“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecc. 4:9-12)
Christian growth is not intended to be performed in isolation. Even in solitude we’re never truly alone, but always in the presence of Another. Indeed our entire Christian life is built around the idea of togetherness, community, and sharing. Clearly we need one another and truly we are better together. Christian fellowship affords us the opportunity to thrive in community as we experience the blessing of support through interdependent relationships and discover the joy of being a member in Christ’s Body.
In contemporary Christianity, fellowship is often nothing more than another term for socializing, typically involving a meal and/or fun activity. In biblical usage, however, fellowship is distinct from socializing. While it’s true that all who fellowship are socializing, not all who socialize are necessarily involved in fellowship. For the believer, fellowship involves a deeper level of intimacy than socializing can offer.
What then, is fellowship and how is it supposed to look? Four aspects come to mind:
- First and foremost, true fellowship requires the common ground of belief in Jesus (1 Jn. 1:3). For John, it is unthinkable to have genuine, biblical fellowship with God through his Son Jesus and not have fellowship with other believers (and vice versa). Fellowship is not some casual acquaintance with others by way of a common religious association. Rather, fellowship is a devoted alliance between individuals who actively participate in a mutual spiritual heritage.
- Because we share in the same life Source, have the same spiritual DNA, and consequently belong to the same spiritual family, the goal of fellowship is to intentionally encourage one another toward Christlikeness (Eph. 4:15-16). Put differently, you cannot grow alone! As each family member actively participates in the growth of other family members, primarily through serving from one’s spiritual giftedness (1 Cor. 12:7-11), the entire organism gets stronger. The gifts of the Spirit (all of which we need) are bestowed by God to individuals and administered to others in the context of community, both churched and unchurched.
- Vibrant, healthy fellowship keeps us from spiritual malnutrition, which can result in apostasy (Heb. 10:24-25). This text is a strong warning to those who think they can live their spiritual lives apart from biblical community. In essence, fellowship is God’s gracious means of preserving our spiritual lives. [Note: Heb. 10:24-25 warns against habitual neglect of biblical community (“as is the habit of some”), not an occasional respite due to burn-out or church abuse.] Fellowship is God’s spiritual lifejacket to weather the storms of life. When tempted to abandon our confession of faith because of torrential storms, biblical community is God’s way of reeling us back in to shallow and safe waters (Jude 23).
- Fellowship is one of the means used by God to keep us from the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). When we’re living in isolation and apart from biblical community, it’s easier to concoct our own definition of what is sinful and what is not, customize our own sense of spirituality, and hence be carried away by sin’s deceit. Fellowship offers a restraining influence so we avoid distorted views and twisted interpretations used to justify sinful attitudes and activities (cf., Pr. 15:22; Ps. 1).
Can you think of other aspects?