Just exactly what is “Scriptural fellowship”?
Fellowship may be companionship or an exercise of friendliness toward one another. It expresses what the dictionary defines as a “community of interest.” The exercise of such fellowship serves society. But fellowship as society defines it is quite shallow—certainly a far cry from the scriptural concept.
“Fellowship” in the scriptural sense does not revolve around coffee but around the Word of God. A God-pleasing exercise of fellowship is based upon a common understanding of God’s Word and a Spirit-wrought acceptance and agreement in all that Scripture teaches.
Anything taught that is contrary to Scripture disturbs this fellowship and makes mockery of the fellowship in Christ. Scripture warns against such sham exercise of religious fellowship when it says, “Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with you?” (Psalm 94:20). Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “…the things that the Gentiles (heathen) sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20). Again he wrote, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) To the Ephesians the apostle wrote, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:20).
Regenerate people of God are in the world but are not of it (Romans 12:2). While we frequently rub elbows with the ungodly, the heathen, and the workers of iniquity in our daily exercise of life and work in society, we as children of God will not make common cause with the people or the deeds that disgrace our Lord.
In reality, if we find pleasure and delight in the company of those who mock and ridicule the Word of God or our life in Christ, we have reason to ask whether we are true confessors of Christ.
We will have friends in the world whose company we enjoy in a social sense, and there will be those with whom we work but who do not share with us the same respect for our Lord and His Word or the same confession of faith—but there will be limits to the companionship we enjoy with them. We will not give them the right hand of fellowship in the scriptural sense of that word (we are told that James, Cephas, and John gave Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship” Galatians 2:9).
The fellowship that is enjoyed in the body of Christ is a fellowship in the gospel. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel…” (Philippians 1:3-5). The gospel—the good news of Christ’s redemptive love—bound Paul to the Philippians.
The apostle John speaks of that gospel bond when he said “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us…” (1 John 1:3). That fellowship is of no small importance, for John continued, “and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” The gospel brings man into fellowship with God and brings believers into fellowship with one another.
Therein lies good reason why Christ-believers will guard the gospel jealously lest they lose both the comfort of the gospel as well as the unifying power of that gospel. “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 1:6-7).
Guarding the Gospel Jealously
The basis of fellowship was understood by the early Church. Of the converts on Pentecost we read, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Their common fellowship—interaction with fellow confessors of Christ and His Word—was manifest in the life of the Church. “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions, and divided them among all as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2: 44- 47). Theirs was a bond that exemplified their unity in Christ—a bond that could not be duplicated by the world then or now!
In Christianity today the sad reality is that there is an apparent lack of appreciation (if not understanding) for the foundation as well as of the blessing of fellowship in the gospel. This takes on various manifestations—from absenting oneself with regularity from the worship service to preferring to associate with friends in the world rather than with friends in Christ.
The life of a Christ-believer who desires to glorify the Lord and faithfully confess His Word in the world is a lonely life. As the world winds down and evil grows, the Christian life will get lonelier, particularly if one takes seriously the word which says, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent” [If sinners tempt you, say no] (Proverbs 1:10).
Whether it is a life of sin or the sin of accepting some false teaching, we are to say, “No.”
Like-minded believers need one another for mutual support and encouragement to stand against the evil that threatens the soul. Fellow believers in Christ are strengthened as they gather together around the Word and Sacrament.
It is faith-strengthening to lift up voices together in song and praise to the God of our salvation.
It is enjoyable to share moments together with people of the same faith and confession as we do in our church services and activities, or to comfort or be comforted by one another in time of need.
Scripture teaches us concerning our mutual responsibility in a fellowship—as well as the blessing of active fellowship in the Word—when it says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
May the Spirit of God give us understanding and appreciation of the blessing of fellowship with our own!
People who know that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation will surely want to gather to hear the gospel message of peace and hope in Christ.
They will be excited to have their fellowship with Christ confirmed through the gospel.
They will appreciate and foster the fellowship with their fellow believers as they walk the path to heaven.
Unless unusual circumstances intervene occasionally, they will gather together in worship regularly, for they know “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).