and we should be able to recognize where others are lower than us in some scale: whether on money or education or beauty or whatever it may be. We should be able to recognize that. How awfully do people suffer in our culture who are not pretty or who think they are not pretty? [41:00]

We should have that grace which enables us to bridge the gap and in all of our splendiferous beauty, richness and grace walk naturally with them. Be with them and be able to so in such a way that there is not constantly an issue that we are bright and they are stupid; we are pretty and they are ugly. See, God can give us that grace to do that and it is one of the greatest needs in all the world today.

To overcome all of this blasted superiority stuff and recognize where we are different and serve others with it. And if we are beautiful, let us beautify the world for them; and if we are bright, let us serve them by our brightness. If we are rich, let us carry it as the ministers of God and walk humbly with Him in the recognition that before God we are all on the same plane. That’s all Paul is talking about. “Condescend to men of low estate.” [42:25]

Well, let me just give you three words to help you as you relate to other people in fellowship and in submission and I think if I can just spend a moment or two on three words here in your relationship to others as you undertake the discipline of fellowship and submission. These are things now, which you will have to learn to do, dear friends. God will help you and if you are intent on learning to do it, you will be able to do it. [42:58]

The three words are these—ACCEPT THE PERSON. Accept the person.  Accept them for what they are. Secondly, LISTEN TO THEM. Listen to them. And then thirdly, UNDERSTAND THEM. Accept, listen and understand. All of these things are matters which, to put it very simply, people just die for someone to accept them, to listen to them, to understand them and everyone else is so busy wanting others to accept them and listen to them and understand them that no one gets accepted, listened to and understood.

You have to be willing to step forward and break the circle and you can do that in your faith that God accepts you, listens to you and understands you. I am putting it as very simply as I can because I think it is so important and I really want you to hang on to this. In your fellowship and in your submission, go at it with the attitude of acceptance of the person for what they are. Do not throw them away. Do not condemn them. Don’t start thinking in terms of how wonderful it would be if they were something else. It would be wonderful if they were something else probably. Just don’t allow yourself to go at them in that attitude. Accept them for what they are—and then listen to them—really listen to them. Don’t assume you already know. Listen. [45:00]

The hardest thing in the world is to listen to people, especially for those of us who are right about everything. It is just so hard for us to listen because you know, probably we already do know the truth but the point is, that listening is a way of receiving that person. Many times we don’t know the truth about them. It’s a way of receiving that person. It’s a way of loving that person. The first act of love is attention. You cannot love people without attending to them and then understanding comes when you get the freedom to accept them and you get the freedom and have the ability to listen to them, you will be given an understanding of why they are the way they are and what, if anything can be done to help them. [45:53]

I’m going to recommend a little book for those of you who are really interested in getting close to people and about the only thing I don’t like for my present purposes is the title. It’s a book by Dr. Gary Collins, a fine man called How to Be a People Helper and the reason I don’t, in this context like the title is because I don’t want to stress the helper business. You will help people if you do what I am saying but somehow if we put the helping up front, often everything goes wrong. So, what I am saying is this is an excellent book for helping you get a grasp on what it is to accept people, to listen to people, to understand people.

One of the wonderful things about this book is the stress on discipleship in the first part and the Great Commission and how it is a part of living out THE GREAT COMMISSION—that we should so relate to other people that we bring them into obedience to Christ and show them how to walk in that way—an excellent book, I think.  [47:01]

Now, one negative word on this point—I think I’ve already hinted at it but I want to say it explicitly. You can’t do much in relating to people if your object mainly is just to lay the truth on them. You really can’t and this is what Jesus is trying to teach you in the 7th chapter of Matthew, and trying to teach me in the 7th chapter of Matthew when He talks about “not throwing your pearls before swine.” Don’t give that which is holy to the dogs.

Now, I want to hasten to say that Jesus was not saying anyone is a swine or anyone is a dog. HE was saying that in order to help people, you have to give them what is suited to their system. You have to find where they are.  But remember, He said, “Don’t cast your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6) because if you do, they will turn and rend you. Now why would they do that? Jesus is talking about something very simple and even a good Jewish boy knew it. If you take pearls down to hungry hogs and fill up their trough, they will not be able to eat them, will they? They will just get more and more hungry and one day when you step in to put more pearls in their trough, they will see a very delectable leg. And back where I was raised in the Ozarks, there were razor back hogs that would eat you for fun, you know? I’ve been more frightened by a razor back hog than I think anything in my life so I remember that well but Jesus is talking about those that would do it because they got so hungry because you were giving them the wrong thing. If a dog is hungry and you throw him a Bible, he is not going to be able to do a thing with it, is he? [48:54]

So, Jesus is saying, “Don’t just lay good stuff on people without a regard to what they can use.” You see, you have to listen to people. You have to accept them. You have to understand them. You have to love them and then you may find something that they can use.

I guess one other general point, and then just a few practical steps. I think that it is most important in developing our fellowship with other people to remember that loving is “not liking.” You don’t have to like people in order to have fellowship with them and submit yourself to them. That may be a shocking thing to say but you have to remember that. Otherwise, you will just be stuck within your own little circle of likings and you’ll be terribly limited by it. You can, in the grace of God, and you should in the grace of God have fellowship with many people in whom you don’t particularly like.  Love is “not liking.” Love is an attitude of will, which seeks the best of people with whom you are engaged. Love is “not liking.” [50:20]

That you like a church is no particular reason for going or not going to it. I am saying so many heretical things tonight, I am afraid I am going to get stoned before I get out of here but I know you are good people and so I’ll take my chances. We often go at trying to attract members into a church by making something, which they will like. Oh, dear friends, that’s just exactly what Paul is talking about when he said, “For the time will come when they (people) will not endure sound doctrine but . . . will heap to themselves teachers having, itching ears.” (2 Timothy 4:3) Someone who will scratch that doctrinal ear and they will say, “Ah, it’s so good. I believe I will come back next Sunday and get some more of that.” Now, excuse me but I want to say it again—liking or not liking is not any particular reason for going or not going to a given church—love is. Love is.  [51:32]

We love people. You intend to get together with them. You assemble yourself together with them for the purpose of loving them and seeking their good, provoking them to love and good works. Now, that’s a wonderful reason. And, by the way if you find a church that does that to you, you may not like it much but if they do that for you, you better stay there. You may not find another one for a while. See? [Laughter]

And I also think its no particular recommendation where you go into a church and they beat you up and you say “Well they really got me.” Well, that isn’t necessarily right either. I mean, like again—I say, liking or not liking—is no particular reason for going to a church. You have to have an attitude of love and purposeful judgment about what is going on in that fellowship and your willingness to contribute to it as an act of love. [52:22]

Now, some practical things—just three things very quickly—very important to understand that you are not going to have deep fellowship with very many people. Don’t try to have fellowship with everyone, any more than you try to pray for everyone. I urge you; please don’t try to do that. Recognize that God will give you a few people, by in large and will give you to a few people. I don’t know how many. I think in part it does depend on you. I mean, how much there is to you—your resources, your home, your money, your brains, your time, your energy, the way your glands work in terms of when you are up and when you are down. All these things are very important. You cannot ignore these things, but I believe you should understand that you will have very few people probably who are deeply involved in fellowship with you and what I would urge you o do—my first point is, if you are interested in this discipline and entering into it in an intelligent manner, the first step is to give thoughtful, profound, exanimation—thoughtful, profound examination to the question, “Who has God given to me and to whom have I been given?” [53:36]

You remember that the unity of the church is a work of God. God adds people to the church and He puts people in connection with one another so give thoughtful, prayerful, consideration. Who are the ones? And I am sure that if you will do that, you may wish to combine this reflection with some fasting, some prayer, some study, a period of time after which you might then think in terms of forming a list. You don’t need to close it forever. Others can be added and people can come in and go out and that is one of the things that happens. You should have in mind 5, 6, 10 people that are really organically related to you in the spirit and you should cultivate their fellowship. [54:21]

The second point is, cultivate the fellowship of those people and really, what I mean by that is arrange your affairs so that you can be “with” them in very high quality time, and when you get together with them, don’t spend your time gossiping. You can do a little gossiping; that’s all right, but [Laughter] don’t spend all your time doing that.

I mean, when you get together with them, make sure that you read the Bible with them, that you pray with them, that you share your spiritual concerns, that you give your burdens—you let them know what your burdens are. You have to do this purposefully, okay? It won’t happen. You will gossip until its time to go home. So, you have to have it set that this is what you do with those people. They are special people. You can’t worry about them because God has given them to you and you to them and so you can say now, “Let’s read the Bible; let’s pray. Let me tell you what God is doing in me.” Now if you do that, I’ll tell you, you will begin to see things happen in your life because you will have begun to function as a really vital part of the church. [55:30]

And, then finally; I’m really very big on going to church and I’ll just tell you, I think that all of us should generally have a regular place; at least one where we go and we just go because it’s time to go. Like it’s Sunday morning at 10 o’clock or whatever time it is, you don’t need to think at length about whether or not you will go normally. There will be days when you need think about it and there are times when you should not go to church. You should stay home and rest. Forgive me, everyone. [Laughter] And there are times when there are more important things for you to do. There are times when you should closet yourself with your Bible and be on your knees before God instead of going to church. There are times like that and if there are not times like that, then there is something wrong with your spiritual life.

But generally, generally, I hope that everyone would be in a position where they do not need to deliberate about whether or not they are going to church. Just go! Just go! Now, I really want to urge you; please don’t read that as a piece of legalism. I am not saying that God is only in the church. I am not saying that you can’t meet him under the trees, or in your back yard, or wherever you may be. You certainly can but if you do meet Him there, on sometimes He is apt to say to you, “Why aren’t you in church?” [Laughter] Really! [57:03]

Find your fellowship and I don’t care if it meets on, you know, Thursday, Wednesday, Sunday or whatever. Be regular! Be faithful! Not to prove anything about you. Not to please anyone who is running a show but because you love those people, and you want to be with them and you know what it’s like to meaningfully unite with them in prayer.

And I think if you do those three things, you are going to see the people that are given to you drawn together in a regular kind of fellowship and you will see your regular fellowship drawn into the category of a very special king of people. And you will have that blessed experience of union, of mutual ministry and mutual submission and mutual love, which is fellowship and submission at its glorious and most powerful best. [57:52]

And when you see that, you will see the kind of community which is going to crush the Kingdoms of this world and make them into the Kingdoms of our God and of His Christ because, I’ll tell you, when you see that kind of community, you see all of the problems of civil society solved—period. Solved. Not that there are not difficulties, but that they will all be taken care of and “the stone that is cut out without hands,” (Daniel 2:45) that Daniel saw in that vision, is just such a society as that and what the Marxist’s talk about is the withering away of the state will happen because the Kingdom of God rules in the affairs of men. When that comes to fruition, and if you want a taste of that, that’s what I am talking about when I talk about fellowship and submission in love. Let’s pray. [58:47]

“Oh, God, grip us with the vision and give everyone of us the zeal to have that in our lives, In Jesus’ Name we pray it. Amen. [58:57]

Listen to all parts in this The Disciple, the Disciplines, the Triumphant Life series