What Constitutes Fellowship?
David D. Back
The Greek word koinonia is used 20 times in the New Testament and 12 of those times it was translated fellowship. The basic definition of the word is "communion`,and is so translated four times in God's Word. It has also been translated "communication ... .. contribution," "distribution," and "to communicate," once each.
Much false doctrine and, at best, very poor judgment has been spread by the improper use of the word fellowship. We have brethren who proclaim that their suppers and entertainment are fellowship. Some say that as long as a person has been immersed for any reason, we can fellowship with him for he is our brother. Others claim that there is no fellowship as long as one does not contribute to the treasury, thus allowing them to worship with those in error when they please. But is this what God would have us believe? Just what does constitute fellowship?
Called By The Father
"God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9). Notice that what begins our relationship (or fellowship) is that the Father must call us. How are we called?
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Thess. 2:13,14, "But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (emphasis mine, ddb). God calls us by the Spirit who searched the deep things of God and revealed them to the apostles, who in turn spoke them unto mankind (1 Cor. 2:9-13). This is, of course, the truth that sanctifies us. Jesus, as He prayed in John 17, stated, "Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth" (v. 17). The only truth we have is the word of God. And we are told that we are chosen by belief in the truth. We are called by the gospel which the apostles revealed unto us. Can we say that we have fellowship with our Lord and refuse to obey the words of truth? This reminds me of the words of our Lord, "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Lk. 6:46). Do we make mockery of our Lord? Why not obey the words of our Lord and begin your fellowship with Him.
Is It Suppers And Entertainment?
In reading bulletins from time to time from our brethren who are persuaded to support human institutions from the church treasury I have seen them misuse many passages. But probably the worst I have ever seen was the using of Acts 2:42 to say that fellowship in that passage justifies the use of the building for such purposes as these. There was no explanation given; he just used it. Brethren, I believe in get togethers, pot-luck dinners, and I enjoy entertainment, but this is not a gimmick we are to use to draw men to the Lord. Romans 1: 16,17 tells us that the gospel is to be the drawing power to salvation, for therein lies the righteousness of God.
All we can hope to draw with food and entertainment are those the apostle Paul speaks of in Philippians 3:18,19. Their god is their bellies and they mind earthly things. Let us not be guilty of this wrong. Jesus Himself did not want any to follow after Him because their bellies were being filled. In John 6, there were those who sought after Jesus, not because they saw the miracles, but because they ate the loaves that were provided and were filled (v. 26). Jesus continues in verse 27, "Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you . . ." We need to be concerned with that spiritual f6od as Peter puts it (1 Pet. 2:2), ". . . the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." Let us feed the manna of God unto our souls that we may have life through obedience unto it.
Fellowship is not a word to be trampled under foot in such a way. Acts 2:42 is talking about the communion they had with one another because of their relationship with God. That is, they labored one with another for the same goal to bring lost souls to Christ by the truth of the gospel. Take a look at Galatians 2:9; it is the same Greek word. There Paul said that James, Cephas, and John extended the right hand of fellowship to him that they may go unto the heathen while the others went to the circumcised. The word means the same as in Acts 2:42; they said they stood behind them in their work, that they bid them Godspeed. Again in 1 John 1:3 the same Greek word appears two times. John tells them that he declares or proclaims the word to them so they can have fellowship with them. This is not talking about feast or entertainment. It is teaching us that those obedient to the word are now children of God; now we can be partakers together in the hope of salvation and working for the same cause. John continues to say that their fellowship is truly with God and His Son. Does this sound like the entertainment our erring brethren are promoting?
If you are involved in these tactics then you had better come out from among them. "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11).
Is Giving Into The Treasury All Of Fellowship?
I want to say, first of all that the Bible teaches that giving is a part of fellowship in passages such as 2 Cor. 8:4,5; Phil. 1:5; 4:14-16. But does the New Testament teach this is all that constitutes fellowship? The answer to that question is "no," as we have seen in other realms of this study.
The apostle Paul wrote that he was made a minister to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:7-9). This in turn would make all men see the fellowship of the mystery. This was hid in God. Fellowship here has nothing to do with giving but refers to our relationship to God. 1 John 1:6 tells us that we can say we have fellowship with Christ, but if we walk in the worldly paths of sin we are a liar and do not practice the truth. I John 1:7 continues, "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." Here the fellowship spoken of is that horizontal relationship we have with our fellowman. That relationship is established because of the common bonds which we have with God. The fellowship here is established not because of our giving (although it is a part of fellowship) but because of our obedience to the gospel. This is nothing but a rationalizationused by those who want to attend where they recognize there is error.
This Is The Sum
As Hebrews 8:1 puts it, ". . . this is the sum" as we look at all the evidence. Let us not stand in the works of darkness but come out from among them. Think of the words of John, "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there be any come unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed: for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds." You are bidding these erring ones Godspeed through your misuse of the word fellowship. Let us swallow our pride and obey God's truth.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 3, pp. 78-79