By Victor Knowles
Fellowship. The very word evokes images that are warm and inviting—images of companionship, friendship, and partnership with those who are of a similar spirit, mind, and desire.
More than a dozen times in the New Testament the Greek word koinonia is translated “fellowship.” Sometimes it is translated “communion” (1 Corinthians 10:16, 17, New King James Version). The basic meaning is “communion, fellowship, sharing in common.” Fellowship is a spiritual state or Christian condition. When we live in fellowship with God, we will share our lives with other members of his family.
The apostle Paul told the church in Corinth that God had called them into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9). That’s better than an invitation from the president of the United States to the White House or an invitation from the queen of England to Buckingham Palace! The apostle John adds, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3, NIV). We can also have fellowship with the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 13:14). This is how we “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Our fellowship is on a higher plane—in fact, the highest plane possible. This is the key to understanding the whole nature of fellowship. If we are not in fellowship with the Godhead, we cannot be in fellowship with the body.
So how do you and I have fellowship with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit? It is a relationship entered by love for Christ—a love that prompts obedience. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23, NIV, 1984). Home (mone in the Greek language) means “an abiding place.” The Amplified New Testament says, “special dwelling place.”
The hymn “Abide with Me” is more than a pretty song. Abiding with Christ is a spiritual possibility, a living reality for those who have opened their hearts to him. It is as real as the evening the travelers on the road to Emmaus asked Jesus to abide with them—and had their hearts filled and warmed as a result (Luke 24:13-23). Vertical fellowship happens when God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit find that they are welcome to take up residence in your loving, trusting, and obedient heart.
Consider also the beautiful analogy of the vine and the branches. If we abide in Christ, he will abide in us (John 15:1-8). When we are in fellowship with Christ, we will be open and receptive to the uninterrupted flow of spiritual nutrients that are necessary to bear fruit.
The place of Scripture and prayer are specifically mentioned in the text. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). Vertical fellowship is strengthened and enhanced by integrating Christ’s teaching in our lives and praying fervently to God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Everyone who is in fellowship with God will also be in communion with God’s sons and daughters, whoever they are and wherever they may be found. “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). M. R. Vincent said, “Fellowship with God proves itself by fellowship with Christians.”
Some people act like a selfish child with a favorite toy, and behave as though Christ were their exclusive property. Paul corrected this notion when he wrote, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2, New American Standard Bible). You can’t be “in Christ” and be “on the outs” with those who are also “in Christ.”
One of my teachers in Bible college, Donald G. Hunt, said, “Our fellowship should include every Christian without respect of some and disrespect of others. If they are sons of our Father, then they are our brothers; and if they are our brothers, then we should treat them as such. Money, politics, social standing, education and the like should create no barriers between Christians.”
Condescension and condemnation are contrary to the spirit of Christ (Romans 14:3). Carl Ketcherside said, “If a man is good enough for God to receive he is not too bad for me to
Biblical fellowship is sharing your life with fellow members of the body of Christ. Think of two fellows in a ship, sharing both the duties and delights of sailing. Think of three ships sailing together. Let’s call them Companionship, Comradeship, and Friendship—a virtual armada of amicability, affability, and sociability—sailing together on the high seas of God’s love.
Notice how the Bible links the word
fellow with other words that describe our unity: fellow citizens (Ephesians 2:19),
fellow heirs (Ephesians 3:6), fellow helpers
(3 John 1:8), fellow prisoners (Romans 16:7), fellow servants (Colossians 4:7), fellow
soldiers (Philemon 1:2), and fellow workers (Romans 16:3, Philemon 1:24). Fellowship covers nearly ever spectrum of life and service in the kingdom of God.
The early Christians devoted themselves to fellowship (Acts 2:42). They extended “the right hand of fellowship” to other believers (Galatians 2:9). The work of the first-
century church might never have gotten off the ground had not Barnabas stood sponsor for Saul of Tarsus when others did not believe that his conversion was genuine (Acts 9:26-28).
They enjoyed partnership in the work of the gospel (Philippians 1:5). They had fellowship with one another as they walked together in the light of Christ (1 John 1:7). Their Christian fellowship was a hearty, holy, healthy, happy experience. “What a fellowship! What a joy divine!”
Quite frequently their fellowship had a practical aspect. The churches of Macedonia (virtually impoverished themselves) actually begged for the favor of fellowship in supporting the suffering saints in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:4).
Several years ago I came back from India and made an appeal for impoverished believers there. A Polish church our ministry has supported for years wrote and asked us to reduce their support and send it to India. That’s the spirit of fellowship.
Francis J. Roberts asked, “Can a man love God while ignoring the need of his brother?” The early Christians did not ignore the needs of their brethren, and neither should we. I long for the day when what Luke wrote in Acts 4:34 will be said of every congregation: “There were no needy persons among them” (NIV, 1984).
No study of fellowship is complete unless we mention several areas in the Christian life where fellowship is forbidden.
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
The call to compromise is strong in these “tolerant” times, but we cannot have fellowship with unbelievers. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. . . . And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8, 11, New King James Version). In the context, Paul describes the deeds of darkness: sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, and the like. Such experiences, or even forms of “entertainment,” are not to be embraced, but exposed for what they are.
Those who cause division are to be avoided. “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17, NIV, 1984). The church must always be on guard against teaching that contradicts the apostles’ doctrine. Unfortunately, there is much teaching contrary to the simple New Testament doctrine we have learned.
The early church was also forbidden to fellowship with immoral church members. Paul said,
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world . . . for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one (1 Corinthians 5:9-11, New American Standard Bible).
Paul even went on to say, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (v. 13). Do we fraternize with those we ought to ostracize?
Biblical fellowship is having a rich relationship with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It is enjoying a peaceful and practical relationship with fellow believers. But it is also refusing to have fellowship with unbelievers, the deeds of darkness, those who cause division through contrary teaching, and “so-called believers” who are living an immoral lifestyle.
Victor Knowles is founder and president of Peace on Earth Ministries, Joplin, Missouri. www.poeministries.org
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Learning to Fellowship with God
by Larry Kreider
(House to House Publications, 2002)
Out of the Depths: Restoring Fellowship with God
by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
(Crossway Books & Bibles, 1995)
Philippians: The Fellowship of the Gospel
by R. Kent Hughes
(Good News & Crossway, 2007)
Connecting in Christ Together: Fellowship
by Deanna Eastman, Brett Eastman
The Communion of Saints: Living in Fellowship with the People of God
by Philip Graham Ryken
(P & R Publishing, 2001)
Living Fellowship: Willing to Be the Third Side of the Triangle
by Dr. Helen Roseveare
(Christian Focus Publications, 2008)