Fellowship with Christ
Frank McConnell, Pretoria
Fellowship with Christ
This is our theme, based upon the account of the washing of the disciples' feet by the Lord as described in John 13. We have thought about the basis of fellowship - the need for cleansing, both initial and continuous. We may now consider some of the barriers which are raised to try and prevent us from enjoying fellowship with our Saviour.
In view of the greatness of the privilege and the wonderful blessings which flow from having fellowship with Christ, it is to be expected that there will be many barriers and obstacles specially designed to prevent us from engaging therein. Satan will see to this. He is always busy setting up barriers and putting obstacles in the way of the children of God.
These can take many forms. The Devil does not mind what forms they take so long as they are effective in keeping us from the blessing of fellowship with Christ. In our chapter, John 13, we can see at least three refusals, all of which became barriers to fellowship. There was the refusal of the disciples to undertake the feet-washing. There was the refusal of Peter to receive the feet-washing. There was the refusal of Judas to respond to the feet-washing.
Regarding Judas the traitor it is impossible to apply what we read of him to the children of God of today. He was not saved. He belonged to the Devil and was thereto do the Devil's work. The part he played in this great drama was dreadful to the extreme. There was no love for the Lord. His heart was filled with bitter hatred and scheming covetousness. Yet in spite of all this the Son of God actually knelt before the traitor, washed his feet with water and dried them with the towel. What a wonderful manifestation of love and grace was this! It was as if the Lord was making one final approach to see if love combined with humble service could penetrate the hard exterior of this evil man. From this moment until Judas went out, the Lord was constantly thinking and speaking about him. In verse 21 we read, 'When Jesus had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me'. When at last Judas went out into the night to accomplish his vile deed, it was almost as if a cloud had been lifted from the gathering. The restraint was gone and the Lord was able to speak freely.
The betrayal of the Lord Jesus by Judas is one of the great mysteries of the sovereignty of God concerning which we can but marvel and wonder.
What about the other two refusals? Here we find much from which we can profit.
The Refusal of the Disciples. John does not mention it, but we gather from another Gospel that during the Passover meal there was strife among the disciples. Luke tells us 'And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest', 22. 24.
The need for feet-washing was apparent. Only sandals were worn, and the roads along which they had walked were either muddy or dusty. In the absence of a slave to carry out the task, it would fall to the lot of one of the disciples. But on this occasion they all stubbornly refused. Their feet remained hot and dusty, and the reason was their quarrel as to who should be the greatest. After waiting a while the Lord Himself undertook the task.
There was strife among the disciples. There can be no greater barrier to fellowship with Christ than strife among the people of God. Where there is strife, fellowship among the saints is destroyed, and if there is no fellowship with one another, there can be no fellowship with Christ. The two are closely linked. According to John in his 1st Epistle, our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, and with one another, 1. 3, 7. Paul's desire for the Phil ippian believers was that they should 'stand fast in one spirit, striving together for the faith of the gospel', Phil. 1. 27, not striving with one another as were the disciples in the upper room.
There was also selfish ambition among the disciples. Each of them wanted to be accounted the greatest. How strange that at a time when opposition to their Master was reaching its climax, they should be concerned about themselves, their positions and their personal prestige. Yet is it not true that when selfish ambition is at work we become blind to everything except that which concerns self? Selfish ambition is an effective barrier to fellowship with Christ.
Then there was also stubborn pride. Selfishness and pride usually go hand in hand. The disciples were too proud to stoop down in order to do the menial task. It is utterly impossible to have fellowship with Christ when there is pride in the heart. James tells us 'God resisteth the proud', 4. 6. Pride is a most formidable barrier.
The first requisite for fellowship is the spirit of humility, which means a willingness to stoop down with the Master, and for Him, and accept the low place. Just as He girded Himself with a towel, the badge of servitude, so we must gird ourselves with humility, as Peter writes, 'Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another': 1 Pet. 5. 5 RV.
The Refusal of Peter. The disciples refused to undertake the feet-washing. They were not prepared to serve each other. They were not even prepared to serve the Lord. Peter refused to receive the feet-washing. He was not prepared to let the Lord serve him. What are the lessons for us here? When Peter made his refusal he displayed a spirit of independence. In his request following the Lord's warning he was guilty of a lack of understanding. Both of these constitute barriers to fellowship with Christ.
Peter displayed a spirit of independence. In this matter he knew better than the Lord. It was quite wrong for the Master to do what He was doing. Peter could look after his own feet-washing. So he refused. In this he was not dependent on the Lord. How easy it is for Christians today to display the same kind of spirit. We become critical of the Lord's dealing with us, and we begin to act independently, as if we know better than the Lord as to what is required. It sometimes needs just as much of the grace of humility to submit to receiving a service, as it does to render a service. Sometimes some of us are too proud to receive.
When Peter realized his mistake he rushed to the other extreme. He cried, 'Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head', v. 9. Again the Lord had to correct him in the words we have already considered. 'He that is washed (bathed) needeth not, save to wash his feet', v. 10. This time Peter was guilty of a lack of understanding, which is just as much a barrier to fellowship as the spirit of independence. We ourselves may not be guilty of strife, or selfish ambition, or stubborn pride, or a spirit of independence, but our lack of understanding can often prevent us from entering fully into the blessing of fellowship with Christ. Fellowship with Him is dependent upon our knowledge of Him, and upon our understanding of His dealings with us day by day. Ignorance is a barrier, as also is an unbalanced outlook on things. We need to learn how to distinguish the things that differ, as well as how to rightly divide the word of truth, 2 Tim. 2. 15.
If we have learned to appreciate and value the enjoyment of our fellowship with Christ, we shall be careful to avoid all the barriers and obstacles which may confront us, recognizing them when they appear, and not allowing them to become entrenched.
All this of course, is the negative aspect of things. On the positive side we shall do everything possible to cultivate this fellowship, especially by availing ourselves of the daily cleansing which comes with the washing of water by the word.