Part One: The Vertical And Horizontal Of Fellowship
The word “koinonia” is found in noun form in the New Testament some 19 times. It is variously translated as fellowship, communion, partnership, participation, share, contribution, taking part in (all RSV translations except for “communion”). We take up our study of this word to better know how we are to be in our Christian congregations as we await our Lord’s return.
You may remember that an apt description of the church at Jerusalem was recorded by Luke in Acts: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers” (2:42). Here we see first of all that fellowship is an activity. Fellowship is not merely having one’s name “on the books” of a Christian congregation. We remove names from our membership because individuals no longer practice fellowship with us. To be a member of a Christian congregation in name only is a shallow thing.
Fellowship With God
Fellowship with God and His Son, and with His children on earth, is serious business. The fellowship we are to have is not over coffee but over His Word. The people in the church in Jerusalem continued steadfastly in, devoted themselves to, the apostles’ teaching, that is, to the Word of God. To not hear the Word means a dwindling faith. To not study the Word means a puny faith. To not read the Word means a tenuous faith. Our faith grows as we search the Scriptures, and our fellowship with Him and His children is likewise reinforced.
Very many enter into fellowship with God through the Word in baptism. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). “The Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; in like manner as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” The most important aspect of this fellowship is our being called into fellowship with His Son. He is the cornerstone of our faith. Upon Him our whole salvation depends. Were it not for Jesus there would be no church, no faith, no hope. The personal relationship we have with Him is paramount. First we look up.
John writes about the vertical and the horizontal fellowship together. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3). Very beautifully the vertical and the horizontal make the cross. That which is the symbol of our holy religion is a picture of the common union we have in Christ. John says: “we proclaim to you.” It is just through this proclamation of the Gospel that the union is formed by the Holy Spirit.
Fellowship With One Another
And once we have fellowship with Him our lives simply change. Our relationship to people also changes. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to 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 his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:5-7).
In other words, can you murder your son and be in fellowship with God? Can you visit a prostitute and visit the communion table? If a sin is rebuked but not repented of then fellowship is called into question. How can one want fellowship with the Savior from sin is sin is not acknowledged and repented of? Impenitence makes Jesus of no effect in one’s life and cancels the fellowship with God and with His church. Either we are in the light or we walk in darkness. It is the blood of Jesus Christ alone that cleanses us from all sin. But we can reject the cleansing. We can cast aside His forgiveness, as we prefer to do those evil deeds in the darkness.
A very important part of our fellowship is the open confession of sin to God and to one another. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8-10). To have fellowship with the Lord and His people, sin simply must be confessed. True confession is not “if I have sinned” or “if I have done wrong.” There are no “if’s” about it. It is properly “because I have sinned….” and “since I have sinned….” We must admit how we have sinned and also acknowledge what we rightly deserve for our sin.
And how do we know that we have sinned? We come back to the Word. As Jesus is the Light of the world to shine into our hearts through the Word, so also His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path to expose our missteps. When we measure our lives by the holy Ten Commandments we must cringe. It is by deed, by word, by thought that I sin. Against the holiness of God I see clearly my black nature. It is only then that we can truly treasure Jesus, whose blood cleanses us from all sin. Against my hating there is His loving. Against my weakness there is His strength. Against my wickedness there is His righteousness.
The Power Of The Gospel
Knowing the power of the Gospel in our lives brings us to one last point. Being called by the Word into fellowship with Him means suffering. As they treated Him, so they will treat you. You are not above the Master. ” . . . Know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Php. 3:10). To be in the fellowship means to suffer. As Jesus was mocked, so we should be expecting mockery for our holding to the Word. As Jesus was laughed at when He would raise a child from the dead, so we should expect deriding scorn for our firm conviction in the Word.
We can meet any and all comers because we are in fellowship with Him. As He overcame so we overcome and have already overcome in Him. We even welcome suffering, as it draws us closer to Him. “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).
How sad for the word “fellowship” to have a bad connotation. It shouldn’t. It is positive in every way. At times we seem to be somewhat apologetic for our teachings. How wrong! We have nothing to be ashamed of with regard to our teachings, as they are drawn directly from God’s Word. We come to church for fellowship over the Word, to hear of our sin and of our Savior. In our fellowship we get the proper direction from the light of the Word for the coming week.
Before our Father's throne We pour our ardent prayers; Our fears, our hope, our aims, are one, Our comforts and our cares.
— Pastor (now missionary) David Koenig