When the church was launched in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost described in Acts chapter two, there was a vast multitude of people present as Peter preached Jesus to them. Three thousand people heard the message, believed in Jesus as the Lord and Savior, turned from their sins to God in repentance and were baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. Those who were baptized received from God the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit to live in them, lead them, guide them and serve as a guarantee of the blessings to come. These new Christians devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
Today, I want to focus on that word, “fellowship”. When we use the word it commonly refers to some kind of activity where lots of people are participating such as a fellowship meal. The word used here is one that is translated several different ways in the New Testament that gives us some insight into what is involved. It is the same word translated “communion”, “contribution”, “partnership” or “joint-partners”. It can also be translated, “joint participation.” It can be applied to people gathering to worship where everyone participates, to people gathering to work on some project or purpose, to people getting together to eat, sing, pray or serve others in some fashion. When we jointly support some cause we are involved in fellowship as described here.
Look at the verses that follow as a tremendous illustration of what they were doing that was regarded by God as fellowship. “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold their property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Look at different ways these early Christians were involved in fellowship from the very day they became followers of Christ. They were together. They had everything in common. They were so involved in helping each other to meet whatever needs might arise that they willingly sold possessions to be able to support those in need. They met together daily in the temple courts. They gathered in homes to eat with each other with glad and sincere hearts. They were praising God together. All of these were aspects of fellowship that went on in this new church from the beginning.
In many ways the local church is a fellowship. Paul described how the churches of Galatia had extended to he and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship so that they were made partners with the church in its work for the Lord. When a new person comes into the body, they are accepted into the fellowship and are then partners with every other member of the Body in doing the work and worship God calls us to do. It was based on this bond of fellowship being so strong that every member felt that they were in a partnership with every other Christian in God’s work, that the church was at times commanded to “withdraw fellowship” from someone to cause them to realize what sin was doing in their life and to lead them back to God.
Too often in our own time the fellowship of the church has become so weak that withdrawing it from someone who is involved in a sin doesn’t lead them to repentance, but to anger that they church would have the audacity to carry out such action. I’ve heard too many times of churches sending letters to someone to inform them they have had fellowship withdrawn from them when the person really had no fellowship with them to be withdrawn in the first place. Unless there is true, full and loving fellowship in the body on the front end, withdrawing fellowship serves no purpose to but drive the wedge deeper than ever between the church and the one being withdrawn from. Most churches need to push the concept of fellowship to new levels so that if the day ever comes that you are forced to withdraw that fellowship from a person it will mean so much to them they will quickly repent to be able to be back in full fellowship with the church.
Having such true fellowship means that every member is seen as a vital, working partner in the work and worship of the church. This bond is seen by God as so close that he describes the church as a body and each one of us as members of that body. The only way the Bible ever described a person as a member of the church is in the sense that the church is the body of Christ and we are individual members of that one body. Too often we think of church membership as being like belonging to a social club where we pay our dues, attend some meetings and are regarded a an active member. But the church is the living, breathing body of Jesus and to be a member of that body means we have a vital place to fill in it. So, if one member suffers we all suffer with them and if one member rejoices we all rejoice with them. It was this bond of fellowship that led to them referring to each others as brothers and sisters in Christ. They each had God as their father, Jesus as their older brother and saw each other as family.
It was this same sense of fellowship that led the church in Jerusalem to deal with the problem of Grecian widows being neglected in the daily distribution of food. They and their families began to complain about the neglect so the apostles gathered the whole church together to talk about the problem. Peter explained to them that it wouldn’t be right for the apostles to lead the teaching of God’s word and prayer to serve tables so they were to look out among them and find seven men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, men of good reputation and full of faith who might be put in charge of this work. They chose seven men and the apostles laid their hands on them to lead in this work. Notice the texts doesn’t say that these seven men did the work but that they were put in charge of the work. Their job was to lead in taking care of those who were being neglected. Fellowship should always mean that no one is being neglected in the body but everyone knows that they matter to God and to the church.
Think of the fellowship you enjoy as part of a local church today. What are some things you could do that would build that fellowship? What if we were really devoted to fellowship in every church?