This past Monday, we transitioned from our series on how to study the Bible, and began looking more closely at the book of First John. One of the key differences between the gospel of John and the book of First John, is that the gospel of John was written for a wider audience (i.e. everybody), and First John is an epistle (a letter written to a specific church). Knowing this difference helps us better understand the structure of the letter and the intent of John in writing it.
As we see in the opening chapter, John places a strong emphasis on Christ’s physical body (to prove He really died for our sins), the gospel (how we are saved), and fellowship. Every word of God matters, but one word I see misunderstood and misused quite often is the word “fellowship.” All of us may have differing views on what exactly fellowship is. Today, I want to provide you with a quick glimpse at the way God intends for us to “fellowship” with one another.
My question to you is this: is fellowship really what we think it is?
Growing up, I’d thought of fellowship with Christians as sort of like a good friendship: you’re not so close to the point that you become emotionally involved, at risk to yourself. Yet, you’re also not alone- there are people you can talk to about life and basic struggles (never diving too deep and risk exposing your real issues). Fellowship for me as a high schooler was based both on mutual life interests (music, movies, hobbies) and a belief in Jesus. It was sort of like finding a click that was also Christian. In many ways, my view of fellowship was superficial and needed to change.
Today, some people think that they should find a church where people have the same taste in aesthetics, music, coffee, or even have the same sense of humor. Although these kinds of things aren’t bad to desire, they can become unnecessary obstacles to relationships with Christians of other backgrounds. Everybody is different, and God planned it that way!
However, our desire for relationships can seem to waver between personal preferences and spiritual priorities. Fellowship can sound like a special club meeting you could attend, not a life with others meant to be lived. It also may seem impossible to accomplish with people who think so differently than you, and have different personalities.Therefore, what kind of picture is God painting for us when He uses the word fellowship?
The book of First John lays this out for us. In the words of the Apostle John, fellowship is a partnership with God and other Christians. He says this in the first chapter:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 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. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
1 John 1:1-4 ESV
Notice you didn’t see the word “partnership” anywhere in these verses? This is because the word translated “fellowship (koinōnia) “carries with it this idea of partnership. The word could also be translated: association, community, communion, joint participation. The idea that John is communicating to us is that by understanding the gospel and believing it, we who are like-minded in faith have a common association with Christ, and therefore a common association with each other. It means we are identified by Christ as His people, and as His people we can relate to each other because our lives are centered around Christ and His work on our behalf. It means if you have a true relationship with Christ, no relationship with another Christian is impossible! You both share in the same Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2).
Once again, process this idea.
This means that, whether you know it or not, when you sit in service on Sunday, you are sitting next to your fellow partners in the gospel of Jesus. This means that your fellowship is not only with the people of your church, but with all Christians everywhere in the world, within and outside of your church. It means you are tied to Christ and His people, and that means you are never alone. It means you have a community of others you can reach out to. It means God has tied the purpose of your life to the purpose of other believers.
In other parts of the New Testament, we are told to join in one voice and glorify God together (Rom. 15:1-7), to sing to the Lord with the melody of our hearts (Col. 3), and to forgive each other (Eph. 5:1ff). None of which you can do sitting at home on a Sunday watching a sermon on YouTube. It takes work to build relationships, to open up, to learn, and to do life with other people. Don’t be lazy! Don’t be selfish and hide yourself away. Don’t neglect this gift God has given you! (Heb. 10:23-25).
1) You have fellowship with God, who has brought you into His family (Rom. 8:16), equipped you with knowledge of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:6-7), and who helps you as you become more like Christ (Rom. 8:1-13). 2) You have a partnership with other Christians: doing life together, confessing sin to each other (James 5:16), serving the church together (Rom. 12:12ff), and living alongside/in harmony with each other (Phil. 4:1-8).
To close this post, I leave you with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“It is true, of course, that what is it unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is gift of grace, a gift of the kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Until next time,
Austin Thompson (The Way On Campus President)