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Christian Fellowship

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Introduction

In Acts 2:42 we read that one of the four things the early church devoted itself to was “fellowship.” Fellowship was a very important part of their reason for meeting together. It was one of their objectives. But what is fellowship?

We often hear people talking about fellowship. We hear it said that what we need is more fellowship. But our modern ideas of fellowship have become so watered down that the word no longer carries the same meaning it did in New Testament times.

We are not surprised that the early church devoted itself to “the apostles’ teaching” and also “to prayer.” Apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit, these are the two most important means of growth, power, and effectiveness in the Christian life and this is everywhere evident in the rest of Scripture.

But Luke tells us these early Christians also devoted themselves to fellowship. They just didn’t have fellowship; they devoted themselves to it. This means that fellowship was a priority and one of the objectives for gathering together. They made fellowship a priority.

Today, however, we often view fellowship as what we do in “fellowship hall.” It’s the place where we have casual conversations and savor coffee and donuts. This is not bad and can contribute to fellowship, but it falls far short of fellowship according to biblical standards and according to the meaning and use of the Greek words for fellowship.

Still others who may have become fed up with church seek fellowship through viewing a worship service on television, but this too misses the picture.

Give your TV a hug! Joel S. McCraw has suggested that if you are one of those who gets their religion by watching religious broadcasts on the TV, or listening to the gospel via radio, you might want to step up to the set after a service and “Give your TV a great big hug.”

Foolish, isn’t it. The electronic religion of multitudes of people creates an emptiness—interpersonal relationships are so desperately needed to keep our faith glowing and growing. If you drop off your associations with other Christians and disassociate yourself from them in worship and service, you’ll run out of spiritual fervor and dedication in a short time. There is no substitute for “going to church and worshiping with others of like precious faith.”1

You may be thinking, “My view of fellowship is much richer and deeper than mere social activity. True fellowship involves getting together for spiritual purposes: for sharing needs, for prayer, for discussing and sharing the Word to encourage, comfort, and edify one another.” And you are right. This certainly is an aspect of Christian fellowship, and one much more important than the first idea. It is an area of fellowship that is often lacking in the church today and one that needs to be remedied. But even this does not comprehend or grasp the full and rich meaning of “fellowship” in the New Testament.

In order to grasp its meaning and relate our lives to its truth, we need to study two Greek word groups, koinwnia, and its derivatives, and metocos, a word which will come into importance because of its spiritual relationship to koinwnia.

English Definition of Fellowship

Before we begin a study of the Greek words, let’s get a glimpse of our word “fellowship” from the English dictionary to see what it might add to our understanding. An English dictionary can shed a lot of light on the Bible if we would use it in our Bible study. The translators chose English words according to their real and exact meanings. When we study our Bibles we assume we understand the full significance of a word, but often our ideas are very incomplete. This is particularly true of the word “fellowship.”

According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary it means: (a) companionship, company, associate (vb.); (b) the community of interest, activity, feeling or experience, i.e., a unified body of people of equal rank sharing in common interests, goals, and characteristics, etc.; (c) partnership, membership (an obsolete usage but an important one. It shows what has happened to our ideas of fellowship).

There are three key ideas that come out of this:

(1) Fellowship means being a part of a group, a body of people. It is opposed to isolation, solitude, loneliness, and our present-day independent kind of individualism. Of course, it does not stop there because we can be in a crowd of people and even share certain things in common, but still not have fellowship.

(2) Fellowship means having or sharing with others certain things in common such as interest, goals, feelings, beliefs, activities, labor, privileges and responsibilities, experiences, and concerns.

(3) Fellowship can mean a partnership that involves working together and caring for one another as a company of people, like a company of soldiers or members of a family.

But what about Christian fellowship according to the Word of God and the words for fellowship as they are used in the New Testament?

Greek Words for Fellowship

The Koinwn Words

(1) Koinos (the root word)

The language of the New Testament is called koinh Greek because, through the conquests of Alexander the Great, it was the common language of Christ’s day for Romans, Greeks and Jews alike. Koinh means common. Koinwnia comes from koinos which means “common, mutual, public.” It refers to that which is held in common.

(2) Koinwnia (n) and Koinwneo (vb) (primary words)

There are two main ideas with this word: (a) “to share together, take part together” in the sense of partnership or participation, and (b) “to share with” in the sense of giving to others. As we will see, there are four key ideas that come out of these two meanings according to New Testament usage.

The New Testament usage according to sentence construction refers to: (a) the thing shared in common in some way by all parties involved as relationships, blessings or burdens, privileges, or responsibilities (all believers in Christ share many things in common); (b) the person(s) doing the sharing with others; (c) the person(s) with whom there is sharing; and (d) an abstract quality of the concept of fellowship, with no object, used alone as in Acts 2:42.

(3) Koinwnos, Koinwnikos (secondary words)

Koinwnos means “a partner, associate, companion” (2 Cor. 8:23; Luke 5:10; Phil. 1:7) or “a partaker, sharer” (1 Cor. 10:18-20; 2 Cor. 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:1; 2 Pet. 1:4).

Koinwnikos, is an adjective meaning “characterized by koinwnos, ready to share or partake” (1 Tim. 6:18).

The Metocos Words (metocos, metoch)

These words come from meta, “with,” plus ecw, “to have.” The basic idea is “to have with” or “to have together.”

Metocos means: (a) “a sharing in, a partaking of” (Heb. 3:1, 14; 6:4; 12:8); and (b), “a partner, associate” (Heb. 1:9; Luke 5:7).

Metoch means: (a) “sharing, fellowship”; or (b) “partnership” (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14 where it is used with koinwnia).

Based on the meanings and uses of these words, four key ideas develop that are important if we are to grasp the richness the New Testament’s teaching on “fellowship.” If we understand these four concepts we will begin to have a grasp of the doctrine of fellowship and its implications and demands on our lives.

Concepts of
Fellowship in the New Testament

A. Relationship

In the New Testament, what is shared in common is shared first of all because of a common relationship that we all have together in Christ. Koinwnia was an important word to both John and Paul, but it was never used in merely a secular sense. It always had a spiritual significance and base. The idea of an earthly fellowship founded upon just common interests, human nature, physical ties like in a family, or from church affiliation was really rather foreign to the apostles.

In the New Testament, believers can have fellowship and share together because they first of all have a relationship with Christ and share Him in common (1 Cor. 1:9; 1 John 1:3). The New English Bible translates 1 John 1:3 as follows: “what we have seen and heard we declare to you, so that you and we together may share in a common life, that life which we share with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

Fellowship is first the sharing together in a common life with other believers through relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Fellowship is first and foremost a relationship, rather than an activity. The principle is that any activity that follows, should come out of the relationship.

In Acts 2:42 the early church was not merely devoting itself to activities, but to a relationship. It was this relationship that produced an active sharing in other ways. It is so important that we grasp this. Fellowship means we belong to each other in a relationship because we share together the common life and enabling grace of Jesus Christ.

There is also, however, a negative aspect. Because of our relationship with Christ, there can be no legitimate fellowship with the world, demonism, idolatry, or anything that is contrary to Christ and our relationship with Him (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14f).

B. Partnership

Both koinwnia and metocos mean to share together in the sense of a partnership. As sharers together of the person and life of Christ, we are automatically copartners in His enterprise here on earth.

Both sets of Greek words were used in this sense by classical and New Testament writers.

(1) In the secular realm, koinwnos (a form of koinwnia) and metocos were both used by Luke to refer to the partnership of Peter with James and John (Luke 5:7, 10).

(2) In the spiritual realm, koinwnos was used by Paul of Titus (2 Cor. 8:23) and Philemon (Philemon 17), and koinwnia of the Philippians (Phil. 1:5) because he viewed them as partners in the ministry of the gospel, as co-workers who shared in ministry (cf. Gal. 2:9).

(3) In the spiritual realm, metocos was similarly used by the author of Hebrews to express the concept of our partnership with the Lord (Heb. 1:9) because we are also sharers of His life and calling (Heb. 3:1, 14). “The concept of fellowship as a spiritual partnership is firmly embedded in the new Testament …”2 by the use of both word groups.

Whereas the word relationship describes believers as a community, partnership describes them as the principals of an enterprise. A business partnership is always formed in order to attain an objective, such as providing a service to the public at a profit for the partners. In the same way, the concept of a spiritual partnership implies that it is created with the objective of glorifying God. Just as all believers are united together in a community relationship, so we are all united together in a partnership formed to glorify God …

… Biblical fellowship, then, incorporates this idea of an active partnership in the promotion of the gospel and the building up of believers.3

This element is strongly brought out in the argument of the author of Hebrews who shows us that believers are both partakers of and partners with Christ in His salvation, kingdom, and purposes for earth and man.

In Hebrews 1:14 this “salvation” which believers are to inherit, within the context of the passage, includes the believer’s share in the Son’s triumphant dominion in which He has partners, those who belong to Him and are involved with Him in His kingdom and reign (1:9; 2:10,13; 3:1). This partnership, however, begins here on earth, and this forms the foundation for what believers will share with Him in the future kingdom. We are responsible to share with Him in the work He is now doing on earth so we can share in the blessings of the future by way of rewards (cf. Luke 19:11f; 1 Cor. 3:12f). A steadfast confidence in Christ is vital or we will defect and fail to carry our responsibilities as His companions. As those who share in His life through faith, we are also partners with Him in His enterprise and purposes here on earth. We are His representatives on earth (cf. 1 Pet. 2:5f).

Perhaps one of the keys here is our understanding of the word metocos, which is used a number of times in Hebrews (cf. 1:9; 3:1,14; 6:4; 12:8). As seen above, this was a term used of business partners. It was used in precisely this way in the papyri and in its only occurrence in the New Testament outside of Hebrews, in Luke 5:7.

Note Hebrews 3:14 which may be rendered, “… we have become partners with Christ.” It can mean “sharer, partaker.” “Of Christ” then becomes what we share in: we partake of His life. This is true, but I don’t believe this is the point here. As in Hebrews 1:9, the author is saying we become companions, partners of the Christ, the Messianic King, but to share in what He is doing now and in the future, we need fidelity and confidence in Him (cf. Rev. 2:26-27).

    Distinction Between Relationship and Partnership

Relationship describes what we are: a community of people bound together by our common life and blessings that we share together through our relationship with Christ. Partnership describes how we are related to each other in that relationship: we are partners in an enterprise and calling in which we are to work together in a common purpose to obtain common objectives for the glory of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 1:27).

Later, as we look at the foundation for fellowship, we will see that our relationship with Christ is like a coin, it has two sides, union and communion, or relationship (the positional side) and fellowship (the experiential side).

C. Companionship

Companionship is the interchange or communication (communion) that exists among companions, those associated together through a relationship they hold in common. The key ingredient in companionship is communication. Key words that describe companionship are “interchange, communion, sharing.” Communication is the sharing of concepts, feelings, ideas, information, needs, etc. through words or other symbols like body language and actions so that all members of the relationship hold these things in common.

In the Christian community, companionship includes communicating on a spiritual level through a mutual sharing of the things of Christ: the Word, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and the ministries and gifts of the various members of the body of Christ.

Companionship through communication would include:

(1) The Vertical: This is our communion and fellowship with the Lord through the Word, prayer, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and the abiding life.

(2) The Horizontal: This is our communion and fellowship with the body of Christ, other believers. This includes: (a) assembling together as a whole body (Acts. 2:42; Heb. 10:25); (b) assembling in smaller groups (2 Tim. 2:2); (c) meeting together one-on-one (1 Thess. 5:11); (d) sharing and communicating truth together and building up one another (Rom. 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Thess 5:11; Philem. 6); (e) sharing together in worship, i.e., the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 10:16), the singing of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), prayer (1 Cor. 14:16-17), the ministry of the Word (Acts 20:20; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 4:10-11); (f) sharing together as partners in the needs, burdens, concerns, joys, and blessings for the purpose of encouragement, comfort, challenge or exhortation, praise, prayer and physical help according to the needs and ability (cf. Phil. 1:5 with 1:19; and 2:4 with 1:27; also 4:3; Rom. 12:15; and 1 Thess. 5:11,14,15; Heb. 10:33).

This means we must develop the loving art of communication. We need to be willing to share our own burdens and aspirations and be available to hear what others are saying so we may minister to needs according to the directives of the Word. The ultimate goal is to build up and enrich others in the things of Christ that we may all together experience the sufficiency of His life and tune our lives into His. We need others for that. As the early church was first devoted to the apostles’ teaching, they were also devoted to caring for one another and to sharing with one another what they were learning and what Christ was meaning to them (Acts. 2:42; Heb. 3:12-14).

Ted Malone, whose radio show came on early in the morning, told of an Idaho shepherd who wrote: “Will you, on your broadcast, strike the note ‘A’? I’m a sheep herder way out here on a ranch, far away from a piano. The only comfort I have is my old violin. It’s all out of tune. Would you strike ‘A’ so that I might get in tune?”

Malone honored the request. Later he received a “thank you” note from the distant shepherd saying, “Now I’m in tune.”

One of the purposes and responsibilities of personal and public worship is to enable the aspirant to keep tuned to the Great Shepherd. One of the joys of the Christian life is to help others recapture the missing note!4

D. Stewardship

A steward is one who manages the property of another. A steward is not an owner; he is a manager. As stewards we must recognize that all we have belongs to the Lord and has been given to us as trusts from God to invest for His purposes. Believers need to be willing to share their material possessions for the promotion of the gospel and to help those in need. Good stewardship stems from recognizing our relationship to Jesus Christ, but it also means recognizing our partnership in Christ’s enterprise on earth.

In any good partnership, the partners share equally in both the privileges and responsibilities, the assets and liabilities, and the blessings and burdens. What kind of partnership would it be if one partner took all the income and enjoyed all the privileges while the other partner did all the work and paid all the bills? Would you enter a partnership like that? No, of course not! Partners are to share and share alike in all the aspects of their enterprise. They may not do the same things. In fact, they will be much more successful in their enterprise if they work and share according to their abilities, expertise, and training, but still share the load.

It is interesting that one of the most prominent uses of the koinwnia group of words is its use in connection with sharing material blessings—giving money to meet financial needs. Of the 36 usages of these words, they are used 9 times specifically in connection with giving, and in a couple of other passages giving would be included among other aspects of fellowship (Acts 2:42; Phil. 1:5; Heb. 10:33).

Giving is meant in the following passages: koinwneo (Rom. 12:13; 15:27; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:15); koinwnia (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:13; Heb. 13:16); koinwnikos (1 Tim. 6:18); and metecw (1 Cor. 9:10, note context vss. 9-14). Therefore as partners in Christ’s enterprise on earth, “we need to share with one another, realizing that we are not owners but stewards of the possessions God has entrusted (not given) to us.”5

The concept and application of this partnership/stewardship combination is seen clearly in 2 Corinthians 8:12-15. “Paul envisioned a continual flow of believers’ possessions toward those who have needs. This is an outworking of koinwnia, and an important expression of true fellowship.”6

What was happening here? What was Paul wanting to see done? Paul was asking the Corinthian believers to have fellowship as partners, as fellow sharers in Christ and laborers together in the gospel. As partners, they were to give out of their abundance to other partners, to other believers, even though they had never met. Why? Out of love, certainly, but also because they were partners in the Savior’s enterprise on earth.

Note 3 John and its application here:

3 John 5-8 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

“Acting faithfully” (vs. 5) refers to their partnership as those who share in common the life and enterprise of Christ. It goes on to say, “especially when they are strangers.” Why is this? Because we share a common relationship through a common life, the person of Christ, and thus, a common objective.

“To your love” (vs. 6) refers to the expression of Christ’s love in the lives of these saints as they shared in His life through fellowship or communion with Him. “To send them on their way” refers to fellowship. Here was a group of believers who, recognizing their partnership, shared their resources with these missionaries. The word used here is propempw, which became a technical term for sending someone forth with all that they needed for their journey. It involved “supplying them with food and money to pay for their expenses, washing their clothes and generally helping them to travel as comfortably as possible.”7

“For they went out for the sake of the Name” (vs. 7) refers to the purpose of their going out. They were missionaries involved in the enterprise of propagating the gospel, the news about the Savior. This is the enterprise and objective we should all have in common as Christians. They sought nothing and refused to accept any support from unbelievers (“accepting nothing of the Gentiles”). Why? Because there was no common relationship in Christ. They were not partners together in this enterprise. They were instead, the objective.

“We ought” (vs. 8) refers in the Greek text to a moral obligation. It is the Greek ofeilw, “to owe a debt.” We owe such a debt to others of the body of Christ because we are partners. “Support” is the Greek @upolambanw which means “to bear up, lift up by giving financial aid, support.” Why? The reason is expressed in the final words of verse 8, “That we may be fellow workers with the truth.” Because we are partners and should live like it by sharing in the work (cf. Gal. 6:6 and the partnership principle there).

These four major areas cover the doctrine of fellowship as it pertains primarily to our relationship with one another, but the basis of our relationship to one another is our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is that vertical aspect of fellowship that forms the foundation and means of fellowship in the body of Christ.

Relationship:
The Foundation for Fellowship

As we’ve seen, fellowship is first a relationship. But, sometimes the term relationship is used of our subjective experiences. A man might say, “I have a good relationship with my wife.” He means that they get along well, they communicate and enjoy one another’s company. But the most basic meaning of relationship deals with objective fact. It refers to the condition or fact of being related to someone as a son to a father or a wife to her husband. This is particularly true with the concept of relationship as we use it theologically. Relationship refers to an objective fact.

Relationship means we are related to God as His children, born into His family by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. Then, as believers in Christ, we are related to Christ and to each other in that we have been joined into union with Him; we are members of His body through the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit. Fellowship means we share this relationship and it is an objective fact regardless of our spiritual condition (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2 with 3:1-3). In this sense, we must understand and act on the following concept: RELATIONSHIP stands to FELLOWSHIP as UNION stands to COMMUNION.

This means we must ever keep in mind that our experience with God and with one another grows out of the objective fact of our relationship with the Lord Jesus (cf. Eph. 2:5, 6). Only those who are in relationship with one another (objective fact) can have true fellowship (subjective experience).8 We must first have a real living relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ before we can have experiential fellowship with God. As this is true with God, so it also becomes true in our fellowship with one another (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).

In the Bible, fellowship embraces both the objective and experiential aspects. However, for the experiential to occur, we must first have the objective fact. Why? Because the relationship aspect of fellowship (the objective fact) forms the foundation for all the other aspects of fellowship. In relation to God, relationship/union provides the motivation, the means, the confidence, everything we need to reach out to appropriate our new life as those who are related to the living Christ. It is because we are related to Christ that we are partners and related to each other. It is because we are related as a household of God’s people that we share and give (Gal. 6:10; 3 John 8).

Partnership:
The Means of Fellowship

As pointed out earlier, Paul and John never used the term fellowship in a purely secular sense. It always had a spiritual base and a spiritual means. The idea of an earthly fellowship founded upon simply common interests or common likes or dislikes or similar personalities or human opinions or purely physical ties was a foreign idea in connection with Christian fellowship.

For these human authors of Scripture, Christian fellowship was tied directly into spiritual realities. Certain things must be involved or we do not have Christian koinwnia. The first essential is the foundation (the objective aspect), but it also includes the means of fellowship (the subjective aspect).

If we are to share experientially in the life of Christ, and if we are to share together as partners and as companions in an effective and meaningful way, certain things are a must. Without God’s means of fellowship, we can’t have true Christian fellowship. What we end up with is mere religiosity as it pertains to God, and simply social interchange and a compatibility of old sin natures as it pertains to men.

Let’s take a look at God’s means of fellowship.

The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit

In 2 Corinthians 13:14 we have the clause, “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” A question arises as to whether “of the Holy Spirit” is objective (the object of our fellowship, a participation or sharing in the Holy Spirit), or subjective (the fellowship or sharing which the Holy Spirit produces or provides as the means, the agent). In Philippians 2:1 we have the same construction and the same question. There is no question that all believers mutually share in the person and ministries of the Holy Spirit as is clear in Hebrews 6:4 (metochos).

There is a clue from the text as to how this should be understood. We are not merely left to our feelings or imaginations about this. In both passages the clauses “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” are preceded by statements which give us an objective guide according to the normal conditions of Greek grammar. Let’s take a look at both verses.

2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

This verse has three “of” clauses in the Greek, each referring to the three persons and gifts of the Trinity. Normally we would expect such clauses to be parallel grammatically. If we can determine the pattern of one by the nature of the clause, the others would normally follow the same pattern (cf. Tit. 3:5).

(1) “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is the grace which the Lord Jesus Christ gives (subjective), not grace which the Lord Jesus Christ receives (objective).

(2) “The love of God” is clearly the same. It is the love we receive from God (subjective), not the love we give to God (objective). This follows by the pattern set in the first clause, but also from the last statement, “be with you all.” The context deals with what we receive, not give.

(3) “The fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” Following the above examples, it is more likely that the third genitive (tou @agiou pneumatos) is also subjective (“the fellowship engendered by the Holy Spirit”; cf. Eph 4:3) than that it is objective (“participation in the Holy Spirit”).9

Philippians 2:1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,

This passage likewise consists of three clauses, one with “in,” and two with “of.” Again we have a similar parallel. “Encouragement in Christ” is an encouragement which comes from being in Christ. “Consolation of love” is a consolation which comes from love. So likewise, “fellowship of the Spirit” is a fellowship which the Spirit gives.

All aspects of fellowship are dependent upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Before salvation, fellowship with God in the sense of relationship (union) depends on His pre-salvation work, the conviction of truth, followed by His work of regeneration and baptizing accompanied by the Spirit’s indwelling as a gift of the Father and the Son (John 16:8f; 2 Thess. 2:13; Tit. 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:12,13). After salvation the experience of fellowship in communion with God depends on the filling of the Spirit. Carnal Christians cannot have true fellowship either with God or with one another. They simply will not be functioning as partners, companions, and stewards. About the best they can have is a compatibility of human friendship, or backgrounds, or of likes and dislikes, but true fellowship engendered by the Spirit will certainly be hampered because carnality grieves and quenches the Spirit. In a question designed to show how Israel’s sin had hampered their fellowship with the Lord and ability to function as God’s people according to His purpose for the nation, Amos asked, “Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment (an agreement)?” (Amos 3:3).

Fellowship in the Gospel

Acts 2:42 And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Central to these believers’ fellowship was the teaching of the apostles. Being devoted to our relationship, partnership, companionship, and stewardship depends on our devotion to Scripture.

Philippians 1:5 “in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” This partnership for all the churches of Macedonia as with the Thessalonians began with hearing and receiving the Word (cf. 1 Thess. 2:13).

1 John 1:1-3 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

The coming of the Son and the proclamation of His Word was not an end in itself, its purpose was fellowship. Fellowship in all its aspects comes from the proclamation of the Word of Christ. True fellowship must have its foundation in the Word and it must get its energy, direction, and scope from the Scriptures. This is central, but unfortunately in our day of the “feel good” kind of Christianity other things have become central and the Bible has been given a back seat.

A passage that is pertinent here is 1 Corinthians 1:10-2:5. These verses deal with the division brought about by the variance of men’s opinions concerning personalities and forms and emphasis in worship as it pertained to such things as baptism and its importance, and the use and function of showy gifts like tongues. What the Corinthians were emphasizing in their meetings was undercutting the ministry of the Word which proclaimed the sufficiency of Christ, a wisdom certainly not of this world. Furthermore, because they had failed to grasp the very heart of the gospel, their fellowship with Christ, they were cliquish and snubbing the poorer saints when the church came together (11:17-34). So, Paul sought to demonstrate that what men need is the wisdom of God’s Word and its message of Christ. This is the basis of fellowship, not forms of worship or showy gifts.

So we should also note the preceding context, 1:9, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” As we have seen, fellowship has as its fundamental meaning the concept of having a share in, partnership, having a common share. All believers share in common the life of Christ positionally and experientially. Consequently, they also share with one another in Christ’s enterprise on earth. This is the hinge upon which Paul attacks the party spirit in the verses that follow.

Companionship:
The Method of Fellowship

Fellowship With God: the Vertical Dimension

Companionship, as suggested previously, involves communion or communication, interchange, intimacy, sharing and receiving. If there is going to be fellowship with God, we must first draw on the Lord’s resources as we listen to Him in His Word, as we allow the Spirit of God to talk to us through Scripture and through the various providential events of life (trials, blessings, etc.) and through the lives of others around us. We need to be open to Him, receptive, teachable. In our communion with the Lord, we need to listen to His voice and respond in obedience.

Note this emphasis in these words from the Psalms and Proverbs:

Psalm 78:1 Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 81:8 Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you; O Israel, if you would listen to Me! … 11 But My people did not listen to My voice; And Israel did not obey Me. …13 Oh that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways!

Psalm 106:25 But grumbled in their tents; They did not listen to the voice of the LORD.

Proverbs 8:32 Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, For blessed are they who keep my ways. 33 Heed instruction and be wise, And do not neglect {it}. 34 Blessed is the man who listens to me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at my doorposts.

In communion, we also talk to God in prayer and pour out our needs and burdens to Him as is seen, for instance, in the Psalms.

Psalm 4:1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! Thou hast relieved me in my distress; Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.

Psalm 34:15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry.

Psalm 39:12 Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; For I am a stranger with Thee, A sojourner like all my fathers.

Psalm 54:2 Hear my prayer, O God; Give ear to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 84:8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob!

Psalm 102:1 A Prayer of the Afflicted, when he is faint, and pours out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD! And let my cry for help come to Thee.

Psalm 143:1 A Psalm of David. Hear my prayer, O LORD, Give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Thy faithfulness, in Thy righteousness!

In communion we give as we make our requests to Lord and we receive as we listen and He answers and directs our paths.

But this is only part of the communion or fellowship aspect of our relationship with God. There is another aspect as seen in some of the verses quoted above and in a number of verses in the New Testament on fellowship. This actually involves a result, but nevertheless, a vital part of communion or fellowship. It is the aspect of loving obedience. Obedience becomes one of the proofs of our communion and fellowship with the Lord. Listen to these words of our Lord.

John 14:23, Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.’

“Abode” is monh, the noun form of menw, “to abide, remain, live with.” In essence the Lord said, we will come and make our ‘abiding place’ with him. In the upper room the Lord taught the disciples, and as such He teaches us, that obedience to his commands would bring with it the continued experience of His Father and Himself in deep communion with one another. Now, this is not to be understood as a condition by which we merit fellowship by the good deeds of obedience. He had just finished discussing the promise of the Holy Spirit whom He called the Helper, the Enabler, the One given to us to enable us to live obediently and victoriously through the process of fellowship (cf. John 14:16-17). Failure to walk obediently hinders fellowship without deep seated confession. As we saw in Amos 3:3, two can’t walk together unless they be agreed.

Scripture gives us a number of illustrations of fellowship and communion. I want to share three.

Illustrations of the Vertical Dimension of Fellowship

    Abiding in the Vine

The first illustration of communion or of maintaining a right relationship with the Lord in the sense of fellowship is that of the vine in John 15. In essence this forms a discourse on fellowship in the key relationships of life. In this passage we see three areas of relationships: (a) the relationship of believers to Jesus (vss. 1-11); (b) the relationship of believers to each other (vss. 12-17); and (c) the relationship of believers to the world (vss. 18-27).

The first thing this passage demonstrates is the concept of priorities. The most important of all relationships which must be maintained is our relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the foundation and source of all our other relationships and our capacity for fellowship. To enforce this truth, the Lord used the analogy of the vine and the branches, one not unfamiliar to the disciples because of their culture.

The passage stresses:

    The Right Stock

    Verse 1

    “I am the true vine”

    The Right Vinedresser

    Verse 1

    “My Father is the husbandman”

    The Right Cultivation

    Verses 2, 6

    “He prunes”

    The Right Connection

    Verses 4

    “Abide in me, and I in you”

    The Right Fruitage

    Verses 5, 8

    “That you bear much fruit”

While God has provided everything we need for fellowship in all its aspects, we must appropriate that fellowship by abiding in Christ. We must exercise our volition to act on our new life in Christ.

There are four ways people seek to have fellowship and try to live the Christian life.

(1) By their own ability, effort, and will power. But Christ said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). While we have a responsibility to appropriate our new life in the Lord, while diligence on our part is called for (1 Tim. 4:7), the fact remains that in and of ourselves we are totally incapable.

(2) Do nothing at all, just let go and let God. But the Lord said, “abide in the vine” (John 15:4). This means we have the responsibility to abide, to depend on Him, to do the things abiding requires. Note the emphasis of Scripture:

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Philippians 2:12-13 … work out (appropriate, put to work) your salvation with fear and trembling,

1 Timothy 4:7b … Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.

2 Peter 1:5 Now for this very reason also (the reason of God’s abundant supply of everything we need for life and godliness), applying (bringing alongside of God’s grace) all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence …

(3) The partial approach (“Lord, help me to do it”). In this approach, “there is the assumption—unconsciously perhaps, but still very real—that there is a certain reservoir of goodness, wisdom, and spiritual strength within my own character that I should draw on for the ordinary duties of life, but that beyond that, I need the Lord’s help.”10

(4) The abiding approach (John 15). This is the approach that results in and describes true fellowship. The relationship that believers are to have with the Lord is illustrated in the visual image of the vine/branch analogy.

The vine/branch analogy does not in any way illustrate the picture of salvation. Rather, the text and context suggests that it is related to the discipleship relationship, the relationship of those who are believers in Christ. Only the disciples are present and Christ is talking directly to them about their relationship to Him and their responsibility of fruitfulness. Judas had already departed to do his dirty work. Further, the Lord’s final words about this vine/branch relationship are related to fruitfulness and discipleship (cf. vs. 8, “and so prove to be My disciples,” i.e., become what disciples ought to be).

The subject of the passage is the vine/branch relationship for the purpose of maximum fruitfulness for the glory of God. Our Lord is showing the need for maintaining a proper connection with Him for fruitfulness: from fruit to more fruit to much fruit so that God is glorified in the believer’s life. The means of this fruitfulness is the work of the Vinedresser (vs. 2). Abiding is the duty of the branches (vss. 3-5, 7), but it is also promoted by God’s loving discipline (cf. vs. 6 with Heb. 12:5-11).

In John’s writings, the phrase “in Me” (used in some 24 verses) refers not to a common essence or organic connection as the phrase “in Christ” does in the writings of Paul, i.e., position. Instead, it refers to fellowship, to a commonality of purpose and commitment. Because of this, a branch “in Me” is not a branch organically connected to Him as a literal branch is organically connected to a vine. Instead, it pictures a branch that is deriving its sustenance from a literal vine by which it is able to bear fruit.

The analogy of the vine and the branches depicts a relationship that mature and growing Christians sustain with Christ because of remaining in close fellowship to him, rather than a relationship that all Christians have because of salvation (Pauline theology). Fellowship rather than organic union or spiritual position is the picture. To be “in Me” means to be in fellowship, living obediently through having communion with the Lord, and this is evident from the command “abide in me.”

The Greek word for “abide” is menw which means “to stay in a sphere, to stand against opposition, to endure, to hold fast.”11 It means to continue in a place and, when a place is involved, it can be close to the idea of living in that place or sphere.

“The word ‘abide’ which occurs ten times in the passage, means the maintenance of an unbroken connection rather than repose, and bespeaks the necessity of a constant active relationship between the believer and his Lord, if the resultant life is to be productive.”12

It means to remain in fellowship. It involves renouncing all confidence in our own merit, wisdom, and strength. It means we look entirely to Christ as the source of our merit, wisdom, and strength.

To abide in Christ is, on the one hand, to have no known sin unjudged and unconfessed, no interest into which He is not brought, no life which He cannot share. On the other hand, the abiding one takes all burdens to Him, and draws all wisdom, life, and strength from Him. It is not unceasing consciousness of these things, and of Him, but that nothing is allowed in the life which separates from Him.13

When we do not abide we lose our fellowship with the Lord, we are severed from fellowship with the vine. Because of John’s use of the term, it has nothing to do with salvation. It means we are no longer drawing upon His life as the means of our sustenance and fruitfulness. If we continue in this state, we come under the discipline of the Lord (vs. 6). But how are we to understand this verse? The statement of verse 6 has caused needless perplexity. Hodges writes:

The main reason for that is the strong impulse many readers have to identify the reference to fire with hell. But this is an unjustified interpretive leap. There is no reason at all to think of the fire as literal, just as we are not dealing with a literal vine, literal branches, or literal fruit. “Fire” here is simply another figurative element in the horticultural metaphor.

What happened, therefore, in vineyards all over Palestine, could happen to the disciples as well. If they failed to “abide” in Jesus, they would be separated from their experience of fellowship with Him: they would be “cast out as [or, like] a branch.” Intimate contact with the True Vine would be lost. But more, this loss of vital communion with the True Vine would result in the “drying up” of their spiritual experience: they would be “withered.” And finally, they would be cast into the “fire” of trial and divine chastisement: “they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”14

    Dining With Christ

Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.

“The words of Jesus spoken to the Laodicean Christians were clearly a call to personal fellowship with Himself. In the ancient Middle East, sharing one’s table with others was a fundamental and basic way of having communion with them. It was the very essence of hospitality and a signal of personal acceptance.”15

Our Lord is addressing a Christian church here and, while there may have been some professing Christians there, the passage is addressed to the church as a whole. He is talking to believers who had become spiritually destitute, who were materially rich, but spiritually poor in their spiritual independence and failure to have real fellowship with the Lord. It was a lukewarm congregation. Though they had works, they were like lukewarm water that the Lord said he would vomit out of His mouth to show His displeasure with their spiritual condition.

    Walking in the Light

1 John 1:5-9 And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Amos 3:3 Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment (have agreed)?

As these passage show, another picture of communion or personal fellowship with the Lord is that of walking in the light. Walking in the light means to walk in an open, honest-to-God fashion, so one is open to what His light reveals with a willingness to confess and deal with sin and apathy and self-dependent ways.

Quite clearly John teaches us that regardless of our verbal claims or our religious actions, if we are not walking in the light, honestly dealing with our attitudes and actions in the light of the Word through confession and the filling of the Spirit, we are not having true fellowship. Without God’s means, we can’t have fellowship with the Lord or with one another. As seen in these illustrations, fellowship with God means we are walking with God, dining with Him, abiding in the Vine, but this is done through the control and in the energy of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16; Phil. 3:1-3).

Known sin grieves the Spirit’s person (Eph. 4:30) and quenches His power; it short circuits His ministries in one’s life and hampers one’s capacity for true fellowship (1 Thess. 5:19, cf. Amos 3:3 and Isa. 59:1-2 with 1 John 1:5-9). This results in carnality, the control of the flesh rather than the Spirit (1 Cor. 3:3; Rom. 8:2-4). This means we are operating by our resources, using the weapons of the flesh (2 Cor. 10:3) not God’s (Eph. 6:10f; Phil. 3:3). As a result, we become controlled by our desires, our opinions, by our wisdom, by our own methods for meeting our needs, by our everything.

We can all appear to be having fellowship when we go through the motions of churchianity. We can appear to be in fellowship by our presence in a worship service, by our involvement in various religious activities, or when we find those who happen to agree with our viewpoint, but if the Holy Spirit is not in control, if we are not abiding, if we are not walking in obedience, then, there is no fellowship. This is why differences among carnal people cause divisions, rather than growth and the sharpening of character (Prov. 27:17).

Fellowship With Christians: the Horizontal Dimension

    The Basic Principle

God has created us to be dependent people—dependent on Him and on one another. His judgment in Genesis 2:18, “it is not good for the man to be alone,” is a principle that speaks not only to marriage, but to all of life and especially to the spiritual fellowship of all believers. Marriage is a miniature cosmos of relationships which forms the foundation and soil for other relationships of community life.

No man is an island. None of us has the ability to go it alone. We need the communion or companionship of one another. Spiritual fellowship both on the vertical and horizontal planes are absolute necessities. They are not options nor are they luxuries we can do without. J. I. Packer has an important insight about fellowship on the horizontal plane:

We should not … think of our fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an optional addition to the exercises of private devotion. We should recognize rather that such fellowship is a spiritual necessity; for God has made us in such a way that our fellowship with himself is fed by our fellowship with fellow-Christians, and requires to be so fed constantly for its own deepening and enrichment.16

    The Basic Problem

But this is not easy for us to grasp particularly in our country today because of the negative impact society has had on traditional American culture and the church. Believers are supposed to be a people who avoid conformity to the world by the habitual renewal of their minds in the Word. But society always influences believers to some degree as we see so clearly in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. And to the degree this happens, we obscure the teachings of the Word or eclipse the light of the Word of God on our lives.

The church is allowing our culture to eclipse the light of Scripture. We are being affected by a number of the forces of this world’s darkness which, as a part of the New-age Movement and Satan’s strategies for the last days, are moving us into a kind of neo-paganism. Three of these forces have definite negative affects on fellowship.

The first force is relativism. Relativism maintains there are no absolutes of truth, of good and evil, or of values and priorities. It is just as Isaiah warned Israel:

Isaiah 5:20-21: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And clever in their own sight!

Peterson writes, in a recent copy of Discipleship Journal, “It is not in style to say, ‘This is truth,’ ‘That is sin,’ or ‘It is wrong.’”17 It all simply becomes a matter of one person’s opinion over another’s.

The second force is privatization. Describing this force, Peterson says:

The second force, privatization, accommodates relativism. It says, ‘What I believe and do is my private business. Since it doesn’t really matter if you believe in God and I believe in Mother earth (pantheism, another influence), let’s agree to keep our beliefs to ourselves.’ The church is no longer able to function as a public conscience; its role has been reduced to serving the private spheres of its members. (emphasis mine)

But the problem is further aggravated by the fact that this influence has even influenced the private life of the church and its fellowship as outlined in the New Testament. Believers too often don’t want to be involved in the lives of others and they especially don’t want anyone getting too close to them.

The third force is individualism.

When the third force, individualism—which is at the very core of American culture—is mixed with relativism and privatization, the cocktail becomes deadly. A way of life emerges in which self is at the center. The all-consuming pursuit of self-fulfillment that characterizes this brand of individualism inevitably leaves wreckage in its wake.18 (emphasis mine)

As Christians, we may realize the Word is our authority, at least intellectually, but many do not live with it as their authority. Tradition, personal aspirations, expedience, personal preference, and other forces too often eclipse the authority of Scripture. We allow the viewpoint of our culture to invade and take control of our lives and actions. This is not to suggest there is no place for privacy and individualism in the Christian life. We are each believer priests with the privilege of going directly into God’s presence in prayer and we are warned against being busy bodies (1 Thess. 4:9-11; 2 Thess. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13).

The Bible does not stamp out all aspects of individualism. It teaches we are each individual people with gifts and talents given to us by God for His glory, but these gifts are for the blessing, encouragement, help, and edification of the body of Christ. We are members of the body who need each other and who have specific responsibilities to each other. It is the Bible that guides us in the how and what of these responsibilities.

The Word does provide for privacy and warns against becoming busybodies, but this does not eliminate the need for intimacy in the body of Christ, dependence on the body, and the ‘one another’ commands of Scripture. It does not in any way eliminate our need to be responsible to and for the body of Christ. The problem is, because of culture and nature, we are prone to be so caught up in our own individual pursuits and concerns, that we have no time or concern for others—especially the body of Christ.

Because of these cultural influences and our natural tendencies to take the spirit of individualism and privatization to the extreme, let’s consider the scriptural foundation for the horizontal aspect of fellowship to further stress its importance.

Scriptural Foundations for
Fellowship on the Horizontal Plane

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.

This passage shows how man, through his natural limitations, needs the help of others. Bridges writes:

Solomon intended more than simply a literal application of these truths to physical situations. In his rather picturesque way, he was emphasizing the importance of fellowship. Two are better than one, first because of the synergistic effect; Two together can produce more than each of them working alone … two people together can help each other up when they fall or even when they are in danger of falling. One of the many advantages of fellowship is the mutual admonishing or encouraging of one another in the face of a temptation or an attack of Satan.19

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.

This passage shows us how our relationship and contacts with one another stimulate and sharpen us in our walk with God and life in general. We are able to grow and be sharpened and aided by the insights, gifts, and God’s workings in the lives of others.

1 Corinthians 12:12-18 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

These verses emphasize the fact we are members of the body of Christ and, as these verses show, this necessitates our fellowship.

Ephesians 4:11-16 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

This passage stresses the importance of every believer working and serving in the fellowship of the body.

Romans 1:12 … that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.

This verse shows how our mutual faith, through God’s working in each of our lives, becomes an important ingredient to our mutual encouragement.

I Thessalonians 5:11-12 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing. 12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,

Here we see how the deceitfulness of sin and temptations of life necessitates our fellowship together, not only in the worship service but in more intimate ways. Compare also Hebrews 3:13 and 10:22-25 for this same emphasis.

Malachi 3:16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name.

“Those who feared the Lord” were those who had not been wrongly influenced by their society and who had not given way to doubts and the cynicism of the rest of the nation. Various translations of this text are, “spoke to one another” (NASB), “talked with each other” (NIV), “talked often one to another” (Amplified), “spoke often one to another” (KJV). The Hebrew has the imperfect tense of continual action or frequent action.

In the face of the widespread complaining against God and the apostasy of the day, a remnant sought encouragement and strength in frequent fellowship. It is obvious that this fellowship is what promoted their faithfulness against the widespread complaining. This fellowship then, along with their faithfulness, was so important to God that a scroll of remembrance of their response was written and is kept in heaven.

Stewardship:
The Overflow of Fellowship

Persecution of the believers in Jerusalem, which had led to extreme conditions of poverty, caused the Apostle Paul to encourage the church, especially Gentile assemblies, to give to their need. This would not only demonstrate the oneness of Jew and Gentile in Christ, but gave the body of Christ to share with others in the body as partners Christ’s enterprise on earth. In writing to the Corinthian church to be a part of this ministry, the Apostle Paul used the Macedonian believers as an example. Regarding their giving Paul wrote:

2 Corinthians 8:1-12. And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 3 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. (Italics mine)

It is important for us note how Paul described their desire to give. He not only spoke of their giving in terms of their rich generosity, but he described it as a sharing (koinwnia). In other words, their giving was as an aspect of koinwnia. Giving, the steward of our material blessings, is also a part of our fellowship, our sharing in the work of the Savior as we experience His life, His values and priorities in our own lives through our fellowship with Him. As pointed out previously, one of the prominent uses of the koinwnia group of words is its use in connection with sharing material blessings—giving money to meet financial needs. For instance, even a casual look at the context shows that giving is meant in the following passages: koinwneo (Rom. 12:13; 15:27; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:15); koinwnia (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:13; Heb. 13:16); koinwnikos (1 Tim. 6:18). Even the metcos group of words is brought into the picture in 1 Corinthians 9:10 which uses metecw in a context of giving to aid in the ministry of the gospel.

As believers in partnership with the Savior, we are not owners, but stewards of the things God has given us which includes not only our talents (spiritual gifts), our temple (our body), our time, and God’s truth, but also the treasures, the material blessings God gives us.

Since it is outside of the scope of this study to cover the area of biblical giving, see the study called, Financial Faithfulness, on our web site under the section, “Spiritual Life.”

Conclusion

Fellowship in the body of Christ is certainly no side issue. It was one of the four things the early church devoted itself to, and from this brief study, we can see why. It is a means of support and encouragement to others and of ministry in the Savior’s enterprise on earth.

We have seen four words (relationship, partnership, companionship, and stewardship)20 that describe the general emphasis of this New Testament concept, but how does this carry over into specifics? How do we have the kind of fellowship that encourages, edifies (builds) and serves one another? How do we find the strength, the wisdom, and the courage to have true fellowship?

At least part of the answer comes through obedience to the many ‘one another’ commands of the New Testament. Over and over again, we are exhorted in various ways to be involved with and caring for one another. For instance, we are told to admonish one another (Rom. 15:14), to comfort and encourage one another (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 3:13), to worship with one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 10:25), to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), to always seek the good of one another (1 Thess. 5:15), to be honest with one another (Col. 3:9), to show hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9), and to be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50). There are many others, some fifteen categories in all, but this illustrates the point.

The expression ‘one another’ is a translation of a reciprocal pronoun in the Greek New Testament. Reciprocal means mutual, shared, shown or felt alike by both sides, united in feelings, actions, responsibilities, and attitudes. Synonyms include: common, mutual, fellowship, and shared—ideas that are at the heart of the doctrine of fellowship. In usage, this pronoun is used in statements and injunctions to believers regarding shared and mutual responsibilities. In emphasis, it focuses us on our need of the ministry and aid of others, of our duty to care for others as partners in the body of Christ, and of how we can experience true fellowship. Therefore, a study of the ‘one another’ commands of Scripture would be tremendously helpful in the matter of New Testament fellowship. For a detailed study of the doctrine, see the study on the “One Another” Commands of Scripture..

The Psalmist wrote: “Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; No one cares for my soul” (Ps. 142:4).

A poet has written:

    Loneliness is like a piano without keys,
    Like a violin without strings.
    Like a sanctuary without a congregation
    Or a choir where no one sings.

    Loneliness is like a blade of grass
    Growing through a crack of cement.
    Loneliness is like a camp ground
    Without a single tent.

    Loneliness is like a mocking bird
    That cannot sing a song.
    Loneliness is a feeling
    That one does not belong.

    Like a pansy in a corn field
    Hidden where no one can see.
    I know all there is to know about loneliness
    Because it lives inside of me.21


1 Bible Illustrations, Parsons Technology, 1990-94, electronic media.

2 Jerry Bridges, True Fellowship, Navpress, Colorado Springs, 1985, p. 18.

3 Ibid.

4 Parsons Technology, electronic media.

5 Bridges, p. 22.

6 Ibid.

7 Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Vol. II, edited by Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1980, p. 800.

8 Bridges, p. 26.

9 The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Vol. 11, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 406.

10 Bridges, pp. 36-37.

11 The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume, Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, editors, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1985, electronic media.

12 Merrill C. Tenney, John, The Gospel of Belief, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1948, p. 228.

13 The Scofield Reference Bible, Oxford University Press, London, 1967, p. 1148.

14 Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, Academie Books, Grand Rapids, 1989, p. 137.

15 Hodges, p. 131.

16 Bridges, pp. 76-77, quoting J. I. Packer, God's Words, p. 193.

17 Jim Peterson, Disciple Journal, issue fifty-five, 1990, p. 12.

18 Peterson, p. 12.

19 Bridges, p. 77.

20 For an overview of the concept of financial stewardship see the study Financial Faithfulness on the Biblical Studies Foundation web site.

21 Parsons electronic media.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life, Fellowship