“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41–47, NASB).
Fellowship is one of the church’s most vital functions. However, many Christians are unaware of the meaning or urgency of fellowship.
Some churches have almost no fellowship. People go to church, shake hands with the pastor as they exit the building after service, and go home. They spend little or no time with other church members until the next service.
Other churches enjoy a brief social time after service. They might provide coffee and refreshments in a social hall or other room after the service. Here, people can sit down and talk with their fellow church members. Whereas this is a vast improvement over churches that offer no fellowship, it is still insufficient.
Conversation inside a church building does not necessarily equal fellowship. I can easily discuss sports, television, music, current events, or the weather with people in the church building after service (with the obligatory cup of coffee in hand), but that does not make it fellowship.
The Greek word for fellowship is “koinonia.” It comes from a root word meaning “common,” and elsewhere in the New Testament it is translated as “contribution,” “participation,” or “sharing.” In each case, something is held in common. So, mindless chitchat or casual conversation about the weather and news does not equal fellowship. Fellowship begins when two or more people share their hearts, souls, innermost feelings and ideas, and struggles.
Scripture gives several indications of true fellowship. In Acts 2:44–45 we learn that the early Christians shared their possessions with one another. This practice was so complete that, a few chapters later, we read that there were no needy Christians. The wealthier Christians sold their possessions so that they could give the money to the poor (Acts 4:32–35)! Isn’t it strange that few ministers preach about that passage, especially in churches that proclaim the “prosperity Gospel”?
The basic lesson here is that the church should take care of its members. This care may be material or financial if a person is in need (especially if through no fault of their own), but the church should also provide emotional, social, and spiritual support for its members. The fellowship in a church is often compared to relationships in a natural family or, even more intimately, to the relationship between parts of a physical body. In fact, the church is also called “the family of God” or “the body of Christ.” Romans 12:4–5 says, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually, members one of another.”
Every human body has trillions of cells, comprising thousands of organs, muscles, bones, and other parts. Each of these works to help the others: the heart shares its blood with the rest of the body; the digestive tract shares its food with all other cells in the body; and the lungs share oxygen with the rest of the body.
The human body has certain parts that seem more vital, but they need the other parts as well. Paul writes that Christ is the head of his body (Colossians 1:18). One might think of some church leaders as the spinal column and nervous system: bringing messages from the head (Christ) to the entire body. Others are the church’s blood, heart, lungs, eyes, feet, and hands, fulfilling different functions to help the other parts. Just as an entire human body suffers when one of its parts is injured, ill, or destroyed, the entire body of Christ suffers when one member is unable to fulfill his or her role. When separated from the body, that church member suffers much like a severed bodily organ does.
This points to a very important function of fellowship. We gather together to share our spiritual gifts with one another. Every Christian has a unique mixture of spiritual gifts which he or she should use for the “common good” of the church (First Corinthians 12:7) to build it up (First Corinthians 14:12). God does not grant spiritual gifts so that the believer can serve himself, brag, or pretend that he or she is a spiritual giant. Instead, He pours out His gifts so that we can bless those around us. We should all seek the Lord’s guidance, so that we may know the gifts He has given us, and may use them to bless others.
Fellowship also enables us to receive encouragement from one another. Hebrews 10:24–25 shows that we should “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
It is not easy to be a Christian. Sometimes we are tempted to give in to sin. Sometimes friends, family, or coworkers seek to discourage our walk with the Lord. Satan often tempts us with his demonic accusations. All of this happens, in addition to the ordinary problems that all people face. When we fellowship with other believers, we may tap into one another’s strength. The one who has walked through a particular valley before us can guide us along the way. The one who knows your secret sin can pray for you and share his own victories and struggles with you.
A final aspect of fellowship that comes to mind is correction and confrontation. Perhaps this is the reason many Christians do not like real fellowship: when everybody knows you, they know what you are doing wrong! According to the Bible, when we know a Christian is practicing sin, we have an obligation to restore that person (Galatians 6:1), which involves confrontation to encourage repentance (Matthew 18:20).
Fellowship removes Christianity from the realm of abstract ideas and forces it into practical reality. We cannot merely say we love our neighbors; in fellowship, we actually learn to love our neighbors, even though they may not be too lovable. If we are sinning, somebody with whom we fellowship may be aware of it, thus helping us to acknowledge and experience our need for confession, repentance and forgiveness.
Fellowship with other believers gives us a greater glimpse of God. When we confess our sins during private prayer, it is easy to gloss over them and pretend it is a trivial matter that does not affect God or anybody else. However, when we confess our sins to a brother or sister in Christ who loves us, we feel embarrassment about them; we see the hurt or grief of the other person; and we also experience their love, compassion, and forgiveness. God reveals Himself most fully in fellowship. This is why Jesus said, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20)?
Fellowship does not “just happen.” It is easy for believers to hide in the house of God. We often need to make an effort to cultivate fellowship. It does not happen so much through programs. To achieve fellowship, we need to consciously cultivate relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. Do not just go to church; bond yourself to other believers with whom you can connect as members of Christ’s body, both on Sunday morning in the house of the Lord, and throughout the week in everyday life.