Fellowship. Some may hear this and think a community of people who share something in common or, if one thinks as I do, they may envision an epic trip to Mordor and the one ring that rules them all. As I’ve read more about Christian community and what God desires for that to look like, I must say I think it looks more like hobbits journeying alongside kings, elves and dwarves, than merely agreeing on a destination.

From the Bible we gather some examples of fellowship: going out in pairs to share the gospel, writing heartfelt letters that pass on encouragement, and sharing meals and ministry together. But sometimes fellowship can involve misguided fights over who is greater, parting ways on the road due to conflict… and sacrifice.

Engaging in community is challenging, but incredibly rewarding. Just as families must deal, at times, with conflict and difficulties, differing visions for the future and misunderstandings, those living in community have to face similar issues together. There is a good deal of self-sacrifice in embracing community. The challenge is not launching into a heated battle or withdrawing when conflict occurs, but speaking about wrongs openly to our brothers and sisters in love (and if necessary, gathering two or more to confront them alongside us). That is difficult, but is the path we are called to as believers.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer mentions in his work Life Together,

It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian … This will prove especially difficult where varying strength and weakness are bound together in a fellowship. The weak must not judge the strong, the strong must not despise the weak. The weak must guard against pride, the strong against indifference. None must seek his own rights.

With fellowship comes self-sacrifice. Always keeping Christ at the center of the fellowship is the most essential part of the equation, and by working through the good and the bad together in love, God’s love will be more visible. As it says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I love the image of the Fellowship in the Lord of the Rings, because it is the oddest group of individuals one could fathom! I certainly think Tolkien intended for it to look that way. Enemies became unified, the strong learned from the weak, the weak from the strong and one of the members even laid down his own life for a hobbit he often disagreed with.

The Body of Believers that Christ has assembled is as diverse as it is challenging. Many of us wish individuals looked just like us and played the same role as us in the Body of Christ; when, in reality, the whole system would crumble if we all looked alike and functioned the same. There is a reason God uses the image of the body. The body needs all parts to be whole. Certainly, the eye and the nose will not always agree. The body’s vast and varied parts were made for such; rather, they were created to give life to the whole.

Fellowship is not easy. The result of leaning into Jesus, as the center of the fellowship, can sometimes lead to discomfort and challenge. However, it is these challenges that lead to growth within the community, a strengthening of individual parts that better the group as a whole.

Christian communities are one of the greatest joys and sources of encouragement that we as believers can participate. I’m learning that if I continue to withdraw from difficult moments with Christian brothers and sisters, I will miss what God is doing… in their lives and in mine. Easy doesn’t always equal good. In the growing pains of living within community comes some of our greatest growth and refinement. It’s what the wisdom writer calls, “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17).

So embrace the beautiful challenge of walking through life with the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, the easy to love and the challenging. There is a beauty in the diverse fellowship we are called into and strength in bearing with one another.

As one of Frodo’s friends told him before their journey, “’It all depends on what you want,’… ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin—to the bitter end… But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.” May our fellowships breath life into our bones and encourage us to always spread the love of God through our united journey of faith.

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