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What Does the Bible Actually Say About Church Fellowship?

What Does the Bible Actually Say About Church Fellowship?

The Challenge of Sharing in Community

Imagine a large table set for 20 guests and waiting for a delicious spread of food. The host has invited you and every other guest to contribute a dish to the meal. Whatever is served at this big table will be the result of each guest’s stinginess or generosity. Would you bring your best dish, or would you grab something from the store last minute? Would you eat a big meal before, just in case everyone else brings leftovers? What would you share? And what would you hope others would bring to the table?

When I was a little kid, my family would go to church potlucks in a room called the “fellowship hall.” It was the first time I heard the word fellowship, so I associated it with Jan’s homemade cookies, plastic forks, and questionable casseroles. Since then, I’ve learned that potlucks are not all there is to fellowship. But they do provide a helpful analogy for the idea. How? Let’s start with the word fellowship and consider what it actually means in the Bible. What’s the point of fellowship? And is it really that important?

What Is Fellowship Exactly?

Fellowship is shared participation within a community. The word in the Greek is koinonia, and it's most often translated into English as sharing, fellowship, or communion.

Let’s look at how koinonia and a similar word, koinos, are used in Acts 2:38-47. As we observe the literary design, we can see how Luke, the author, lists four devotional practices of the Church before describing each one with more detail.

Acts 2:38-47

So Luke tells us that the Church should be devoted to shared participation with all members. And then he explains that the members of the Church are to hold "all things as shared in common" (Acts 2:44). In other words, the members’ commitment to sharing their lives with one another is tangible and action oriented. They sacrifice to share all their resources—their space, their time, and their stuff—with anyone in their community who has a need (Acts 2:45).

That’s intense. Surely this was a unique event describing this precise moment in the early Church, right? But actually this is not the only time we see this word described in this way. As we trace koinonia throughout the New Testament, we see contexts that both describe and prescribe the lifestyle of the Church.

Fellowship and Community

The Church practices koinonia when it helps to alleviate poverty in communities (Romans 15:26), when it financially supports others and focuses on sharing the good news of the Kingdom (2 Corinthians 8:4), and when it generously gives its resources (2 Corinthians 9:13; Hebrews 13:16).

But that’s not all.

While the sharing of practical resources is a crucial part of what it means to have fellowship, it cannot be done apart from fellowship with God. It all originates from a loving koinonia with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1, 3:10; 1 John 1:3; ), which expands to enjoying koinonia with one another (Ephesians 3:9). Overall, the foundation of our fellowship begins with entering into the fellowship that existed long before we did.

What Is the Basis for Fellowship?

God enjoys perfect fellowship within himself. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in eternal relationship and always participate in acts of self-giving love toward one another (John 17:5). This fellowship is the essence of Heaven—full of joy, generosity, and peace.

Before creation as we know it existed, this mutual and loving participation was God's reality. And he chooses to share this with humanity. He created humans in his image so that we could share in his eternal self-giving fellowship and partner with him to share it with all of creation (e.g., Genesis 1:27-28). So how can humanity respond to God's invitation to shared partnership?

Two Ways We Respond to God’s Fellowship Invitation

Since humans are made in the image of a God who shares, how could we do anything but share? It turns out there are two ways of sharing. Remember the similar word next to koinonia found in Acts 2:44? Koinos, translated as “common,” is found throughout the New Testament to describe both negative (unclean, defiled) and positive (approved, holy) ways of sharing. We were made to share, but how we share is important. This idea is repeated in the Bible.

The first way humans can respond to God’s shared life is to willingly give and share resources so everyone has enough. This way of life leads to wholeness for the entire community. It is good. But humans can also define goodness according to their own wisdom, taking and consuming things for their own advantage and then sharing their self-promoting strategies with others. This second way destroys shared participation in relationships, leading to mistrust, shame, and blame (e.g., Genesis 3:1-13).

Adam and Eve chose the destructive way, and the whole world still groans because of it (e.g., Romans 8:22). But God kept his first choice and remained committed to giving humanity the gift of shared relationship he has always enjoyed. To restore his fellowship with humanity, the Father sent his Son to take the blame, bury the shame, and restore us by his Spirit into relationship with him and to one another. We are now invited to trust him with everything we have, and this leads to enjoying fellowship with God’s family and sharing with one another whenever needs arise. But this invitation asks us to trust that God has provided more than enough to go around, and that is not easy.

Fellowship and Trust

Sometimes it looks like there will not be enough—the pantry is empty and our people are hungry. What then? Surprisingly, we read in the Bible that when “not enough” is given to Jesus and his people, scarcity can become abundance (e.g., 1 Kings 17:11-15; Matthew 14:15-21; Luke 6:38; Philippians 4:12-20). Whoa! Give away the last portion and trust that there will be more than enough for me and everyone else?

When we fear we don’t have enough, our instinct is to hoard our space, time, and stuff in order to survive. But this very fear ends up creating and fueling a whole system based on perceived scarcity that leads to even less. Resisting our instinctive fear and tendency to take rather than give is not easy, but it is possible. We can learn to trust the truth explained in Scripture, that God has given his children unrestricted access to everything good (e.g., Psalm 84:10-12; Luke 15:31) and that, in the end, what we give cannot compare to what we gain (e.g., Matthew 16:24-26; Acts 20:35; Romans 8:17-18).

Our instincts to self-preserve are strong, but our image-bearing identity is stronger. We were created by a God who gave and continues to give abundantly. King Jesus shared like a servant because he knew and trusted what he had with the Father and the Spirit (e.g., John 13:3-4). He has called us into the same generosity and empowered us with a relationship with the Father and the Spirit. How will we respond to him today?

Why Is Fellowship Important to God?

God wants us to receive and reflect the generous fellowship he enjoys as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the mission of God—to unite creation to himself and human beings to one another. When God’s mission is carried out, more and more of the joy, generosity, and peace of the Father, Son, and Spirit can be seen on Earth.

And isn’t that what we all want? Relationships that are so authentic, generous, and secure that we are not afraid? Where real love is shared between every human being, and we are no longer threatened by abandonment, rejection, betrayal, and violence? This is the kind of fellowship that God enjoys, and he made us like him. Our joy is fullest and most complete in the loving fellowship that the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy (John 15:10-12; 1 John 1:3-4). But to really experience joy, we are invited to trust God as we devote ourselves to sharing our lives and our resources in a real community. When we do, we participate with Heaven while on Earth.

When we give our time to the family of God, we all get a glimpse of eternity. Every time we emotionally spend ourselves for another, we all can feel God’s love and commitment for us. When our limited resources are generously shared, God’s limitless resources can be experienced by all. We were created in the image of a God who has always known the abundance of shared fellowship. His reflection can be seen on Earth, just as it is in Heaven, when we share all that we have.

Conclusion

Now again, imagine that large table. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have invited you alongside all who would receive his invitation. It’s a potluck. God has given his very best and invited you to join him. So what do you share? And what do you hope others will bring to the table?

This blog is the fourth post in our series, "The Life of the Church.”

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