The term ‘fellowship’ is used by us in a variety of ways, and this factor can either indicate the richness of its meaning or the confusion that is connected to it. A brief survey of some biblical passages will reveal four basic features.
We have fellowship with each person of the Trinity: ‘God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (1 Cor. 1:9); ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Cor. 13:14). This fellowship can be experienced by us as individuals during our times of private worship; it can also be known by us any time throughout the day or night. We can have fellowship with the persons of the Godhead when we are walking along the road, driving the car or digging in a field. And this fellowship can be enjoyed corporately as well. Congregations are composed of people who have come together to meet with God, and each person of the Trinity should be in our thoughts. In church, we can ask each person of the Trinity to meet with us in a specific way.
We cannot have fellowship with God and engage in wrong practices: ‘Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons’ (1 Cor. 10:20); ‘And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret’ (Eph. 5:11-12).
We cannot have fellowship with God unless we confess our sins: ‘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).
Christian fellowship involves participation in the spread of the gospel: ‘when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised’ (Gal. 2:9); ‘because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Phil. 1:5).
In Acts 2:44ff, Luke describes the fellowship that marked the early church in Jerusalem immediately after the Day of Pentecost. It was obviously a striking feature of its life. In verse 42, he says it was one of the activities to which these early Christians devoted themselves; in verse 44 he summarises the fellowship and in verses 45 to 47 he specifies particular features of it.
In his summary Luke says that the believers were together and had all things in common. These two details point to the meaning of Christian fellowship – there has to be a relationship (the believers were together) and there has to be sharing (had all things in common). There cannot be fellowship without these aspects.
With regard to the relationship, two essential details should be mentioned. First, they had this relationship because each of them had faith in Jesus Christ. On the Day of Pentecost, each one of them had trusted in him as their Saviour from sin. We are not told anything about their life apart from this – they had discovered that Jesus Christ had come into the world to save sinners. On being informed of the willingness of Jesus to save them, these thousands of sinners had embraced him from their hearts. They were now believers in Jesus Christ.
Second, they had become members of the family of God. Prior to their conversions on the Day of Pentecost, they had a relationship with one another as Jews, a relationship that was both religious and racial. This relationship had separated them from all others in the world. On the Day of Pentecost, they discovered that they were brothers in a far higher sense – they now belonged to the family of God. Despite their sinful pasts, they had not only been forgiven; in addition, they had been adopted into God’s own family. He was now their Father and his people were now their brothers and sisters.