E. L. Lovering, Ilfracombe
All quotations are from the Revised Version
You may remember that in the last issue we listened in to a group of young people discussing the subject of ‘Baptism’; we join them again on this occasion to find them equally engrossed in considering the very important matter of ‘fellowship’. One of them is reading Acts 2. 41-42, ‘They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers’.
They were all agreed that here was a clear indication that all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should witness a good confession by baptism and that this should be followed by a life guided by the principles of the New Testament, and in association and partnership with other believers. There were no ‘isolationists’ or free-lance Christians in God’s plan for His people. Indeed as they continued reading in this passage they were in no doubt that in the first days of the early church, ‘all that believed were together and had all things common’.
At this point there was much discussion on how far it was now possible or advisable to hold possessions in common and to say that ‘ought that any man had was his own’. ‘Was this communism?’ one dared to remark. An immediate reply came from several of the company, that this was an act of voluntary giving, and not a command of the state. It bore no resemblance to present day political communism.
It was obvious as the discussion continued that this matter of ‘fellowship’ in the New Testament covered many aspects of truth and it was suggested that a summary of basic facts would be helpful. Four main themes appeared to emerge from the scriptures that were read and the thoughts that were expressed. These were, that, firstly,
Fellowship implies a Condition
It was not essentially a matter of being joined to any circle, brotherhood, union, church or assembly, but that all believers ‘were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord’, 1 Cor. 1. 9; there was a partnership with our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, which was vital and eternal. John tells us that, ‘our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ’, 1 John 1. 3.
Reception into fellowship was an acknowledgment in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ of those who had already been received into the fellowship of His Son, for Paul wrote in Romans 15. 7, ‘Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God’.
However, it was observed that it was possible to be outwardly ‘in fellowship’ with a company of believers and yet to be spiritually ‘out of fellowship’. In this connection John again wrote, ‘If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin’, 1 John 1. 6-7. In 1 Corinthians 5 the man who had been living in sin was ‘out of fellowship’ with God and his fellow-believers long before he was ‘put away’ from their company. Are we constantly ‘in fellowship?’
Secondly, it was observed that
Fellowship involves Communion
Union and communion are two distinct facts. Union with Christ is eternal and secure and is ours by faith, but communion can be broken by sin and restored by contrition and confession.
With regard to fellowship with unbelievers, the matter was plain and direct. Various scriptures were read, among them, 2 Corinthians 6. 14-15, ‘Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever?’. Here there was some heart searching as to partnership in business, friendships, and obligations to the home and state; all these matters required much prayer and thought and must not be treated lightly without grave and often tragic results.
At this stage in the discussion, the question was raised as to how far one may have fellowship with other Christians whose persuasions differed from one’s own. It was agreed that some things were a matter of personal conscience and must not be imposed upon another. God was our judge in these things, and before Him we stand or fall. However, even where one felt personally at liberty to do this or that there should always be a concern that all should be done to the glory of God and without giving offence either to unbelievers or believers, 1 Corinthians 10. 31-33. (See especially Rom. 14. 1 to 15. 7; 1 Cor. 8. 1 to 11. 1).
It was decided that the present break-up of family life among certain Christians, under the guise of ‘no fellowship’ was an utter travesty of truth. The Lord Himself had declared, ‘What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’. Matt. 19. 6. Woe to the man who does!
In 1 Corinthians 10. 16 we read, ‘The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?’. It was noted here that the ‘cup’ was mentioned before the ‘loaf ’ and one of the company remarked that this was the order in the experience of a believer, namely, the saving power of the death of Christ which makes him a fellow-member of the body of Christ, the church. It was pointed out that throughout the whole of our Christian experience, seven days of each week, God has richly furnished for us a table in the wilderness in the presence of our enemies. Enjoying what He has provided in Christ we have fellowship with Him and with all who share at the same table through His grace.
In worship at the Lord’s Supper, as in witness and in work, the principle and ground of fellowship was equally true. Here we remember the Lord Jesus Christ in company with other believers and proclaim His death until He comes, which is undoubtedly the highest privilege afforded any child of God, 1 Cor. 11. 23-26.
‘We seem to have been occupied very much with our privileges’, said one of the company, ‘but surely there is another side to fellowship’. Yes, indeed, there is, for with every Christian privilege there is a corresponding responsibility. This brought them to the third point, that
Fellowship inspires Contribution
Previously we have thought of fellowship as ‘a sharing in’, but it can also mean ‘to give a share to’. So many scriptures were referred to at this point, that it is only possible to allude to a few representative ones. There is fellowship in giving.
Paul spoke of the churches of Macedonia, and commended them for their ‘fellowship in the ministering to the saints’; they were liberal in their material gifts, 2 Cor. 8. 4. Again in Romans 15. 26 we read ‘for it hath been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints that are at Jerusalem’, and in 2 Corinthians 9. 13 ‘they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all’. This was practical fellowship with believers in need.
Paul further exhorted the Galatians, ‘let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things’, Gal. 6. 6. This encourages practical acknowledgment of the spiritual help received from those who teach us the Word of God.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us ‘to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased’, 13. 16. Remember then that fellowship means give, as well as get, and that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Finally, it was observed that
Fellowship invites Co-operation
When at the Saviour’s command the disciples, after a night of toil and failure, put out into the deep and let down their nets for a draught, so great was the catch, that they beckoned unto their partners in the other boat, that they should come and help them.
This was true fellowship, or partnership in bringing in the nets and sharing in the blessing. When the gospel net is east are we partners in prayer and practice? Paul wrote of his mission to the Gentiles with the gospel, that ‘when they perceived the grace that was given unto me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles’, Gal. 2. 9. The disciples were neither critical of, nor competitors with, their fellow fishermen, but partners and workers together.
Paul wrote of the women who ‘laboured with me in the gospel’, Phil. 4. 3, for service in the gospel is far more than verbal ministry for an hour on the platform; this, after all, is but the climax to a work of preparation both in prayer and practice.
It was now time to draw the discussion to a close and it was suggested that they should read in turn a verse in which the word fellow occurred in combination with another noun. Here are some of the verses which they read:
|fellow-disciples,||John 11. 16;||fellow-prisoners,||Rom. 16. 7;|
|fellow-citizens,||Eph. 2. 19;||fellow-heirs,||Eph. 3. 6;|
|fellow-members,||Eph. 3. 6;||fellow-partakers,||Eph. 3. 6;|
|fellow-soldier,||Phil. 2. 25;||fellow-worker,||Phil. 4. 3;|
|fellow-servant.||Col. 1. 7;||fellow-elder,||1 Pet. 5. 1.|
It was generally agreed that the subject of fellowship was one which not only enriched the mind in its study, but ought to fill the life of every Christian with its joyful privilege and serious obligations. They left the group that evening asking their own hearts, ‘Am I,really in fellowship?’.