Friends, Fellowship, and the Final Four (Part One)

handshakeHow do you know you grew up in a Baptist church? If you hear the word fellowship and start to salivate. Many of us have an idea of fellowship that includes potluck, paper tablecloths, and crock pots. Maybe some of you (thinking outside the box) are planning to have some “fellowship” over a plate of nachos as you cheer on your favorite college basketball team this weekend. But does fellowship mean merely getting together with other Christians? In one sense, that is exactly what it means. You can’t have true fellowship with people who aren’t born again (2 Cor. 6.14).  But fellowship means much more than this.

In fact, comparing what we often call “fellowship” to the fellowship spoken about in the New Testament would be like comparing my basketball “skills” to that of Villanova’s starting lineup. I may wear basketball shoes and play on a basketball court–I may even sink a few baskets–but you just wouldn’t compare me with them. It wouldn’t even be close.

So what did fellowship look like in the early church and what should it look like today? Here are four general principles inherent in the idea of fellowship that we can glean from New Testament practices (I’ll give two today and two at a later time):

Fellowship means sharing.

The basic meaning of the word “fellowship” in the New Testament is to share something. Share what, you ask? The fact is that there wasn’t much they didn’t share. The description of the very first Christians is revealing:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. . . . And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart (Acts 2:42-46).

The early Christians seemed to have a very loose grip on their own stuff. They were ready and willing to share their things with each other. There is no room for stinginess in fellowship. Be willing to give of yourself, your time, and your things in order to be a blessing to your fellow Christians.

There is another component to this idea of sharing. The early Christians not only shared their things; they also shared their joy in the Savior. There is an aroma of excitement and unity to this passage. It’s safe to say that they weren’t talking about politics or the economy. These people were meeting up on a regular basis and sharing their love for Christ. Unfortunately in our day, raw, unadorned (unplanned and un-“canned”) rejoicing in Christ is the exception, not the norm. We go right from singing the magnificence of God and listening to the preaching of the Gospel to the Phillies’ chances at another World Series in a matter of minutes. That may be fellowship, but it sure isn’t the kind we need.

That leaves us with the question, how much sharing do we need to do in order have really good fellowship? Our second point is part of the answer.

Fellowship means sacrificing.

Selling all of their goods and giving them away definitely cost the early Christians something. But they were willing to make the personal sacrifice because what they gained through fellowship was far more valuable to them than their material possessions. The sacrifice of fellowship doesn’t always come with a cash price tag, though. Fellowship means dealing with people, and that can spell pain. If you are not willing to be hurt, disappointed, taken advantage of, embarrassed, put out, or inconvenienced, then you are not ready for real fellowship. The cost of fellowship could mean dropping your busy schedule for an hour when a friend needs to talk through some of her struggles with you. It could mean going out of your way to show compassion to that family that doesn’t really fit in with your circle of friends. It could mean a lot more, but it definitely doesn’t mean less.

So, are you willing to do what it takes to enjoy the sweetness of real fellowship with your fellow Christians? I don’t know about you, but standing around telling jokes and listening to the latest hunting story isn’t enough for me. I need the encouragement and edification–even the “faithful wounds”–of Christian friends. That’s God’s plan, and I don’t think I can grow without it.

But is sacrificial sharing what fellowship is all about? There are two more pieces to the puzzle that we have to look at, but I’ll talk about those at another time.

6 Responses

  1. Great article, Jake. Sometimes we get so busy and so focused on our own agenda, even a good agenda, that we resent the imposition on our time that true fellowship can demand. Lord, help us to be others-focused.

  2. Jake, excellent reminder and rebuke at the same time as to what true fellowship is. I truly desire to be a true “fellowshipping” Christian. Thanks for the article.

  3. Jake, I think you are absolutely right… we can not grow without the strengthening effect of true fellowship. I’m just not sure I know how to fellowship the way you are describing. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Dave, thanks for the encouraging comment. Basically, my point in this article is to say that true biblical fellowship involves way more than standing around talking with Christian friends. Fellowship can look like a lot of things, but it has to go beyond where we normally take it. Hopefully, in part two I can give some more practical ways to work out these principles in our daily lives.

  4. Hello Jake,

    I was reminded of 1 John 1:7 and immediately thought of this blog.

    “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 cleanses us from all sin.”

    What a huge implication God’s Words make on the health of a church where fellowship is lacking or not present at all. Turning this verse around to reiterate what you are observing we end up with: if there is no fellowship with one another than we must not be walking in the light as God does nor is the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin.

    And for those of us who would begin to argue that we are in the light, God’s Words goes on to say:

    “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

    Or if we claim that we are walking in the light of God, God deals with this to:

    “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”

    So lack of godly fellowship is the indication of walking in darkness. Christians walking in darkness? It has happened before… However, God does not leave us here – Bethel has hope:

    “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

    All we have to do to see fellowship strengthen and grow is to repent from all of our unrighteousness.

    These are True and Good Words.

    One closing thought: If we claim that we are not sinning, we make God out to be a liar and His Word – Jesus – has absolutely no place in our lives. “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

  5. […] Christian fellowship offered to others.  The kind of fellowship Jake describes here and […]

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