What is fellowship?
Is it merely sharing a meal together? Is it praying together? Is it both? Is going over to a shut-in’s house or showing hospitality?
There are two Hebrew words translated as fellowship in the KJV, one noun and one verb. In the Greek there are both feminine and masculine nouns and a verb.
Secular dictionary definitions are, frankly, nebulous and unclear. You could say a club, union league, alliance, confederacy or guild is a fellowship. I can leave any one of those and it’s no big deal. I was in a game club when I was in middle school. It was lame and uninteresting to me, so I quit. Nobody really cared. I was in a league and paid to be in it. When I wanted to leave, I left. I don’ recall if I got my money’s worth or money back.
Webster’s defines fellowship as:
- friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests. – companionship, comradeship
- a group of people meeting to pursue a shared interest or aim – club, league, union
- a guild or corporation – alliance, confederacy
- the status of a fellow of a college or society.
- traditions that bind us together
- companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere and on equal terms
First new testament mention
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.Acts 2:42
I was reading on the history of one notable brother from the early brethren. One thing that struck me as curious was that some of his children were in fellowship and others were not. If I’m not mistaken, this brother may have either come from or have been more active in closed or exclusive meeting circles.
I asked two older saints what fellowship meant. One was a sister who came from a closed meeting and the other was a brother who has been in both closed and so-called open meetings. The sister’s first response was that fellowship had to do with the Lord’s table. The brother said something along the same lines.
I pressed further, having grown up in a more open meeting. The sister then clarified, that being in fellowship was specific to partaking of the elements, since the closed aspect related specifically to the Lord’s table.
The brother, said that the open meetings allowed anyone who professed faith in the finished work of Christ to partake in the elements, but fellowship was more specific to participation in the meeting like a brother offering a prayer, hymn or scripture pointing to Christ’s person and work.
I asked the brother for clarification, because the article said sisters were in fellowship. He said they would partake of the elements, wear the head covering, sing and so forth. I said, “brother, I’m not seeing a lot of difference for a zealous sister.”
What does God’s word say?
When I read the scriptures, regardless of translation, regardless of testament, the context is a bit more binding. The Hebrew noun is also used for a pledge, security or deposit. The Hebrew verb has the notion of binding.
The Hebrew and Greek words speak of a pledge, security, or deposit. A unity, being bound together, coupled in a compact. Charmed or fascinated with one another. There is joint participation, intercourse, communion, sharing in anything.
Looking at the 9 times Greek words for fellowship are used in the ESV as an example we get a better picture:
- Acts 2:42, (above) They were continuing in fellowship among other things. As we continue in Acts we see there was a commonality, a sharing among the church.
- 1 Corinthians 1:9 We are called into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. This relationship is with the Son of God, our Lord. Clearly then, it’s not just a horizontal you to me thing but an us to God thing too.
- 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul asks what fellowship light can have with darkness? It is utterly illogical to say a thing, can have a relationship with the absence of itself.
- 2 Corinthians 13:14 Get this, Paul want us to know, intimately, personally the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship with Holy Spirit!
- Galatians 2:9 James, Cephas & John said to Paul and Barnabas, we’re with you, we agree with what you are doing for the Lord. The hand shake was the outward sign for others, more than words. A league if you will.
- 1 John 1:3 You, believers, all y’all in the church, can have fellowship with John, the apostle, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one who is with Him now. Our fellowship is with the Father! So not just with the Son, not just with the Holy Spirit, we have fellowship with the Father as well! Hallelujah!
- 1 John 1:6 if we say, one thing and do another we are liars. If we say we are in a relationship, that might involve doing, that definitely involves intimacy and sharing, with Jesus Christ but our daily lives suggest walking in the absence of Jesus Christ we are hypocrites and liars.
- 1 John 1:7 If we walk in the light, and Jesus is the light (of the world) then we have fellowship with one another, because it is the blood of this same Jesus that washes my sin, and your sin, and that guy’s sin, and that lady’s sin away. It is His grace, His blood, the love of God that brings us into the relationship, not your meatloaf or escalloped potatoes.
What should we be doing in fellowship?
I still like one analogy a brother in the Lord uses to describe fellowship, like being in a canoe paddling in the same direction. We are fellows in a ship. It only works if we all work together.
Fellowship is so much more than mere membership. We’re bound by the blood of Christ, into a relationship with the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Father. Our talents and gifts are for one another.