What is biblical fellowship?   

(It’s more than enjoying a meal together!)    
Pastor Robert Hammond | Long Hill Baptist Church, Trumbull, CT

In Acts 2:42, the Jerusalem church is described as having “…continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. To say that they “continued stedfastly” means that they pursued those things with earnest. They persevered. They were constantly diligent in things including “fellowship.”

What exactly is fellowship?  The word underlying “fellowship” literally refers to joining together or partnering with others -- especially for a beneficial purpose.  It implies serving one another (e.g. Ec. 4:9-10), and/or serving others (e.g. 2 Cor. 8:1-4) and/or partnering to reach others with the gospel (e.g. Phil 1:3-5).

The biblical definition of fellowship appears to be closely related to the literal definition of “church.”   Recall that “church” literally refers to an assembly of people who are called out - typically for a specific purpose.  Church members (those who are called out from the world) are called to assemble together in order to partner in fulfilling God’s purposes, i.e. to fellowship! In short, we are both called-out from the world and called together to partner in fulfilling specific biblical purposes.   

Consider the following related observations from Scripture

  1. We are called to fellowship both with the Lord and with other believers -- and we are called to refrain from attempting to fellowship with unbelievers:

    A. (1 John 1:3) “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

    B. (Ephesians 5:11) “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”

    C. (2 Corinthians 6:14) “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”

    Biblical fellowship occurs among believers (1) within a church assembly or (2) between like-minded churches.  It specifically cannot exist between believers and unbelievers.  

Three biblical purposes of fellowship:

  1. Ecclesiastes 4:9 illustrates the principle of fellowship for the purpose of mutual benefit (serving one another):
    Ecclesiastes 4:9 “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” Here, we find a practical benefit of maintaining close daily fellowship with other believers, i.e. we can help each other “up” when we “fall.”

  2. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, Paul illustrates the principle of fellowship as joining together / partnering for the purpose of serving others.

    There,  Paul writes that the Macedonian churches asked him to take their financial gift to Jerusalem.  Paul referred to their desire to partner with him to deliver the gift as  “fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”

    (2 Corinthians 8:1) “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. 3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”

    Romans 15:26 evidently refers to the same episode as 2 Cor 8.  There, the word that is sometimes translated “fellowship” is translated “contribution” -- underscoring the idea that fellowship involves partnership for a beneficial purpose:   “For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.”

  3. Other passages  illustrate the idea of fellowship as joining together / partnering for the purpose of reaching others (sharing the gospel)

    In Galatians 2:9, Paul explains that came into a partnership with James, Cephas (Peter) and John to share the gospel:   (Gal 2:9)  “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.”

    In Philippains 1:3-5, Paul testified that he prayed for the church there, thanking God for their “fellowship in the gospel,” i.e. their supportive partnership with Paul in his evangelist effort:

    (Phil 1:3-5)  “3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy 5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;”   (They had evidently supported him financially).