The friendships I have appreciated most are those that have built character in me. These are friendships that have taught me patience, self-control, gentleness, humility and love. Furthermore, I treasure fellowship with those who have intentionally sought to build God-like character in me. These are God-fearing friends who have walked with me, encouraged me, and also dared to challenge me so that I could grow to be more like Jesus. I want to surround myself with friends like this, and I want to spur others on in the same way.
Proverbs 27:17 says,
“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
There are many relationships in the Bible that show us how we can encourage, challenge and help one another live in God’s ways. Nathan rebuked David and he repented. Jethro gave counsel to his son-in-law Moses, and this enabled him to lead Israel more effectively. Abigail blessed David with her wisdom and turned him away from avenging himself in bloodshed. Deborah gave confidence to Barak to obey God’s word and accomplish what God had purposed for Israel. The examples of mentoring, found in Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha also show us how fellowship builds godly character.
One thing our pastor at church often says, is that we should be careful who we hang out with, because we will become like those we hang out with. While we have a mission to reach the world for Christ, we also have a loyalty to our Lord God. We need to spend time with Him if we are truly to understand His character. We need to fellowship with one another in humility, and with a teachable spirit if we are to allow God to mound us.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the seat of the scornful; Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.” [Psalm 1:1-2]
“Flee also from youthful lists; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” [2 Timothy 2:22]
There are many more verses that exhort us to walk with one another and encourage one another to stand in the truth of Christ’s way. Here are two examples of character-building fellowship I want to explore now, that of Jesus and His disciples, Peter and Paul.
JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES
The best example we have of fellowship that builds Christ-like character is how Jesus disciples His friends. Throughout the gospels, He walks with them, hears their desires, tests their resolve, sees them through trials, and brings them into glory. He knows the Father like no one else does. He sees people exactly as God sees them, because He is God. How incredible it must have been to walk with Jesus as one of the twelve disciples? At the same time, it was a challenging path to take, and a life-changing decision to give everything up for Christ. Yet, in the end, it was all worth it. These are just a few insights into the character-building fellowship Jesus had with His disciples and continues to have with us now.
- He hears our desires.
Matthew 20:20-28 records how the mother of James and John came to Jesus to ask that they might sit with Him in heaven. Jesus asks the brothers if they can drink the cup He will drink, and be baptised with the baptism He will be baptised with. They say they are able to and Jesus says to them:
“You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” [Matthew 20:23]
Subsequently, the other disciples are upset with the brother and Jesus recognises the desire to be great which lies within them all. So, he explains,
“…whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” [Matthew 20:26]
Jesus sees past what we say we want and looks at our heart. He gives us the means to fulfil those deeper desires of our heart, and this is always aligned with God’s own desires. The disciples wished to be great and pursued this as greatness was seen in the eyes of man, but Jesus taught them that God’s greatness is shown through humility.
- He humbles us so that we can be raised up in Him.
Peter – the rock on which God said He would build His church, the passionate disciple who proclaimed that he would leave Jesus. We know the story of how Peter went on to deny Jesus three times just prior to His death, just as Jesus had predicted. This did not happen to humiliate Peter, but though this, God allowed Peter to be refined for glory. Peter was broken down and emptied out so that He could be filled with God’s vision and God’s resolve. Jesus gave Peter an important responsibility when He asked him three times, “Do you love Me?” Peter affirms his love for Jesus three times and Jesus gives him the Shepherd’s staff – to guide and lead His beloved church. Peter laid down his life, his pride, his vocation and his own ways to embrace the vision and purposes of God. God allows Peter’s pride to be broken, so that Peter could see more clearly to be an effective witness for God’s kingdom.
- He leads us by His example.
In John 5:19, Jesus answers the Jews and explains the way in which He works. He says,
“… the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”
He also shows His disciples the way He thinks and the reason of His decisions. 1 John 2:5-6 explains how we should live in Christ:
“But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in Him. By this we know that we are in in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”
Jesus lived out perfectly the character and word of God. He is our example and our Shepherd. If we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can have the mind of Christ, and the mind of Christ enables us to live in a way that glorifies the Father. For example, Jesus submits Himself fully to the will of God even when that means going to the cross. In the same manner, we should also submit ourselves and our lives fully to Him even when it seems painful. When we do this, the Spirit of God can work in and through us.
- He sees our doubts and answers them.
When Jesus called Nathanael, He confirmed His authority by telling Nathanael that He had seen him when he was under the fig tree. This causes Nathanael to believe in Christ. After His death and resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples. Thomas asks for proof, and Jesus allows the disciples to see the holes in His hands and feet, to see, touch, feel and believe. He acknowledges Thomas’ doubts and gives Him the means to believe. As the same time, He teaches about the blessing of faith – “those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith! He allows us to build faith by seeking, and deciding upon things ourselves, but He also helps us along the way.
“… looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Hebrews 12:2]
- He challenges us to see with God’s eyes.
At various times, we see a contrast between what the disciples think God wants, and what Jesus shows them God actually desires. For example, when a village rejects their Messiah, James and John ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven. Jesus replies to them,
“…You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” [Luke 9:55-56]
Another example is when the Pharisees ask Jesus whether a man is blind because of his own sin, or the sin of his parents. Jesus challenges their mindset when He says,
“…Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” [John 9:3]
- He strengthens us to persevere.
In Jesus’ relationship with His disciples, I see His faithfulness and His presence. He is always talking with them, walking with them, teaching them, challenging them, encouraging them and asking them questions. Jesus, God, is so communicative! This constant presence, and constant conversation gives us strength to persevere. Jesus continually reminds His disciples, and reminds us of the Day of the Lord. He reminds us that He is coming back soon, and this reminder keeps us sure of our purpose and our vision in Christ. As the Father is working, so the Son is also working [John 5:17]. As God works for His kingdom, and we speak with him, we are spurred on to work diligently and joyfully alongside Him. Let us always continue to abide in Christ!
“If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples.” [John 15:7-8]
PETER AND PAUL
Galatians 2:11-12 recounts how Paul challenged Peter in Antioch. When certain Jews came, Peter withdrew from eating with the Gentile believers. Jews in that city followed his example and Paul, seeing what had happened, rebukes Peter. Prior to the recount of this incident, we see how Paul views Peter and the apostles. He says,
“…for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles…” [Galatians 2:8]
He goes on to describe how the apostles extended the “right hand of fellowship” to him and Barnabas so that the apostles preached the gospel to the Jews, and Paul focused his ministry towards the Gentiles. In doing this, they worked together to build up God’s kingdom. Paul shows that he respects Peter and recognises the spirit of God in him. At the same time, Paul recognises the danger Peter’s hypocrisy is having on the people and calls it out so that it can be addressed.
Rebuke is never comfortable, but it is useful when administered in the right way. From the way Paul confronted Peter, I see the following things:
- He respected and loved Peter as a brother in Christ, and a vessel of the Holy Spirit
- Peter, in receiving such a rebuke, could choose to respond with pride and make a defense, or respond with humility and repent
- Paul recognised a stumbling block to believers and acted on this, showing that he cared about the growth of God’s people
So, how does fellowship build character? Firstly, we need fellowship with God, and also with other believers. Doing this produces the following things:
- It helps us to see God’s character and desires more clearly.
- It encourages us to persevere in pursuing godly characteristics as we walk alongside one another.
- Humility and love in fellowships allows us to be vulnerable with our weaknesses, to lay them down, to learn, to change our ways and to thus, become strong in God.
Sometimes others can see things, we find difficult to see about ourselves. Jesus sees things we do not know about ourselves. Fellowship teaches us humility, and results in strength when we walk in love with one another. Ultimately, fellowship then results in God’s people becoming more like Him – walking in His ways, thinking His thoughts, and acting as His body.
“No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.” [I John 4:12]