The Spiritual Disciplines: Fellowship

By Peter Amsterdam

June 17, 2014

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When we think about fellowship, most of us Christians think of getting together with other Christians for a time of prayer, worship, singing, reading the Bible and/or listening to a sermon, talking, eating, and generally interacting in a way that is spiritually edifying and uplifting. While these activities are an important part of Christian fellowship, there is a broader biblical concept of fellowship that provides a deeper understanding of its meaning. I will present this broader concept first, before addressing fellowship as a Spiritual Discipline, as understanding the broader concept gives insight into the meaning of the discipline of fellowship.

God and Humanity in Fellowship

We begin before the beginning. Before anything was created, God existed as a trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Through His Word, God has revealed to us that He consists of one divine being, one essence, with three self-distinctions or persons. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but there is only one God. This is one of the foundational beliefs of our faith. (You can find a fuller explanation of this doctrine here.) The three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—exist in a loving interpersonal relationship together. You could say that they have lived in fellowship together forever.

When God created Adam, and then Eve, He made them in His own image. They were created as relational beings, and besides their relationship with each other, they enjoyed friendship and communion with God as well. When they disobeyed God, they were ashamed and hid from Him, and the fellowship they had with Him was broken. But despite Adam and Eve’s disobedience and the consequent fall of mankind, God has continually reached out to mankind and spoken of His plan of redemption. He made a way to restore humanity’s fellowship with Him. We see Him advancing His plan throughout the Old Testament through special people who were links in His plan of salvation, such as Enoch and Noah, who “walked with God;”[1] Abraham, who is called “the friend of God;”[2] Moses, whom God spoke with “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” on Mount Sinai;[3] David, who was called “a man after God’s own heart;”[4] and the people of Israel, whom He made His people.[5]

Upon Jesus’ death and resurrection, God changed the nature of the fellowship available to humanity by making His permanent abode in the hearts of those who believe. Jesus answered him, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.[6] Fellowship with God is now centered in the spiritual union we have with Jesus.[7] You will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.[8]

Individual Connection with God

The most important aspect of Christian fellowship is our individual connection or communion with God through His Son, Jesus. The primary factor in the Spiritual Discipline of fellowship is our fellowship with God. The apostle John wrote that Jesus’ life, which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.[9]

The fellowship with God that is available to us as believers will eventually move into a new stage when God dwells with His people.

I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.”[10]

A believer’s individual relationship and fellowship with God is what makes Christian fellowship among believers possible; it’s what undergirds the concept of fellowship among Christians. First, God restores fellowship with us through Jesus’ suffering and dying for us; and as we live our lives in alignment with His Word, fellowship with other believers is made possible. John wrote:

If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.[11]

Participation in Our Faith with Fellow Believers

Besides our fellowship with God, another aspect of fellowship consists of participating in our faith in a variety of ways. The apostle Paul presents the relationship believers have with one another using several Greek words, all of which express the idea of a common participation. The main words he used were from the koinōnia (pronounced koy no NEE ah) word group.These express having something in common with someone and are translated throughout the New Testament as association, communion, fellowship, communication, partaking, close relationship, generosity, sign of fellowship, gift, contribution, and participation. The emphasis of these words throughout the New Testament was on participation “in something” rather than the emphasis on “with someone” as it’s more commonly used today. Let me explain.

Today, fellowship is most commonly used in the sense of doing something “with someone,” such as gathering with other believers. However, within the biblical text, the words from the koinōnia word group are generally used as “having a share in” or “giving a share.” We see “having a share in” expressed as being a partner, a partaker, or a sharer—in God’s work, blessings, and even troubles—in the following verses:

Titus, my partner and fellow worker;[12] I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom;[13] you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, and sometimes being partners with those so treated;[14] we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort;[15] you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree;[16] I do all things for the sake of the Gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it;[17] you are all partakers with me of grace;[18] by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature.[19]

In these verses, we see the concept of fellowship portrayed as being in partnership with others in various aspects of our Christian work and lives.

In other verses we see koinōnia being used in the sense of “giving a share,” in reference to being generous through giving, helping other Christians.

They will glorify God because of the generosity of your contribution (koinōnia) for them;[20] For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem;[21] beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation (koinōnia) in the support of the saints;[22] no church shared (koinōnia) with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone;[23] One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.[24]

Overall Concepts of Fellowship

As we can see, the broader sense of fellowship (koinōnia) has to do with participation in the wide range of the Gospel: the blessings, the trials and tribulations, the comfort, and the grace. It’s partaking together of the divine nature through the truth God has given. It also has to do with living the Gospel through generosity, giving to others.

While fellowship includes gathering together with other Christians, it goes beyond attendance at a service or activity. It includes your participation in the Gospel, working in some way with others who are getting out God’s message—praying for them, joining them in their mission in any way you can. It encompasses your giving through your tithes and offerings, as well as support for those engaging in the mission. It’s partnering with God and others in the commission of getting out the message and reaching others with salvation.

The apostle Paul also used koinōnia to describe the unity and bonding that should exist among Christians. When writing about the debate in Jerusalem over whether the Gentiles (non-Jews) had to become Jewish through circumcision in order to become Christians,[25] Paul said that James, the brother of Jesus, and the apostles Peter and John gave him and Barnabas the “right hand of fellowship (koinōnia).”[26] This signified that while the apostles in Jerusalem would continue their ministry to the Jews, and Paul’s ministry would differ in that he ministered to Gentiles, they remained united as brothers in the faith. This expresses the importance of Christians of all persuasions keeping in unity and fellowship even when engaged in different ministries, or holding to different theological understanding.

When taken in the overall context of the meaning of the original Greek, fellowship encompasses a much broader scope than normally understood. It can be seen as participation in the entire system of faith. It includes our interaction with God and with other Christians, and on levels deeper than only gathering together. But gathering together is also an important part of fellowship.

Gathering together for Christian fellowship, in alignment with the understanding of koinōnia, has to do with the sharing of spiritual life. It goes deeper than socializing with other Christians. Of course, socializing with other Christians is a helpful and needful part of our lives, and helps bring the balanced life we need, and such socializing can be part of spiritual fellowship. But it’s not the only part. Spiritual fellowship includes gathering with other Christians to share hearts, to speak to one another about living our lives for God, discuss problems and solutions related to living our discipleship, pray for one another, and seek godly counsel from brothers or sisters. It also includes reading Scripture, praise, prayer, and worship together.

Such fellowship can happen when a larger group of Christians gather, or when only two or three meet. Some aspects of fellowship can happen even in a socializing situation, such as over a meal, when you’re out shopping with another believer, etc., if you use some of that time to connect together with the Lord, perhaps through prayer, or spiritual discussions about Him, your faith, spiritual growth, what you are learning, sharing prayer requests, etc. Of course it also happens when you gather specifically for worship, prayer, communion, etc., whether with a small group or a large one.

Donald Whitney wrote:

Whatever the social setting in which fellowship happens, it should involve sharing the life of Christ both in word and deed. As we live like Christ when together, we encourage each other in Christian living. As we talk like Christ about spiritual matters, we also stimulate each other toward Godliness.[27]

The Spiritual Discipline of fellowship includes making time for meeting together with other Christians in order to participate together in our faith life, our walk with the Lord, our worship and prayer life, and strengthening one another in Christ. As with all of the disciplines, the practice of it requires action, time, commitment, and intentionality. As the writer of Hebrews says:

Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, and let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do [28]

How We Practice the Discipline of Fellowship

As a Spiritual Discipline, fellowship begins with our personal fellowship with God, for it is as a result of this that we are able to have true fellowship with our brethren. It interacts with other Spiritual Disciplines such as prayer, giving, and evangelism. It is consciously working toward a rich relationship with God and with other Christians. It’s endeavoring to live God’s Word in relationship to others of the faith, to follow the commandment Jesus gave His disciples to love one another as I have loved you.[29]

Fellowship as a discipline consists of following the scriptural guidelines for our interactions among fellow believers, such as:

Let brotherly love continue.[30]

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.[31]

Bear one anothers burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.[32]

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.[33]

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.[34]

Keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints[35]

Practicing the Spiritual Discipline of the full concept of fellowship begins with keeping in close connection with God. Next follows participating in various aspects of our faith—sharing our blessings with others, and being partners with and gathering together with fellow believers. If we implement these things, we will be modeling our fellowship after the word pictures used to describe the close connection and togetherness that members of the early church possessed.[36] They were called the household of God,[37] the household of faith.[38] As those adopted into God’s family,[39] they were governed by love, tenderness, compassion, and humility.[40]

Our fellowship with God and others is an important part of living our faith, of bearing fruit in our individual lives and in the lives of others. As members of the body of Christ, we should endeavor to walk in the light, as He is in the light, so that we will have fuller and deeper fellowship with one another.


Note

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters (Genesis 5:22 NAU).

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9).

[2] Did You not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? (2 Chronicles 20:7 NAU)

[3] Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11).

[4] The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people (1 Samuel 13:14).

[5] Bruce Demarest in W. A. Elwell and B. J. Beitzel, eds., in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).

[6] John 14:23.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John 14:20–21.

[9] 1 John 1:2–3.

[10] Revelation 21:2–3.

[11] 1 John 1:7.

[12] 2 Corinthians 8:23.

[13] Revelation 1:9.

[14] Hebrews 10:32–33.

[15] 2 Corinthians 1:7.

[16] Romans 11:17.

[17] 1 Corinthians 9:23 NAU.

[18] Philippians 1:7.

[19] 2 Peter 1:4 NKJV.

[20] 2 Corinthians 9:13.

[21] Romans 15:26.

[22] 2 Corinthians 8:3–4 NAU.

[23] Philippians 4:15 NAU.

[24] Galatians 6:6.

[25] Recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might goto the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised (Galatians 2:9 NAS).

[26] C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler, eds., “Felloes,” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[27] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991), 241.

[28] Hebrews 10:24–25 NIV.

[29] John 15:12.

[30] Hebrews 13:1.

[31] Philippians 2:3–4.

[32] Galatians 6:2.

[33] Galatians 6:1.

[34] 1 Corinthians 12:26.

[35] Ephesians 6:18.

[36] Bruce Demarest in W. A. Elwell and B. J. Beitzel, eds., in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).

[37] You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).

[38] As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

[39] Galatians 4:4–6: When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

[40] Philippians 2:1–4: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

 

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