Fellowship?

by Mike Ratliff

42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NASB)

Most of the churches I attended in my life had something called “fellowship” and some even had  space dedicated to it called “fellowship hall” or something similar. We had time after “church” that was called “fellowship time” that always seemed to be a relaxed time of visiting together and just being friendly with each other outside of normal “church stuff.” In the New Testament the word that is translated as “fellowship” as in Acts 2:42 (above) is κοινωνια or koinōnia, which Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest defined as, “joint participation in a common interest or activity.” Instead of simply a friendly time of visiting together or a coming together for relaxation, κοινωνίᾳ, then, is a partnership, a sharing of something in common.

Carefully read Acts 2:42, which is at the top of this post. Here it is from the Greek text, “Ἦσαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ, τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς.”

Here is my personal translation, “And they were devoting themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayers.”

In this verse we have the fourfold activity of the church. The believers continued steadfastly in the teaching or doctrine of the apostles and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. It should be clear that these believers were not divided in any way. They had a single-mindedness to stand firm in what the apostles were teaching them and in doing that they partnered together to do so. In this they broke bread together and, of course, prayed together. There was a close communion with each other. This partnering together, this fellowship is second only to the foundational element of doctrine and teaching. It is crucial that Christians fellowship with one another.

True Christian fellowship is far deeper than simple socializing together. It involves a true union and bond in thought and desire, and goal. Carefully read the following passage.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5 NASB)

What was making Paul joyful? It was the Philippians partnership with him in the Gospel. However, greatest of all is our fellowship with our Lord Jesus Himself as Paul says in Philippians 3:10, “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

On the other hand, there is a flip side to κοινωνίᾳ that we must consider. There are some with whom we should never have fellowship.

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
“ I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be MY people.
17 “ Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“ And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “ And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.
1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2Co 6:14-7:1 NASB)

Paul used four different graphic words in this passage to describe a relationship. We have already looked at κοινωνίᾳ, which is translated here as fellowship. The word the NASB translated as partnership in v14 is μετοχη or metochē. It means “sharing or participation.” In v15 of the NASB we have the word harmony, which is the Greek word συμφωνησις or sumphonēsis from which we get our English word symphony. It means “unison and agreement.” Also in v15 we have the words in common, which translates the Greek word μερις or meris, which means “a share or portion of something.” Finally, in v16 in the NASBwe have the word agreement, which is the Greek word συγκαταθεσις or sugkatathesis, which is an accord or a consensus.

Paul’s questions using these words were rhetorical. Of course there can be no question of the importance of the Christian’s separation from the world. Paul’s word usage here was brilliant. He heaped them on upon another so there will be no misunderstanding about the believer’s forging too close a bond with non-Christians.

Think of marriage, business partnerships, dating, friendships, club memberships, et cetera. The next one may cause some discussion, but also think of those secret lodges or organizations like the Masons. They are not Christian. Even a brief examination of their literature reveals that. Therefore, we must be wise and not have any close relationships with these groups or people. It is God who has made these distinctions. Why? He wants the Body of Christ to be pure, to “be separate” and “touch not the unclean thing.” He does not want us to be defiled by evil or by fellowship with those who do evil. Think on this my brethren, when believers do fellowship with evil, they break fellowship and communion with God. He can only “receive us” when we are separate from this world…hence the provision He has provided us in throne of grace and promises such as 1 John 1:9.

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “Fellowship?

  1. Yes, I have noticed this too. When I went to church 20 years ago and longer, there was actual fellowship. The believers ‘hung out’ before church, after church, at mid week fellowships, and even at extraneous activities. (It was a smaller town which did help.) The gospel was shared in many of these activities. They had church picnics, beach fellowship times, outings, potlucks and meetings in each other’s homes, the list goes on. There were charity and outreach events sharing the gospel all the time, prayer meetings, home fellowships, etc.. And the retreats were not just indoctrinating conferences in disguise. In the early church, it was an all day event where food was shared. In times gone by they had an evening service but fellowship was in between both services.

    Fast forward 25 or so years and here is what happens today; ‘believers’ rush in to the service late for ‘worship,’ get talked at for 40 minutes or so (I refrain from using the terms taught or preached as that is not the case usually), there is a quick prayer for coreographical purposes (they can change the stage backdrops, worship leaders have mysteriously appeared during your heartfelt prayer for the persecuted church… if it comes up.) and the last blast is issued (final song). Then they all rush out as if the building is on fire and drive over each other on the way out. If people are told to shake hands during the service, they do it begrudgingly out of compulsion. That is the only interaction that transpires between them now in most cases. And I speak for churches over the spectrum of contemporary to traditional conservative in style.

    Sometimes I thought that perhaps it was designed that way. ‘Pastors’ worry about their empires and losing their profits. They employ strategies such as ‘divide and conquer.’ What do they care if no fellowship occurs, so long as the coifers are full at the end of the service? They may be thinking that once people talk, they argue and some will leave, or something gets exposed (false teaching or hidden sin) and people leave, making their worst PR nightmares come true. In the end, it’s all about the money. That is one more reason why there are no valid churches today, there are no true shepherds in leadership.

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