In Christian circles we love to talk about fellowship. When we announce church events, we often try to encourage everyone to attend by talking about the opportunity we will have to “have fellowship with one another.” There is the weekly/monthly/annual fellowship meal.
And, of course, when summer comes we often have the church picnic.
Most every church has a fellowship hall.
Or, a coffee bar.
According to Webster’s dictionary fellowship is:
a community of interest, activity, feeling, or experience; meaningful communication for building trust and fellowship
While this definition could be used for activities not related to church, we usually do not hear the secular world using this term. When was the last time your coworkers invited you to join them after work at the local bar or restaurant so you could have “fellowship?” When was the last time your boss offered a fellowship meal for the employees?
In the church world, we love this word. But what do we really mean when we use this word? What does the Bible mean when it uses this word?
The Greek word used in the Bible for fellowship is “koinonia.” It is usually translated in English to “communion,” “fellowship,” “sharing in common” and “partake.” The Apostle John wrote a lot of fellowship in his epistle 1 John. After recently doing a study on that book, I have come to believe we use the word “fellowship” too often and too lightly. As I read what John had to say about this word, I realize that Biblical fellowship is more than just an informal social gathering. It is more than just sharing an interest or having meaningful communication with others.
In the New Testament this word for fellowship is translated many different ways. Its first appearance is in Acts 2:42
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
In his letter to the church at Corinth the Apostle Paul used the word in a slightly different way.
They will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution (koinonia) for them and for all others.
Then when Paul wrote to the church at Philippi he again used this word with a slightly different meaning.
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share (koinonia) his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
Just as we lose some of the meaning of the word “love” when it is translated from Greek to English, I think we have lost some of the true sense the word “fellowship” carries. Looking at just these three scriptures it appears what the Bible means by “fellowship” involves a relationship between God and other believers. A relationship that is more than friendly words spoken over a common meal. It involves identifying with the sufferings of Christ (and of others). It is real participation in the lives of others rather than just an association with them.
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ
John shared the good news that He had seen Jesus, been with Him, heard His teachings and he shared that good news so fellow believers could have fellowship with John. But he based that fellowship he wanted to share with others on his relationship with God.
Many Christians have concentrated on their fellowship with others. They emphasize the need for fellowship dinners, the church gatherings, the social interaction with one another, but they leave out the importance of a close relationship with God. This can lead to the church being nothing more than a social club.
On the other hand, many Christians concentrate on their fellowship with God. They isolate themselves with their Bible, their prayers and their own personal relationship. They have little interaction with other Christians, often saying “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”
But John tells us in order to be the Christian God desires us to be we need both vertical and horizontal fellowship.
Only as we begin to have more than just a social interaction with others, to really weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, will we experience that fellowship God intended for the church.
Only as we spend time drawing closer to God and allowing His word, His spirit to direct our lives will we experience that fellowship God desires for us.
So, I ask you:
How’s your relationship with other Christians? Do you have any fellowship, any bonds with other believers?
How’s your relationship with God? Are you taking the time to grow in your relationship with Him?
We have often heard the expression, “You can’t have it both ways.” But in this instance, I think it is true, “You must have it both ways.”