I remember a time when I was travelling the world as a young student and I had not spoken to anyone I know for almost a month.  It was like self-imposed solitary confinement. Then I met an old friend of my parents and despite being a bit of an introvert I couldn’t stop talking for hours.

We are all social beings.  Hurts and pain or circumstances may have led to times of self-isolation.  But all of us were made for community.  During this season of social distancing, I am sure we are all missing that coffee with a friend, that conversation at the gym, or that lunch in the staff room.  That sense of loss, reflects our inner nature, we were made for each other. However, there is another side to our current situation.  For some of us we are spending so much time with family that we may even be getting on each other’s nerves.  Confession time, I know I am not the only one that needs my personal space now and then.

So what is important is not just being with people, but developing quality rhythms of relationship that enables us to live in peace, and build up, encourage and support each other; while also having time alone with God and our own personal space.  I believe that quality of relationship is possible when we grasp what it truly means to engage in Christian fellowship.

Biblical Fellowship
In the book of Acts we read how the early church practiced vibrant rhythms of deep fellowship, which included community celebration, meeting together in homes, supporting those in need, serving each other and the community, and co-labouring together to advance the cause of Christ.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

This practice of fellowship (or koinonia in the Greek language of the New Testament) reflected a rich tradition in ancient cultures of partnering together in community for the common good. Without devaluing the individual, it implied a committed partnership with each other which went far beyond casual friendship and social interaction.  In the New Testament Koinonia is also translated communion, sharing, contribution, participation, partnership. Here is one way of defining it.

Definition: Fellowship is a community concept from ancient Greece that conveys a sense of commonality, solidarity, and shared responsibility among households or individuals as they partner together for the common good and a common cause.

The Example of the Church in Philippi
One local church in New Testament times that practiced that type of fellowship was the church in the ancient Greek city of Philippi.  Right at the beginning of his letter to this church, Paul thanks them for their partnership in the gospel.

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:3-6

There is that word koinonia again.  As we read this letter, we can see how they stood with Paul prayerfully, practically and personally in fellowship or mutual partnership (koinonia) for the cause of Christ. The whole letter is an expression of thanks for their deep fellowship with him

The Example of Epaphroditus
A colleague of Paul from the church of Philippi who provides us with a living example of biblical fellowship was Epaphroditus (see Phil 2:25-30).

But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who   is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. Phil 2:25

This courageous man was willing to put his own life and health at risk to help Paul.  Their relationship had three qualities that I believe reflect three powerful dimensions of Christian fellowship.   As Christians in community we are:

1) Fellow Soldiers. We fight our battles together.
2) Brothers or Sisters. We share each other burdens
3) Co-Labourers. We work together for the cause of Christ.

In our culture and time we have a concept of passive partners in a company or project.  Passive partners are those who provide resources without actually being actively and personally involved. That is not the biblical concept of fellowship or koinonia. The biblical practice of fellowship is all about being an active partner in the life of the church, fighting battles, sharing burdens and working together in God’s mission. It involves personally contributing our time, talents, energy and resources to our common cause.

Discussion Questions
1. What does the idea of fellowship mean to you?
2. What struggles are you having with maintaining and building healthy relationship in this season?
3. How can we be fellow soldiers together in Christian community? 
4. How can we support each over this time as brothers and sisters? 
5. In what ways can we be co-labourers together?
6. How can you strengthen your relationships as a life group in the next month?

Join Andrew Chisholm and his guests in The Conversation as they unpack each week’s message. Watch now.
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