The Real Meaning of Fellowship
Last Sunday at Hobart Baptist we got together for the first of our monthly opportunities to share a “Fellowship Lunch”. This will be an important part of our life together, and we shared a delicious meal and lots of good conversation in the rear hall.
But why are these sorts of events important for a church family? When I preached last week, I explained how from the beginning God’s purpose in sending Jesus was not just simply to save individuals but to create a new humanity. For some this is a radical insight, particularly if you see “church” as attending a service for an hour or so on Sundays. But church is more than attending an activity, it is a lifestyle.
From its beginning the Church has been enlisted by Jesus to work with him in bringing God’s plan for a new humanity to completion. Throughout history the Church has done this with varying degrees of success. At times it has come close to being a true reflection of God’s future vision other times it has failed miserably.
If we look back to the church in its earliest days we can gain a glimpse of what it means to be part this big plan of God’s for humanity.
In the book of Acts we read that the early church devoted itself to four things: the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). We can easily understand why they devoted themselves to “teaching” and “prayer”. “Breaking bread” could mean sharing a meal or the Lord’s Supper (Communion) and we can appreciate the importance of that. But what is “fellowship”? And why is it so important that they just didn’t have fellowship but they devoted themselves to it. And why is it second in the list before breaking bread and prayer?
Today we can reduce “fellowship” to the casual conversations we have over tea and coffee and biscuits in the hall on Sunday. Not that this is bad, but it no doubt falls short of what Luke is describing in Acts.
Four aspects to ‘Fellowship’
A quick look at how “fellowship” is described in the New Testament reveals it has four aspects—relationship, partnership, companionship, and stewardship.
1. Relationship: all believers are in relationship with each other because we share a common relationship with Jesus Christ. We are together in Christ and together form his community. Devoting ourselves to fellowship is not just about turning up at various activities but being devoted each other. Because we belong to each other, in that we share the same Lord, we commit ourselves to each other for the long term.
2. Partnership: Whereas relationship describes community, partnership describes activity. As sharers together in the person and life of Jesus Christ we become co-partners with him in his enterprise. Just as a business partnership is formed to attain a particular objective, we too are united together in a community relationship with a particular objective—to experience and demonstrate the new humanity God is bringing. Partnership says that we are called to work together in common purpose to obtain common objectives for the glory of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Companionship: Being in relationship and working together with common purpose we will naturally enjoy companionship. Key words describing companionship are exchange, unity, and sharing. Working together we share concepts, feelings, ideas, information, needs and so on, which build relationship, empathy, regard and care. We are in it together.
4. Stewardship: A steward is one who manages the property of another. As stewards we recognize that all we have belongs to God and has been given to us in trust for his purposes. Believers in the early church willingly shared their material possessions. It came out of their shared relationship in Jesus Christ and their partnership in his ongoing work in the world.
As we shared lunch together these four words enable us to appreciate the importance of our “fellowship”. Sharing a meal together can be a demonstration of our devotion to it. What we are saying is that we appreciate that “fellowship” is foundational to living out the gospel in our community. It is just as important as teaching, prayer and breaking bread together.
Obviously fellowship just does not happen over a meal. Every time we join together, whether in large or small groups, our relationships, partnership, companionship, and stewardship is an expression of what it is to be part of the new humanity Jesus came to establish.
Being part of the church of Jesus Christ in Hobart is a challenge. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle that is countercultural to its secular orientation. Jesus calls us to be a demonstration of just how radical his vision is.
Let us keep on devoting ourselves to fellowship—relationship, partnership, companionship and stewardship—not only will it keep our faith alive and growing but it enable us to be the church God desires us to be.
What is your experience of sharing meals together. Do you think it enhances all these facets of fellowship?
Stephen L Baxter