The biblical term “fellowship” is very important yet frequently misunderstood. Many church buildings have a “fellowship” hall, and some Bible-loving congregations may even name an adult Sunday school classes koinonia (the Greek word for “fellowship”). If you stay for a cup of coffee and a brief chat with fellow church members after the Sunday morning service, is that “fellowship”? If you invite a believing family over to your home for dinner or a game night, is that “fellowship”? Is friendship with fellow believers the same thing as “fellowship”?
In the first-century, “fellowship” (koinonia) often carried commercial connotations. Family members or friends who purchased a fishing boat in Galilee or started a bakery in Philippi had koinonia as they combined their resources and skills and shared fully in the risks and rewards of the company.
One of the most famous examples of “fellowship” in literature is found in J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic book The Fellowship of the Ring, a company of nine—hobbits, humans, an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard—put aside their differences and undertake a solemn quest to destroy the great ring in the face of great peril. Their partnership is tested and shows signs of stress until they reach the foot of Amon Hen and need to decide which path to choose—west to the wars of Gondor or east to Mount Doom. The book closes with “the Breaking of the Fellowship,” as Frodo and his fellow hobbit, Sam, leave the group and set off on their own for the Land of Shadow.
These examples illustrate that “fellowship” is more than good vibes with a pal—it means sharing something significant in common with others. Koinonia in the New Testament can refer to sharing money and possessions to meet the needs of other believers (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4; Hebrews 13:16), partnership in gospel advance (Philippians 1:5), common participation in the Spirit of God (Philippians 2:1), and even sharing in the sufferings and resurrection power of Jesus (Philippians 3:10).
In 1 John 1, the Apostle John uses the term “fellowship” four times:
“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)
We see several truths about genuine fellowship in these verses. First, Christian fellowship is both vertical and horizontal. The apostle explains that the fellowship he invites readers into is “with us” and with God the Father and God the Son. Second, true fellowship is deep relationship united by truth about the eternal Son of God who took on flesh to save his people. That’s the good news that the apostles proclaim, based on their firsthand experience with the Lord Jesus, and they warn against accepting any counterfeit messages or substitute saviors (1 John 4:1–6; 5:21). Third, for sinful people to have fellowship with a holy God, we need salvation and transformation. John summons the church to confess their sins and receive forgiveness and cleansing through the shed blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:7–9). And he makes clear that it is impossible to claim fellowship with the God who is light while continuing to live in darkness (1:5).
Fellowship is about more than good feelings, or common interests, or even shared statements of theology. Christians have fellowship with one another when they share in the saving grace and empowering presence of the one true God, which shapes their priorities and patterns in conformity to Christ’s standards and purposes for his people.
This fall, the Bethlehem College and Seminary chapel series focuses on the theme “Confident in Christ,” and my opening chapel message emphasized that the real Christ unites us and delights us. I long for Christ to be central and supreme at Bethlehem College and Seminary, so that the faculty, staff, and students of this institution are bound together by the gospel and built up together in happy, holy fellowship with God and each other.
Brian Tabb, Ph.D.
- Pray that we as a community and the larger body of Christ would be built up together in fellowship.
- Pray for our students and faculty as they settle into new routines.
- Pray for those preparing to speak at Godward Life and for those planning to attend.
 See D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 16.