In speaking of fellowship here, Paul has in mind the way the Philippians had sent him help throughout the years. No doubt many a missionary has had similar feelings regarding a congregation that has supported him financially over a period of time. It is a great spiritual benefit for a congregation to have a specific missionary or Christian worker that they support financially. And obviously, the support also includes prayer and sometimes sending a person with the expression of help, as the Philippians did with Epaphroditus.
It is worth considering the meaning of the term ‘fellowship’. I think it is one of the most misunderstood words among Christians. For example, it is often suggested in a church bulletin that people should wait after the service for a cup of tea and enjoy some fellowship. Basically this means speaking to somebody for a few minutes. If this is the case, fellowship is not a very prominent aspect of Christian experience.
Christian fellowship is not the same as socialising, although it may include socialising. We all know it is possible for Christians to meet together and talk about the news or about music or about holidays. But that is not Christian fellowship. Sadly we are often prepared to accept it as a substitute for Christian fellowship, and in doing so deprive ourselves of great spiritual blessings.
Christian fellowship is simultaneously vertical and horizontal
Vertically Christians have fellowship with God. Obviously it is possible for a believer to have communion with God by himself. What is known as personal devotions involves fellowship with God by listening to him in his Word, by speaking to him in prayer, and expressing our worship of him.
The apostle John stressed the vertical aspect of fellowship when he writes in 1 John 1:3: ‘our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ He mentions the horizontal aspect previously in the same verse: ‘that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us.’
The vertical aspect of Christian fellowship has already been mentioned by Paul when he says that grace and peace come to us from the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. During this vertical fellowship, the Holy Spirit also conveys our responses to God. These responses are wide-ranging: we express our love to him, we state our confidence in him, we confess our sins to him, we reveal our dependence upon him, we implore his help for a variety of reasons.
Horizontal fellowship, in addition to church services, involves sharing with other believers what God has done for us. It means passing on to other believers the discoveries we have made in the riches of God’s Word, of praying for and with one another. Such fellowship is an expression of love. We do not convey what we have discovered in order for others to think we are great. Instead we do so because we want to help them discover more about God and his ways. Obviously, there has to be humility in receiving help from one another. This sharing is done by the Holy Spirit.
Horizontal fellowship is an expression of brotherly love. Obviously, brotherly love at times involves meeting material needs. Yet more often it requires sharing our spiritual blessings. We are meant to be channels, passing on to others what God has given to us. We become means of grace to one another as the Spirit who indwells all his children stimulates them to share good things with other believers.