Mention the word “fellowship” to many Christians, and images of sliced ham, fried chicken, green beans, casseroles, and a table full of desserts enter the mind. The term “fellowship meal” has been coined to refer to a congregational meal where members enjoy food and social interaction. While it is appropriate to use the word “fellowship” in such a way, the word means much more and has many more applications than enjoying food or social activities together.
The word fellowship is translated from the Greek word koinonia in the New Testament. The exception to this is in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (KJV) where the Greek word metochē is translated fellowship. Paul asks the question “What fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (emphasis mine) The King James translators used the word “fellowship” for the Greek metochē and the word “communion” for the Greek koinonia. Other translations such as the ESV and NASB translate metochē as “partnership” and koinonia as “fellowship.”
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines koinonia as fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, or contact. In the New Testament, the words used are mostly fellowship and communion. Biblical fellowship denotes the interaction that Christians have with each other and with God, both in social interaction and in worship. Paul gives a working definition of fellowship in Colossians 2:2 when he speaks of Christians having their hearts “knit together in love.”
Fellowship has an essential role in the church as a congregation, and in the lives of individual Christians. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome that he desired to see them and impart a spiritual gift to them so that they may be established, “That is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me” (Rom. 1:12). Paul expressed a desire to establish others in the faith and to be encouraged by them in the faith they shared in Christ. This scripture is an excellent illustration of the purpose of fellowship. To share something mutually is to have fellowship in it. Christians need each other to establish and encourage each other in the faith. There is a very real danger of individuals and congregations leaving the faith because of the lure of the world and the danger of false doctrines. It is essential to our spiritual welfare that we edify each other with a mutual faith based on the truth of God’s word. In writing to the Ephesians, Paul states:
“But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Fellowship is an integral aspect of our worship. This fact has been established in scripture both in terminology and in principle. Koinonia is used in scripture relative to various aspects of worship. In other aspects of worship the principle of fellowship is present, though the word may not be present. Hebrews 10:24-25 is often used to show that God commands us to be present with the assembly of the saints, and rightly so. However, this passage also demonstrates the importance of our fellowship in the assembly. There are two phrases in this passage that contain the principle of fellowship. The first is “Let us consider one another.” The second is “exhorting one another.” It is this fellowship in the assembly that underlines the importance of each member’s presence at all assemblies of the saints. Thus we help each other as we “provoke unto love and good works” and maintain faithfulness. The principle of fellowship in worship is present not only in the generic sense but also in each item of worship.
The Lord’s Supper is often referred to as the communion. The word “communion” is itself a term for fellowship and is translated from the word “koinonia.” The scripture states, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) In the above text, the word communion is translated twice from the Greek koinonia. Paul states that when we take of the cup (fruit of the vine), it is done in communion (fellowship) with the blood of Christ. When we take of the bread, it is done in communion (fellowship) with the body of Christ. This is in reference to the crucifixion of Christ that is commemorated in the Lord’s Supper. When the child of God understands that the taking of communion is having fellowship with Christ in His crucifixion, it will add greater depth to that aspect of worship.
The collection of money for the work of the church is a part of worship. This process is usually called the “contribution.” That word is a translation of the word koinonia in this text: “For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things” (Rom. 15:26-27).
The word “contribution” is rendered from koinonia in verse 26. In verse 27, the word “partakers” is rendered from koinoneo, which means, “To enter into fellowship, join one’s self to an associate, make one’s self a sharer or partner” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon). The contribution is a process through which one is in fellowship with the work to which that person contributes. This fact should make all Christians aware that if one contributes to a work, they are in fellowship with that work, whether good or bad.
The preaching of God’s word takes place during worship. Paul thanked the Philippian church for their “fellowship in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5). The word “fellowship” here is a translation of koinonia. When one supports the preaching of the gospel in any way, that person is in fellowship with such preaching. When the preaching is the pure word of God, such fellowship is commendable and spiritually uplifting. When the preaching is in error, the one who supports it is a partaker of that error.
When Christians sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs together, they are fellowshipping together in that practice. While the word koinonia is not used in reference to singing, the principle of fellowship in that act is demonstrated in scripture. In the context of Christians singing in worship, the following phrases are used which depict fellowship: “Speaking to yourselves” (Eph. 5:19); “Submitting yourselves one to another” (Eph. 5:21); and “Teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3:16). When the church engages in singing songs together, there is a fellowship which occurs between those Christians as they share in worship to God.
Prayer is an essential aspect of the Christian’s daily life and is an integral aspect of our worship. While prayer is often between the individual and God, it is also an aspect of our worship as we pray together. The principle of fellowship is seen in prayer as demonstrated in James 5:16. In this passage, James tells the readers to “confess your trespasses to one another” and “pray for one another.” When this reciprocity takes place as individuals pray with each other and for each other, those who participate in the prayers are in fellowship.
Understanding the nature of fellowship in our walk together and in our worship together will help us to draw closer to each other and as a church draw closer to God. When a person understands the need for fellowship in all areas of faith, that person will be more likely to invest spiritually in the congregation. No one can be an island to themselves and be the person God would have them to be. Fellowship is not a luxury. It is not an option. It is an essential element in our faith. Christians cannot have fellowship with works of darkness, for that makes the person a partaker in that darkness (Eph. 5:11). Let us continue to walk in the light that we may have fellowship one with another and with God, through the cleansing blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).
Michael preaches in Boiling Springs, SC, and serves on the board of directors for this paper.