Modern society is self-centered and family-unfriendly. A recent YoungPoll survey revealed that the average British family spends only 45 minutes a day together, mostly watching television or eating. Matters are no better in the United States and other nations descended from ancient Israel. In our world, every man cares for himself. God prophesied this trend: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves … heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4). People are substituting individual, personal pleasure for social interaction.
But God is creating a family in man, and He expects converted individuals to have a proper, special interaction with one another as members of the family. Obviously, we develop our relationship with God and our spiritual character through prayer and Bible study. But interaction with other converted Church members is also essential for our growth. As Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in The Incredible Human Potential, “[M]uch of this spiritual character development comes through Christian fellowship with other spiritually begotten people in God’s Church.”
What, then, is true, Christian fellowship?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the English word fellowship as “Companionship, company, community of interest , activity, feeling, or experience … association.” The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “a group of people meeting to pursue a shared interest or aim.”
The fact is, fellowship is much more than just plain conversation or catching up. It is the association in the furthering of a common goal.
God Is a Fellowship
The earliest record we have of the God Family is found in John 1. Here it states that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (verses 1-2). God and the Word lived in total cooperation and harmony. They were of the same mind and pursued the same goals. They were, and are, a fellowship. They were perfect in everything they did. Because of their intimate fellowship, they had complete trust and confidence in one another. Never once was there a selfish thought or a deviation from their shared aim.
This is what God wants to create in man, as He reveals through scriptures like Isaiah 1:18 and Philippians 2:5.
True Christian fellowship, then, is a desire to share God’s mind.
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The Greek word translated “fellowship” means partnership. It is translated elsewhere as communion or fellowship. God wants us to partner with Him and Jesus Christ and, through them, with our fellow brethren in the Church.
That is a rare occurrence. Most of those who proclaim a desire to share God’s mind have, through their actions, shown they would rather lean to their own ways.
However, there is a small group that highly values sharing God’s mind with one another. These people are described in Malachi 3:16: “Then those who feared the lord spoke with one another; the lord heeded and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the lord and thought on his name” (Revised Standard Version). The Living Bible amplifies the meaning and intent of this verse, saying, “Then those who feared and loved the Lord spoke often of him to each other. And he had a Book of Remembrance drawn up in which he recorded the names of those who feared him and loved to think about Him.”
These people are God’s special treasure (verse 17) because they have their minds saturated with God’s master plan for mankind. They don’t just discuss the personage of God, but the fellowship, the aim, the goal that the God Family has pursued for eons of time.
A Tool For Remembering
Royal Vision editor in chief Gerald Flurry begins Malachi’s Message by quoting Malachi 3:16-17 and then comments: “Why a book of remembrance? This is not the book of life. It is a special book which concerns a unique group of people who fear the Eternal and fellowship a lot. These are the Philadelphians who remembered. We are warned to remember what we were taught (Malachi 4:4-6). Many prophecies about the end time discuss a turning away from past instructions (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 15; Revelation 3:9, 14-21). it is a book of remembrance because they remembered what they were taught! That is why God spares them from the Great Tribulation (Malachi 3:17; Matthew 24:21-22; Revelation 3:10) and gives them a headquarters position in His Kingdom forever (Revelation 3:12). The Laodiceans fail to escape because they forget—and turn to a lukewarm message. God remembers the Philadelphian group because they remembered Him.” This reveals one invaluable purpose for Christian fellowship: It helps us to remember the basic, foundational truths we have been taught!
How easily man forgets what he is taught. A pioneer in the 19th-century study of memory, Hermann Ebbinghaus, discovered what has become known as the exponential nature of forgetting, or the “forgetting curve”—the decline in memory retention over time. He also recorded how our human memory can be trained through repetition over time, something known as the “spacing effect.” The sharpest decline of the forgetting curve is in the first 20 minutes of hearing or reading new information or instruction—one of the reasons we take notes in church services. But God created the human brain and knew this long before it was formalized by Ebbinghaus, and so He led Mr. Armstrong to establish the tradition of fellowship time right before and after services—to help us remember what we’ve been instructed!
The way to tackle forgetfulness is spaced repetition and active recall. True Christian fellowship then becomes a vital tool to help us fight the forgetting curve and instead solidify what we’ve been taught.
With Whom To Fellowship
How to fellowship must start by knowing with whom to fellowship. Understanding that our fellowship is much more than mere conversation, but also the pursuing of a common goal, and that we only fellowship with one another through God the Father and Jesus Christ, the scriptural admonition to fellowship only with like-minded individuals makes a lot more sense (see 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Amos 3:3; Ephesians 5:11; 1 John 1:6-7). We simply cannot fellowship with those who are not tied to Jesus Christ.
Mr. Armstrong illustrated this point as follows: “We can have true Christian fellowship only when each individual Christian is joined to Christ, and to the Father—as a branch of a grapevine joined to the vine.
“Now what joins the many branches of that vine to one another? When people meet on their own human-appointed day, trying to join themselves together in a church group, Christ is not present with them in that fellowship. He never put His presence in that day! They are like a lot of grape branches, cut off from the vine, trying to join themselves together!” (Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?).
Mr. Flurry writes: “We must fellowship in the context of the God Family and our engagement to Christ. We can’t even begin to fathom such depth without God’s Holy Spirit. The world does not understand fellowship with God—they are cut off (Genesis 3:22-24). Unless our fellowship is with the Father and the Son, we are just another deceived church. … The Laodiceans rejected Mr. Armstrong’s office and most of God’s revelation through him. That was the single most significant way they stopped fellowshipping with the Father. Is it logically possible for someone to have family fellowship with God and still reject the man God used to restore all things?” (The Last Hour).
The Importance of Sabbath Fellowship
At creation, God created the Sabbath for man as a time of physical and spiritual rejuvenation. God sanctified it, and man was to remember it and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). Historically, whenever God’s people have treated it lightly, God has punished them severely. We must take the command to honor God on this day very seriously.
The Sabbath is a day of physical rest and spiritual refreshing. It is also a day for holy convocation and fellowship with other Christians, with God the Father and with Jesus Christ.
God instructs, “[T]urn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words” (Isaiah 58:13). We could be defiling God’s Sabbath by not practicing proper fellowship, but instead speaking our own words!
As we saw from Malachi 3:16, God is recording the names of those who properly worship Him by dwelling on His objectives and discussing them with fellow members of the God Family. Our Sabbath conversations are of the utmost interest to God.
Thus it behooves us to pay close attention to what we discuss in fellowship on God’s holy Sabbath. We are not to seek our own pleasures. Likewise in our conversations we should focus on what pleases God.
As in all matters, Jesus Christ set us the perfect example in fellowship. Even at the tender age of 12, He showed how important deep spiritual discussions are (Luke 2:40-47). Fellowship is something that can and should include young and old. God’s young people can learn so much from converted adults who may have been in God’s Church for decades. At the same time, comments from our young people can provide valuable food for thought.
Scripture records how, years later, Christ put great emphasis on meaningful fellowship (Luke 10:38-42). None of us should underestimate the importance of fellowship. The lesson Christ taught Martha was that being given to hospitality is not so much about entertaining as it is about giving of oneself in true Christian fellowship.
True fellowship is an expression of God’s love—an outgoing concern for the good and well-being of others. The Apostle Paul devoted the entire 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians to describing this type of love. It is never vain or puffed up (verse 4), never self-seeking (verse 5), rejoices in the truth, or the words of God (verse 6; John 17:17). It is positive, up-beat and encouraging (1 Corinthians 13:7). So our Sabbath conversations should be likewise.
Godly fellowship is active. It seeks to give to others without any external impetus. It should show a genuine interest in each member of the congregation.
There is nothing wrong in enjoying the company of certain individuals in particular. Jesus Christ, who never sinned, enjoyed a special closeness to the Apostle John above the others (John 21:20, 24). However, we should not get stuck in such a groove of familiarity and comfort that we show respect of persons by forming cliques.
Serving the brethren in fellowship requires that our minds be filled with outgoing concern, not with self-righteousness. “It is an honour for a man to cease from strife …” (Proverbs 20:3). Being able to cease to make an issue of something that is causing strife is a real credit to an individual. Don’t assume God holds you personally responsible for correcting the sins and faults of the members in your local congregation. Never visit with the brethren with the attitude that you are responsible for pointing out their errors. None of us is perfect (Matthew 7:3).
Assumed spirituality is just a form of vanity. The Apostle Paul admonished: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). This is because: “We are all parts of one [the same] body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future” (Ephesians 4:4, Living Bible).
Instead we need to learn to serve in fellowship.
Fellowship With Isolated Brethren
Christian fellowship must include those who may otherwise have very little interaction. Help them to come out of their comfort zone by showing them they are loved, wanted and appreciated.
Due to the scattering of God’s people, many are unable to fellowship in person with brethren of like mind on the Sabbath. However, we are not to forget these people. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction …” (James 1:27). The word in the Greek used for visit is episkeptomai , which indicates seeking out or watching out for. Certainly we have an obligation to watch out for the need of true Christian fellowship for our isolated brethren. Perhaps age, health or distance is preventing them from attending, but we can still give of ourselves by going out of our way to visit them or to contact them by phone, for example.
Through sacrificing your time and personal enjoyment, you can serve, encourage and help brethren who are sick or afflicted. Encouraging and inspiring them is a form of fellowship that is well-pleasing to God.
The same is true for those new in God’s Church. Go out of your way to fellowship with them. Be hospitable and get to know them. Introduce yourself and learn more about them and their background. Be sociable and courteous, but don’t overwhelm them or dominate their time.
We should always remain balanced in our fellowship and should never assume a responsibility that is not ours. God has called every member into the Body as it has pleased Him (1 Corinthians 12:18). If we have not been called into the Church as a minister, then neither should we usurp that authority by trying to teach or correct through our fellowship with one another. Instead we should preach through our example and conduct.
We should always aim to have a definite purpose in our conversations. Remember that the 24-hour period of God’s Sabbath does not belong to us. It is God’s time, and we are to use it wisely. The first law of success is to set the right goal. Perhaps we can set out to encourage or to get to know our brother or sister in Christ better. Oftentimes you will find that whatever you seek to give, you receive in far greater measure in return. Whatever your objective, be sure you don’t just drift from one conversation into the next aimlessly.
Antidote To Spiritual Lethargy
Once we understand that true Christian fellowship is an act of love, we will start to think about the benefits of fellowship in the sense of what our fellowship does for others. The main way fellowship edifies is that it spiritually nourishes all participants. Effective fellowship requires that we have our minds on the things of God: His plan, His Work, His desires for us, His blessings, His intervention in our life, and so on.
Satan’s aim is to take away our fellowship with God. We cannot allow him to do that or have him destroy the full joy that this fellowship brings.
Mr. Flurry writes, ”Fellowshipping with the Father and son never leaves you discouraged or negative! Just the opposite. it brings you alive as never before.
”Is God discouraged? joyless? negative? Never!we must receive and develop the god family spirit! This fellowship has worked for all eternity. So we know it will work now—or anytime” (The Last Hour).
A fundamental cause of people giving up on their Christian walk is spiritual lethargy. If we don’t overcome it, it will overcome us!
Spiritual lethargy can be defined as a ho-hum, what’s-the-use, I-quit, let’s-not-get-excited-about-it, I-can’t, it’s-not-important-anyway attitude. That attitude reveals someone too lazy to overcome!
A 1969 Good News article on the subject stated, ”If you can’t get stirred up about your part in God’s Work, then you are spiritually lethargic! And if you don’t repent of this lethargy, change and become zealous, you are going to end up out of God’s Church! If the thought of being out of God’s Church doesn’t frighten you, then you are in bad shape spiritually! In fact, you are dead spiritually and will soon die eternally—unless you wake up and repent now!” (July 1969).
Christian fellowship is a powerful antidote to such spiritual lethargy. It keeps us alert and excited about our calling and our part as co-workers in God’s Work. It stirs us up to pray more fervently for God’s Work each day, and to put our whole hearts into the Work. It teaches us not only to be zealous but to be enthusiastic about what goes on in the Work. If we fill our minds with that, we cannot help but want to talk about it with our fellow brethren (Luke 6:45).
God’s Fellowship With Man
Why does God place such great importance on our fellowship? Because His greatest desire is to spend eternity with His Family! He eagerly anticipates dwelling in the midst of His Family, with old and young (Zechariah 8:3-8). “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. … He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Revelation 21:3, 7). That fellowship with our Creator dwelling in our midst will bring unbelievable joy to all of God’s Family and will light the paths of every man (Revelation 22:5). For eternity, we will fellowship with God and Jesus Christ, pursuing the aims they have had for eons, in perfect unity and harmony. What depth the word fellowship really carries!
Let’s learn to effectively utilize the tool of true Christian fellowship and stir up our remembrance of the things we’re taught by speaking often one to another.