By Edward O. Bragwell
“Fellowship” and “friendship” are not synonyms. We have a hard time understanding this. We find it hard to deny the “right hand of fellowship” to friends, regardless of the their spiritual condition. A few find it hard to work in true partnership (fellowship) with any other than close friends. When a brother says he cannot fellowship a brother, then too many of us automatically assume that he is no longer friendly toward that brother. Such need not be so.
Vine makes an interesting observation on the difference between a fellow (Gk: hetairos) and a friend (Gk:: philos). He says, “This (hetairos), as expressing comradeship, is to be distinguished from No. 1 (philos), which is a term of endearment.” Thus, one can maintain friendship (endearment) with one with whom he cannot maintain fellowship (comradeship or partnership); or else a Christian could have no friends outside of Christ. Even one’s joining with the local church in withdrawing fellowship from a brother does not mean that he is withdrawing his friendship (2 Thess. 3:15); though the circumstances calls for not keeping company with him. (1 Cor. 5:9-13; 2 Thess. 3:14). Neither friendship or fellowship need be the basis for the other.
There are people with whom I maintain a relationship of endearment (by friendship, kinship, etc.) to whom I cannot extend fellowship either in the sense of congregational fellowship, or becoming partners with them in moral and spiritual efforts (such as ministerial alliances), or extending “the right hand of fellowship,” or any other gesture that would signal a general endorsement of them in their work.
I have close friends and dear relatives who are not Christians after the New Testament order. I love them dearly and they me. Either would quickly come to the other’s aid in time of need. Yet, we are not fellows in the Lord’s work. I cannot partake of their sins or encourage them in their spiritual work. I cannot afford to make any gesture that could be taken by them, or others, that there are no vital differences between us in spiritual matters. Even if one of these close friends or relatives, even a parent, brother or sister in the flesh, comes into this community to spread his doctrine then I must neither receive him into my house nor bid him godspeed, to avoid being a partaker of his evil (2 John 9-11). I could not announce his spiritual activities. If he cameto the services I would not call on him for prayer. Would that mean that I no longer felt close to him as a friend or relative? Of course not!
Sometimes those who, because of various relationships and associations with us, have greatly endeared themselves to us. Its awfully easy to gear our degree of fellowship with them to our degree of friendship with them. They can virtu-ally “get away with murder” in matters vital to the kingdom of God and the salvation of souls and we still treat them as pillars in the church. Their actions not only causes their faithfulness to the Lord to be suspect, but the openness of their actions places the Lord’s cause in a bad light before all. If the same positions and/or practices were embraced by those not so friendly with us, we would have long ago quit bidding them godspeed.
If a good friend gets into a situation that we cannot in good conscience endorse or encourage, it need not destroy our feeling of friendship toward him because we cannot conscientiously do anything we feel would encourage him in his situation. In fact, good friends do not want the other’s endorsement or encouragement against the conscience. Nor should scriptural disciplinary action be taken as an act of animosity.
No, friendship and fellowship are not parallel lines.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 23, p. 5
December 7, 1995