One of the coming features of our world will be the increased use of robots. They will be able to all kinds of things, but one thing they will not be able to do is feel. Of course, a robot could be programmed to say the right words, but he cannot say them from the heart. In contrast, a Christian’s heart is involved in everything he says and does.
What is needed for such a response? One obvious factor is the necessity of sharing. A spiritually healthy Christian will share his or her circumstances with other Christians – this is an element of fellowship. A second feature is sensitivity to what others are experiencing – sensitivity is not the same as curiosity. With regard to those in sorrow, there will be heartfelt sympathy; and with regard to those who are rejoicing there will be no jealousy of what is giving them joy.
In addition to having an emotional interaction with one another, Paul refers to the necessity of harmony. Harmony, we know, is a musical term. There are two ways in which an orchestra or a group of singers can have harmony. One way is for them to do or sing nothing and the other way is for each participant doing what they should do. The harmony of silence, should it ever occur, would be disappointing to listeners and would remove all credibility whereas the harmony of participation would be intriguing and enjoyable. The way for the church in Rome to have harmony would be for each of the members to do what they should as best they could.
Paul then refers to a possible barrier to fellowship that could be caused by different social levels. The upper class Christians are instructed by Paul to associate with the lowly. I wonder if was Paul thinking of Priscilla and Aquila here. It is almost certain that Priscilla was from a wealthy Roman family, and they had homes in several different cities. What did they do in those different cities? They associated with the lowly and allowed their homes to be used for Christian gatherings.
Associate is an interesting word. We can see that it has almost got the word ‘social’ in it. I would say that it means to mingle with others without causing the others to feel inferior. It also has the idea of identifying oneself as belonging to them. When we see a firm called a name plus associates we know that the associates are pleased to identify with the firm. So all Christians should want to identify with one another.
The onus here is put on the upper class Christians to condescend, to lower themselves and meet with Christians at the bottom of the pile. I suppose we can say that the Bible repeatedly stresses the value of self-humbling. After all, the example of Jesus would later be used by Paul in this regard in Philippians 2.
The last item concerning the area of fellowship warns against the danger of isolated opinions. Sometimes one person has to stand against the rest, because the rest are wrong. Yet normally there is safety in accumulated wisdom, in gathering the thoughts and suggestions of others and thinking about them.