The word ‘Fellowship’ often found in the Bible and frequently used in church life is a translation of the New Testament word Koinwnia. It means a body of people who are intimately linked, and intertwined with each other for mutual support and shared ministry in the gospel. In fact the basic meaning of the word comes with the idea of ‘sharing’ and in the Christian context means a group of people who ‘share’ their lives. This fellowship is often called the ‘Body of Christ’, and we can only be part of it, indeed be grafted into it, through true faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus.
The essential characteristic of true Koinwnia (Christian ‘Fellowship’) is modeled for us in Paul’s letter to the Philippians and that is ‘(God-type) love’. In fact, Paul’s prayer for the Philippians was that their love may overflow more and more. (Philippians 1:9) True Christian Fellowship develops as people who are called to be ‘slaves of Christ’, serve together in gospel ministry, and any action or activity that damages this brings pain to God. This was a lesson the people in the Corinthian church (see 1st Corinthians) seemed to find it so difficult to learn. They were very proud of their spiritual ‘gifted-ness’ and ‘knowledge’ but not at all bothered about how much damage they did (i.e. how ‘unloving’ they were) to others in the congregation, or what damage they did to gospel ministry. It is for this reason Paul wrote his great ‘love’ chapter of 1 Corinthians 13.
One particular problem Paul was dealing with was the use of the tongue, his point being that Christians love builds up (edifies), this being the key word of 1 Corinthians 14, thus the tongue must only be used for building the body, not damaging it. Unfortunately in churches, and today is no exception, often the tongue rather than being used to build people up and to praise God (James 3:9), becomes a ‘restless evil, full of deadly poison’ (James 3:8) and does untold damage. It is even more tragic that often the worst offenders in this regard are Evangelical Christians who are proud of their Biblical ‘knowledge’ and profess a spiritual maturity that the very use of their tongues denies. This is a tragedy which grieves God and should so us when we see it around us at CrossRoads.
The instructions for the use of the tongue are clear in the Bible – it is for praising God, for encouraging each other and for the building up of the body, never for its damage (although at times it is appropriate for rebuke for the health of the congregation and/or the individual.) Thus criticism and complaining are completely outlawed (Philippians 2:14), as is speaking against, slandering, other members (James 4:11). (Some of the emails and letters that are circulated by allegedly ‘mature’ Christians in churches are simply written and electronic versions of the misused tongue.) It is a grievous offence against God to damage the body, the congregation, for which Jesus died.
There are however other ways to damage Koinwnia in addition to the tongue. These include failure to play our part (Ephesians 4:16). Fellowship is only created when we share our lives to serve Christ together, there is NO Biblical basis for the person who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t fully fulfill their role as an organ in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).
Another Koinwnia breaking action is absenting ourselves from congregational gatherings, or not turning up for a small group etc, or even routinely leaving the ‘fellowship’ immediately the meeting finishes. Fellowship is built as we spend time together encouraging and building up, and being encouraged and being built up (Hebrews 10:25, 26). Christian fellowship is not ‘weather or football’ fellowship, it is not ‘children, school or work’ fellowship, nor is it ‘sitting at the same table at morning tea every week talking to the same people’ fellowship either. It is building each other up (particularly those who need it at a particular time) spiritually, and serving together in gospel ministry, and this should be the focus of our after, or pre, service conversations.
Let us be sure that we use our tongues, our time and our actions for the purpose of praising God, and building the body of Christ only – for anything else we will be accountable to God.