If you’ve hung out in Christian circles for long enough you’re probably familiar with the Christianese version of “fun” and “hanging out”– fellowship. Playing games in cell group? Fellowship. Planning a barbecue to celebrate someone’s birthday? Fellowship. Eating together after service? Fellowship.
But is that really all fellowship is about? Where did it all begin anyway?
The Greek word for fellowship is koinónia, which suggests partnership. Its various definitions also give us a clue into what really fellowship really is about.
(a) Contributory help, participation
(b) Sharing in, communion
(c) Spiritual fellowship, a fellowship in the spirit
As always, the best place to start is the Bible. The first appearance of koinónia occurs in Acts 2:42 in the New Testament. That’s where we can see what fellowship really looks like.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers … And all who believed were together and had all things in common … And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need … And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts … And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
What we can observe here is discipline and routine, what the NKJV calls “continued steadfastly”. And there’s unity in verse 44: “they were together and had all things in common”. I also see generosity in verse 45, where they sold their stuff to bless others who had need.
And as a result of this “fellowship”, there was miraculous transformation and explosive growth in the early Church of believers.
I wonder: How could there be such unity? The answer lies in the basis of our fellowship. Is it common interests? Hobbies? Race? Age?
“If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7)
Our fellowship with each other is based on our fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. So if we have genuine fellowship with Jesus, that means we want to be a part of His mission; we want to contribute to His Kingdom, and we want a stake in the things that are on His heart.
“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share (koinónia) in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
For clearer discussion, I’m going to be breaking fellowship down into three S’s: Survival, Service, Supernatural Change. And along the way we’ll look at a couple of verses that flesh these aspects of fellowship out.
FELLOWSHIP FOR SURVIVAL
Take a moment to think about a time when you were straying from the faith, maybe at your lowest point … But someone said something to you that made you come back to the straight and narrow path.
I’ve been through this before. When I was younger and straying from church, there was a period of time where I kept saying to my cell leader that I’d show up for service — only I never would. This went on until he’d had enough on one Sunday morning and called me up to deliver some very firm words. That wasn’t an easy phone call for either party, but it was a turning point for me.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet 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)
Because of this incident I learnt something important: Fellowship is not just meals or hanging out to have fun. It is pushing each other to go beyond ourselves to love and serve God. It is the discipline of simply showing up, with the express purpose of exhorting one another on the journey towards Christlikeness.
And we are told to do this “all the more” as the “Day” draws near. The Day refers to when Jesus comes back, preceding which will be increasing troubles in the world, such as natural disasters and sociopolitical instability.
Fellowship is pushing each other to go beyond ourselves to love and serve God.
Fellowship can also be as simple as a word of encouragement or a text message in the middle of the week, like: “Hey, how’s the new job going? I’m praying for you, and here’s a verse to encourage you.”
I think of ants as I write about survival. The single ant can do nothing, and is doomed to destruction if left in the wild for long enough. But it survives in its colony — it thrives in unity. When it goes off track, it has other ants that come along and rub feelers with it to say, “Hey, bro, you’re heading off the track. Home is back that way,” or “Hey, bro, I’m saying this in love, but you need to pick up the slack.”
Why do they say these things? For survival.
FELLOWSHIP WILL MEAN SERVICE: CONTRIBUTION AND PARTICIPATION
“For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.” (Romans 15:26-27)
“They will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution (koinónia) for them and for all others.” (2 Corinthians 9:13)
Simply doing stuff together is not fellowship.
Ministry like providing a room for a missionary, or making financial contributions to a mission in some faraway place are the expressions of a fellowship — a oneness of heart and mind (1 Corinthians 1:10) — between brothers and sisters-in-Christ.
Service, contribution and participation are expressions of fellowship, stemming from one another’s personal fellowship with God.
So they are not a means to koinónia. Instead, they are what flows when we have koinónia with God first — and then koinónia with each other in the family of God.
Once we have the right starting point, we will begin to serve fellow believers and others in our community: Just think of all the uncles and aunties tucked away in their 1-room flats who don’t have this privilege of koinónia, for instance.
FELLOWSHIP FOR SUPERNATURAL CHANGE
Finally, let’s look at Acts 2:42 again, where in particular, I want to zoom in on verses 43 and 47.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles … And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
Awe. When you think of fellowship, do you think about it with awe? Or is it something to drag your feet about?
For the early Church, steadfastly continuing/devoting themselves to teaching and fellowship resulted in awe coming upon their souls. When discipleship meets discipline, the divine happens: Wonders and signs.
Verse 47 really makes me think. The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
When discipleship meets discipline, the divine happens: Wonders and signs.
Now think about your cell group or church: Have you been seeing the same faces for decades?
If we had genuine fellowship with each other … Wouldn’t we grow? It’s not simply a numbers game, but genuine faith and fellowship necessitates reaching out and expanding beyond our four walls.
When we have one heart and one mind, when we are a family in Christ — the Lord will grow and change us supernaturally. From this point in Acts 2, you can read on till Acts 28 — and all the way till today — to see the explosive growth and legacy of what God can do when He has a group of united children.