Fellowship, by dictionary definition, is a friendly association, especially with people who share one another’s interests. Fellowship is found 17 times in the King James Version, but is translated variously in other translations, though the basic meaning remains the same. It is used in the Old Testament twice. The New King James translates Psalm 94:20 addressing the Lord, “Shall the throne of iniquity which devises evil by law, have fellowship with You” An American Translation (Beck) translates the same passage, “Can anyone on a throne of wickedness be your partner?
Second Corinthians 6 is the only New Testament text where the translation fellowship is not derived from koinonia or a derivative of it. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship [participation] has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”
In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul warns against “fellowship (being a partner) with demons.” In Ephesians 5:11 he counsels, “Have no fellowship (be no partaker) with the unfruitful works of darkness.” Acts 2:42 reports that believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.” Paul reminded the Corinthians ( 1 Corinthians 1:9) that God called them “ into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ.” Paul and Barnabas were sent on their way having received from the Church, “the right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9). Paul gave thanks to God for the “fellowship [of the Philippians] in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:5). The apostle John wrote, “… that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3). Christ—the Word of life— through the Word draws people into fellowship with Himself in whom all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ have fellowship with one another in His body, the Holy Christian Church.
Fellowship in and with Christ and with one another is manifest by walking in the truth in word and deed. John further says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” ( 1 John 1:5-7).
In our original state, dead in trespasses and sins, we did not seek fellowship with Christ. Remember how Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned. Through the Gospel, God graciously calls sinners into fellowship with Christ ( 2 Thessalonians 2:14). “[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began…”(2 Timothy 1:9). Our relationship to Christ and in Him with the Father is totally a consequence of the Spirit’s work. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Most assuredly, the Lord wants all people to be saved, but the saving relationship with the Father is through Spirit wrought faith in Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:26). This relationship is exclusive, but only in the sense that they who reject, deny, and rebel against Christ are excluded by unbelief. On the other hand, among the sum total of believers in Christ “ There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Perfect unity, fellowship, exists among the total of believers through the ages. The Lord knows in whom saving faith dwells. He knows whose confession of Him and trust in Him is genuine, and whose is not. He knows beyond any shadow of a doubt who are members of His family or who are impostors. He will do the sorting on judgment day. He will separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25: 31-34).
As only He can read the heart, the Father alone knows who are His and who enjoy fellowship with Christ. It is His will that Christ-believers fellowship with one another. However, since mortals cannot read the heart, the Lord has set the criterion for the exercise of fellowship of believers within the church on earth. It is His will that His Word be taught faithfully (Jeremiah 23:28), and that believers who come together in worship and fellowship be united in faith and confession in His Word, that “there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). He expressly warns, “Beware of false teachers” (Matthew 7:15). Those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine we have learned are to be avoided because they deceive hearts (Romans 16:17-18).
The Lord wills that His children differentiate between orthodox (correct teaching) and heterodox (false teaching) churches before exercising fellowship which by its nature implies unity of faith and confession. The differentiating factor is not who is or is not saved. The standard is not personal opinion, customs, or what one likes or dislikes. We are to compare what is taught and practiced in the church or church body to Scripture.
Obedience that is exhibited by Christ-believers who heed the Word of the Lord reaps blessing. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). How pleasant it is to worship, sing, pray, and commune together at the Lord’s table with brethren, all who believe and confess the whole Word without compromise, reservation, or evasion.
Each Christian within a congregation is unique —different backgrounds, ethnicities, customs, personalities. The one thing brethren have in common is sin. Of one faith and confession they join together in confession of sin, confident in the Lord’s grace, forgiveness, and promises of eternal life. The doctrines of Scripture are the link, and the Savior the glue that unites them in one hope of heaven.
Similarly, each congregation in a church body is unique from another, yet equally blessed as others with whom it is in fellowship, united as they are in faith and confession before the world. It is no secret that in our secular society there is no respect for the Lord or His Word. It is likewise no secret that there is growing disrespect within Christendom and the church for the Lord and His Word. In this godless age we who are of one heart and mind need one another.
As embers feed off others to maintain their glow, Christ-believers need the company, support, and encouragement, of one another through Word and Sacrament. Within a fellowship there is no closer relationship than that created and maintained by the Spirit through the Word. We pray that the Lord will lead each of us to appreciate the blessing of such fellowship in the truth that led John to write, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth “(3 John 4).
Compare the fellowship relationship within the church to marriage. God’s institution of marriage is the union of a man and a woman. This union is fractured if spouses insist on doing their own thing, going their own way, living only for self, or if they believe differently in matters of faith, or are disagreed on how to raise the children. Happiness in the marital union is a consequence of spouses united. So in the church. Fellowship is more than union. It implies unity in the Word of God, in doctrine, and in faith. It is a fruit of the Spirit. It glorifies the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ (Romans 15:6). This is the will of God.
Value the company and association of fellow confessors around the Word of God in Bible Study, worship, and other church activities. In a hostile, anti-Christian society such exercise of fellowship and togetherness with fellow confessors and support of each other is an essential aspect of walking together as we move day by day closer to being with the Lord in glory. They who join with faithful David who was glad “to go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1), know full well “ how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” with Christ, and in Jesus regularly with one another around the Word. “How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways” (Psalm 128:1). Doubly so when we walk together in His ways—His truth!