FELLOWSHIP IN THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
Notes of a Bible Study
P. J. Buss. March 1982
1) What does the word fellowship mean?
The word fellowship comes from the Greek word “koinonia”, which occurs twelve times in the New Testament. This word literally translated has three basic meanings: communion, community and communication. It pictures a society joined together by a common Head, with a common aim or purpose, with a common abode (togetherness), having social intercourse, communicating with and to each other. Acts 2.42 (and the surrounding verses) portrays the early church having all these characteristics. United to the Lord Jesus Christ and through Him with each other, they were constantly engaged in communion with God (vs. 46,47) and engaged in mutual communion by eating together, observing he Lord’s Supper (vs. 42,46), praying (v. 42), communicating their possessions (vs. 44,45), and communion together in worship (vs. 46 and 47).
Members of this society are called in various places citizens, disciples, heirs, helpers, labourers, prisoners, servants, soldiers, workers and yokefellows-all connected with another greek word for fellowship, “metoche”, which sheds some further light on the nature of this society and its purpose.
2) The basis, source and root of fellowship.
The scriptures are abundantly clear that the only basis of fellowship with God and His people is that we have fellowship with “the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”. Notice how in I John 1.3 the apostle links fellowship amongst believers, with fellowship with God the Father, and with God the Son. The apostle Paul emphasizes this truth in Philippians 2.1 when he mentions “fellowship in the Spirit” (i.e. participation in the blessings of the Spirit); linking it with a Christlike regard for others in the community of believers (vs. 3-8). To this constant fellowship we are called, says the apostle in 1 Cor. 1.9. There can be no higher aim in such a fellowship with our Lord, with its transforming influences in our lives in following the Lord, He being our greatest love, than that tremendous statement of the apostle in Philippians 3.10, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”
In a day when so much emphasis is being placed on the outward manifestations of fellowship in the many forms of public worship, the central truth that fellowship with a triune God lies at the heart of true fellowship with one another, needs to be clearly brought out into its scriptural prominence.
3) Preparation for fellowship in public worship.
The New Testament makes clear that in accordance with the promise of our Lord, the Holy Spirit has come (Acts 2) and now resides in the true church of God, and in the heart of the individual believer (1 Cor. 3.16,17; 6.19; 2 Cor. 6.16; Ephesians 2.21,22). The question must therefore be asked, “Why do we not feel His gracious influence more when we come together as a community of believers to have fellowship with God and our fellow believers?”. Without denying the sovereignty or mercy of God toward us individually in this matter – “he knoweth our frame …” Psalm 103.13,14, it seems clear from scripture that one of the reasons may lie in the solemn responsibility we are charged with in preparing for fellowship, and the fact that blessing may be linked with a godly preparation of the heart for fellowship. Put another way, the Holy Spirit never leaves His people, but His influences may be quenched and He can be grieved – hence the felt loss of His power. Particularly important in this connection is Ephesians 4.30 where the Apostle Paul lays side by side the two opposites, the grieving and the sealing of the Holy Spirit of God.
In relation to this, two passages are exceedingly searching -Psalm 24. 3-5, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” And Psalm 66.18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Both relate to fellowship with God and the need to confess our sins to God and seek forgiveness and repentance through the precious blood of Christ Jesus, so that we may not fall into the category of the worshippers described in Isaiah 29.13, “Wherefore the Lord said. Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.” And repeated by the Lord in Matthew 15.8, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” This principle is also emphasized in 1 John 1.6,7, as it affects fellowship with each other, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Other matters that mar true fellowship with Christ and His body are found in Matt. 5.23,24, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” And Ephesians 4.26, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath”. Preparation for public worship (the fellowship of the saints) will involve a practical implementation of these texts. There is therefore a need actually to set aside time to prepare for fellowship, coupled with the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 119 v 18, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” In this way we come with prepared hearts with the aim of communion with God and with His people, to receive His blessing and (what is just as important) to give to one another in the various appointed ways as shown in scripture.
4) Fellowship in public worship.
The sermon. In a day when ‘participation’ in public worship is increasingly mentioned, and listening to a sermon is described as ‘non-participative’, it needs to be emphasized that such an attitude to the sermon is totally unbiblical and
betrays much about the attitude of such a “worshipper”. A proper hearing of the sermon will be eminently God-ward, that is, having fellowship with God during the preaching, on the part of both preacher and hearer. God’s Word is His prophetic voice to us today, (2 Peter 1.19-21) and a scriptural exposition of that voice must be heeded in the prayer of Samuel, “Speak Lord for thy servant heareth”. We cannot expect fellowship with God during the sermon if our response is like Samuel’s “It is Eli calling”, and fail to recognize God’s voice. We have fellowship with God during the sermon when we recognize, receive, and thank God for true blessing. In this connection notice the great blessing and privilege to be “had in a right understanding of God’s Word as opened up during the sermon [Matt. 13.11). Notice also that blessing is linked to keeping (i.e. reducing to practice) the Word of God following the hearing (Luke 11.28). Also notice – 2 Tim. 3.5, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away” – power produces change. Therefore we are to be careful what and how we hear (Mark 4. 24 and Luke 8. 18) knowing that failure to do this will result in barren hearings.
As well as continuing in the apostles’ doctrine, the early church also sought to express fellowship in a variety of ways when meeting together, some of which are shown below.
5) Fellowship, emphasizing togetherness in public worship.
1) Singing. Praising God, “making melody in our hearts”. Unity in singing. We shall unitedly sing in heaven. (Acts 2.47, Ephesians 5.19, Rev. 5. 9).
2) Praying together. (Luke 11. 2, Ephesians 6.18). Also note 1 Cor. 14.16 -the ‘amen’ at the conclusion of public prayer was audible.
3) The Lord’s Supper. An open manifestation of our union with Christ through His sufferings and death, and our unity to each other. Regular observance of this Gospel ordinance is needed.
4) After the service. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep” – without favouritism (Romans 12. 15) giving to the body mutual edification, fellowship of ministering to the saints, including practical help, (Phil. 1.5 and 2 Cor. 8.4); confession of faults, (James 5.16) encourage, exhort and rebuke, (Isaiah 41.7, Heb. 10.25, Luke 17.3). All this to show our mutual love, care and concern for each other as fellow citizens and heirs of glory.