The word often produces one of two responses. Some respond with gratitude, as in, “I’m thankful for the fellowship we have in our church.” Others respond with dissatisfaction, as in, “We don’t have any fellowship in our church.”
What is implied in both responses is that fellowship is important. And, indeed, fellowship is central to the life of the church and is one of the important responsibilities that we have as members of her.
To understand what we mean by fellowship, we have to begin with God and who he is in himself. Within the one being of God there is delightful fellowship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons share one life in the deepest, most intimate sense.
When God saves us, that salvation is his taking us into his fellowship. This is at the heart of what it means to belong to God’s covenant of grace. It is to live in sweet communion with our Father-Friend as his children.
This means that our fellowship with God is the source of fellowship in the church. Our vertical relationship to God establishes and makes possible our horizontal relationships with fellow saints. Since we are united to Christ, we are also united to the other members of his body.
This also means that our fellowship with God is the goal or end of our fellowship with each other. The purpose of our fellowship with each other is that we all might be led to enjoy deeper fellowship with God.
As partakers of God’s covenant fellowship, we are called to seek fellowship with the other members of the church. Acts 2:42 sets before us the example of the early church: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” 1 Cor. 5 says that we may not “keep company” with one who is excommunicated, but that implies that members of the church keep company with each other. The same is true in 2 Cor. 6 when it says we may not be yoked, have fellowship, communion, concord, part, or agreement with unbelievers. The implication is that we are yoked and have fellowship, communion, concord, part, and agreement with fellow believers. 1 John 1:3 grounds our fellowship with each other in our fellowship with God: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
The calling to have fellowship is clear, but what exactly does that entail?
Fellowship can only be enjoyed when we know one another. It’s a sad reality in the church that we know too little of one another. We sit in church on Sunday next to fellow believers, and yet we know almost nothing about them and have nothing to do with them throughout the week. If we are called to have fellowship with one another, we must start by getting to know one another’s background, family, joys, and struggles. We can do this by staying and talking after church, by talking to different groups, by foregoing the weekly family gathering and inviting other members into our homes, or by joining a Bible study.
But we must not stop there in our description of fellowship. There is a difference between mere socializing and actually having true fellowship. We might talk after church or have others over to our home and talk about the weather, sports, and our families. And we can learn much about each other in this way. But if we never get around to talking about spiritual things, then we have missed the deeper fellowship.
Deeper fellowship involves seeking to grow together spiritually. According to J. I. Packer, true fellowship involves two main components. “It is, first, a sharing with our fellow-believers the things that God has made known to us about himself, in hope that we may thus help them to know him better and so enrich their fellowship with him.” “Fellowship,” he goes on to say, “is, secondly, a seeking to share in what God has made known of himself to others, as a means to finding strength, refreshment, and instruction for one’s own soul.” To put it simply, fellowship is a loving interest in the spiritual growth of our brother or sister in Christ. We rejoice with those that rejoice, and weep with those that weep. Fellowship is also a humble willingness to receive help from others.
There are many obstacles to this fellowship. One obstacle is a sinful attitude of independency and self-sufficiency. This is when we think that we don’t need anyone else. Another obstacle is a wrong fear of being judged by others if we open up about our struggles. The result of this attitude is that we clam up and pretend like everything is fine, when in reality it isn’t.
We all have to recognize our need for this fellowship. Not only does God use it as a powerful means of grace in the lives of others, but it is a powerful means of grace in my life too. This is true not just for the singles and those who are lonely. But it is true for all members of the church: male and female, married and single, with children and without, with large extended family and without.
Seeing the importance of this fellowship, we are then called to promote it in the church and to seek it. When each member strives to do so, the mention of fellowship will produce in us the response of gratitude: “I’m so thankful for the fellowship we enjoy in our church!”
This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment about this blog article for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.
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