What Is True Christian Fellowship?
This lesson will deal with the concept of Christian fellowship. I will give you an overview of Christian fellowship and discuss its application in the lifestyle of Christians. What does it mean when Christians say that they have fellowship with God or with each other? How do you know that you have true fellowship with God and therefore with other Christians? For that matter, what is fellowship anyway?
The objectives of this lesson are as follows.
- To understand fellowship in the context of the Christian faith.
- To provide a standard by which we can examine ourselves to determine if we are truly in fellowship with Christ.
- Ultimately our objective is to live a life of true Christian fellowship
Our lesson will come from 1 John chapters one, two, and three. However the specific verses of scripture that we will focus on are 1 John 1:1-4, 5-7, 2:3-6, 9-11, 15-17, 3:16-17, and 3:24. However, I encourage you to read the entire epistle of 1 John because it is rich in truths pertaining to the basics of the Christian faith. Now let’s move onto our lesson.
The Reality of Christ (1:1-4)
1 John 1:1-4 (NKJV) That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.
The beginning referred to in verse one could be the beginning of all things (Genesis 1) or the beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Most likely he is referring to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry given the context of this introduction (prologue). John also seems to emphasize the fact that Jesus was a real person. Many Greek thought dealt with mystic entities that were not real physical beings. There are even some arguments that John may have been addressing the early development of Gnostic thought. In any case, John seems to make a point of expressing the fact that Jesus was a real historic figure.
The phrase “Word of Life” could refer to the Gospel message as well as to Jesus Christ. We must think of both when reading this, however, the emphasis appears to be on Jesus Christ. Consider the following scripture for example.
John 1:1-4 (NKJV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Jesus Christ is called the Word and referred to as light. Therefore, we can think of Jesus Christ as the Word of Life as well. Again, this phrase also applies to the Gospel message.
The Greek logos (word) meant something said (including the thought behind it). It referred to a topic or subject of discourse. The phrase “Word of God” expresses the total being of Jesus Christ (a divine expression). It also referred to the divine agent in creation (Psalm 33:6). The Word of God is the means by which God makes himself known, declares his will, and establishes his purpose. The Greek logos was also used by philosophers to mean “reason,” the force which structured the universe (caused creation). Therefore, Jesus Christ is seen as the embodiment of the wisdom of God.
Again John seems to emphasize the real physical nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus was seen, touched, and heard. He was a real historic person that walked on the Earth. Jesus was also deity since he is the Word of Life and eternal with the Father.
The basis of our fellowship is Jesus Christ. John says that he wants us to have fellowship with them (other eye witnesses of Christ, i.e., the apostles) and that their fellowship is with the Father and with His son Jesus Christ. At this point it is very important that we understand how John uses the word fellowship. What concept was he relaying by using the word fellowship and stating the fact that we should have this “fellowship” with God and Christ?
A very important part of the Bible study process is the definition of the terms being studies. For example, if you are studying love from a biblical perspective then you need to understand how the Bible uses the word love so that you perceive the same thing that the Bible is presenting to you. Otherwise, if you proceed in your Bible study with a presupposed definition of “love” then you may misinterpret the Bible because its usage of the word “love” may be different then yours. In other words, your concept of the topic being studied (or the definition of such) should be defined according to the way that the scriptures use it regardless of how confident you think you already know what the term or topic means.
Therefore, we need to define fellowship from the perspective of the Bible’s usage of the term. How does the Bible, in this case the Apostle John, define fellowship? In other words, when John wrote the word fellowship, what was he thinking of? What concept was he referring to by using the word fellowship?
The word fellowship basically means a group of people having common interests that bind them together; a group of people that have something in common and this common entity binds them together as an associated group. The word fellowship from the Bible’s perspective is a bond of common purpose and devotion that binds Christians together and to Christ. It is the sharing of the common life in Christ through the Holy Spirit, which binds Christians together as one body and to God (and Christ). I think of it as the active relationship with Christ that Christians share, experience, and live.
The Bible’s perspective of fellowship can be seen through the concept of the body of Christ. We have our faith in Christ as the common entity and the binding agent. We all share the life that is in Christ and that has been given to us through our faith in him (we were born again).
Now I should mention that Christian fellowship is a lot more than a mere definition of the word. The fact that we share the life of Christ implies other things as well. Anyone can say that he or she is a Christian but does his or her life show it? That is the key here. Fellowship involves a particular lifestyle, as we will soon see.
Foundation of Fellowship (1:5-7)
What is the basis of Christian fellowship? I said that it is more than a definition, which means that one cannot merely claim to have fellowship with other Christians or with God. Christian fellowship is founded on something else rather than merely a state of being that we can claim to have. What is this foundation?
First let me say that it should be evident that one must be born again if one is to partake in the fellowship of Christians. In other words, only saved people (through Christ) can really have fellowship with God and with other Christians.
1 John 1:5-7 (NKJV) This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and 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 Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Notice very carefully what John says here. God is light and no darkness is in God. We must walk in the light in order to claim that we truly have fellowship with God and one another. Therefore, true Christian fellowship is founded on the fact that we all walk in the light. If we do not walk in the light then we do not have fellowship with God and therefore are not part of the Christian fellowship. Now what does it mean to walk in the light?
Walking in the Light
Consider the following scriptures.
Psalm 1:1 (NKJV) Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
The King James Version says, “Stands in the way of sinners…”
Genesis 5:24 (NKJV) And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
The word “walk” refers to a lifestyle. A man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly is a person that has taken a way of life that is not consistent with that of the ungodly. He or she has taken a path that is consistent with God’s ways. Enoch was said to have walked with God. This implies a lifestyle that was consistent with God’s ways. Enoch lived a life that was godly and therefore had a communion (or fellowship) with God. Enoch indeed walked in the Light since John said that God is light.
Walking in the light therefore means a path of life that we are traveling. Consider the following verses of scripture.
Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV) “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
A “way” is the path that you have decided to take or the path that you are currently on. This path represents the lifestyle that you have. Jesus indicates that there are two paths that we can travel on and one that we should choose. The narrow way refers to the way of God, which is narrow because it is bounded. The broad way is such because you can do whatever you want, which is true in the world. In Christ we cannot do whatever we want to do because we have a lifestyle that is expected of us to live. We have a certain mode of operation that is required of us. Therefore, the way to life is narrow especially since you can’t get pass it any way. The way to life is defined.
OK, so our fellowship with God is founded on our lifestyle, which itself is determined by our heart in its true state. A person that is not saved indeed cannot walk according to the light because the light or the life of Christ is not in him or her. He or she may try to do those things that are “good” or “righteous” but never will live the righteous life because true righteousness, namely the Holy Spirit, does not reside within him or her. So Christian fellowship is again founded on the general concept of walking in the light.
Let me briefly mention that Christian fellowship is also founded on the concept of love. As a matter of fact, walking in the light implies a lifestyle of love. John says that God is light and he also says that God is love. Consider the following scripture.
1 John 4:8 (NKJV) He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
1 John 4:16 (NKJV) And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
John 3:16 (NKJV) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Love is crucial to the understanding of Christian fellowship and to understanding Christianity for that matter. You cannot talk about Christianity or fellowship with the Father and not speak of love.
Association (2:3-6, 9-11, 15-17)
What does true Christian fellowship involve? Fellowship implies an association with other believers and therefore with God. This association means that there are certain things that are expected of those who are in this fellowship. We already discussed one of these previously, namely walking in the light. Let’s continue with 1 John.
Obedience and Love
1 John 2:3-6 (NKJV) Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
The word “know” implies an intimacy between yourself and God. This intimacy is an aspect of our fellowship since we are to walk with Him (walk in the Light). However, walking in the light or knowing God intimately means that you are obedient to Him. No one can truly say that he or she is intimate with the Father and yet walk in disobedience. Our association, which is an intimate one if true fellowship is the object here, means a life of obedience.
Also note that John relates love and obedience. Consider the following scripture.
John 14:21 (NKJV) 21He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
Love Your Christian Fellows
1 John 2:9-11 (NKJV) He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
You cannot hate your fellow Christian (brother) and say that you have fellowship with God (walk in the light). Remember that walking in the light implies a life of love. The way of love, especially within the body of Christ, is paramount in the fellowship with God the Father. We will talk more about the implementation of this later.
Do Not Love the World
1 John 2:15-17 (NKJV) Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
This is a crucial concept. To love the world means that you hold the world as a great treasure in your life and that it is of utmost importance to you. You are intimate with the world and the things that it has to offer. John warns us against this and so does Jesus Christ. Consider the followings scripture.
Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV) “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Where is your treasure? What do you hold dear as a lifestyle objective? Are earthly things the ultimate goal of your life or do you value those things that are heavenly (godly)? Consider again the words of Christ.
Matthew 6:24 (NKJV) “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Disposition to Love
I would like to add that a significant component in the association (or fellowship) of believers is the disposition to love. One cannot say that he or she has fellowship with God and does not have a disposition to love. Love here is not referring to a state of being; rather it refers to a mode of operation. It is easy to say that you love someone but loving that person as an activity or way of life is a completely different things. Likewise, it is easy to say that we love God, but is it evident in your life. We will talk more about this aspect of our fellowship in the Implementation section of this lesson.
John mentions something that I would like to take a moment to highlight. He mentions the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. These are things that pull us away from the true fellowship of Christians as a lifestyle operation. It is very easy for us to become infatuated by the things that the world has to offer at the expense of pursuing a true fellowship with God and each other.
The lust of the flesh refers to desires for sinful sensual pleasure. The lust of the eyesrefers to covetousness or materialism. The pride of life refers to being proud about one’s position in this world. All of these should be understood as sin in the context given. So it is not sinful to desire a nice house or nice car. The emphasis is on these things pulling you away from the fellowship of Christians. A desire may become so powerful that nothing else matter. Your objective then is for self-satisfaction. Consider the following scripture as an application of this concept.
James 4:1-4 (NKJV) Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not comefrom your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Again consider Matthew 6:19-24.
The danger zones can be summarized as a love for the world system and what it has to offer. The world system appeals to self, which is contrary to a life of love and care for others.
Now we have gone over quite a bit about Christian fellowship. We know that it involves walking according to God’s Way (walking in the light), obedience, love, loving those in the fellowship, and separation from the world. Now how can we apply these to our lives so that we can actually live according to the concepts of Christian fellowship? Please understand that this lesson is only an overview. There is much more to Christian fellowship, which you can research on your own by using the information given in this lesson. Consider the following questions.
- What do you do for each other in normal situations?
- How is your love for each other evident?
- How would you characterize your lifestyle in regards to the teachings of Jesus Christ?
I would like to refer to a particular scripture that really presents the point that I would like to make.
James 2:14-17 (NKJV) What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Also consider the following scriptures.
Acts 2:44-45 (NKJV) Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Acts 4:32-35 (NKJV) Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
The Christian fellowship is founded on God’s Way. Therefore, since God is love and Christianity is founded on the concept of godly love, then Christians should therefore love each other. Consider the following scriptures.
1 John 3:23 (NKJV) And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
1 John 4:7 (NKJV) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
To love one another is not merely a confession or a state of being. To love one another is an activity. It is something that we do. Love is a verb (an action word). Therefore, our love for one another should be evident to others as it was in early Christianity. What do you do when you know of a fellow Christian that needs help? Do you get involved with their dilemma? Of course sometimes the only things that we can do is pray or in some way comfort the person. However, the point is that in one way or another we do get involved with the person so at the very least he or she knows that he or she is not alone.
The primary focus of the application of fellowship in Christians’ lives is that we love one another in deed and not in mere words. Care for one another. Help one another. Comfort one another and edify each other. The Christian bond is a powerful one because it is through God’s Holy Spirit. Our lifestyle should reflect the love that we have for one another and the Christian community should be a force to be reckoned with.
Love and Light
I thought that I would briefly mention the concept of love and light since John relates these two terms (or concepts) with each other. God is love and God is light so at least we know that those who walk in the light and those who truly love are operating according to God’s Way. However, this love and light must be evident in our lives because they are not merely conditions of the mind or heart. They describe the lifestyle or mode of operation of the person. Consider the following scripture.
Matthew 5:16 (NKJV) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Our light shines through the “good” works that we do. Good should be understood as relating to those things that are of God since good is a relative term. What good works do you do, which derive from the heart? The light that shines from you is a witness of God, which brings glory to God even among unbelievers. So do what is good according to the Word of God and especially as it pertains to the fellowship of Christians. Live your life according to God’s way, which means that your life is governed by the precepts and operation of the Kingdom of God (the teachings of Christ).
What are the things that are necessary to live a true fellowship with God and with other Christians? Let’s discuss the implementation (putting it into practice) of Christian fellowship.
In order to walk in the light and therefore have fellowship with God, we must know God. In order to know God, we must obey Him. In order to do what he says (obey), we must know what he says. In order to know what God says we have to study our Bible. So one of the first steps necessary to developing a true fellowship with God, after being born again, is to know the Word of God, which means that you have to read and study your Bible. It is not enough to merely attend church services every Sunday. You must take it upon yourself to learn what the Lord has said. You must motivate yourself to read and study the Word of God so that you know the truth for yourself. I have a question that I frequently ask. Do you know the truth or do you just know what you were told? Well do you?
Talk to Each Other
One of the greatest resources is other people in my opinion. It is important that you talk to other Christians so that you can share information, edify each other, and perhaps provide correction or at least another point of view. Talking to other Christians is very important as you build your understanding of the scriptures and therefore the things that God wants of you. Besides, it is dangerous to develop your own understanding or theology alone. Other people provide checks and balances to help you stay on track.
Understanding scripture does not come from brainpower alone. It involves the actions of the Holy Spirit in your heart and mind. Therefore, prayer is just as important as actually reading and studying the Bible. The Holy Spirit will teach you and help you learn what God is revealing to you. So pray to God for understanding of the scriptures and for wisdom so that you can apply the scriptures that you have learned to you life.
Be a Disciple
A disciple is someone that is a follower, learner, or student for all practical purposes. A disciple is more than someone that gathers information in a teacher student relationship. A disciple is expected to do what he or she has learned from the one he or she is following. Consider the following scripture.
John 8:31-32 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
A disciple of Christ is one who abides in his word. These people will know the truth and that truth will liberate them from the bondages of lies that so easily overcome us. The more of the truth that you know then the more freedom you can experience. Be a disciple of Christ by learning from Him and doing what he says. Practice what you learn from the scriptures. Consider the following scripture.
James 1:22 (NKJV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Live a Life of Fellowship
Ultimately your goal is to live the life of true Christian fellowship, which involves the things that we have discussed previously in this study. Live a life of love and compassion. Let your light shine, which means do the good things that originate from your godly heart. Love one another and really care for each other in deed and not just in word.
True Christian fellowship is a lifestyle and not just a state of being. Christian fellowship means that your life is connected with your brothers and sister in Christ. True Christian fellowship means that you are bound to Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit that joins us all together. We are part of God’s family so we should love each other. Our love should be done by works and not just by “lip action.” Any one can say, “I love you.” But true love is evident by the things that you do.
True Christian fellowship is founded on Jesus Christ and involves a righteous lifestyle, which is consistent with God’s Way. True Christian fellowship is a life of real love as we actively care for one another. We must obey God, live a life according to His way (walk in the light), love one another, do not love the world, and have a disposition of love for others. True Christian fellowship is indeed a lifestyle operation.
True Christian Fellowship
By William R. Cunningham
September 10, 2000