The word “Koinonia,” meaning to share a thing in common, is translated in the New Testament nineteen times—twelve times as “Fellowship,” four times as “Communion,” and once as “Communication,” “Contribution,” “Distribution.”
We propose running briefly through several references, trusting it may lead to a study of Scripture on a subject which, next to our individual walk with God, is a matter of the deepest importance to every Christian.
Fellowship in the Light.
“If we walk in the light, as He (God) is in the light, we (Christians) have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7).
No longer hidden behind a veil, God is in the light. He has been fully and perfectly revealed in Christ incarnate, dead, risen. His true nature and being, His perfections and excellencies, counsels and purposes, have now been manifested.
Into God’s marvellous light all believers are called, judicially fitted to be abidingly there in virtue of the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, which cleanseth from all sin.
The light in which Christians walk is the revelation of God as He truly is. All that was in His heart for His people before all worlds has also come to light. “That which eye had not seen, nor ear heard,” is now made known. Blessings great and many, such as life and incorruptibility, are now disclosed.
All that has come to light is the joint privilege of all who are in the Christian circle. Just as the sun’s beneficent rays shine equally for prince and peasant, so the “light” is the common portion of all believers. It is in it they have fellowship one with another. They all have an equal share, a mutual possession, and can rejoice that whatever differences of spiritual growth there may be, whether they are babes, young men, or fathers, no believer has title above another to all that is found in the light.
A father may bequeath a property, making his children joint possessors, so God our Father has called every one of His children to share equally the portion He has given to His saints. The light is the sphere of their common participation. All Christians are in the light; all that is in the light is theirs equally; they partake in common, have “fellowship one with another.”
“They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers . . . All believed were together, and had all things common” (Acts 2:42, 44).
Here we see an answer to our Lord’s prayer in John 17, that all who believed through the apostle’s word might be visibly one, with a view to the world believing the Father had sent the Son.
The apostles’ “word,” their doctrine or teaching, had been believed, resulting in the formation of a fellowship, the gathering of a company, who outwardly expressed their identity with each other by breaking bread and praying together. This fellowship became a powerful testimony to the world; for the first time there existed a perfectly unselfish company, having mutual care and tender consideration for each other; knit together in heart and soul, seeking each other’s spiritual welfare and caring for each other’s bodily needs.
Here is the perfect model of Christian fellowship in display. Here we see the “great grace,” the reciprocal love, the practical holiness of fellowship in its inception and inauguration. Holiness, love, self-renunciation, marked the gathered company, distinguished their fellowship. An exalted Jesus made Lord and Christ was the apostolic theme, of Him they spoke in public, to His God and Father they prayed in private.
These early Christians knew not the great doctrines of the Church; were not acquainted with the counsels and purposes afterwards made known through Paul, but they were held together in a marvellous way. How was this? It was in consequence of the advent of a divine Person. They were in
The Fellowship of the Holy Ghost.
This was the true secret of their practical oneness. He had baptized them into one body, united them to each other and to their living Head in heaven, flooded their hearts with God’s love, witnessed with their spirit that they were the children of God.
He was the earnest of their glorious inheritance; their seal that they belonged to God: their unction and power.
Sent from the Father and the Son, He had come to be the power of union between the children of God, the uniting bond to hold them together. His presence formed a unity, He dwelt in each individually and in the whole corporately. It was one and the same Spirit, hence He produced thoughts and feelings in common. The bond which bound together those pentecostal saints remains. The Holy Spirit dwells in the Assembly. He is still the power of unity.
The benediction of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, is linked up with the “fellowship of the Holy Ghost” (2 Cor. 13:14).
Alas! this fellowship is easily marred, a jar among God’s people, (as we see in Phil. 2), a lack of forbearance, long-suffering toward others, or of meekness and lowliness on our part, may snap the uniting bond of peace, and mar the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. But He is ever at hand to unite, in that bond of peace, all who sincerely endeavour to keep the unity He has formed. He is the Spirit sent from the meek and lowly One, and all Christians are responsible to allow nothing in their walk, words, or ways which would grieve Him and thus hinder the power which bound the early Christians so blessedly together.
The Fellowship of God’s Son.
“God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).
The preposition “of” reminds us that this fellowship emanates from the Son of God. He is its producing cause. John writes of a fellowship Christians have with the Father and the Son; Paul speaks here of the fellowship of Christians with each other, God’s Son being the bond of union, the centre of attraction, the powerful magnet which draws them together. They have in Him an equal partnership, a common interest, a mutual share.
By the call of God all believers are saints, and they are also “called” to share together all that is treasured up in the “Son of God, Jesus, the Christ, our Lord.”
A right conception of that which is implied in these names and titles thus becomes of paramount importance, for a denial of the deity and divinity of the Son of God, of His eternal relationship to the Father before all worlds; that He is very God of very God, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit: a denial of that which He became in time, when from the opened heavens the Spirit, like a dove, descended and remained upon Him, and the Father’s voice declared, “This is My beloved Son,” resurrection also witnessing that He was the Son of God, almighty in power; would invalidate anyone’s claim to be in the fellowship of God’s Son.
Jesus is His personal name. No name has charms like this. It bespeaks the lowly grace of that blessed Man who sorrowed and suffered all through His pathway here, and then gave up His life for us at the end. His pure and spotless humanity, His absolute freedom from either inherent or acquired sin, enabled Him to offer Himself without spot to God. Holy and perfect in nature, words, and works, He was a sweet odour to God from the manger to the cross.
His absolute perfection as a Man, His atoning work as a victim, form an integral part of the faith of all who are in the fellowship of God’s Son. Only those can be truly said to be in this fellowship who hold the doctrine of the Scriptures of truth, concerning the Person and work of the Son of Man, and Son of God.
Lord and Christ are acquired titles. Christ is the anointed of God, the vessel of God’s purpose and counsel, the centre of that blissful universe which, in the fulness of times, shall be headed up in Him. He is the exalted Head over all things, and is also Head of His Body, the Church. In Him she is blessed with great and boundless blessings, with Him she soon will share all the glories that await Him in the day of glory soon to dawn; she is His Body, the complement of the Head, the bride who engages the affections of His heart.
Jesus is Lord.
In the world there are lords many, to the Christian there is but one, the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, for whom are all things, to whom every knee shall bow. All authority is given Him in heaven and earth. He is the Lord of Glory, and the Lord in whom they are to glory. In Him they have righteousness and redemption, wisdom and sanctification. He is the all-sufficiency of His people, their powerful resource at all times.
To His Name they are to gather; it is their Lord’s death they commemorate; of His table they partake. Their bodies are His; their victory over sin, Satan, and death they ascribe to Him. In Him their labour is not in vain; it is His authority they own; for Him they look, the Lord out of heaven, the second Man, whose image they shall bear, whose glory they shall share. Their bodies are His; in His name they are set apart; for His pleasure they are to live. His will has to be consulted; His authority maintained; His pleasure sought; His word obeyed.
David’s servants kept rank because all were of one heart to make David king. Their heart was set on one object, thus their feet were kept together. Herein lies the secret of true Christian fellowship. When the Lordship of Jesus is owned, when His glorious person as “God over all blessed for ever,” and yet perfect Man, becomes the commanding, absorbing object, the centre of attraction, then we enter into the true bond, which unites those called of God into the fellowship of His Son.
It is Himself, not a creed, not a doctrine, not a human organization, not correct church principles, however right in their place; but it is God’s Son, that blessed One who shall shortly be the centre of heaven’s joy, the adored object of the redeemed throughout a blissful and endless eternity, who alone by the Holy Spirit binds Christians together in true association with each other.
Their fellowship has its expression in the remembrance of their absent Lord, hence the next fellowship of which we read is
The Fellowship of the Death of Christ.
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? the bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).
What a precious expression of association! We share the same bread at the Lord’s Supper, for we being many are “one bread,” one body. The poured out cup, the broken loaf, recall that precious Saviour, the Son of God, who gave Himself for us, Jesus who suffered on Calvary, Christ who shed His precious blood, our Lord in death, a death which has glorified God, revealed His love, and put away our sins.
Breaking bread together we call Him to mind; we do not come together to recall our sins, but to remember Jesus our Lord, who has put them all away, to think of Him, to show forth the death of our Saviour. We think of His love; it is Himself who fixes the eyes of our heart as we drink the cup and break the bread.
In His death all Christians have a common interest, an equal share in its far-reaching effects. It has made peace, brought us nigh to God, atoned for our guilt, loosed us from our sins, purged our consciences.
For all this we are deeply, profoundly thankful, but He whom we call to remembrance, who engages our thoughts, is the slain Lamb, the Son of God, the Lord of Glory, the revealer of the Father, the person of the Christ.
One with Him where He now is, as we eat and drink together commemoratively, we recall Him where He once was.
We do this, if our act is intelligent, in the recognition of the truth that by one Spirit we are baptized into one body. It is expressive of common membership of the body of Christ. “We being many are one bread, one body.”
Responsibility also flows from this. The table of the Lord and the table of demons cannot be connected with each other, for breaking bread and drinking the cup commits us to all that is involved in the death of Christ; it is the outward and visible expression of fellowship in a death which has severed us from the world and separated us to God. Hence we are to be careful not to imperil that fellowship, or compromise it, as they did at Corinth, by evil conduct or unholy associations.
There is also a family bond in Christian fellowship, and this we are privileged to enjoy.
Fellowship with the Father and the Son.
Eternal life had been manifested, the apostles had seen, heard, handled, the Word of Life. That eternal life which was with the Father they bore witness to, in order that others might have fellowship with them. Their fellowship was with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Son, who ever dwelt in the Father’s bosom, never left it, even when in this world, has unfolded its deepest and most profound secrets. In the Word become flesh and dwelling among men, a glory shone forth never before expressed, the glory of an only begotten of the Father. The relationships which had existed from all eternity were now declared in time, its intimacies and affections were brought to light.
Over and over again the Father expressed His delight in the Son whilst here, a Son who always afforded Him pleasure in every act and word, to whom He showed all things which He Himself did, and with whom there was abiding, unbroken fellowship.
We Christians are privileged to have community of thoughts, feelings, joys, with the Father and the Son.
In virtue of life eternal imparted to us, we have a nature capable of this fellowship, for we are made partakers of the divine nature, and we have also an unction from the Holy One.
Wondrous grace! We live now in, and of, the Son, have His life and His Spirit, are thus capacitated and empowered to share the delights, participate in the joys, enter into the exalted privilege of fellowship with the Father and the Son.
This life was beheld by the apostles; their writings set before us what they saw, in order that we may have fellowship with them. In contemplating the excellencies and perfections of Jesus they found their joy. In proportion to the occupation of our affections with Him, we have fellowship with them, and our joy is full.
Whilst the fellowship of eternal life sets us in a divine circle of delight, where the Father and Son dwell, we also find we are bound up in the bundle of life with our fellow Christians in a wilderness world. Hence we read of a
Fellowship with Saints in Need.
“Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4).
Need had arisen at Jerusalem. Macedonia and Achaia, acting under the influence of brotherly love, recognizing that all saints were one, even if locally separated, determined to send them relief.
Paul and others were entrusted with the collection, and thus had “fellowship” with them.
This gave occasion to Paul to tell them that God loved a cheerful giver, that reaping is according to sowing, and that the effect of their loving service was fourfold. It supplied the needs of the poor; it drew from them thanksgiving to God; bowed their knees in prayer for the givers; proved subjection to the gospel, by the grace of God manifested in the givers. He also assures them that God is able to make all grace abound, so that always having all sufficiency in all things they may abound to every good work, and recalls the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who left all His wealth in glory to become poor in order to enrich us, and concludes in a burst of thanksgiving to God for a gift which no words could set forth, no language describe, unspeakable!
We may well challenge ourselves as to “fellowship” in this way, whether we practically know that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”?
These Macedonian saints were poor, but those at Jerusalem were poorer still; so, seeing their brothers and sisters in need, they did not shut up their bowels of compassion. Out of their deep poverty abounded the riches of their liberality, and “beyond their power” they ministered to them, first giving themselves to the Lord.
Practical, very practical, fellowship this. It did not button up its pockets and say, “be ye warmed and filled,” but liberally distributed to them and to all, thus glorifying God and comforting His tried and suffering people in their extremity.
Fellowship of Saints with Servants.
“I thank my God . . . for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phi1. 1:3, 5).
Corinth and Philippi had both been called into the fellowship of God’s Son, but there was a fellowship at Philippi to which Corinth was a stranger. The latter had to be reminded that God had “ordained that those who preached the gospel should live of the gospel.” The former needed no such reminder. Lydia’s heart was opened by the Lord; she then opened her house to His servants, and the company of saints with which she was locally connected opened their purse, and sent “once and again” an expression of fellowship.
It took a very practical form; it did not dim when Paul could no longer visit them; it lasted from the “first day” until he was at death’s door.
The Holy Spirit lets us know that fellowship of this kind is an acceptable sacrifice; ascends as an odour of a sweet smell to God.
This fellowship needs cultivation. He that is taught is exhorted to communicate temporal good things, in return for spiritual ministrations (Gal. 6:6).
Fellowship in Service.
“James, Cephas, and John . . . gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision” (Gal. 2:9).
Paul goes forth to the regions beyond, carries the glad tidings where Christ had never been named, labours among idolatrous heathen, evangelizes the nations.
Peter shepherds the lambs and sheep of the circumcision, ministers among the gathered out of Israel, writes to the scattered flock, tells them Paul has written some things “hard to be understood,” but attributes it all to the “wisdom he had given to him,” speaks of him as “our beloved brother.”
What a difference in the nature, character and sphere of their service! And yet what hearty co-operation, what fellowship existed between them! Both recognized they were serving one common master and ungrudgingly gave to each other the right hand of fellowship. There was no depreciation of each other, no setting up one character of ministry as more elevated than another, no vaunting of the gospel as being more important than shepherding the flock, nor, on the other hand, setting up teaching and pastoring, as more excellent than evangelizing.
Fellowship of His Sufferings.
“That I may know Him . . . and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death” (Phil. 3:10).
The sufferings of Christ are many and varied. There were sorrows He passed through, which His followers might also pass through; others He alone could taste. Who but Christ could bear the heavy burden of our sins, atone for our guilt, endure the judgment of God? In His vicarious and atoning sufferings none can share; but there were others, endured at man’s hand, fruit of the natural enmity of man’s heart to God, that others could feel with Him.
The Pharisees and Sadducees had dogged His steps until they wring from the unwilling governor an undeserved condemnation, and the faithful and true Witness sealed His testimony with His blood, and died a martyr to the truth. Paul in the Lamartine dungeon also had been persecuted to the death by these religious bigots, but he welcomed the prospect of conformity to the death of his adored Master, knowing full well that resurrection awaited him beyond the tomb.
China and India, Madagascar and Africa, have added to the list of those who loved not their lives to the death, and in fellowship with the sufferings of their martyred Lord, followed Him into the regions of death, sure of a glorious resurrection, cheered by the One who could say, “I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
Fellowship of the Mystery.
“The fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Eph. 3:9).
Some scholars consider a better translation of “fellowship” here is “dispensation” or “administration,” If this be correct, then we look in vain for the term “church fellowship” in Scripture; but, as the fellowship at Pentecost had for its basis the “doctrine” of the apostles, so every truth made known afterwards through Paul or the other apostles must be taken account of when seeking for the true foundation on which is reared the edifice of Christian fellowship.
There are many “mysteries,” but the one referred to in Ephesians is that, out of Jew and Gentile, “one new man” has been formed, livingly and indissolubly united to a glorious Head in heaven.
All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in this mystery; principalities and powers in heavenly places behold in it the all-various wisdom of God.
Every Christian is a component part of Christ’s body. As Eve was of Adam, so the Church is of Christ, part and parcel of Himself, “His body, His flesh, and His bones.”
“The body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body” (1 Cor. 12:12).
“We, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).
It is easy to discern how all-important it is, in determining the question of Christian fellowship, to weigh this secret now made known, that the “Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body” (Eph. 3:6). It takes all believers out of Judaism, with its earthly system of religion, on one hand, and out of Paganism, with its idolatrous worship, on the other. It sets both in a new relation to Christ and to each other, as one body united to a heavenly Head.
This mystery is variously referred to in the Ephesian epistle. In chapter 1 it is spoken of as the “fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” In chapter 2 as “one new man,” and the habitation in which God now dwells on earth by the Holy Ghost, and as that which “groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” Chapter 3 views it as the vessel in glory in which all the excellencies and perfections of Christ will be displayed, and this not only in the world to come, but throughout eternal ages. Then in chapter 4 a victorious Christ, having ascended on high, has given evangelists, pastors, and teachers for its instruction, edification, and perfection. In Chapter 5 the Church is nourished and cherished by Christ, as His body now, and shortly as His bride; she will be presented to Himself all glorious, for His eternal satisfaction.
There is no warrant in Scripture for a fellowship based on an isolated truth. Truth is concrete, and we must look at every part of Scripture in relation to every other part. Failure in this accounts for a divided Christendom, contending for what is true in itself, but not the whole truth. Let us test our associations thus:
Is their basis truth, the whole truth, as revealed in the New Testament?
Is the bond of our union the Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord?
Is the power which holds us together the Holy Spirit?
These are the great elements of Christian fellowship. Then let us ask; Are we holding aloof from
Fellowships not Approved of God?
What metochi—fellowship, partnership—hath RIGHTEOUSNESS with UNRIGHTEOUSNESS?
What koinonia—communion—hath LIGHT with DARKNESS?
What sumphonesis—concord, harmony—hath CHRIST with BELIAL?
What meris—part, portion—hath a BELIEVER with an INFIDEL?
What agreement—classing together—hath TEMPLE OF GOD AND IDOLS? (2 Cor. 6:14-16).
Righteousness is to characterize a Christian. It is to mark him personally and relatively. Associations in which unrighteousness is allowed defile; therefore, at whatever cost, one who is made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus must get clear and keep clear of them.
Some time darkness, the Christian is not only called into God’s marvellous light, but is himself light in the Lord. He comes to the light that his deeds may be manifested in their true character. How, then, can anything of the nature of the darkness out of which he has been called be in “communion” with light? What communion hath light with darkness?
Business relationships, social bonds, religious associations, have all to be weighed by this standard. Is the bond one that will bear the scrutiny of light? If not, at all costs it must be broken.
The Christian is not only a member of the body of Christ, but his body is a member of Christ. Shall I then, asks the apostle, take the members of Christ and make them the members of a harlot? (1 Cor. 6:15). God forbid! What concord—harmony—hath Christ with Belial?
Is the believer to be associated with an infidel for any purpose whatever, political, philanthropical, or religious? Scripture answers that question by another: What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
The body of Christ is also the house of God, and the temple of God. Holiness becomes God’s house for ever, and every part of the temple is marked by the glory of its Builder. How, then, shall we make agree, or “class together,” idolatrous worship and this holy abode in which God dwells? Whatever “community” is marked by idolatrous worship, whether the demon idols of heathenism, or the products of a debased Christianity, that fellowship must be shunned—“come out from”—left.
All is summed up in the words “touch not the unclean.”
False doctrine and unholy practices are fatal barriers to fellowship with the Holy and True. There never was a day when we Christians were in such danger as the present. Pulpits are used to disseminate anti-Christian doctrine, wolves in sheep’s clothing are rending the flock, and teachers from within are setting their dogmas above Holy Writ.
Let us get our Bibles, test afresh all we hear, and cleave only to that which bears the hall-mark of God’s imperishable Word.
In conclusion, we would urge all our readers to seriously ask themselves, How much do I know of the fellowship of God’s Son, of the Holy Spirit, of Christ’s death?
How much of fellowship with the Father and the Son; with fellow Christians in the light; with the sufferings of Christ; with saints in need; and with the Lord’s servants in their trials?
Am I in these fellowships?
Words of Grace and Encouragement 1910