Poor communication has been the plague of mankind ever since the tower of Babel. Such statements as the following reveal that we face problems when trying to communicate to one another: “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
We can sometimes be misunderstood because of mispronunciations as when Howard Hendrick’s child told a friend that his father taught in a “cemetery.” Sometimes sound-alike phrases are misunderstood as with the child in a Christian school who was asked to draw a picture depicting the hymn “Gladly the Cross I’d Bear” and instead drew a picture of Gladly, the cross-eyed bear. But if we have problems understanding the concepts of each other, that is nothing compared to the problems we encounter understanding the concepts of God, for His thoughts are not our thoughts, they are foreign to us.
Now, God has given us His thoughts in the Bible and explained them carefully, but as time has passed, they have become “greek to us” and we have warped His thoughts and reverted to our own practices concerning His word. One such concept that has been especially warped in its biblical meaning is the concept of Christian fellowship. Today, churches have fellowship halls, fellowship dinners, and fellowship retreats, but very few have real fellowship. Yet for a church that seeks to be guided in principle and practice by the New Testament, fellowship is very important.
This morning, I hope each of you will learn that biblical fellowship is God’s method for the outworking of His will through the church. In order for you to understand this, we will have to discover first, what true fellowship really is, second, why fellowship is important in a New Testament church, and finally, how each one of us can practice fellowship here at Community Bible Chapel.
As we go back into history and dig deep into the original languages of the Bible, we will discover seven significant facts that help us to understand God’s intended meaning of the word, fellowship.
The first fact concerns the meaning of the Greek root. Our English word, “fellowship” is the translation of the Greek word, “koinonia.” This Greek word is derived from the root, “koinos,” which was a prefix in ancient Greek. If you were to add this prefix to words meaning “living,” “owning a purse,” “a dispute,” and “mother,” you would get words meaning “living in community together,” “owning a purse in common,” “a public dispute,” and “having a mother in common.” So we see that the root of the word, “fellowship,” means “to hold something in common.”
Our second fact relates to the usage of the word, “fellowship.” The Greek word, “koinonia,” was used to describe corporations, labor guilds, partners in a law firm, and the most intimate of marriage relationships. From the usage of the word, we can conclude that fellowship is a word denoting a relationship that is dependent on more than one individual. It is an interdependent relationship.
A third fact is that “fellowship” was never used to describe man’s relationship to God before the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell the church. It is an exclusively post-pentecost relationship.
A fourth fact about the meaning of “fellowship” can be gleaned by comparing it to its New Testament synonyms. These are words which have overlapping but not the identical meaning of koinonia. The four synonyms of koinonia in the New Testament are philos, which means “related by love for outward characteristics”; hetairos, meaning a sharer in a common enterprise; sunergos, meaning a fellow-worker; and metochos, a participant. Each of these words denotes a unity which is expressed outwardly. This is true of fellowship but by contrast, fellowship is also an inner unity. This inner aspect of fellowship may be seen in verses such as 1 Corinthians 1:9:
God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here, fellowship primarily focuses on our spiritual unity with Christ, an inner relationship. I suspect that Philemon.6, 2 Corinthians 13:14 and Philippians 2:1 also emphasize the inner relationship which is at the root of fellowship.
Fifth, however, we must note that fellowship does not stop with being an inner unity for it is primarily an action word! Koinonia is used nineteen times in the New Testament and in addition to being translated as “fellowship” it is also translated by the words, “contribution,” “sharing,” and “participation.” A close study of the usage of this word shows that action is always included in its meaning. Fellowship, you see, is not just being together, it is doing together! This is a point almost universally ignored by Christian groups today.
Our sixth observation concerning the meaning of “fellowship” is that it is a unique relationship with Christ. We have a relationship of being “in Christ.” We also have a relationship of being “a part of Christ’s body.” Fellowship is neither. It is not “being in” or “being part” but it is “doing with” Christ. It is our partnership with Christ in fulfilling God’s will.
Our final observation may be gleaned from the last and it is this: that fellowship is not just doing anything together. It is only doing God’s will together. Quite obviously, our fellowship with others is only as good as our fellowship with Christ, our unity. And we can only participate with Him in doing God’s will, for that is all He ever does! For this reason we must quit thinking of Christian fellowship as primarily doing things such as having pot luck dinners or watching football or playing basketball with other believers. These have their place but they are only fellowship to the extent that rest, exercise, and eating are doing the work of the Lord. Fellowship involves actively doing God’s will. The things we usually think of as fellowship are certainly not the primary meaning of the word!
Now, with these seven observations, we should be able to give a biblical definition to the word, “fellowship.” We can say that: “Fellowship is a relationship of inner unity among believers that expresses itself in outer co-participation with Christ and one another in accomplishing God’s will on earth.”
So, we have seen that fellowship in its New Testament sense is an inner unity expressed outwardly. It is not just being together but doing together. It is not just doing anything together but it is working together to accomplish God’s will. Now we must ask, “Why is it so important to the church?” I think we shall see as we continue that:
1. The importance of fellowship to the church can be seen first in the fact that fellowship occurred naturally as a result of the establishment of the church.
Nobody had to come to the disciples and other new believers on the day of Pentecost and say, “You need to practice fellowship.” The Holy Spirit had come upon these people and formed an inner unity and their natural inclination was to exercise it outwardly. Acts 2:44-47 says this.
And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This working together to accomplish God’s will continued in the church with the practice of a multiplicity of leadership, diversification of activities, giving to the needy, exercise of different spiritual gifts, support of missionaries, calls to different mission fields, corporate prayer, group worship, and in other ways.
But the importance of fellowship to the church does not rest solely upon the fact that it was the natural result of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Rather, its primary importance stems from the fact that:
2. Fellowship is the indispensable means of accomplishing the God-given purpose of the church.
Let’s read together Ephesians 3:8-11.
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, …
We see in this passage that God has an eternal plan. The church has a part in accomplishing that plan. The phrase “through the church” in vs. 10 shows that the church is to be God’s instrument in accomplishing His plan. The purpose of the church as stated in vs. 10 is to show to the world the manifold or in Greek, the many-faceted wisdom of God. So then, the purpose of the church is to hold God up to the world and display every glorious aspect of His being for all to see.
What is important to see here is that no individual working alone could ever fulfill this plan of showing every perfection of God for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So you see, the very nature of God’s plan necessitates the Godly capacities of many individuals added together to show His perfections to the world. You might say that God’s plan must be compared not to a solo but to a symphony. Its beauty is impossible to capture in one note no matter how loud. Only by a full orchestra playing together can the beautiful harmony be fully captured. And this is what the Church is, God’s orchestra! In order to fully manifest God, each person must not only play his part but must play it together. So in God’s symphony—His plan, the score is the Bible which reveals His Son, Jesus Christ. The instruments are our spiritual gifts and natural abilities. And the indispensable means we use to perform is fellowship, our co-participation in accomplishing His purpose. It is only as we work together in this way that it is possible to accomplish God’s plan. This is why fellowship is indispensable to the church.
Of course, some people try to do it all themselves. The movie, “Beau Gueste” is an example of the way some churches function. In the movie, the Arabs are attacking a foreign legion outpost. There are only four legionnaires left alive in the post. But they want the enemy to think they have lots of strength so they propped up the dead bodies of their comrades in the turrets and the four men ran around the walls shooting the dead men’s guns for them. This is the plan of many churches today. They hire a large staff of clergy to prop up the spiritually dead and fire their guns for them. But this will never accomplish God’s plan.
There is another group of people who are church-hoppers and non-participants. They think the church can make it without them. However, 1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that every single member of the body is necessary for its proper functioning. Because of the importance of fellowship, no one has the right to amputate themselves from the functioning body of Christ, the local church.
So, then, we see that the practice of fellowship, the outward exercise of our inner unity in doing God’s will, is not only natural but indispensable in accomplishing God’s purpose for the church. How, then, can we practice fellowship?
You can practice Fellowship by recognizing our goal and taking an active part where you can best help.
People must recognize our goal. People often do not take part in a church because they see no clear purpose. As previously discussed, our purpose is to show God’s glory to the world in all the many ways He has instructed us in the Bible. We participate together seven days a week to glorify God, to do it His way, and to do it together.
You can practice fellowship by taking an active part where you can best help with this goal. You can discover where you can best help by recognizing your spiritual gifts and natural abilities and by knowing the needs of our church. Then help where you can make not just yourself, but the church as a whole, to be the most fruitful. If you do not know your spiritual gift, pitch in where you have a natural ability. As you work with others, your gifts will surface and you’ll find places you might function in our church according to your gifts and abilities.
When I was in junior high, I had a pastor who had spent a summer on a pipeline crew. The first day, he was given a shovel and a piece of ground and told to dig six feet deep and three feet wide. By noon, he had dug down over his head and felt all alone at his work. By the middle of the afternoon he was pretty discouraged as he thought of the miles of line still to be dug. Finally, however, about five o’clock, he broke through into the trench the man in front of him was digging. As he cleared away the loose dirt, this man broke through into the next hole, and as they stood and watched, man after man broke through until several hundred feet of ditch was visible and my pastor felt quite a sense of accomplishment.
This is the way fellowship will affect us if we get in and dig together. With the unity of the Holy Spirit and a divine purpose, we must all put our shoulders to the plow until God’s plan is complete.
So let’s pull together. Let everyone practice fellowship as naturally as did those on the day of Pentecost that the many-faceted wisdom of God might be made known through this church.