Facing the Issues
What is Christian fellowship?
by Dr. Dennis Corle
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ....But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
(1 John 1:3, 7)
What is Christian fellowship? It has been said that fellowship is just ‘two fellows in the same ship’. This is simply not true. Two fellows can be in the same ship, and yet be miles apart in their philosophy, preferences, goals, motivation, and destination. They can be in the same ship and in total opposition, as is the case in many of our churches. The ‘Old Ship of Zion’ is many times the scene, not of fellowship, but of discord and even mutiny! How important it is for us to learn what Christian fellowship is really all about.
True Christian fellowship is a very real need in the lives of believers, but many times what takes place under the guise of ‘fellowship’ is no more than shared recreation, shared food, or shared gossip. The deep need and hunger for real fellowship remains unmet. The word koinonia means several things. It is translated ‘fellowship, communion, contribution, distribution, and communication.’ All of these acts are associated with the word koinonia or fellowship. Its primary idea is an intimate association or close relationship. It is used to speak of the intimacy of the marriage relationship. It is used to speak of the cooperative involvement of a business partnership. It is used to speak of a joint donation, investment, or sacrifice. In order for the relationship between Christians to be termed ‘fellowship’, it must involve these important ingredients.
With fellowship being such a vital part of our lives, God has given us clear instructions about some relationships in which His children are NOT to participate. Remember that fellowship associates us not only with a person but also with their deeds. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11) We are commanded to be separate from unbelievers and their sinful acts. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14) Paul informed the Corinthian believers that when they had any part in sacrifice to heathen gods, they were literally fellowshipping with demon spirits. “But I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.” (I Corinthians 10:20) We are told specifically that in our lives there is to be no intimacy, no incorporation, no involvement, and no investment with any of these.
Never in the history of the church has there been so much activity in the name of ‘fellowship’ and less of the real thing. We have alot of ‘get-togethers’ and church suppers, but we don’t have much real fellowship. We have singspirations, picnics, ball teams, and church socials, but many Christians are in desperate need of the exhortation and edification that only comes from spiritual fellowship. The reason for this is that genuine Christian fellowship must be based upon a scriptural foundation.
Real fellowship takes place on the premise of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?... But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.” (I Corinthians 10:16,20) Both instances of the word ‘communion’ in verse sixteen, and the word ‘fellowship’ in verse twenty are all translated from the word koinonia. Our communion or fellowship with Christ and with one another is to be based upon the premise of the Jesus’ Blood.
Our fellowship is with the Savior and with the saints. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ... If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (I John 1 :3, 6, 7) John was being used of God to pen scripture, and said that the reason for writing this epistle to believers was so that ‘ye also may have fellowship with us’ (verse 3). So the Bible is an all-important foundation for our fellowship with God and with His Son. It is also vital in fellowship between believers, as John told the church that the scripture was important ‘...that ye also may have fellowship with us.’
The nature of our fellowship is the fellowship of His sufferings, the fellowship of His service, and the fellowship of sacrifice. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” (Philippians 3:10) “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;” (Philippians 1:29) Paul knew ‘the fellowship of His sufferings,’ as did many of the apostles and early believers. This was one of the things that drew them together in intimacy, incorporation, involvement and investment. We have seen a glimpse of this kind of fellowship in Christian school battles and other cases where Christians banded together in love and support when the need became great. When otherwise apathetic and disgruntled Christians are met by opposition and persecution, it often creates a stronger bond and oneness than anything else could.
The fellowship of His service is another important bond that was demonstrated by the early church. “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (Acts 5:42)
Soulwinning is a primary opportunity for fellowship through joint incorporation. In one of Christ’s parables about the Rapture, the master commanded his servants to “Occupy till I come.” (Luke 19:13) The word translated ‘occupy’ literally means to ‘go into business’. When Jesus told His earthly parents, “...Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49), what He was doing was reasoning with the doctors and scholars from the scriptures about God’s plan of redemption.
I believe with all my heart that for a Christian to be ‘about the Father’s business,’ and to ‘occupy until Christ comes,’ means to be a soulwinner. The heart-throb of God and the whole purpose of Christ’s coming to earth was for sinful man to be reconciled, regenerated, and restored to fellowship with God. In order for us to fulfill His purpose and do His business we must reason with people from the scriptures and seek to bring them to Christ. Our fellowship with other believers ought to include this incorporation, that of banding together in prayer and purpose to see people saved.
The fellowship of sacrifice is a fellowship of joint investment, and Paul mentioned the sacrificial generosity of churches who banded together to meet the needs of the poor and persecuted believers in Jerusalem. “For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:26) “For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” (II Corinthians 8:4) What these people gave was a Faith Promise, giving beyond their foreseen ability to give. The fellowship of sacrifice is a bond of investment that knits together the hearts of believers in His work. Proper Christian fellowship is a combination of intimacy, involvement, incorporation, and investment in suffering, service and sacrifice.
PURPOSE OF FELLOWSHIP
The first purpose for real Christian fellowship is edification. “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” (I Corinthians 14:26) Edification is the building up or strengthening of one another through our intimacy, involvement, incorporation and investment.
The 300 foot tall redwood trees of the northwest are a perfect illustration of this. They never grow alone, but thrive in great redwood forests. The roots of the trees intertwine and give additional strength and stability to one another so that they are able to withstand strong winds and violent storms. If we are going to grow very tall for God without being knocked over by the winds of adversity, then we must be edified and draw strength from real Christian fellowship.
Exhortation is another purpose of fellowship. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the word ‘exhort’ as “to urge earnestly.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary thus defines ‘exhort’: “to admonish or urge one to pursue some course of conduct.” Hebrews 10:25 designates exhortation as an important ingredient of Christian fellowship in the church. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.”
When D. L. Moody was explaining to a man about the importance of real Christian fellowship, he took a glowing red coal from among the burning embers of the fire and laid it upon the cold hearth by itself. It quickly lost its glow and grew cold. The Christian who is without the exhortation of other Spirit-filled Christians who are on fire for the Lord will soon lose his glowing fervor, as well.
“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34:3) Another chief purpose for fellowship is the exaltation of Christ. First Corinthians 10:31 admonishes us: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Our fellowship is not shared gossip, shared sin, shared worldliness, or shared carnality. It is joint involvement and investment in the exaltation and glory of Christ.
Enjoyment is the final purpose of fellowship. While it is not sufficient as the only purpose for Christians spending time together, when it is added to the other more needful aspects of edification, exhortation, and exaltation, then the aspect of enjoyment becomes even greater. It puzzles me that some Christians claim they do not enjoy church or being with other Christian people. The drinking crowd doesn’t like to drink alone. They all meet at the bar to share their booze. The drug crowd doesn’t like to get high alone. They seek out others who share their addiction. The rock music fans don’t lock themselves away from the world. They want to go to concerts and be with other people who enjoy what they enjoy.
All these people claim they couldn’t get by without the comradeship of others like them, yet there are Christians who claim they don’t need anybody. That doesn’t make sense at all. If there was ever a group of people who had something worth sharing, whom God ordained that they share, it is the people who are redeemed by the blood of Christ. They have something worthwhile to share, and their fellowship was intended to be something enjoyable, the highlight of their lives. Their common interest is Christ, His Church, and His Gospel message for the lost world.
British writer, Guy King, stood at a railroad station when a train pulled in carrying members of a local soccer team. The final score had not reached home, so those awaiting the team did not know if they had won or lost. A small boy wiggled his way through the crowd and asked one of the players the score. As soon as he heard it, he ran excitedly up and down the platform shouting, “We won! We won!” That youngster was brimming with joy because he identified himself with those players, and thereby considered their victory to be his own. As Christians, we are exhorted to, “Weep with them that weep and rejoice with them that rejoice.” We can only do this genuinely when true fellowship allows us to share their happiness and heartaches.
One of the greatest priveleges we have is that of real Christian fellowship. Dr. John Fawcett laboured diligently in Wainsgate, England for seven years, but his salary was so small that he could barely obtain the necessities of life. The poor parishioners, however, compensated by faithfulness and warm fellowship. After some time he received a call to a larger church and decided to go. One by one, his parishioners came by to say their tearful goodbyes, and his wife exclaimed, “Oh, John, I just can’t bear this. They need us so badly here.”
Dr. Fawcett replied, “God has spoken to my heart as well. Have them unload the wagons. We cannot break this wonderful fellowship.” This experience inspired Fawcett to write the lyrics to the lovely hymn, “Blest Be The Tie That Binds”.
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
May God renew our understanding and our pursuit of real Christian fellowship.