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Many churches are beginning to allot more time on Sunday morning to "fellowship," by which they mean time for members to interact with other members on an informal basis over coffee and snacks. While social interludes are no doubt helpful in building relationships, they do not represent true fellowship in the biblical sense. Fellowship is not small talk over coffee and cookies, nor is it playing regularly on the church softball team. Fellowship in the New Testament generally refers to sharing the spiritual blessings of Christ's death and resurrection and to the particular behavior that results from such a common bond. From a scriptural point of view, the communion service is actually the truest period of focused fellowship.

Fellowship is partnership in a covenant. The children of Israel formed a fellowship as the joint beneficiaries of covenants God made with the patriarchs, with Moses, and later with David. Christians share fellowship in the new covenant of Christ's blood (Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25). Scripture goes to great lengths to emphasize that one’s sharing in Christ's suffering can be just as literal as it is figurative (Romans 8:17; Colossians 1:24; Philippians 3:10). Sharing in Christ's suffering ultimately means a life of service rather than privilege (Matthew 20:22-28), hence the ethical implications of fellowship.

The signs of fellowship in a New Testament sense are not pastries and potlucks but baptism (Galatians 3:26-28), the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1), a transformed life (Romans 6:4-14), the Lord's supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), and the hope of eternal life (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 2 Timothy 2:11-12). To the extent Christians lose sight of spiritual blessings by taking them for granted, they lose contact with the wellsprings of Christian morality, the spiritual understandings and values that set their priorities and shape their reactions to what life throws at them.

The most common Greek word for fellowship, koinonia, occurs 19 times in the New Testament and has somewhat different connotations according to each context. In 1 John 1:3-7, fellowship with God, Christ, and other Christians implies leading humble, sincere lives as new creatures forgiven of sin. Fellowship and immorality are mutually exclusive because fellowship with God means sharing the ethical character of God (2 Peter 1:4). In Philippians 2:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 13:11-14, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit evokes a gentleness that results in harmony, unity, and cooperation among brothers and sisters who share the same Spirit.

In other contexts, "fellowship" comes to mean the tangible expression of a common spiritual bond. When Peter, James, and John gave Paul and Barnabas the "right hand of fellowship" (Galatians 2:9), they were offering them their moral support. When the Macedonians contributed to the poor saints in Jerusalem, Paul called it the "fellowship of service" (2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:13; Romans 15:26-27). When the Philippians sent money to support Paul's ministry, Paul alludes to it as "fellowship in the gospel" (Philippians 1:5; 4:14-19). The Hebrew writer says that sharing (this same word for fellowship) material resources with other saints is a Christian sacrifice pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16).

Fellowship in scripture is more active than passive, more participation than association. If one has fellowship with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, one’s moral life will reflect the ethical nature of divinity. If Christians have fellowship with other Christians, their common participation in the blood of Christ will translate into a peace-loving, generous attitude. If people lack moral integrity, kindness, and love, they are not in fellowship with God or with one another, no matter how many donuts they eat at church.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 30, 2007 9:46 PM.

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