The Bible clearly emphasizes the need for unity and fellowship among the people of God. Several passages address this need and provide a basis for fellowship. On one level, fellowship is simple and straightforward. What binds Christians together is their common devotion and service to God. They share the same faith, and this common cause can overcome and override a multiplicity of differences that normally divide the world. This shared possession is described as a “like precious faith” (2 Pet. 1:1, KJV), a common faith (Titus 1:4), “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 1:3), and “unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:13).
The setting for the teaching of the New Testament on fellowship must be seen first and foremost in a congregation of believers who meet in a specific location for the work and worship of the Lord. A quick survey of NT letters reveals this emphasis. A sampling of this concept can be seen in the following passages. Rom. 12-15 enjoins devotion, service and love for one another in general and in light of differences. 1 Corinthians urges agreement and lack of division as it addresses individual issues that threatened their unity together. The doctrinal disputes of Galatians closes in chapters 5-6 with instruction to love each other and help one another by bearing each other’s burdens. Ephesians 4 calls for unity as a body of believers work together. Philippians 1-2 calls for the Christians to have the “same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2). They are called to imitate the mind of Christ who sacrificed his own privilege in order to serve others. James warns against the dangers of partiality, the arrogance of human wisdom, and the problems associated with backbiting and jealousy. Much more evidence could be provided, but this is sufficient to demonstrate that unity and fellowship lie at the heart of the message of the New Testament. Individual Christians are not alone. They live out their faith in community and in relationship to other people.
A couple more passages should be considered to provide a basic framework for fellowship according to the Scriptures. John 17 consists of Jesus’ prayer for unity and reveals the heart of God concerning the subject.
Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one (Jn. 17:11b).
In Jesus prayer, some of the following conclusions can be made about unity. Unity should exist among believers and disciples. The basis of this unity comes from their relationship with God, which automatically creates a distinction from the world. This necessitates a holy and devoted life, a life which is sanctified and set apart for the purposes of God. One of the main platforms for this common pursuit is the word of God. It provides a common direction and guidance for believers. It should keep them on the same path together.
Finally, 1 John provides some insight into what constitutes fellowship.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 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 1:5-7).
This passage reiterates several things already discussed. There is a vertical component of fellowship (God with me) and a horizontal component (my brother/sister with me). These relationships encompass the two greatest commandments to love God and love neighbor. In this case, love for a fellow Christian bears a heightened and special relationship than others while still enjoining love. The basis for this fellowship is “walking in the light” and “practicing the truth” while still acknowledging one’s own sin and the source of forgiveness (v. 8-10).
So, here are a few observations which I have gathered from a brief survey of pertinent passages. They are neither new nor particularly insightful, but they form a foundation for my basic understanding of fellowship.
- Unity is a major point of emphasis in the New Testament.
- Unity should exist among Christians/believers/disciples.
- Fellowship is most naturally played out within a congregation where people work the closest together.
- The basis for fellowship revolves around 3 interconnected items: relationship with God, a common truth and a common practice of righteousness.