What is “fellowship”? It’s a word used frequently in Christian circles, but what do you think of when you think of Christian fellowship?
As the commentator D. A. Carson writes, it’s quite common that our understanding is deficient in this area. As he says,
“If you invite a [non-Christian] neighbour to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbour, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.”
In fact, as Carson goes on to point out, from Php 1:5, in NT times the word “fellowship” was often used in commercial or business contexts – such as two people going in together to buy a boat for a fishing business. As Carson says, “The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. … Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ ‘partnership in the gospel’ or ‘fellowship in the gospel,’ he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ—from the moment of their conversion (‘from the first day until now,’ Paul writes)—rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel.” (D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers, pp. 16–17)
Unless our “fellowship” is in some sense self-sacrificially working for the advance of the gospel, engaging with one another about the gospel, and praying with one another, then it’s not really fellowship—it’s probably just socialising.
The excellent resource “Loving Your Church” (Matthias Media) highlights this reality in practical ways. It encourages us to be seeking to speak God’s Word to each other in our conversations after the church service, and to be praying with each other. That’s Christian fellowship. Is it easy? No, but since true fellowship is self-sacrificing, it’s a challenge worth committing to.