It is a fact that the good is often the enemy of the best.
One of the fetishes of the emerging church movement is to replace "church
words" with friendlier versions which supposedly appeal to the general
population a great deal more. One such change is from the word
"fellowship" to "community." I submit that the word
community is a weaker word than fellowship; but it is also a more politically
correct word. In what follows we will assume that the word fellowship may be
substituted for community in referencing the Scriptures.
Interestingly, it appears that this virtue is now also a
replacement for evangelism. The paradigm seems to be that if we go out into the
community and do "random acts of kindness" the community will
recognize this and flock to our church. There is something to be said for this;
at the very least something is working as attendance is going up. The danger,
of course, is that the new Christians will view the church somewhat as a social
club and not as salvation. I leave this problem to the reader; fellowship will
be tough enough for this lesson.
Old Testament Lessons
Fellowship is a word found frequently in the Old Testament,
particularly in the Levitical law. We may take some lessons from this.
A Counter Example: the Nazirite
The history of the church includes a great many examples of
Saints who have been hermits — or people who wished to be left alone, without
human fellowship. Most of us are not cut out for this life. The Old Testament
specifies a set of requirements for such a person, the Nazirite. In particular:
The Nazirite was not allowed to share in the grieving over his
own father or mother. He was forbidden to touch their bodies, as this would
make him unclean. He was to remain aloof and alone.
Not only was he forbidden to share in the grief, he was forbidden
to share in joy as well. He was not allowed to drink wine, or for that matter
anything which came from the grapevine. He could not party with the rest of the
As a sign of this, he was to shave his head. This let everyone
know that he was a Nazirite. It enforced his separation from society.
The contrast to the Nazirite is found in fellowship
offerings. These were offerings you shared with the priest and your neighbors
in celebration of something good would happen to you. Today we might
think of the birth of a grandchild as being such an example — something to
celebrate, something to thank God for, but no particular requirement in the law
to do so. Fellowship offerings were a time of joy. They have some interesting
While it was required to be ceremonially clean, the bread could
be made with yeast — usually the symbol for sin. Since there is no sense of
atonement in this offering, yeast would be okay. In addition, you offered wine
as well. When the priest had taken his share, the remainder would be ready for
One interesting fact is that you were not allowed to keep this
offering around for more than 48 hours. You had to eat it today or tomorrow. So
if you made such an offering, the party was on. This also expressed her
confidence that God would continue to provide.
If you will see the man who knew fellowship to its limits,
think of King David. He had a very tight fellowship with his warriors. It's not
surprising; he was in the desert fleeing from Saul and attracted to himself all
sorts of people who were in trouble themselves. They became a band of brothers,
as Nelson would've put it. Reading through the Psalms you can get this sense of
The strongest of these relationships was with Saul's own
son, Jonathan. The two of them became greater than brothers to each other. You
can see this in David's mourning for Jonathan.
This also sheds light on David's great sin — Bathsheba. You
might recall that her husband was a fellow named Uriah the Hittite. What you
might not know is that the Bible lists him as one of the members of the band of
30, close to David. To obtain his wife, David deceived and killed a man who was
in close fellowship with him. The heart of man is desperately wicked, who can
Fellowship in the New Testament
We may now examine how the New Testament handles fellowship.
We begin with the first example given to us in the book of Acts, the early
The Early Church
The early church is simply described here:
Acts 2:42 NASB
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Permit me to point out the active verb in that passage:
devoting. This is something done with passion. It points out for us one salient
fact: the early church was a balanced affair. There are those who say we should
devote ourselves strictly to good works, that doctrine and prayer mean nothing.
Both the internal and external sides are covered here; the church is in
fellowship, sharing its worldly goods with one another, but also teaching and
Indeed, Paul tells us in Galatians that he was extended the
right hand of fellowship. Apparently the early church considered fellowship
something formal; somewhat akin to membership in a club today. To be in
fellowship therefore carried certain responsibilities. We can see this in some
of the regulations for the early church.
Church — One Body
It is fruitful to examine how the early church conducted its
business in fellowship:
Recall the steps of church discipline. The individual who first
sees the need must go to that brother personally — just as you would if you
were in true fellowship with him. Following that, if necessary, it would be two
or three brothers; then the whole church. This is a process designed to keep
people in fellowship.
Paul also tells us that we are to settle our own disputes. Is a
sad comment on the church today that we sue each other in civil courts. Is it
not much more in keeping with Christian fellowship that we settle these matters
Perhaps the greatest instance of this is in Romans 14. Here we
have the treatise concerning the weaker brother, and how those of us who are
strong spiritually are to protect him. We give up our liberties so that the
weaker brother does not give up his salvation.
Light and Darkness
There is one more significant aspect of fellowship we must
2 Corinthians 6:14 NASB
(14) Do not be bound together with
unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what
fellowship has light with darkness?
As Christ often stressed, the Christian has chosen the way
of Christ over the way of the world. So many today want to have both, but it is
not possible. One of the reasons for Christian fellowship is to make sure that
you listen to the way of light rather than the way of darkness. Are you
listening to Christ, or are you listening to the father of lies? It is the
great paradox of Christianity: to save your life, you must lose it.
Christian fellowship is based upon the light; indeed, we are
to be the light of the world. If you perpetuate yourself in sin, you will lose
this fellowship. So let us understand that it does not come cheaply.
I might submit that it is impossible to truly understand the
fellowship of the church without seeing it in a Trinitarian light. The holy
Trinity is the basis of all we believe; it is not surprising then that
fellowship falls into the category of those things which may be explained best
by the Trinity.
All things are from God, given through the Son, by the Holy
Spirit. That is the formula the ancient church used. We may see the role of God
in our fellowship:
It is God who is called us to fellowship in Christ. If the Father
had not taken the initiative, we would have no church and no fellowship. He is
the ultimate source of our fellowship. Therefore, it is intended that this be a
good thing and a barrier to sin.
He did this by his love. So it is that fellowship is rooted and
birthed in love. When we are in fellowship one with another, we are imitating
the fellowship of the Trinity. This is pleasing to God.
This is by no means a barren and heavy task. For God has made us
to be joint heirs with Christ for the kingdom of God. Right now we struggle;
but at the return of Christ we shall see the kingdom in all its glory.
The connection of our fellowship and the fellowship we have
with Christ is made clear in these verses:
1 John 1:3-8 NASB
what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have
fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His
Son Jesus Christ. (4) These things we write,
so that our joy may be made complete. (5)
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.
His life is our common ground. We cannot have fellowship
with one another if we do not have fellowship with Christ. This is not just a
matter of worship and prayer; it is also a matter of our daily living:
One way to share in his fellowship is to share in his sufferings. as a practical
matter of fact you have very little choice about this. If you are practicing
Christian, you will suffer for the name of Christ. And you will have fellowship
with him at the same time.
Surprisingly, this fellowship is made effective through
Philemon 1:6 NASB
and I pray that the fellowship of your
faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is
in you for Christ's sake.
In short, we are to pay attention to our blessings and our
fellowship so that we may know that this fellowship is effective.
These verses explain fellowship and the Holy Spirit quite
Philippians 2:1-4 NASB
Therefore if 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, (2) make my joy complete by being
of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one
purpose. (3) Do nothing from selfishness or
empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important
than yourselves; (4) do not merely look out for your own personal interests,
but also for the interests of others.
(The New International Version contains a mistranslation in
verse one. The phrase is correctly translated here, "consolation of
love." The word "his" does not appear in the original
Certainly we can understand that the Holy Spirit must be
involved in Christian fellowship, for that spirit is given to us so that we may
become more like Christ. Indeed, the spirit helps us in the primary duty of the
Christian: the imitation of Christ. I would point out three things to you from
this passage which I believe are necessary for Christian fellowship.
First, there is encouragement. Every one of us at one time or
another needs encouragement. This is one way to break down isolation and bring
a new Christian into fellowship. Even if you have only the beginning of a
relationship with a particular Christian, encouragement is usually welcome.
Next, we find the phrase tenderness and compassion. Who among us
has never had grief? Often enough, we do not know what to say. But sometimes
people just need a hug. Sometimes they need to hear that they're not the only
one who's ever been through this. Go out of your way to do this, even if you
are not the kind of person that hugs.
Finally, this must be done in the spirit of true love. This is
not a contest for celestial brownie points. Christian love will find a
practical way to help, the shoulder to cry on, and a hug when it's needed.
We may close with this benediction from the Scripture:
2 Corinthians 13:14 NASB
(14) The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and
the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.