The idea of fellowship is a significant concept in the Scriptures; nevertheless, many today have misunderstood and misapplied “fellowship” so that the term has been completely altered in meaning. Let us now look into the New Testament to attempt to restore the Biblical definition of “fellowship.”
The word translated as “fellowship” in the New Testament is the Greek word koinonia, defined by Thayer’s as:
Fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse; the share which one has in anything, participation; intercourse, fellowship, intimacy; the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship (in fulfilling the apostolic office); a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship.
We will get a good idea of how this word is used in relation to modern concepts of “fellowship” by looking at 1 Corinthians 1:9, Philippians 1:5, 1 John 1:3, and 1 John 1:6-7:
God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
…for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now…
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the 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 his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
How, then, shall we characterize “fellowship” in the New Testament?
- It is a state, not an event. Probably one of the most significant alterations in the meaning of the term “fellowship” since its use in the New Testament is the idea that “fellowship” can be something that a group can come together and have as an event, like a period of “fellowship” during or after a meal or such thing, also exemplified in the existence of “fellowship halls,” ostensibly, a place where people can “have fellowship.” From the Scriptures that we read above we can see clearly that our fellowship is not an event, but a state of being. We are in a state of fellowship with the Father and the Son and with one another as Christians if we walk according to God’s truth. This “fellowship” is not a thing that we do somehow, but describes the current relationship we have.
- Fellowship is partnership. We can see from Thayer’s definition above that another definition of the Greek koinonia is “joint participation” or “participation,” and some versions will translate “fellowship” as “partnership” in some places. The idea of partnership is perhaps clearer to us than fellowship is, and so we can see that our fellowship is a partnership to glorify God and the works He has wrought for us. We are in a partnership with God the Father and God the Son and with one another to accomplish these ends. We all have responsibilities and roles to play in our common partnership for the Gospel.
- Fellowship, therefore, is a bond. The bonds of fellowship are to be strong for those who believe and obey the truth of God, and I am confident that few if any who would wear the name of Christ would not desire to have a bond with Christ that will endure. Our fellowship–with God the Father and God the Son and with one another–is to be a lasting bond that helps carry us through temptation, hardship, success, and glory. The bond of fellowship, however, can and must be broken in the case of those who have fallen away from the truth either by conduct or by teaching (1 Corinthians 5:10-13, Romans 16:17-18).
We can see, therefore, that Biblical fellowship is a bond–a partnership–and not an event. We perhaps demonstrate our fellowship by coming together for encouragement and edification in periods of assembling, meals with one another, and with other such periods of togetherness, but we must not confuse the bond and partnership we have with these activities that prove and strengthen it.
Let us strive to maintain the bond and partnership of fellowship in the Gospel.
Ethan R. Longhenry