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What do you think about when you hear the word “fellowship”?

Posted by on Aug 24, 2011 in fellowship, scripture | 13 comments

What do you think about when you hear the word “fellowship”?

Lately, for various reasons, I’ve been thinking about the word and concept of “fellowship.” As I’ve thought about this word, and the various passages of Scripture that use the Greek term translated “fellowship,” I’ve recognized that there’s much, much more to this term than I’ve previously thought.

So, I’ll start this post by asking you this question: “What do you think about when you hear the word ‘fellowship’?

Seriously, think about it for moment, and try to answer the question for yourself.

Most Christians (even those who do not know Greek) know that “fellowship” is one of the translations of the Greek term κοινωνία (koinonia). However, many do not know how that Greek term is used in Scripture. In fact, the word is only used 19 times in the New Testament, and scanning those usages might be beneficial:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)

For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution [fellowship] for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. (Romans 15:26 ESV)

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV)

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [fellowship] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [fellowship] in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16 ESV)

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership [different term but perhaps synonymous?] has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV)

For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part [fellowship] in the relief of the saints… (2 Corinthians 8:3-4 ESV)

By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution [fellowship] for them and for all others… (2 Corinthians 9:13 ESV)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:13 ESV)

… and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:9 ESV)

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership [fellowship] in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5 ESV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation [fellowship] in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2 ESV)

…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share [fellowship] his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… (Philippians 3:10 ESV)

… and I pray that the sharing [fellowship] of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. (Philemon 6 ESV)

Do not neglect to do good and to share [fellowship] what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16 ESV)

… that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 ESV)

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7 ESV)

Obviously, most terms do not have a single meaning, but instead have a range of meanings. Likewise, the Greek term κοινωνία (koinonia) has a range of meanings, but it seems clear from the passages above that the meanings of the term relate to the English terms “sharing” or “partnership.”

In the passages above, the children of God share in Christ, they share finances/goods with one another, they share in the gospel (but not meaning as we say “share the gospel”), they share in their faith (trust) in God, they share in sufferings… and beyond this, they were devoting themselves to (persisting in or continuing in) this kind of sharing.

In other words, they were sharing life… life in Christ and life in one another.

Now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the term “fellowship.” And, I’d love to hear your answer to this question: What real life example(s) do you have of the kind of “fellowship” that is exemplified in the Scripture passages above?


13 Comments

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  1. 8-24-2011

    I think of the term “fellowship” as Christianese jargon that has been slammed into my head that means being together, mingling, just hanging out.

    Yes they are sharing time together, but do we truly “fellowship” and share everything like the word seems to mean?

    Swanny

  2. 8-24-2011

    When I think Fellow-ship I think two guys in a canoe. Or many fellows in a ship. Working together they succeed, otherwise they are a ship in distress.

    (But I’m sure this is not an official definition)

  3. 8-24-2011

    I desire to be in that kind of ship. Gotta get out of the skiff first. Waters can get choppy.

  4. 8-25-2011

    Great comments, guys! Thanks!

    Hopefully, God will continue to teach all of us what it means to share our lives with one another in Him.

    -Alan

  5. 8-25-2011

    In my legacy church parlance it usually means coffee time after sunday morning service. To me, and I don’t remember exactly where I got this, it means the mutual investment by two or more people in a common cause. It has the qualities of a business relationship but is deeper than that.

    Actually, I was thinking about this just this morning as I’m preparing a discussion group on being missional and the importance of fellowship to God’s plan to accomplish the Great Commission. To me, one of the clearest visual presentations of fellowship is Henry V’s Crispin Day’s speech, the “band of brothers” thing. Check out my blog for the video with Kenneth Branagh and a couple of notes.,

  6. 8-25-2011

    Dan,

    “Fellowship” definitely has the concept of “common” in it. In fact, one form of the term is actually translated “in common” or “common.”

    -Alan

  7. 8-26-2011

    Alan,

    In my thinking, fellowship is the practical outworking of our essential unity in Christ, and a more detailed description of what is involved in fellowship can be seen in the “one another” admonitions of the NT.

    I have never done an actual exegetical or lexical study on this yet, though. Do you see any potential problems with my definition/description of fellowship?

  8. 8-27-2011

    David,

    Actually, I think there is a strong connection between “fellowship” and the “one another” instructions in Scripture.

    -Alan

  9. 8-27-2011

    Alan,

    Yes, it seems like doing/having things “in common” (i.e. koinonia) and doing certain things/behaving certain ways “one to another” (i.e. allelon) are closely related.

    My big question is whether or not there is legitimate biblical justification for dividing between fellowship (i.e. practical unity) and cooperation. In other words, might there be situations in which we are in perfect fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom, for some reason or another, it is not practical or conducive to cooperate on certain ministry projects? If so, what would be a good way to define the difference between fellowship and cooperation?

  10. 8-27-2011

    David,

    I haven’t found that kind of distinction/separation in Scripture. Have you?

    -Alan

  11. 8-30-2011

    The main example that comes to mind is the disagreement between Paul & Barnabas over John Mark, and their decision to part ways in ministry collaboration, though not break fellowship, as I understand it.

    There may be others, but that is all that comes to mind for now.

  12. 8-30-2011

    Also, there were certain churches that participated with Paul in his collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem, and others, apparently, which did not. This is a bit of “dot-connection” here, but what it be correct to infer that Paul had one degree of fellowship with those who participated in the offering and another degree of fellowship with those who did not? Would this also imply there are degrees of fellowship within the Body of Christ?

    It seems to me that essential unity is something we share with all believers, whether we participate with them in this or that project, or not. If fellowship is, as I defined it above, the practical outworking of our essential unity, it is, by definition, something different than participating together in all the same ministry projects.

  13. 8-31-2011

    David,

    In spite of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, they continued to work together to strengthen the believers in the places they had visited. Barnabas/Mark went to Cyprus while Paul/Silas went over land toward Pisidian Antioch. Would they have continued to “fellowship” with one another if they stayed in the same place? I would think so, though I don’t have any particular passage of Scripture to back it up, just basic principles of unity, harmony, and fellowship.

    -Alan