Hang around Christians long and you’re likely to hear the word “fellowship.” It comes from the Greek word koinania, and in the New Testament it often denotes “sharing,” “close association,” or “mutual participation.” But what makes Christian fellowship distinctively Christian?
Is it truly fellowship whenever a Christian shares something with another Christian? What about a recipe swap? An extra meal? A carpool to work? Is it considered fellowship just because it happens in a part of a church building called the “Fellowship Hall”? It is fellowship any time Christians hang out in a social setting—a women’s book club, the gym, or the ball park? Or must Christians do something together, like share a meal? Or does it count as fellowship only if it is a “spiritual activity”? Does the prayer before we eat the fried chicken count as fellowship, while the eating itself remains purely carnal?
Biblically speaking, what counts as fellowship?
When the Bible Talks about Fellowship
In order to answer that question, we need to see how the New Testament uses the word “fellowship” (and words similar to it). The word appears in a variety of contexts and, as it turns out, does not refer to only one concept or activity. In fact, we can observe at least three senses in which the Bible talks about fellowship.
1. Shared Life from Jesus
Sometimes the word fellowship is used to explain the bond between believers and the Lord.
God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9, emphasis added)
Real “Christian” fellowship happens when branches draw life from the vine (John 15:1-11).
2. Shared Life with Each Other
Fellowship also involves the ways believers help one another, often in the context of meeting physical needs.
And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Hebrews 13:16).
Much the same way Christ supplies all our needs according to His riches (Philippians 4:19), we reflect His love by supplying the same kind of love to the rest of His body (1 John 3:17).
3. Shared Living for the Same Purpose
Finally, fellowship can refer to a sharing of the same purpose.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . . And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common.” (Acts 2:42, 44).
The fellowship of the early church consisted in unity in doctrine, belief, and direction. They joined together in the essentials of their core identity and purpose.
When We Talk about Fellowship
It’s often this third aspect of fellowship (shared living for the same purpose) that we have in mind when we use the term today. When we say we had fellowship, we usually mean we got together with people with whom we share a similar life direction, value, and/or goal. We love Jesus, and so whether we are sitting in a restaurant, a deer stand, or a back porch with our Christian friends, there is an unspoken understanding: we are on the same team trying to move the ball in the same direction.
Although the other two aspects of fellowship (shared life with each other and shared life with Jesus) appear just as frequently in Scripture, we don’t often refer to them as fellowship today. Therefore, it is challenging to provide specific guidelines for what activities constitute Christian fellowship, because fellowship isn’t always an event. In some cases, it’s simply the unspoken but understood sharing of the love of God between two believers.
Regardless of how the term is commonly used, we can say without a shadow of a doubt that there are instances when fellowship occurs in all three senses in the church’s weekly gathering. We celebrate shared life from Jesus, we contribute to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we unite in song, doctrine, and commitment to the Lord. This is one reason why gathering with God’s people is so critical, for it is one of the only times on the weekly calendar when all three aspects of fellowship merge into a moment. It’s not surprising, then, that the author of Hebrews urges us,
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 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. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
You and I need this kind of fellowship, for the Lord is coming quickly.
1 Corinthians 10:16; 2 Corinthians 13:13; Philippians 2:1; 1 John 1:3. All Scripture taken from NASB.
See Romans 15:26; Acts 2:42–45
See also Galatians 2:9; Philippians 1:4–5.