The Third Foundation of Fellowship

March 25, 2007

Fellowship: Our Duty to One Another in the Church
By Phillip M. Way

Previous Articles in this series:
The First Foundation of Fellowship: One Body, Many Members
The Second Foundation of Fellowship: Do Not Be Unequally Yoked

Part 3 –

The Third Foundation of Fellowship:
Fellowship in the Gospel – Philippians 1:1-11

Introduction

In review, we would all be quick to affirm the truth that we are commanded to fellowship with one another within the church. However, as we have seen, defining fellowship tends to be problematic. Many have come to think of fellowship as any social activity with other people who are members of our church or who present themselves to us as fellow followers of Christ. The truth that seems so evasive is that fellowship is a very specific set of actions that must be motivated by love for God and for each other within the Body of Christ. And we must not forget that for all we seem to not know about fellowship, it is a duty assigned to us by Christ that must be fulfilled if we are to be obedient to Him.

We learned in our previous visits that in order to understand and apply what the Bible tells us about fellowship it is necessary for us to see that there are several foundations of fellowship. Each foundation helps give us a more clear idea of what exactly we are commanded to do for one another in the church.

The first foundation of fellowship we reviewed was the basic understanding that we are many members but one body. We strive to be unified because we are one body and members of each other. That is why we must be humble, esteeming others as better than ourselves. By not having too high a view of ourselves we are allowed to enjoy genuine, unpretentious fellowship.

The second foundation of fellowship states that we are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. To be clear, Paul in 2 Corinthians 6 has given us a multitude of ways to look at the command. He covered everything from comparing believers and unbelievers to light and darkness to the extremes of using the illustration of Christ and Satan. The context helps us see that the command is given in light of spiritual pursuits, ministry, and intimacy. How can two people pursue spiritual things on a common level if one of them is still a “natural man”? (1 Cor 2:14). If a person is saved they have put off the old, natural man and are a new man in Christ! How can there be any deep unity in a spiritual pursuit between one who is alive spiritually and one who is still dead? In fact, how can they minister together? This is the primary error of ecumenism – thinking that we can work together in ministerial pursuits with those who do not even believe the basic fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The truth is that there can be no real spiritual intimacy at all between two people who are members of different spiritual kingdoms.

With these things in mind, let us now examine the third foundation of fellowship:

Fellowship in the Gospel

Let us begin with a reminder of our definition of fellowship: “to share in or with; participate; take an interest in; partner with; be connected; or to share in a common pursuit.”

Philippians 1:1-11 tells us:

Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; 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. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

As Paul introduces this epistle to the church at Philippi, he thanks God for them and makes mention of the fact that the basis of their fellowship with each other and with him is found in the gospel. Our fellowship must be centered on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ – the gospel, the good news that He has come to seek and save that which was lost.

The gospel is necessary to fellowship because the gospel is the power of God for salvation. As such the gospel gives us confidence as we are bolstered throughout the trials and tests of our lives by the truth that the work of salvation that Christ has begun in us He will bring to completion. He is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). He begins the work and He will continue the work and He will complete the work without fail. The Holy Spirit has been given to us, sealing us until we are finally and completely redeemed (Eph. 1:13-14). How permanent then is our relationship with Christ and His Body? He tells us that when it comes to the life of the church the gates of hell and death itself cannot stop the church.

We share in this salvation as members of one another. We see the beautiful truth of this foundation of fellowship in Paul’s words, “I have you in my heart.” Even while he is in chains suffering for the sake of the gospel it is the gospel that joins him to Christ and to the believers at Philippi. In his suffering he can rejoice in the good report given from the church – they are his children, spiritually speaking, and he has great affection for them.

So the gospel is where we start in determining with whom we fellowship. The gospel is the standard; it is the single most important common denominator for fellowship. If we disagree with others about the gospel then we have nothing upon which to build a lasting unity and cannot pursue common spiritual goals. And yet, if we agree on the gospel we should be very careful about whom we will and will not fellowship with – we partake of the same grace and have been saved by the same Savior, so our lines of separation must be built upon the essentials of the gospel and the Word of God.

Fellowship is a duty that has come at a high price. The blood of Christ had to be shed in order to break down the walls of separation that bring disunity and division to people around the world (Eph. 2:14). So for those who would deny the gospel, who would demean the work of Christ or the glory of God, we must withhold fellowship.

Remember, we are not talking about removing ourselves from the world. We are talking about fellowship. Those closest to us must be and should be fellow members of the Body of Christ.

Part of fulfilling this duty to one another is found in the many exhortations given throughout Scripture just as Paul explains in verses 9-11. He tell us how we are pray for on another and relate to one another as we fellowship in the gospel. Indeed, prayer should be our first response to one another in fellowship – bearing one another’s burdens before the Throne of God. As we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, we do so before God in prayer as we carry each others burdens. We seek the glory of God for those with whom we rejoice and we seek grace and comfort for the afflicted.

We are told to pray for all men everywhere (1 Tim. 2:1), so how much more should we be investing ourselves in the work of intercession for those who share in the grace of God with us? We are, after all, only following the example that we have been given from God Himself. Jesus lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25) and the Holy Spirit takes the things that we cannot even express with words (Rom. 8:26-27) and utters them to the Father!

The prayer Paul offers is a prayer that the church will grow in love and discernment. Too often the world sees the church as a bunch of bitter, contentious hypocrites, always fighting and dividing. But Jesus says that the world will know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35).

So what does discernment have to do with love and fellowship? As Tim Challies has defined it:

“Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.” 1

We see then quite obviously that if we are to truly love one another then we must understand what God’s Word says about love, and we must know who to love and how to love them! Discernment is crucial to fellowship, for how else do we know who shares this foundation of the gospel? We must discern the Body, even as we are told to do in the observance of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:29).

Further we see from Paul’s instructions that we are to pray for one another that we might approve that which is excellent. The church should never settle for second best. In fact, there is no such thing as second best – something is either the best, or it is not the best. And while we know that there are some things that are good for us, those same things may not be the best (1 Cor. 10:23) – and we are to pray and love and discern so that we seek after the best in and for each other.

Fellowship is also aided when we are sincere. Offenses often mar fellowship. So we pray for one another for sincerity in our love and service to each other. Hypocrisy truly is the enemy of fellowship; however, since we have all played the hypocrite from time to time, let us not think that hypocrisy is the unforgivable sin. It is as we are sincere in our love that we see the “fruits of righteousness” and are able to glorify God and praise our Savior Jesus Christ.

This is the goal of fellowship – that we glorify God by bearing the fruits of righteousness. They declare the praise of God as He works in and through us. This is, by the way, why we see that fellowship is part of worship. It is though fellowship that God is glorified. Let us never fall for the myth that fellowship is something we do “outside” the church. Fellowship is part of how we worship God when we meet together for corporate worship or when we are out and about throughout the week.

This is illustrated for us in Acts 2 as the members of the New Testament church met with each other from house to house daily and ministered to one another to the point that if one member had a need others would sacrifice and do without to meet that need. How far we have come in the church today! Or should I say, how far we have fallen at times from this kind of fellowship – daily fellowship founded on our being members of one another as believers in Jesus Christ, sharing in the grace of the gospel as His heirs.

We see then that the third foundation of fellowship must be the foundation given to us in the gospel, of which Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6-7).

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