The book of Acts tells us that the first Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). Three basics of Christian life are illustrated in this verse: 1) Discipleship, or growing in grace and knowledge; 2) Fellowship, or a sense of community among the believers; and 3) Worship, represented in this verse by prayer, perhaps also by the breaking of bread.
Discipleship, fellowship and worship are three "ships" that form the basic framework for what the church does today. In order to keep the church "ship-shape," we also need to devote ourselves to discipleship, fellowship, and worship.
As people of Jesus Christ, we need to be devoted to building and strengthening our fellowship. We share a spiritual journey, share many of the same circumstances in our churches, share in many of the same songs and customs.
But our greatest sense of unity should come from our faith in Christ our Savior — it is he who gives defining purpose to our lives. Our lives are in him, united to him, and through him, to each other. We are all pressing toward the same goal, drawing on the same strength, praying to the same God, basing our lives on the same Book. It is this Book that tells us we need to strengthen the bonds between believers.
Jesus said that his disciples would love one another (John 13:35). This means more than internal feelings of good will, or normal social etiquette. It means a respect for all, a humility that knows that Jesus died for other people just as much as he died for us. It means a willingness to follow Christ, to serve others rather than just ourselves. It means positive relationships between different races, between different social classes, between different temperaments and personalities – relationships that transcend the normal barriers of human society.
Love means physical help, not just words. Notice in Acts 2:44-45 the example of the early Christians. Although "holding all things in common" was apparently a temporary situation, this concern for the poor continued in the early church. Collections were taken to benefit the poor (Acts 11:29; Rom. 15:26; Gal. 2:10; etc.). As James said,
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers....
Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:8-9, 13-17)
The Old Testament prophets said something similar: Our worship is in vain if it is not accompanied by good relationships with other people (Isa. 1:11-17; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6-8). Jesus also condemned the profession of worship when it was not accompanied by the performance of love.
Paul criticized the Corinthian church for having social divisions between rich and poor (1 Cor. 11:18-21), between those who had certain spiritual gifts and those who did not (1 Cor. 12). He gives the solution in chapter 13: love that is patient and kind; love that does not show off, but humbly serves others.
Paul exhorts that everything in church meetings should be done for the strengthening of the church (1 Cor. 14:26). Instead of continuing the divisions in the church, the Corinthians were to concentrate on strengthening the unity of the body. This is good advice for us today: to seek unity — not through enforcing uniformity of diet, not through enforcing preferences about days of worship, not through limiting the kind of worship songs we sing, but through mutual respect and love, rooted in Christ's love for us, working within us, transforming us to become more and more like him. We are to love not just those who are similar to us, but also those who are different. The new covenant way is very demanding!
We were saved for the very purpose of doing good works (Eph. 2:10). One of the new covenant commands we need to obey is this: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Gal. 6:9-10).
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are given numerous responsibilities toward one another. Simply meeting together for worship does not fulfill all these responsibilities — we are also to have active interrelationship with others in the church. Small groups are perhaps the best way for us to grow in our interrelationships, as we gather in the context of prayer, of reliance on Scripture as the basis of our beliefs and practices, and of concern for one another. We are growing together, worshiping together, strengthening our community.
For some members, a small group is formed for the specific purpose of growing together in love and faith; sometimes the group is formed around a task that needs to be done within the church; sometimes it is the women's ministry, or the children's ministry, or a music group. Many different types of groups can help strengthen the church.
Everyone in the church should be able to join a group, to be able to contribute in times of strength and to be helped in times of need. God created us to be social. All people want to be loved, to be appreciated, to be able to contribute meaningfully to others.