Defining Fellowship in the New Testament
Fellowship is one of those great Scriptural words that today are not often used outside of church. The Greek word koinonia, fellowship, means to participate or share a common life. It is always a communal or corporate word. 1 Corinthians 1:9 tells us that we are called to a common share in the life of Christ (in this blog I use common in its communal meaning, we share something together – not to mean something ordinary or mundane. There is nothing ordinary about fellowship) – we are in a living relationship with Christ, and each of us together are in Christ.
This idea of fellowship is extended to include the Holy Spirit, ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Corinthians 13:14; cf. Philippians 2:1-2). It is a communal sharing in the life of the Spirit who creates, sustains and directs our relationship with the Son, and with each other in the body of Christ.
In fact, it includes the body of Christ and each member of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 1 John 1:3, helps to emphasise this when it states, ‘we proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.’ There are three elements to this fellowship:
1. A common life together; even though John was many miles away from the believers he was writing to – it was his Holy Spirit inspired words and the experiences He was relating to them which meant that his readers could feel a part of John’s life and ministry. His sharing with them created the chance for this sharing of the common life in Christ, ‘fellowship with us’
2. A common share in our relationship together with Father God, ‘our fellowship is with the Father.’ John was connecting people to himself by what he was sharing – he was inviting his readers into his relationship/fellowship with God so that they all together could share in the richness and intimacy of his wonderful fellowship with God. After all, John even heard the very voice of God on the Mount of Transfiguration.
3. And, just like Paul in 1 Corinthians 1, John states that we have a communal share in the life of Christ, ‘and with his Son, Jesus Christ.’ John’s relationship with Jesus was very personal and unique – but he was inviting his readers to share in his fellowship with Christ. They could do this because they were his brothers and sisters in Christ, and because his words, love for them and prayers for them were connecting them together.
In verse 4, John writes what this all means – together he and his readers will be full of joy at the thought of sharing this common life with other believers, with God the Father, and with God the Son. And for us, we also will have great joy because of our fellowship together and with the Trinity. As Paul highlights – joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17), the One who creates our fellowship in person and online.
Fellowship Impacts Our Character and Witness
In 1 John 1:6-7, this fellowship with God, sharing together in the life of the Father and Son, has a huge implication for our Christian witness and moral integrity, ‘we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness.’ However, if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have true fellowship with each other – and wonderfully, the blood of Jesus the Son cleanses us on a daily basis from all sin.
This is one of my favourite verses in the entire Bible. It has always been an important help to me. This is what I take from it:
‘if I keep in step with the Spirit, following Christ each day taking up my cross, denying myself those things which would hinder my walk with the Lord, living sacrificially, holding to the rhythm of our open, loving and living relationship – when I sin, which I will – I will be made quickly aware it of it by the Spirit and be able to confess it to the Lord and know that He will forgive and cleanse my sin there and then. If I don’t do these things and allow the relationship to diminish and darken – then I will make it a much harder road to find His forgiveness, for me to able accept it and move on, and make walking back into the light of a vibrant and open relationship really difficult. However, as a result of walking in the light, in this open, living relationship – I am free to continue walking in close fellowship with Him. My sin doesn’t separate me from walking in His light.’ Isn’t that amazing…
Fellowship and My Local Church
So, what does this all mean for me and a local church? I believe that God places us in a spiritual home – a local church wherein we put down roots, worship, pray, grow in the faith, make disciples and are inspired to walk in the light. It is sharing in the common life of Christ, being in fellowship with God the Father, Son and Spirit and with a group of people of peace – brothers and sisters in Christ. Becoming part of a local church is not like joining a gym, club or society. It is so much more than that. It is created by our partnership with the Spirit, is based on our common sharing in the life of Christ, our common share in the Father heart of God, and our common partnership in the Gospel with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Church in the New Testament never referred to a building – always to a group of people. There were groups of believers in cities: Jerusalem, Corinth, Philippi etc. There were also groups of believers meeting in an individual’s house: Aquila and Priscila, Nympha and Philemon. They would meet regularly, worship, study God’s word together with a preacher or teacher ministering, minister in the spiritual gifts, share the Lord’s Supper, move in the Spirit sharing their spiritual gifts and encouraging each other’s faith, live out the faith helping, supporting and doing good to others both within and outside the church, and be led by appointed leaders (cf. Titus 1:5).
Acts 2:42 states the four basics that the early Jerusalem Church did together: ‘all the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (God’s word), and to fellowship (the common sharing in the life of Christ together), and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper/breaking of bread), and to prayer (corporate prayer together).
Creating Fellowship Online
As we consider how to draw the people watching us online into the common life together of Telford Elim including around reading and studying the Bible together, fellowshipping together and with God, Communion and meeting together, and praying together – the Holy Spirit has got to be the Creator of this online fellowship. I think some of the ways He is creating this in our church in person and online include:
- being Kingdom of God builders influencing people to consider Jesus as Saviour
- helping them become clearer about who Jesus is and what He asks of each of us
- enabling each one who joins us to walk easily with us on the faith journey teaching and equipping them to be disciples who love and obey the Lord
- expanding our understanding of the Bible together
- teaching and sharing testimonies of what it means to walk with Jesus, our experiences of doing so
- praying together and teaching the spiritual disciplines
- sharing each other’s stories of devotion to God
- speaking about the joy of practising biblical Stewardship whereby we will be able to see together that everything we have is God’s, we custodians of what He entrusts to us, a people whose privilege, joy and delight it is to give of our talents, time and treasure to God’s work, Christ’s service and the benefit of our fellow human beings
May God help us build a strong common sharing and fellowship in the Gospel with all who partner with us in person and online. May our fellowship lead to His Kingdom reign being further established in each of our lives. We proclaim that His Kingdom will come through the people and ministries of Telford Elim in every setting: rural areas, hamlets, towns, cities, in the UK and overseas, in fact – where we are and wherever people are joining us online from. In Jesus’ name. Amen