What is “Fellowship”?

As it is used in Christian vernacular, the word “fellowship” often describes a meal shared by the church after a service or simple social activity between Christians. But is “fellowship” mere conversation between Christians regardless of venue or subject of conversation? Is getting together with a group of Christians on a Sunday afternoon to watch a football game “fellowship”? Does it describe getting together with an unbeliever for coffee?

Biblically speaking, the word “fellowship” has a richer and deeper meaning than mere conversation or social activity and the concept is much broader than what takes place in the “fellowship hall” of a church building. The Greek word translated “fellowship” in the New Testament is koinonia. It is related to the word koine, which means “common,” and a study of its usage in the New Testament reveals that it means a “participation” or a “sharing” or an “association.” It refers to what believers have in common with one another. The fellowship between extended to material things like  (Acts 4:32; Romans 15:27), but it also involved spiritual things and personal relationships.

In the Bible, the fellowship is both vertical and horizontal. The Greek word koinonia describes the fellowship that we have with God–Father, Son and Spirit (1 John 1:1-3; 2 Cor 13:14; Phil 2:1). It also describes the relationship we have with “one another” as believers (1 John 1:3). So fellowship is a very personal thing. It involves our relationship with God as well as those who know Him.

The Bible teaches that God the Father initiates fellowship with believers, calling them into fellowship with His Son (1 Corinthians 1:9). As a person exercises faith in the Gospel message, he enters fellowship with God through Jesus Christ and with those who know Him (1 John 1:1-3). Implicit in John’s teaching in 1 John 1 is the thought that there are boundaries to fellowship. Paul is very explicit as he describes the boundaries with five contrasts in 2 Corinthians 6. He commands believers not to be “bound” together with unbelievers. The word he uses is heterozugeo, which means to be “yoked up” or “mismated.” Althought the word never occurs elsewhere in the NT, it is used in the Septuagint of Leviticus 19:19 in a commandment forbidding the cross-breeding of two different kinds of beasts–cattle, donkeys, etc. Paul is obviously speaking on a human level in 2 Corinthians 6, but he is not  forbidding believers to bind themselves to unbelievers in marriage. That is certainly forbidden in Scripture (1 Corinthians 7:39), but here the primary point of the passage is about worship.

It is obvious that this passage is primarily about worship because of Paul’s identification of believers in the context as the temple of God (2 Cor 6:16). Interestingly, Paul says “we are the temple of God.” He is not merely talking about a local church in Corinth (Corinth likely had many congregations), but the universal church. Paul uses the plural “we,” for Paul himself was not a member of a Corinthian assembly. It is also evident from the recipients of the book, for Paul addresses the church of God which is at Corinth, as well as all the saints who are throughout Achaia, which is a region (2 Cor 1:1-2).

Paul commands that believers must not bind ourselves, yoke ourselves up with, partner with, unbelievers from the standpoint of worship. To do so is to mix righteousness with lawlessness, light and darkness, true worship with idolatry, Christ and Belial (the Devil), and belief with unbelief. The church must be separate, and as it is separate, it distinguishes itself in a true family relationship with God. The promises of 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 include God’s reception of us and His fatherhood of us. Without that separation, we call into question our own identity as His children.

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