What is "fellowship?"
Some times translations do not adequately get the point across of the word they are translating. "Fellowship" is not one of those cases. It is a great translation of the Greek word “koinonia." The word is just the combination of two words put together that in their essence really do grasp the meaning of the original word. Unfortunately, the word "fellowship" has become so common that it no longer strikes us as being the combination of these two separate words. With "fellowship," we have the word “fellow” and the word “ship" melded together. "Fellow" is not a commonly used word today unless you are from the Deep South or involved in a university. A fellow at a university is someone who is considered an equal in a group of peers. When you become a fellow, you become part of a group who make decisions together. There is no superior in a fellowship.
When you combine fellows and put them together on a ship, you have a group of equals heading in the same direction. People on a ship have to work together to get where they are going. This is not your typical ship though. It is not a ship with a hierarchical structure; it is a ship of equals. The key to being a fellowship is that we are going somewhere together knowing that our success on that journey depends on us working together. If the ship sinks, all of the fellows on the ship sink. If the ship gets to the destination in record time, everyone gets to the destination in record time. We rejoice together. We weep together. We struggle together. We celebrate together. Life, in a fellowship, is shared.
Koinonia, the word translated fellowship, was used in Greek times as a union between people. It was most often used to describe the relationship of people who were in business with one another, but it was also used to describe the bond between two people in marriage. This means that fellowship with one another is not something to be taken lightly. It is not something that can be lived out with just a simple handshake. It is not something that we can have with one another just because we share doctrinal concepts. It is not attained through just gathering together at a specific building at a specific time. It is something that has to go much deeper than that. Koinonia, as shown in its traditional use describing business partners and marriage partners, shows a bond between people which is focused on the idea that the success of one is linked with the success of the other.
Imagine that I opened up a business with you and another. Let's say in our case it is a restaurant. Our friend would be the cook. I would run the floor, and you would do the bookwork and ordering. Say we shared ownership in the business, each of us owning a third, making us financial partners. Your financial success as the bookkeeper would be dependent upon my success in serving the customers and training others to do a great job serving the customers. My success would be dependent upon our friend, the cook, making great meals and training others to make those same savory meals. We would be in the business together and our success or failure would depend upon each one of us doing our jobs well. If one of us fails, our business fails. If each one of us succeeds, our business succeeds. That, in a nutshell, is what koinonia or fellowship is – it is a link between people in which they share mutual dreams, actions, and respect. The success of each person is intimately linked with the each others' success.
Koinonia is a family relationship of sorts. Not a fragmented and fighting family like many that we see around us, but a healthy family. The Bible describes our relationship with other believers as a family in various places. Peter describes us as the “family of believers” (1 Peter 2:17). Paul describes us as the “family of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
Maybe you know an amazing family. What is experienced in that well-built family is a great example of what it is to be a family. People look at good families and want to be like them. They see the fun the family has together at family gatherings and want to join in. That is fellowship. The main difference between the fellowship of biological families compared to the fellowship we are supposed to have as the church is that a biological family's fellowship is based upon a shared bloodline and is typically exclusive to people who are either born into or married into the family. (I am not saying there is something wrong with a healthy biological family like that. That's sort of family fellowship is one that I wish to emulate with mine.)
The fellowship in a church should be just as great or even greater than any biological fellowship. But is it? Are we the type of people who share our lives together in a way that others long to be part of our community? Do we know each other intimately like a family? The main difference between the fellowship Christians should experience and the fellowship of a healthy biological family is that our fellowship is not exclusive to bloodlines; it is inclusive to anyone who is seeking God. Our family should be growing as God continues to draw fellow sojourners in Jesus together to bring about His will here on earth.
Our fellowship should be a fellowship that other churches would long to emulate and people would want to join in on, but that is not our goal. Our goal should be to remain faithful to what God has called us to and to be the group of people He intends for us to be. Being a follower of Jesus is not just adhering to a set of doctrinal statements, attending a worship gathering, or some other legalistic ritual that we have morphed it into being; it is living our lives together in such a way that we exhibit the life together that Jesus intended for us to live. This life lived in fellowship would give credence to the authority of Scripture and the doctrines we share. This life would make God known in our world today. Let us strive to be the people Jesus died for us to be. Let us live in His resurrected, eternal life today, together.
Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not be slothful in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
be patient in tribulation,
be constant in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints
and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be haughty,
but associate with the lowly.
Never be wise in your own sight.
Repay no one evil for evil,
but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:9-21 (ESV)