The word, fellowship, in First John speaks of a precious unity and intimacy brought about by those who had a common faith in the Son of GOD. The word fellowship in the Greek language refers to an association, a joint participation. It is also translated as partakers, communion, community and intercourse. This signifies a close intimacy.
The fellowship John refers to came about by being born from the same spiritual womb, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter spoke of believers who had “been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of GOD,” (I Peter 1:23). This fellowship was a continued blessing by those believers who walked in GOD’s light (righteousness and love). John wrote, “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” (I John 1:7). Fellowship was broken when a believer began walking in darkness. While others remain in the light and in fellowship with both GOD and others who are walking in the light, the individual in darkness no longer enjoys the blessings of family fellowship and unity. The sad truth for our generation is this intimate fellowship is no longer properly understood nor appreciated. So when fellowship is lost, for many, it is no great loss.
When I was growing up the topic of fellowship in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s was more about who is saved and who is not saved. It was more about who can I fellowship and who I cannot fellowship. The discussions were centered more on doctrinal issues about what one group believed verses what another group believed. The window of fellowship became so small that the only ones we could fellowship were those with a similar name on their building and those who met and followed a certain criteria of “doctrinally approved theology.” This “approved theology” was usually determined at yearly lectureships hosted by various Christian Colleges or Christian Universities or by various monthly publications throughout the brotherhood. Some publications were actually known to list and point out preachers or congregations who had “left the faith” and who were no longer considered “in our fellowship.” These publications took on “biblical names” like “Contending for the Faith,” (Jude 3). Years later some mocked this publication and called it, “Contentious for the Faith.” These publications and debates did more to stir up arguments and controversies than promote the true fellowship that is determined by GOD! Obedience to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus brought one into fellowship with Christ and made them a participant or partaker in the Holy Spirit and family of GOD.
In John’s teaching, what determined fellowship was walking in the light or walking in the truth. As John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did,” (I John 2:6). What disrupted fellowship was walking in darkness, or living in sin. Denying that one was a sinner, denying that Jesus was the Christ, denying that GOD had come in the flesh, is what broke fellowship (I John 1:6,8,10; 2:22; 2 John v.7). My hope is that we would come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of sacred fellowship we have in Christ and with each other. As the 1887 hymn by Elisha Hoffman says, “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms…” Thank you Father for the precious fellowship we have in our church family at MoSt. AMEN!