When the Lord first blessed me with an opportunity to teach regularly at one of Grace Church’s home Bible studies, I spent some time thinking and praying about what I’d wanted to teach on as I began my time with that wonderful group. Eventually, my heart was inclined to teach something on fellowship, because a home Bible study is a place where life is lived out together in community, a place where we can spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24-25), and to encourage one another as long as it is called “Today,” so that none will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12).
What comes into your mind when you hear the word “fellowship”? Friends? Interesting and inspiring conversations? Sharing a meal, or having a snack with someone? How about the time of a church service or Bible study where the teaching is officially over and everyone gets to just hang out?
As I prepared to teach on what the Bible had to say about fellowship, I looked up the instances of the word koinonia in the New Testament. Interestingly, I found that the New Testament usage seemed to have very little to do with what I thought about when I heard the word “fellowship” used. It spoke about:
- Relationships between believers (Acts 2:42; 1 John 1:3, 7)
- Contributing and sharing resources (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:13; Heb 13:16)
- Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:16; 1 John 1:3, 6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1)
- Participation and Partnership (2 Corinthians 6:14; Galatians 2:9; Philippians 1:5, 6; 3:10)
What struck me most as I came away from this study is that Christian fellowship is an objective reality. As noted above, it is an objective state of relationship with each of the Members of the Trinity. It is a sharing in the Good News of the Gospel (Phil 1:5), in faith in Christ (Phm 1:6), and even in sufferings (Phil 3:10). One is said to have fellowship in something when one gives his money and resources (Rom 15:24; 2Cor 8:6; 9:13; Heb 13:16). And even the fellowship that we have with each other is spoken of as an objective reality based upon the work of God in Christ, and not only a subjective enjoyment of one another (1Jn 1:3, 7).
And even where the word koinonia isn’t used to describe this concept based on the objective work of Christ, the concept is apparent elsewhere in the Scriptures. In Romans 6, Paul speaks about our baptism into Christ (i.e., our salvation) in terms of union, or fellowship, with Him (Romans 6:3–7). Then in 1 Corinthians 12, he speaks of this same baptism in terms of our union with Christ’s body. As we are united to the Head, we are also united to all those who are united to the Head (1 Corinthians 12:12–14).
Biblically speaking, then, our fellowship is an objective reality that was accomplished by the atoning work of Christ.
“The word fellowship has been so watered down in contemporary speech that it conveys only a faint suggestion of what it meant in earlier times. When we speak of fellowship today, we generally mean no more than comradeship, the sharing of good times. But fellowship originally meant much more than a sharing of something, like the fellowship of bank robbers dividing their loot. It meant a sharing in something, participating in something greater than the people involved and more lasting than the activity of any given moment. When the Bible uses the word, it means being caught up into a communion created by God. […]
“This is the way the Bible regards fellowship, and it was this for which Paul was so thankful in the case of the young church at Philippi [1:5]. They may have had things in common. But Paul is not speaking of these. He is thankful for their share in the gospel of God. They had been taken up into a divine fellowship. They were united, not upon a social level, but by their commitment to the truths of the gospel.”
So this idea we have of fellowship as being the time in the worship service or Bible study where we all talk and have food is a misunderstanding of what the Bible says fellowship is. Of course it involves our interaction, conversation, and enjoyment of one another. But all of that—let’s call it—subjective stuff is rooted in something objective: the fellowship we each have with the Father and with each other by virtue of the saving work of Christ on the cross (Rom 6:3-7; 1Cor 12:12-14).
And one thing that can make our subjective experience of fellowship with each other seem awkward, or forced, is forgetting that our fellowship is grounded in this objective reality. We can tend to base our conversations and interactions with each other more on superficial things than on the fellowship we have as beneficiaries of the Gospel and as children of God. We feel like we have more “fellowship” with someone when we share common interests, hobbies, or experiences—when we’re in a similar “life stage” as someone else. And while it may feel like we just don’t “click” with some people, it may be that we’re excluding those who don’t fit that mold of superficial similarity.
Improving our Fellowship by Improving our Conversation
Well, the primary way I believe we fail in this is in our conversation—the things we talk to each other about. And so I think that’s the place to start improving. The big “take-away point” from all of this talk about subjective and objective fellowship is that we should take steps to improve our everyday, relaxed, natural conversation—especially our conversation with fellow Christians. We can devote so much time to talking to each other about our families, our jobs, sports events, movies we’ve seen, TV shows we watch, aspirations we have and so on. And these are good things. But the things of Christ, spiritual things, the things of the Scriptures are so much more worthy of our attention and conversation than those other things. And comparatively, they often don’t occupy enough of our interaction with each other.
In Deuteronomy 6, just after God gives Israel the Greatest Commandment to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, the very next thing He says is,
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6:6-9).
He commands them to be talking about His Word all the time. I think that it’s significant that this command comes directly after the Greatest Commandment in all the Law (Mt 22:36-38). I take that to mean that there is no better way to cultivate love for God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, than to be constantly meditating on, musing over, and speaking about His truth.
And the second greatest commandment—love for each other, the cornerstone of our fellowship—is based on our love for God. “The second is like it” (Matt 22:39; cf. 1 John 5:2). And our love for God is greatly affected by how great a place His Word and His truth occupies in our hearts and in our mouths.
Speak Truth, Each One to His Neighbor
So, after a sermon in church or a Bible lesson at a mid-week Bible study, don’t just immediately start talking about the weather. Talk with each other about the sermon or the lesson. Talk about the main Scripture text in the message, about significant things that stood out to you. Talk about how you were affected by God’s Word.
Let the subjective experience of your fellowship with each other be rooted in the real, objective basis for that fellowship: the fellowship that we have as fellow-partakers of the grace of Christ.
Therefore, laying aside falsehood,
speak truth each one of you with his neighbor,
for we are members of one another.
- Ephesians 4:25 -