Experiencing Christ by the Fellowship in the Gospel

Grapes, fruit

Think of that famous picture from John’s gospel, “I am the vine, you are the branches”. If this passage mainly reminds you of the need to consult with the Lord and abide in Him, then you’re like me: you mainly consider your relationship with God when it comes to all things Christian. But there’s another aspect to this image that deserves our attention: fruit-bearing, or bringing the gospel to men.

Since most of the time I focus only on God’s side of the picture, many times my resolve to be a better Christian produces thoughts that go something like this, “Ok. I’m for the Lord. Now I have got to be more obedient, more zealous,” and I focus my efforts on maintaining my consecration to the Lord, expecting some improvement. But through our campus Bible Study on Philippians I’ve been helped to see that my experience of Christ in great measure hinges not on any problem between the Lord and I but on my participation in the gospel.
Why would our involvement in the gospel affect our experience of Christ?
Both Paul’s epistle to the Philippians and John’s picture of the vine shed light on this.
First, consider the epistle of Paul to the Philippians. He writes this epistle from a Roman prison in which he’s held in chains because of the gospel (Phil 1:13). Far from being discouraged at his imprisonment, however, he’s thankful for the Philippians’ fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel. Moreover, he wants the Philippians to know one thing: “that the things concerning him have turned out rather to the advancement of the gospel” (v.12). It’s as if Paul is a pioneer and the Philippians are his partners endeavoring together for the gospel’s advance. Here is a living example of a life of enjoying Christ and experiencing Christ being one in the gospel of Christ.
We see the same principle from nature’s vine. The following quote from Witness Lee makes this clear:
 The bearing of fruit by the branches is the branches’ experience of the tree…A branch cannot experience the life of the tree without bearing fruit. The more the branches properly experience the life of the tree, the more fruit they will bear. In the same way, the preaching of the gospel is the outworking of Christ experienced by us. If we experience Christ, there is the outworking of this life, that is, the preaching of the gospel.
From these portions of the Word we may realize that we need to witness for Christ if we want to experience Him. But for many of us this leads to the pitfall of failure and discouragement. We may take this word on witnessing individually and think, “I need to muster up the courage to speak to someone about Christ,” or “I need to be more bold for Christ”, only to be disappointed the next time we don’t say anything to the grocery store clerk.
Not individual gospel preaching but fellowship unto the gospel:
At this point, we are helped by the pattern set by Paul in Philippians. It is clearly a living in fellowship with other Christians unto the furtherance of the gospel. It’s in this fellowship that we’ll experience Christ in so many aspects, and it’s here that the things concerning us, even our own Roman imprisonments, can “turn out rather to the advancement of the gospel”.
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