Somewhere along my Christian ‘experience’ I managed to pick up some rather unhealthy ideas about what life as a believer should look like. Many of those ideas are now the subject of some painful yet necessary rethinking. For example, I came under the impression that following Christ means you automatically get to enjoy something called ‘ Christian fellowship’ with every other person on the planet who also calls themselves “Christian”. You may have collected that one along the way as well.
Definitions of how this ‘fellowship’ thing actually looks and feels are hard to come by. Christian fellowship seems to be one of those things everyone else in the church assumes you understand, right up there with some other mysteries that are rarely explained, like heaven, sanctification and eternal security (huh? OK, we’ll leave that one for another day). There is a vague, unspoken, belief that Christian fellowship means we should always be happiest when in the presence of other believers. Appearing to question the validity of this idea will almost certainly invite some serious eyebrow raising and doubts about your salvation from your fellow Christians.
After all, we are the Body of Christ, are we not? Isn’t it enough to know that? Well, no actually. The Body of Christ is a work in progress in which each member is still growing up into the fullness of Christ. It is imperfect, meaning not yet completely functioning as it will when perfected. Otherwise why would Paul, who seemed to have a pretty good revelation of the Body metaphor, suggest the Body needs to ‘grow up’ in all things into Christ (Eph. 4:15)?
So what is Christian fellowship really all about and are our assumptions actually Biblically based? There are endless ways in which people find fellowship. Attending the same school, joining a hobby club, getting together to watch a sports game or connecting to Facebook can all be forms of fellowship. People who have experienced trauma such as war or disaster, or who may have been victims of crime, often form themselves into fellowships to be with those who understand their experience. Patriotism is another form of fellowship on a national scale. All these provide the human soul with a sense of belonging and identity. Regular attendance at a church can provide this same sense of fellowship also, but it’s a fellowship that comforts the soul rather than invigorating the spirit.
The Greek word ‘koinonia’ translated either as ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion’ in our Bibles implies a unity of partnership, participation, sharing, and communication. It took me a long time to realize that in my quest for the full expression of this kind of Biblical fellowship in the Body of Christ I had been looking at things from the wrong perspective. We, as followers of Christ, have indeed been provided with a model of perfect, lasting, unhindered fellowship. It is rarely found, however, in church buildings or ‘fellowship suppers’. It is found rather in the passionate and thriving communion between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Self-focused as we naturally are, we seldom take time to meditate on the perfect one-ness of our three in one God, but if we truly long to know what authentic fellowship is, that unique Oneness must be our starting point. Most of us know Jesus spoke on numerous occasions about His deep communion with His Father. Much less often do we consider Jesus’ relationship with the Spirit. The relationship between the Father and the Son was not and is not a two way arrangement with the Holy Spirit tagging along as a junior partner. He who had the Spirit without measure spent His final hours on earth introducing His closest followers to the Holy Spirit, impressing on them His absolute trust and intimacy with Him (John 16:7-13).
If we wish to know how Christian love should look, look to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we desire to walk in the light with our brethren, we must first walk in the communion of Father, Son and Spirit (1 John 1:6,7). We can spend years, even decades, trying to ‘love’ our fellow believers just that bit more, striving to feel some kind of elusive ‘fellowship’ with other believers because we have been taught that is what it means to be a member of Christ’s Body. But we will fail, or settle for some carnal imitation of what we think fellowship should be, until we ourselves come into our own communion with each member of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Spirit. All fellowship between Christ followers must flow from that active, living source and actively include all three members of the Godhead. And guess what else? If another believer is not tuned into that same threefold source it is impossible to have true, spiritual fellowship with them.
What? Did I say there are believers we can’t fellowship with? Yes, absolutely. I didn’t say we can’t love them; I didn’t say we can’t meet with them; I didn’t say we can’t socialize with them and I didn’t say we can’t care for and serve them. But we won’t be able to find authentic, flowing, living fellowship with anyone who is resisting the Spirit of God, because it is the Spirit who pours the love of God into us (Rom. 5:5) .To put it another way, the Spirit is the glue that holds the Body together and causes it to function in unity.
There are those who deceive themselves that they are fellowshipping with Father and Son but can get by without the fellowship of the Spirit. But the Spirit is not some kind of mindless magical force that turns up when God wants to accomplish something supernatural. The Holy Spirit is divine Personality, an equal partner in the three-fold Godhead, a vital and cherished member of the Community of Divine Love that is God (2 Cor. 3:17). It is one thing to be ignorant concerning the Holy Spirit because we have not been taught accurately. However, when we persistently and actively resist submitting to the Spirit and His desire for fellowship with us, we grieve Him. And when we grieve the Spirit, we grieve the Father and the Son. Pause and consider!
If we sincerely desire true fellowship with other Christ followers, it must be a fellowship in and of the Spirit. Anything less is counterfeit and falls short of who we are called to be in Christ. Christian fellowship has to be more than physically gathering together in a church, a house, a conference, or some other venue. It must above all be a gathering in the Spirit. Gathering together physically is not even always necessary for spiritual fellowship. But if there is no fellowship in the Spirit, there is no true fellowship at all.
True fellowship cannot be built on knowledge (even if it’s Biblical knowledge), tradition, like-mindedness, or convenience. It is built on the revelation of Christ in each one as it is imparted by the Spirit of God. Again, there is no deep and abiding communion between believers without the active participation and welcome sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.
It’s humbling to admit to ourselves we don’t really know how to do this ‘fellowship’ thing. It’s costly to admit that there’s got to be something more than that which we’ve so far known in our relationships with one another. It’s confronting to consider we may be grieving our Lord by resisting the Holy Spirit who willingly gives Himself to us as Christ’s most precious betrothal gift.
Some of us will choose not to grow up into all things in Christ, the Anointed One. Some of us will choose to cling to that remaining trace of carnality that pridefully tells us we don’t need to change, everything’s fine as it is. If we are satisfied with giving Christ our least, just making it to Heaven by the free gift of salvation, that attitude may work. If, on the other hand, we are of those who long for the unsearchable riches of Christ, including the depths of communion with Him and His Body, we will not settle for anything less.
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