Still, God wants His children involved in no less than five fellowships every week. The New Testament uses “fellowship” (koinonia, found 17 times1) to mean “association, community, joint participation” (Thayer) involving “participation; impartation; fellowship” (Kittel).2 What are the five weekly fellowships?
THE FELLOWSHIP OF FRATERNITY.
The church is an exclusive club for everyone. Its members share “the right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9) which means each one is considered a faithful member—one truly committed to serving the Lord and being a partner in the activities of the group (1 Corinthians 3:9). The local congregation is the place Christians put this spirit of fellowship into active operation. Fellowship is not just a theory on paper that applies to someone else in some other place.
The early church, a model for today, was a close-knit community. “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). They exercised unusual hospitality and generosity. Luke says of them: “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” (Acts 2:44-45). “Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need” (Acts 4:34-35; cf. 2 Corinthians 8:5; Philippians 4:10-16).
Does this mean we must sell our possessions and live in a commune? No. Early Christians were not communists. The difference between a Christian and a communist is that a communist says, “All yours is mine;” but a Christian says, “All mine is yours.” Those converted on Pentecost had intended only to stay for the feast week of Pentecost (Acts 2), but they had extended their stay to enjoy fellowship in the new church. While away from their regular jobs, they practiced voluntary, communal living. Local Christians sold possessions to support those from out-of-town.
How does this apply to us? Selling possessions was a means to an end. We have the same end as a goal. We should demonstrate genuine caring for each other and meet each other’s needs.
THE FELLOWSHIP OF WORSHIP.
Fellowship includes worshipping together in the communion of the Lord’s Supper, giving, and praying (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:16; John 4:23-24). It is illustrated beautifully in the harmony of a capella singing (Ephesians 5:19). It includes joining together to study the Bible (Acts 2:42-47).
The church is not a Sunday club. A church is more than an audience. An audience is not a fellowship. Any group of unrelated people drawn together by a temporary attraction is an audience.
- An audience is just a crowd, but a congregation is a family.
- An audience is a gathering; a congregation is a brotherhood.
- An audience is a collection of people pulled together like iron filings to a magnet, but a congregation is a group of brethren bound together by the love of Christ.
- An audience is like a pile of leaves soon to be scattered, but a congregation, though scattered, will soon form again.
The early church met to break bread and praise God with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:42, 46-47; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-28). The word “worship” occurs 191 times in Scripture (113 OT; 78 NT, various forms). While worship is individual, in a sense it is group-oriented. Christians gather in assemblies for “collective worship of one heavenly Father, to offer up praise to a common Savior, to mingle prayers in one great intercession for one another, to give each other mutual encouragement and sympathy, and to receive a common blessing.”3
THE FELLOWSHIP OF SUPPORT.
The early church gave to the poor saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26; cf. 2 Corinthians 8:4; Philippians 4:18), so fellowship includes giving monetary support to good works. God’s family serves others. We provoke each other to “good works” (Hebrews 10:24). The church’s mission is to quietly, deliberately, unassumingly go about doing good to people who have needs (cf. Acts 2:45; Galatians 6:2).
THE FELLOWSHIP OF WORK.
Fellowship includes cooperation and participation in the works of the church (2 Thessalonians 2:17). The congregation is God’s way for His people to accomplish things together. The work of Christ cannot be as effectively carried on by individuals as by groups—the total is greater than the sum of its parts. To “have fellowship” in a local church is to invest time, energies, and resources toward the accomplishment of the common activities of the local church. We “have fellowship” in these works only to the extent that we actually participate in them as “fellow-workers for the truth” (3 John 1:8).
THE FELLOWSHIP OF FRIENDSHIP.
Fellowship means sharing of friendship (Acts 2:42; 2 Corinthians 6:14), enjoying each other’s company, and being involved in each other’s lives. It includes getting together in each other’s homes and collectively for meals. The early church ate together—a sign of unity and friendship. The Jews felt that when the blessing was said at the table, the table became a holy place and eating together a sacred activity.
The church allows for deep, lasting friendships. “When each can feel his brother’s sigh; and with him bear a part; when sorrow flows from eye to eye and joy from heart to heart.” John Bunyan said, “Christians are like several flowers in a garden, that each have upon them the dew of heaven which, being shaked by the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become the nourishers of each other.”
Let us seek to make the congregation a place where “no stranger goes ungreeted, no unfortunate members unbefriended, no needy person unassisted, no bewildered person unadvised, no tempted brother left to fight his battles alone, no home of mourning neglected and no act of mercy omitted.”4