Soon, I will be visiting some of my family in the southern region of the United States. No doubt, I will be in a restaurant or two. When I order iced tea, the server will ask, “Sweet or unsweetened?” Unsweetened iced tea is refreshing, and the caffeine provides a good kick’ But, in addition to these two benefits, sweet tea is more delightful. Yesterday’s gathering on the church premises was, at least for me, like an ice cold sweet tea on a hot day.
The fellowship of the saints is always needful. The experience of true fellowship is both refreshing after a week of spiritual warfare as well as stimulating in preparation to face another week in a world that is no friend of grace. And yet there are times when our fellowship is especially sweet. That was my experience yesterday.
It was a joy to sing God’s praises on a beautiful sunny and yet pleasant morning. It was sweet to formally induct Selwyn Smith as our newest deacon. It was sweet to preach God’s gospel to the church, and to any neighbours who may have been listening (including the pilot who kept circling above!). But what was particularly sweet was the ongoing fellowship on the grounds long after the service. An hour after the service ended, the place finally emptied.
It was very sweet to talk with members with whom I’ve not engaged over recent weeks. It was sweet to watch conversations taking place among various groups of people. It was very sweet to hear children playing with one another and realising that many of these are making friends for life (with perhaps seeds being sown for not a few potential marriages down the road!). It was very sweet to watch old and young mingling with each other. Yes, yesterday was like adding sweetener to an already refreshing opportunity to gather with brothers and sisters in Christ.
As most will attest, the temptation to complacency about gathering with the church has confronted us over the past year. Once we were able to meet as a full congregation those temptations lessened. But then restrictions were re-introduced and the temptation for some to be aloof has become quite strong. After all, watching a livestreamed service in the comfort of our homes can be more inviting than rubbing shoulders with fellow sinners. You know—those pesky members who aren’t as perfect as you and me? Therefore, simply stay away, log on, tune in, and then log off. How refreshing. Or is it?
Church life includes, but is not confined to, exposure to God’s word. As important as preaching is, it is not sufficient for spiritual growth. We need the fellowship of the saints. And what a special joy when this fellowship is sweet. Very sweet.
Once the dust settles from the COVID-upheaval of this past year, I anticipate, with sadness, the loss of some members from our congregation. In my interactions with pastors across the globe, I am aware that this is the experience in many churches. Much like the parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23), our hearts are being sifted by this current trial. As disappointing as it is to see church members seemingly fall away, it is nevertheless encouraging to know that Jesus will continue to meet with his people and continue to build his church. He will continue to give us days like yesterday—days that are very sweet.
Brothers and sisters, I hope, when registration opens this week for Sunday services, that each of you will jump at the opportunity to gather with those with whom you have covenanted to serve. Take advantage of the blessing to be refreshed and stimulated, and to be refreshment and stimulant to others. As you do, I think you will find the experience to be very sweet.
Thankful for you,