By Gregg Bing
The fellowship we enjoy with other believers is a wonderful blessing of the Lord, but often we take a rather shallow view regarding what fellowship is. To many, fellowship is basically viewed as friendship and having fun with other believers. In many churches, fellowship is almost always associated with the idea of food. Many churches have a “fellowship hall” in their building; and what is almost always connected to this fellowship hall? A kitchen! We speak of “fellowship breakfasts” or “fellowship dinners” as if the two ideas naturally go together. There is certainly nothing wrong with believers enjoying a meal together, but fellowship is much more than friendship, fun and food. In this lesson, we will examine the Scriptural concept of true, spiritual fellowship.
In the opening verses of his letter to the Philippian saints, Paul writes:
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Phil. 1:3-5)
What a love Paul had for these saints at Philippi. Every remembrance of them and every reminder he had of them caused him to give thanks to God. They were constantly in his prayers, making request for them all with joy. It is interesting that, even though Paul wrote this letter from a prison house in Rome (Acts 28, Phil. 1:7,13), the tone of the entire letter is one of joy and rejoicing. One of the key reasons is found in Philippians 1:5.
His joy was “for” their “fellowship in the gospel from the first day unto now.” The Greek word translated “for” is a word that literally means “upon” or “based upon.” Thus, the basis for Paul’s joy regarding these saints was their “fellowship in the gospel.”
The word “fellowship” is translated from the Greek word “koinonia.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words gives the meaning of this word as “communion, fellowship, sharing in common.” To have fellowship means to have a common bond, to have something in common with someone else, to share together with another. What did Paul have in common with these saints at Philippi? The gospel! Their fellowship was “in the gospel.”
The word “gospel” means “good news.” It was clearly an important bond he had with the Philippians for he mentioned the gospel 5 times in the first chapter alone (vs. 5, 7, 12, 17, 27). What was the gospel that Paul referred to? It was “the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7): “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:1-4). It was “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24): “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). It was this glorious gospel message that Paul had in common with the brethren at Philippi.
How did they “share” in this gospel? First, they had a common salvation. They believed the same gospel message. They trusted in the same wonderful person, the Lord Jesus Christ, as their Savior (Acts 16:31). They enjoyed the same glorious position, spiritual blessings, and hope “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3-14, Phil. 3:20-21). What a wonderful fellowship we have, as believers in Christ, rejoicing together in a “common salvation.” These are joys that can’t be understood by those outside of Christ.
As we read further in Philippians 1, we find that Paul’s idea of their “fellowship in the gospel” went beyond just their common salvation.
“Just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:7-8)
Paul also enjoyed fellowship with these believers in the ministry of the gospel. They were “in his heart,” for these saints shared with Paul in his preaching and teaching of the gospel, “from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5). How did they share with Paul in this work?
To begin with, they shared with Paul by helping supply his needs. When Paul departed from Macedonia after visiting Philippi the first time, theirs was the only church who consistently shared with Paul and supported his ministry, sending “aid once and again” for his necessities (Phil. 4:15-16). Even in his chains, as he wrote this letter from prison in Rome, the Philippians were still supporting Paul, having sent a gift by the hands of Epaphroditus (Phil. 4:10,18). Paul spoke of the Philippians’ sacrificial giving when he wrote to the Corinthians.
“For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.” (2 Cor. 8:3-5)
These saints also shared with Paul in being willing to suffer and endure the same type of conflict he experienced, all for the sake of the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:28-30). Sharing a common suffering often brings people closer together, even unbelievers. For instance, people who have a serious illness, such as cancer, often feel close to someone who has shared the same experience. The bond is even closer when the sufferings are for the cause of Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, as we suffer in the ministry of the gospel, we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ Himself (Phil. 3:10).
Finally, the Philippians also stood with Paul “in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7). The ministry of the gospel involves preaching or proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified so that people may believe and be saved, but it also involves much more. In preaching the gospel, there is often much opposition, fueled by Satan himself. The apostle Paul was “set” or “appointed” by God, not only to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17), but also to defend it (Phil. 1:17). As he stood firmly for the truth of God’s Word against the adversaries of the gospel, the Philippian brethren stood with him, “striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
The church at Philippi also shared with Paul in the confirmation of the gospel. The word “confirmation,” according to Strong’s Lexicon, means “to make firm, to establish, or to make sure.” After people hear the gospel and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, they need to be established in the truth of the gospel and God’s Word. Though often neglected, this is an important part of the gospel ministry. After Paul preached the gospel in a city, he would often return, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22). This is one of the key functions of a local church, and a wonderful work to share together in; seeing believers grow and mature, and become “rooted and built up in Him (Christ) and established in the faith, as they have been taught” (Col. 2:7).
Paul’s relationship with the church at Philippi is a wonderful example to us of true, spiritual fellowship. What was the secret of their continuing and consistent fellowship in the gospel? They were all “partakers” together “of grace” (Phil. 1:7). God’s grace not only saves us from our sins, it also sustains us and supplies our every need. It is sufficient for us (2 Cor. 12:9). As we yield to the Lord and the strength of His grace (2 Tim. 2:1), He will work in and through us to accomplish His will (Phil. 2:13). We can be confident, as Paul was, being fully persuaded, that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
When we recognize that true, spiritual fellowship with other believers is centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ, it causes us to have a genuine longing and affection for one another (Phil. 1:8). As we share together in the blessings of our salvation in Christ, stand and suffer together for the cause of Christ, and spread the gospel of Christ to others, we experience a unity and closeness that brings real joy to our hearts and great pleasure to our Lord.