This contribution should raise our awareness of what being “in fellowship” means.
Fellowship and its Designation.
The word fellowship denotes “a mutual sharing, having a common interest in something, a partnership.” The NT Greek, koinonia is also translated “communion, communication,” and cognates by allied words.
A useful illustration of this is given in Haggai 2:1-9 (the careful reading of this passage is strongly recommended), where the subject matter is, “The Glory of the Divine Indwelling.” The returning remnant was being urged to work together for the realization of such a wonderful experience. In the history of these times, as recounted by Ezra, we are told, “Then rose up Zerubbabel…and Joshua…and with them were the prophets of the Lord helping them” (Ezra 5:2). We can be certain that the prophets were practical in their fellowship, but as we read in ch. 5:2, we are made to feel what a tremendous assistance such fellowship would have been to a people now fully restored in heart, but still deeply conscious of their weakness.
In applying these principles to the present day, in the responsibility of local testimony and in the display of united fellowship, our hearts will be made strong for the service to which we are all called of God.
It is very striking to observe the way in which the “house of remnant times” is associated in the prophet’s message with the magnificent house of Solomon’s day, and with the even more “glorious house” of millennial times. “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory?” (Hag 2:3). “I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts”(Hag 2:7). “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, and in this house I will give peace” (Hag 2:9). The Sanctuary built by the remnant was insignificant compared with the magnificent house that was built in the days of their brightest national glory, when all the tribes of Israel were united under the reign of Solomon. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to the heart of God, linking both His heart and the heart of the people, with the ultimate glory that will far transcend anything that was known in Solomon’s day.
The application of this teaching is vital for the times in which we live. The present failure and weakness can be seen as we consider the early days of assembly witness, when “all that believed were together and had all things in common, and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” (Acts 2:42-44). Those were the days of purity and unity, days of the fullness of spiritual power, days when fellowship was displayed in a positive, practical, and powerful manner. The words of Haggai 2:4 would provide us with much needed encouragement: “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel; and be strong, O Joshua; and be strong, all ye people of the land, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
Fellowship and its Display
It is clear from the NT that it is God’s intention that all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should witness a good confession by baptism and that this should be followed by seeking fellowship with other believers. Acts 2:42 does not make any provision for isolationist or free-lance Christians: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and the fellowship….” This is the first reference to the word fellowship in the NT. Regarding the principle of first mention, A. T. Pierson wrote, “We have long since noted, and have never yet found it to fail. The first occurrence of a word, expression, or utterance is the guide to ascertaining the essential truth connected with it. This verse shows the spiritual exercise of the early disciples. Apostolic instructions, fellowship with fellow-believers, united prayer, and the breaking of bread are mentioned. Such privileges and practices were vital factors in their corporate life and testimony. The fellowship was molded by the apostles’ teaching, maintained by the power of prayer, and manifested by the breaking of bread.
Since the matter of fellowship covers many aspects of truth, a summary of basic facts is suggested:
Fellowship implies Condition.
In 1 John 1:3, 6, 7 we are introduced to the aspect of individual fellowship with the Father and the Son, with John and his fellow-apostles, and with the believers of the present age. Verse 7 points out the fact that all genuine believers are walking in the light, for if we are not in the light we are in the darkness. God’s amazing grace has given us eternal life that provides us with a capacity to enjoy this fellowship with divine Persons, and with one another. To be in the conscious enjoyment of this fellowship of light, life, and love should be the constant desire and delight of our souls.
Fellowship involves Communion.
Our union with Christ is indissoluble. Nothing and no one can separate us from the love of Christ. The believer is bound up with Him in the bonds of life eternal. However, daily communion with Him can be easily broken. Sin in the life of a saint affects the enjoyment of fellowship with Him, severing the brittle cord of communion, and its restoration can only be realized through contrition and confession. The enjoyment of fellowship with God and with our fellow believers demands a life of separation to the Lord and a clean break from associations and practices that would damage that precious fellowship and communion. Second Corinthians 6 reminds us, “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers … what communion (koinonia) hath light with darkness.” In order to display this fellowship, it is necessary to understand that with every privilege there is a corresponding responsibility.
Fellowship inspires Contribution.
Not only is fellowship “sharing in” but it also implies “to give a share to.” There are many ways in which fellowship of this nature can be displayed and demonstrated. There is the giving to others of our time, talents, and treasure. Later in our study, we shall observe Paul’s reference to the churches of Macedonia, commending them for their “fellowship in ministering to the saints” (2 Cor 8:4).
He likewise exhorted the Galatians, “Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” The recipient of spiritual teaching should be inspired to reply with practical acknowledgment. This Greek word, koinonia, is mentioned again in Hebrews 13:16: “…to do good and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Fellowship invites Cooperation.
Paul, being commissioned by the Lord Jesus to go unto the Gentiles with the gospel, constantly sought opportunity to fulfill such a ministry. Writing in Galatians 2:9, concerning such labors among the Gentiles, he once again uses this delightful word, “…when they perceived the grace of God that was given unto me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles.” There is a lively picture of cooperation recorded in Luke 5:4-11. The Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to launch out into the deep and let down their nets for a draught. This resulted in the taking of a great multitude of fishes and the breaking of their net. They beckoned unto their partners to come and help them and they came and filled both the ships. It gave Paul great pleasure to write concerning those who cooperated with him, including “the women who labored with me in the gospel.” This cooperation would have been of a practical nature, and prayer would have played a significant part.
Displayed fellowship as seen in the Corinthian and Philippian epistles.
The references to this illuminating subject in the Corinthian epistles highlight the precious and varied aspects of “displayed fellowship.”
1 Cor. 1:9, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Cor. 10:16, “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?”
2 Cor. 6:14, “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers; …what communion (fellowship) hath light with darkness?”
2 Cor. 8:4, “…the fellowship of ministering to the saints.”
2 Cor. 9:13, “…for your liberal distribution unto them and unto all.”
2 Cor. 13:14, “…the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”
The letter to the Philippians has been called “The Epistle of Joyful Fellowship,” and the following references confirm this statement.
Fellowship in Service.
“For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” Here in chapter 1:5, Paul expresses his thankfulness for their “participation in a common purpose.” He also makes mention of their concern for the spread of the gospel. Those who truly possess and experience the benefits of the gospel also desire to propagate it. The Philippian assembly displayed this fellowship through their own local efforts, as well as sharing with the beloved apostle.
Fellowship of the Spirit.
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit…” Here in chapter 2:1, it is to be understood that there is no suggestion of doubt regarding the practice of these graces in the assembly at Philippi. It is preferable to use the word “since.” “Since there is fellowship of the Spirit.” “This is a fellowship that is imparted by the Holy Spirit, and His ministry is always indicative of unity” (Sydney Maxwell). It may be added, that if we are displaying behavior or holding attitudes which destroy the harmony of the assembly fellowship, we are despising the partnership of the Holy Spirit.
Fellowship in Suffering
“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings…” Here in Chapter 3:10, Paul is yearning for a more intimate and increasing knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. W. E. Vine points out that the word “know” indicates not mere knowledge, but recognition involving appropriation. It has to do with experiential acquaintance, an ever-deepening communion with Him. He craves “to know Him and the fellowship of His sufferings.” The sufferings to which he refers cannot possibly involve what was expiatory in character. Only the Lord Jesus could endure such sufferings. It is clear that Paul has in mind His exemplary sufferings, and with these he was certainly identified. Clarification of this is seen in Colossians 1:24, “…and fill up that which comes after of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the Church.”
In conclusion, the twenty references in the NT to the Greek word, koinonia, abundantly testify to the vital and dynamic place the truth of fellowship should have and be displayed, in the life and testimony of a local assembly.