Fellowship - The Bond of Love
Arthur Shearman, Worcester, England
Very often as Christians, we use words to describe experiences, without consideration of their full practical meaning. Sadly, this can rob the values of Christian living of their power. One such word which is of the highest importance is 'fellowship'. Think for a moment how we often use the word. We speak of being in 'happy fellowship'. We also hear someone say that they fellowship 'loosely' with a certain church. So we can be 'in fellowship' or 'out of fellowship', or we can enjoy 'occasional fellowship' with some believers. More could be said, but when we examine the meaning of the word, it will be seen how far short we can fall in our true understanding of its meaning.
Koinonia, the word we translate as 'fellowship', has the meaning of participation or partnership, sharing or communicating. It expresses a fellow-feeling, a sense of oneness in activity and objective. An understanding of the implications of it will bring about a developing togetherness and an increasing caring and sharing among believers in the local assembly. It could also strengthen the work that is engaged in. Such an understanding is much needed in our corporate Christian testimony today.
In looking at fellowship it will be good to examine some of Paul's uses of the word in the context of his letters to his beloved friends in the different churches. His fellowship with so many believers meant everything to him, and he thanked God many times for this. In 1 Corinthians 1. 9. the apostle speaks of fellowship in perhaps its highest sense, 'God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord'. In this we think of the ideal of all that fellowship means. It speaks about an association with our Lord Jesus that is brought about by reconciliation through His death, Rom. 5. 10. This is an unbreakable bond, and all expressions of fellowship are built on this, cf. 1 John 1. 3; John 20. 17.
The expression of fellowship to the apostle Paul was vital to the well being of the church and its testimony. In those times when he was very much alone, he thanked God for the memory of those shared experiences of the care and love from his converts. When he was so alone in the early days of the gospel when he left Macedonia, he remembered that Philippi was the only church that shared practically time and again with him, Phil. 4. 15-16. This was a precious memory to him.
On a different note, he could speak of those who gave to him and Barnabas 'the right hand of fellowship', as a token of moving with him in the pathway of testimony, after there had been serious difficulties over circumcision and the Gentile believers, Gal. 1. 9-10. Thus in our relationships with one another, how essential it is that we give proof by our actions of all that we profess in our fellowship with Christ. Heart and hand, thought and action must move together.
The experience of fellowship among believers is indispensable in many directions. The Psalmist could say, 'How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity', Ps. 133. I. To him there was fragrance, freshness, fruitfulness and fulness of the Lord's blessing in this. An essential aspect of fellowship is highlighted in 2 Corinthians 8. When the needs of the poor believers in Jerusalem were known, there were those in Macedonia who were ready to share liberally their goods to meet this need. They begged earnestly for the favour and the fellowship of contributing in this ministry, 2 Cor. 8. 4. (Amplified Version). So great was their concern that they gave out of their deep poverty with liberality. Think about this. Affluence often dulls our senses to the meaning and experience of poverty in others. Paul could say that practical fellowship in giving could redress the inequalities of wealth among believers, 2 Cor. 8. 14. But fellowship extends beyond mere material wealth. 'To do good and to communicate forget not', Heb. 13. 10. We must not neglect to do kindness and good, to be generous and distribute as the embodiment and proof of fellowship, (Amplified Version). Hospitality, care for the elderly and infirm, the sharing of time to listen and console, these are essentially relevant experiences of fellowship in our difficult days. 'With such sacrifices God is well pleased', Heb. 13. 16.
The enjoyment associated with true Christian fellowship is immeasurable.
'The fellowship of kindred minds,
Is like to that above.'
How refreshing it is to us to come in from the alien conditions of the world and meet with those who love the Lord Jesus. How blessed is the fellowship of united prayer, Acts 12. 12; Phil. 1. 19. Why are our times of prayer so poorly attended? Paul valued this refreshment in hard times. In prison, he could rejoice over those who had fellowship with him in the gospel. This memory brought refreshment to his soul. To Philemon he could write that he derived much joy, comfort and encouragement from his expressions of love. The hearts of the saints had been cheered and refreshed through him, v. 7. He could also implore Philemon to cheer and refresh his heart in Christ, v. 20. It is good to breathe the atmosphere of warm, mutual fellowship in this short letter.
These are but a few thoughts on a great and important subject. The light and life of fellowship, those expressions of our highest relationship with our Lord Jesus, must be fuelled and fired by the love that is expressed not in word only, but in deed and in truth.