We’re finishing up our entire series on Holy Things today. We’ve talked through the Holy Things of God. We’ve talked about living a holy life, and now we’re finishing with Practices of Holy People. Our first practices were prayer, giving, and fasting. We’re finishing today with fellowship.
Fellowship is a super churchy word. And I don’t think many people really understand the fullness of what it means.
People ask me, “What does your church do for fellowship?”
It’s such a weird question to me, because what they are asking is what do you do as a pastor to facilitate relationships in the church, as if the role of a pastor is to play matchmaker for the people who attend the church.
When someone asks, “What does your church do for fellowship?,” that’s church-code for, “Tell me about your potlucks, BBQ’s, and movie nights.” “Tell me about the deep friendships that are formed in your Bible studies and small groups.” “Tell me a sad story about the heartbreak when a relationship in the church has to be broken.”
Friendships are great and you will find those in the church—you ought to—but that’s not fellowship.
Sometimes it’s like, the biblical definition of pastor is one who prays for the church, proclaims the Word of God to the church, and plans events to make people act friendly. Job description: Preacher and party-planner.
I think it’s that it has become so common-place for churches to be consumed with events and programs that most Christians can’t wrap their mind around a church that doesn’t have them. But, again, the biblical program of the church is not potlucks, BBQ’s, and movie nights. Honestly, small groups are not even part of the biblical program of the church. Ancient small groups met—are you ready for this—nearly every day and without the pastor or other elder’s direct oversight.
When was the last time you invited people to your house to share a meal, to pray, and to talk about Jesus?
They did it nearly every day. In fact, the author of the letter to the Hebrews exhorted his readers to,
That’s your job as the church. You provoke each other to love. You provoke each other to good works.
You get together at each other’s houses and when someone stops coming over, you get them on the phone and get into their lives and you hold them accountable. Jami and I have people and families in this church that we do this with, but we can’t do that for everyone. It’s your job to do it for each other.
And the author of Hebrews did not mean to gather together on Sunday morning as some have said. This passage isn’t about church services. He means to gather together as believers on a regular basis. It’s like the disciple Luke observed of the first Christians in Jerusalem,
They didn’t need a program for fellowship, because they understood what fellowship was and they knew that as a practice of Holy People, fellowship was to be a regular part of their day-to-day lives.
It was something they owned as individuals and it would have been completely foreign and bizarre to them if the apostles began organizing programmatic fellowship for the church like we do today.
This idea that churches are social clubs and pastors are matchmakers is nothing less than American consumerism. And I believe this subject can be well informed by a solid understanding of what fellowship really is, according to the scriptures, as the early church understood it.
The idea of fellowship is usually developed from the New Testament word, koinonia, which is often translated as fellowship, communion, participation, or sharing. But, the concept of fellowship stems back into the Hebrew mindset of the Old Testament times.
In the Hebrew mindset, fellowship was a bond. Marriage was a fellowship, a bond that ought not to be broken. Companionship like David had with Jonathon, King Saul’s son, was fellowship, a bond that could not be broken. It’s no accident that Tolkien called the group of Elves, Dwarves, Humans, and Hobbits who were called to destroy the One Ring, the fellowship of the ring. They made an unreachable covenant, a fellowship. Even physical things, like the joining of links of a chain could be described as fellowship, because of their unbreakable bond.
So, then you get to the New Testament and the Jewish Christians begin to use this word, fellowship—or koinonia—to describe relationships that Christians have.
Fellowship was Paul’s favorite word to describe a Christian’s relationship to the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, and the benefits of salvation which come through Him.
On the basis of faith, believers have fellowship, an unbreakable bond with Christ.
We share fellowship in the gospel.
Here Paul says that the Gospel of Jesus results in an unbreakable bond of fellowship between believers and the blessings of the Gospel.
Paul gives thanks that the Philippian Christians are abiding by the bond of fellowship that comes from the Gospel.
Believers also share together a fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit creates a bond that ought not be broken. The Apostle Paul wrote,
A seal is a mark of a signet ring. You were marked by the Spirit. God has looked upon you and declared, “mine,” over you. And for Paul, that sealing is fellowship.
Fellowship isn’t events and programs. It isn’t casual friendships or fun day trips. Fellowship is the unbreakable bond that has been formed between you and Christ by the Holy Spirit as a result of believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for which God the Father declares, ‘mine!’— and by which you are His Child, and forever you shall be.
That’s the foundation of this thing we call fellowship. But, it’s not just fellowship with God.
Let’s discus where it is that we get this idea of…
…with each other.
Where did we get the idea that fellowship means getting together as believers to do something?
We get it because there are times that fellowship is used that way in the scriptures. Although, it is never used of casual or merely fun events, but of very serious and profound events.
The primary example of this is the Lord’s Supper. The Apostle Paul wrote,
It’s inescapable here that Paul intends us to believe that there is participation in the fellowship of the bread and cup when we take the Lord’s Supper.
Incidentally, there are many Christians who refer to the Lord’s Supper as communion and it comes from this very verse. Many older translations of the scriptures most importantly, the King James, translate it this way,
The word in the Greek for communion or sharing in either translation is koinonia, which is fellowship. We might, very well call the Lord’s table, the table of fellowship.
So then as we share together in the Lord’s Table, the cup that we bless and the bread that we break are a declaration, not just of the unbreakable bond we have with Christ, but of the unbreakable bond we have with each other. And it’s sad how people casually come and go from churches. Our consumerist culture has taught that if you don’t like something you take your money elsewhere. But, the church is not about money—it’s not about flesh and blood—it’s about fellowship with God and God’s people the church.
So, when we go to take the Lord’s Supper together here after the message, realize that partaking is a partaking in a covenant agreement between you and every other person here today that you are not just committed, surrendered, and bound to the Lord, Jesus Christ. But, you are also committed and bound to the church body, itself.
So, if you have one foot out the door, then maybe you should just pass the plate. Partake if you are committed to God’s people here. Otherwise, pass the plate.
Fellowship, then, is definitely something we do together. But, it’s not casual. It’s very official and it’s very profound. It’s why when someone asks me about the fellowship of our church—What does your church do for fellowship?—I usually tell them about Sunday mornings. And then they’re turned off because they think I’m saying I don’t value fellowship, because we don’t have a bunch of programs throughout the week. But, it’s not that at all. It’s that I do value fellowship so much so that I immediately jump to our biggest and most significant fellowship gathering on Sunday morning.
There is a more casual fellowship that I believe is present in the scriptures. But, I want to be clear about this. The casual fellowship in the scriptures is not part of the program of the church. This is the sort of thing that should be a practice of the people of the church as I mentioned briefly already—it is a practice of holy people, not a program of the church.
So, we turn back to the book of Hebrews where the author wrote,
The sense here is that we ought not to neglect to do good for one another.
When one person is in need it is your responsibility to meet that need. In the book of Acts, when we read that the early church was diligent to break bread together in each other’s homes, that was a euphemism that meant they ate together. And I believe they ate together because some people didn’t have enough to eat so they relieved each other’s burdens by having them over for dinner.
The bond between God and man was so significant to them that they were willing to make great sacrifices for each other in the church. They didn’t look at a hungry person among them and figure, well, sometimes I’m generous and that’s good, but I’m not going to help this person today. That’s all well and good out in the world, but in the church, it is evident that every need is every person in the churches responsibility.
You never look at your kids and think, ‘Well, I fed them yesterday, so they can figure it out for themselves today.’
When you overlook the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ, you are denying fellowship with them. You have a bond to them in Christ. And that’s why we sometimes think of fellowship as …
… we think of fellowship as something you give.
The Apostle Paul suffered in immense ways for the sake of the Gospel—beatings, imprisonment, hunger, exposure to the elements, drowning, and eventually martyrdom. He made at least four missionary journeys around the Greco-Roman world proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as He went, and it was the fellowship of the churches that sustained Him. One of the churches that sustained or supported Paul in His work was the Philippi church. Writing to the Philippians, Paul said,
Again, the sense is that the bond between you and God is so great that you would support the work of God in the world.
But, also, the bond between Christians is so great, that you would support other believers in their hardships, wherever they have need. We give in fellowship. We give in bondage.
And this sort of support is mutually beneficial. Author Bruce Barton wrote,
Bruce B. Barton (LAC) — Giving gifts involves a strange reciprocity. In giving, we create bonds of friendship that return a strong benefit to us. In giving to God’s work, we generate value in heaven.
True, selfless, and sacrificial fellowship results in great value for eternity—that’s our bond with God—but also with our bond with fellow believers. Fellowship is of strong benefit to us now and eternally.
Look what the Apostle Paul wrote to his friend Philemon,
Paul identified two aspects of Philemon’s character as fellowship.
Fellowship is the love for all the saints, the people of God. And fellowship is faith in the Lord Jesus. I want to talk about fellowship as love for all the saints, though. All here, means all. You could argue that it just means the Christians that Philemon knows, maybe the people that are a part of his church. Here’s the story, though.
The Apostle Paul knew Philemon and His household well. There was a church in Colossi that met in Philemon’s home and Philemon may have even been the elder or pastor of that church. Now, Philemon owned a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus stole from Philemon and, fearing for his life, fled the city.
Well it happened that Paul was in prison and Onesimus came to the city where Paul was, possibly on house arrest, and in some way or another met up with Paul and the disciples who were there.
Paul said that he became Onesimus’ father while he was in prison, which means that he shared Christ with Onesimus and taught him to follow Jesus. Well, then Paul kept Onesimus with him for an extended period of time before sending him back to Philemon, because Onesimus was useful to him and thus he kept him for a while.
The question for me is, How could Paul know that Philemon would be okay with that?
He knew, because Philemon had a great love for all the saints. And because Onesimus had become useful for the progression of the Gospel, of course Philemon would want him to stay with Paul.
For Philemon fellowship wasn’t just a bond with his immediate church family, but a supernatural bond to all the saints that extended far beyond the acquaintances that Philemon had made in his own city. If you’ve ever been on a short-term missions trip, you’ve experienced this. Sometimes you don’t even speak the same language, but you immediately form a bond with a Christian in another country. It’s supernatural.
See, we make a huge mistake when we look at the church as another social outlet. We’re Christians so we come to church to find Christian friends. Well, it’s good probably that you have Christian friends. But, friendships are part of the natural world. Virtually everyone makes friends with people who share a common worldview.
Fellowship is a supernatural bond that transcends friendship. It’s such a rich bond, it doesn’t even require friendship. So, again, when we talk about fellowship we just can’t mean friendships with people in the church. Fellowship is a love for all Christians, honestly, whether you like them or not; whether they are your friends with them or not. If we have fellowship with God, then we extend or give fellowship to all the saints.
And finally, we must be careful not to…
The Apostle John was very careful about his use of the word fellowship. He wanted to use it in it’s fullest sense to get the full impact of the word. He didn’t want anyone to take the idea of fellowship casually.
John opened his first letter this way:
John said that everything the Apostles and other disciples saw when they were with Jesus was revealed to them so that they could tell other people for the express purpose that they might join the Apostles in fellowship, to be inseparably bound to them.
But, it’s not as though fellowship with the Apostles is so great. The reason you would want to be bound in fellowship to the Apostles is because, indeed, John says, their fellowship is with the Father and the Son Jesus Christ.
The goal is fellowship with the Father and with the Son and that is achieved, in some sense, by joining the Apostles in what they believe and declare to be true about Jesus.
But notice, John’s stream of thought. What message is it that he and the Apostles declare, that which you must believe in order to have fellowship with the Apostles and fellowship with God?
You came here today to worship God. You claim the name of Jesus. You bow your head in prayer. You sing the songs or at least listen.
You claim, yes I am a believer and I must have fellowship with God. But heed John’s words. He says that to claim fellowship with God is nothing. Your words are meaningless if they are not followed with action. If you claim fellowship with God, but continue to walk in paths of darkness then John says you are a liar and the truth of God is not in you; you have no fellowship.
Notice that, for John, there is somewhat of a spectrum where there is obvious walking in darkness on one side of the spectrum and then the practice of truth on the other. He uses strong words when he speaks of the light of God. He says there is absolutely no light in God. Darkness is completely opposed to God. There is somewhat of a spectrum, but you can’t be somewhere in the middle.
It can’t be said of you, ‘Well, at least he is trying sometimes.’
You either walk in the darkness or you walk in the light. You either practice unrighteousness or you practice righteousness.
We like to believe that when someone dies that if there was any hint or glimmer of righteousness in him or her then God might have mercy. Maybe it’s your favorite actor or singer from your childhood and you identified a lyric in a song that said something about God or truth, or maybe an actor had a quote that seemed biblically sound and you’re holding out that, that might mean they had some amount of faith.
But, that’s not faith. Faith practices the truth. Faith walks in the light. Faith rejects the patterns of darkness that the world walks in. Those who are cleansed by the blood of Jesus have fellowship with the church, with the apostles, and they walk in patterns of light, patterns of righteousness and goodness. A glimmer of righteousness doesn’t save a person. True, life-changing, commitment to the risen Christ saves a person. And that kind of commitment comes with walking in the light.
We must beware of having fellowship with darkness, fellowship with that which is ultimately evil. The Apostle Paul wanted to demonstrate the idolatry of walking in darkness in 1 Corinthians 10, when he contrasted the Lord’s Supper with the pagans who sacrifice in the temples. He wrote,
Isn’t that basically what John said?
You can’t go through life with the excuse that you just aren’t a perfect person and that’s okay, God forgives you. If you walk in patterns of darkness, that is, if you dine at the table of demons, then you are not walking in patterns of light and you aren’t dining at the table of the Lord. The table of the Lord is for those who walk in the light, those who have given their lives to live for the one and only savior, the risen Christ.
This isn’t about being good or bad. Christianity isn’t about being good or bad. It’s about allegiance, loyalty, commitment, being bound to a greater king that the prince of this world, who is the devil and Satan.
Paul paints this picture of spiritual war, a battle for the souls of men. The demons have set themselves up as gods and they demand the worship of the people of this world and the people of this world bow to them in allegiance, following after their ways. And you may not call your gods, gods, but look at your life. Are you bowing in allegiance to gods that are not the one true God?
There are very real spiritual forces calling you into the patterns of this world, lying to you with false gospels of doubt and disbelief, tempting you with fleeting gospels of pleasure and sensuality, and calling you to take your eyes off God—just one moment at a time—because they know that God requires your full allegiance, your whole self; He requires true and abiding fellowship.
I do not want you to fellowship at the table of demons, but to fellowship at the Lord’s table.
Fellowship with God and fellowship with God’s people is not a casual commitment; it’s not a superficial friendship. The church isn’t here to play matchmaker for you and help you to find someone you can be good friends with in the church. When that happens, we are grateful, and it’s good, but our purpose as the church is to take people away from the table of demons and see them come to the table of the Lord, to enter into the light and to abide with Christ in true and everlasting fellowship with God. That’s what the Bible teaches about fellowship.
With that said, I’m going to pray for you and then we’re going to go strait to the Lord’s table. The body of Christ was broken and his blood shed to make a way out of the darkness and into the light. True fellowship with God and humankind has been offered to you by the blood of Jesus. As we partake today, do so if you are committed, with full allegiance to Christ. And commit with me now, the prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will be done, but yours.”