What Is True Christian Fellowship?

A major epidemic plagues people today. It can be measured in statistics such as divorce and suicide rates. It can be seen in the prevalence of depression. You can see it in the parties people go to, the entertainment they seek out. Though we are packed into cities, often surrounded by people, a major problem among many is loneliness.

God created man to be a social creature. People need people. We long for close companionship with others. Two of our greatest emotional needs are to share openly and to be understood.

The fact is, most people do not have the deep, fulfilling fellowship God intended us to have!

Is the situation any different among those of us in the fellowship of the Body of Christ? It goes without saying that it should be. Because we share the deepest part of our lives, we can have especially deep relationships.

“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” (Malachi 3:16). Fellowship is a characteristic of the Philadelphians. For the most part, we do tend to spend a lot of time talking when we get together.

But when we speak often one to another, how can we make sure it’s the type of fellowship that God hearkens to and hears? The kind that He will put us in a book of remembrance for?

We need fellowship with brethren in the Church. But does it matter what we do when we’re together? Is all time that we spend with others good? Does just spending time with other people fulfill our need for fellowship? Is it possible to be with other Christians and not really fulfill God’s desire for us to fellowship?

For that matter, what is true Christian fellowship?

Christ in Us

God’s people have the perfect, sinless life of Christ living within them. As the Apostle Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me …” (Galatians 2:20). This of course is made possible by the Holy Spirit.

The degree to which each of us yields to that indwelling life of Christ is the degree we will act like Christ. Not only will we be keeping God’s com­mand­ments more perfectly, but even our speech will be enriched by this presence in us. “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge” (1 Corinthians 1:4-5). According to Strong’s Concordance, utterance means “Some­thing said (including the thought); by implication a topic (subject of discourse).” In other words, our conversation.

The Greek word for utterance is logos. That is actually one of Jesus Christ’s names (see John 1:1; Revelation 19:13). Naturally if the Word is living in us, that will have a profound effect on our words—our conversation—our fellowship.

Now continue in the passage: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). Because Jesus Christ dwells in us, we actually have fellowship with Him.

This is the first point we must understand about true Christian fellowship: It starts with fellowship with God.

Fellowship With God

“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). Through the Holy Spirit, John had fellowship with God the Father and with Jesus Christ. He preached so others could have that fellowship as well.

“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (verse 6). To fellowship with God, we must live in the light—that is, obediently, righteously. Imagine God being bathed in the brightest light, for miles in every direction (verse 5). Naturally, those who are close to Him, fellowshiping with Him, would also be in that light. If we have darkness in our lives, we’re nowhere near God (2 Corinthians 6:14).

In his autobiography, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote about discovering this fellowship with God right about the time he was baptized: “Somehow I began to realize a new fellowship and friendship had come into my life. I began to be conscious of a contact and fellowship with Christ, and with God the Father.

“When I read and studied the Bible, God was talking to me, and now I loved to listen! I began to pray, and knew that in prayer I was talking with God. I was not yet very well acquainted with God. But one gets to be better acquainted with another by constant contact and continuous conversation.”

We fellowship with God through prayer and Bible study. Do we think of our prayers in this way? We are fellowshiping with the great God! How IS our personal fellowship time with God? What is our relationship like? How much do we yearn for that personal contact with Him?

Notice what else happens when we have that close fellowship with God: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another …” (1 John 1:7). When we live righteously, not only do we have fellowship with God, that also opens the channel for true Christian fellowship with others. Most are cut off from this foundation for proper fellowship.

Mr. Armstrong wrote in the Good News, May 1960, “Our fellowship is, first of all, with God the Father, and with Jesus Christ! If I have fellowship with Christ, and you have fellowship with Christ, then He joins you and me together in fellowship. You cannot have true Christian fellowship with any, except those who also have fellowship with God the Father and with Christ.” In other words, it is impossible to have true Christian fellowship with someone who isn’t fellowshiping with God!

The indwelling presence of God’s Spirit opens our minds to understand things that no one else in this world can understand—the “deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

How does this knowledge impact our fellowship with each other? “Which things also we speak
comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (verse 13). The Spirit of Christ sets our thoughts and fellowship on the spiritual plane.

How practiced are we at real Christian fellowship? In the midst of a conversation—on the Sabbath or not—ask yourself: How different would this conversation have to be if I were talking to someone outside the Church? How much is this conversation grounded in the deep things of God? Whenever we find it hard to get into spiritual discussions—and we all fit into that category sometimes—that indicates that we need to fellowship with God more.

This is the second point to note about true Christian fellowship: It flows from the Spirit of Christ.

From the Spirit

Imagine if Jesus Christ appeared in human form and attended Sabbath services with us one day. Would you want to meet Him? Sure! Everyone would! We’d be standing in line for the opportunity to shake His hand and fellowship with Him.

This scenario isn’t so outlandish. True Christian fellowship is the indwelling Jesus Christ in one Christian fellowshiping with the indwel­ling Jesus Christ in another Christian.

As we yield to Christ and talk with someone who is also submissive to Christ, then spiritually we are really fellowshiping with Christ Himself!

We are called into Christ’s fellowship. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 say we are part of the communion or fellowship of the Body of Christ. We must have fellowship only with Christ and those who are together in the truth, all speaking the same truth (1 Corinthians 1:9-10). This is why God’s Church does not have an open-door policy—because we can’t have fellowship with someone who is not fellowshiping with God.

How much is Christ living in us? How converted are we? Here is an effective and accurate measuring stick: our fellowship! How much does God’s Spirit govern our conversations?

It is so easy to talk about material things, rather than staying focused on spiritual topics!

Not that God’s people shouldn’t talk about material things; but let’s look at the big picture. We are known by our fruits (Matthew 12:33). That includes our conversation—our fellowship. “[O]ut of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (verse 34). If we are truly crucified with Christ, and Christ is really living in us, then His mind and His thoughts will be filling our heart—and out of that abundance will come our fellowship.

Can you see why our most important fellowship is with God? He must fill our hearts to overflowing with His Spirit—His mind! Then, when that is truly the abundance of our heart, we can really begin to produce abundantly good fruit in our fellowship (verse 35).

We can’t fake true Christian fellowship. Whatever is in the abundance of our hearts, that is what we will be talking about.

The simple fact is, the more converted you are, the more you have to offer in fellowship. The deeper our fellowship with God is, the deeper our fellowship with each other will be.

Mr. Armstrong wrote, “[M]uch of this spiritual character development comes through Christian fellowship with other spiritually begotten people in God’s Church” (Incredible Human Potential; emphasis added). Does that ring true for you? How much of your spiritual character development is coming through your fellowship?

The Social Way of Life

In Matthew 22:37-40, Christ gives the two great principles of God’s law: Love God more than yourself, and love your neighbor as much as yourself. Contained within both of these great commands is God’s instruction on fellowship and interpersonal relations. Love—outgoing concern for others’ welfare and feelings—should be the foundation of all our relationships.

The problem of loneliness in this age is exactly the opposite of the way of life God offers us. God’s law and His plan point us toward each other, toward relationships, toward fellowship! That is where our real spiritual character development can happen.

That is the nature of the way of give. It is a social way of life!

In other words, true Christian fellowship is the way of love. It IS, essentially, love.

Christ perfectly kept both parts of that law in Matthew 22. He loved God the Father with all His heart, soul and might. He also perfectly loved all people, demonstrating care for the multitudes by preaching God’s message to them, healing their sick and feeding their hungry.

As our pastor general has explained, that first great commandment also obliges us to love God’s begotten children more than ourselves. Christ fulfilled this obligation too: Scripture says He loved His disciples with the same love that God had toward Him (John 15:9).

It makes sense that if Christ is in us, we will also love His people. In fact, Christ commands it! “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35). That means we are to love each other as Christ loves us—which is the same love the Father had for His Son! Quite a command!

Notice, it is by the way we love each other that others will know we are Christ’s disciples. There must be something special people can see—or how would it really be a sign?

Where else would this love be reflected but in our fellowship? Our fellowship should be noticeably, conspicuously loving—with the genuine, unfeigned love of God!

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). God’s love involves action. True Christian fellowship isn’t just a bunch of words!

If you want a good yardstick of how close to God you really are, just evaluate yourself on how you treat your brethren—His children!

You can’t fake godly love, just as you can’t fake being really converted or having a strong relationship with God. Romans 12:9 says our love should be “without dissimulation,” or hypocrisy.

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” in the Church (verse 10). Prefer­ring, in the Greek, means to go before and show the way, or in honor leading, or showing the example to one another. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary translates this verse, “In brotherly love be affectionate one to another; in [giving, or showing] honor, outdoing each other.” That is living the social way of give.

Romans 12:15 also contains an important expression of this principle: “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” We should show sympathy in our fellowship, and be attuned to the other person. That includes being sympathetic to the other person’s joys, which in some cases can be harder!

This is not naturally how people act toward one another. Even for outgoing people, it takes a great deal of effort to love the brethren—all the brethren—as we should. If loving each other came naturally to us, this world would be in much better shape than it is.

Our speech is a most difficult thing to control. James 3:2 says if we can do it, we are perfect! That gives you an idea how important this matter is. Because it is not just about saying the right things. The real issue is, what is in your heart? That is what will come out in your speech. No wonder having true Christian fellowship is such a struggle.

This is the final point we’ll examine: True Christian fellowship is difficult—and deeply fulfilling.

A Difficult Thing to Do

We must admit that true Christian fellowship is not natural. If you know someone who is skilled at
discussing deep spiritual things, that person undoubtedly had to develop that skill. And maybe it is not as easy for them as it appears to be.

There may be times we must force a conversation in the right direction. But better to step in and try to steer a conversation that is drifting astray into better waters—even if it feels awkward at the time—than to just “go with the flow,” especially on the Sabbath.

Ephesians 4 and 5 have many specifics about what we should focus on, and what we should avoid, in our fellowship. Let’s hit a few highlights.

“Let no corrupt communication [Greek: logos] proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). Again, if the Logos is living in us, then the words that we utter should be pure. Edifying means they should build up, promoting other people’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness and holiness. Minister simply means give, and grace means that which gives joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm or loveliness. If our speech is giving grace, it is giving goodwill, lovingkindness or favor. It is speech that turns people to Christ—it increases their faith and knowledge. It kindles them to exercise Christian virtues.

What, more specifically, should we avoid in our conversation? “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints” (Ephesians 5:3). We know that evil thoughts lead to evil actions. Focusing on evil or immoral topics in our conversations could reveal a degree of fascination that we may have with such things.

We must learn to think about evil things as God does—having nothing to do with them! Instead, act and talk as becomes saints, or as is fitting for God’s people.

“Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks” (verse 4). Filthiness means obscenity. Jesting refers to crude, offensive, coarse or indecent humor.

This is really a matter of priorities. It is not that we should never joke around, or talk about sports or clothes or entertainment or material things; we have to be balanced. We just need to make sure that the material things don’t crowd out the spiritual!

What will we be talking about in God’s Kingdom? Those are things we should be talking about today. Imagine if Christ admitted a load of people into the Kingdom—transforming them into immortal spirit beings—then realized He had to go to work teaching them something as basic as proper Christian fellowship!

Making Melody in Your Heart

What, more specifically, should we encourage in our conversation? “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20). There are a lot of positive things!

We should be making melody in our hearts to the Lord. In our hearts, deep down, we should be like a chorus of singers, like King David, all singing songs of thanks to God. That’s what should flow abundantly out of our hearts in our fellowship! What a beautiful picture!

Consider David’s example: “I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name for ever and ever” (Psalm 145:1-2). David praised God’s name every day. Not just on the Sabbath. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable” (verse 3). The depth of God’s greatness can never be exhausted. That means we’ll always have topics to discuss!

David didn’t just pray about God’s greatness—he fellowshiped about it! “I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works” (verse 5). He talked about God’s Work! The Work was a major topic of David’s conversation.

David wanted others to talk about this as well. “And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts: and I will declare thy greatness. They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness” (verses 6-7). Do we fit this category? Is God’s righteousness—God’s law, God’s greatness—a major focus of our fellowship? Is what God is doing through His Work a major focus of our fellowship?

“All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord; and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power” (verses 10-11).

Of course this can be difficult. But again, if this is where our heart is, that is what will naturally flow out in our fellowship.

Don’t you think David found his fellowship with God and others deeply fulfilling?

Stirring Each Other Up

Let’s study one more passage of Scripture for some final admonitions about our fellowship. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is talking about the importance of Sabbath services and using that opportunity to consider one another—to provoke and exhort one another.

The word provoke in verse 24 means to incite or irritate. We are to provoke “unto love and to good works.” That doesn’t sound very comfortable! Or very easy or natural to do. But the fact is, true Christian fellowship involves stirring each other up.

The word exhorting (verse 25) in English generally means correcting or giving a warning. But the Greek word parakaleo, from which it is translated, has a much wider meaning. It means to call to one’s side, call for or summon; to entreat, comfort, admonish, beg or beseech; to console, encourage or strengthen through consolation; or to instruct.The word is very close to the word for the Holy Spirit—parakletos, which essentially means the same thing: called alongside to help. The Holy Spirit is an assistant to us.

In our fellowship, WE are to do for each other the same sorts of things that the Holy Spirit does for US, individually—comfort, console, encourage, guide, help, admonish and teach!

This only makes sense. If Christ’s Spirit is motivating our fellowship, it will be that Spirit within us inspiring what we say and do. This also means that the Holy Spirit actually works in our lives through other brethren!

This is what our fellowship should be—and so much the more the closer we get to Christ’s return (verse 25). Our fellowship should be better now—more stirring, more inspiring, more encouraging, more comforting, more fulfilling, more rewarding—than at any other time in the Church’s history! We are right on the threshold of our Husband’s return! The Bride should be more ready now than she ever has been!

Mining the Depths

Let’s ask ourselves: Are we really mining the depth of our relationships in the Church?

Of course, practically speaking, there will still only be a few people with whom we can really invest the time into developing a very close, special bond—perhaps we could even count them on one hand. Even Christ, with as many followers as He had, put special effort into relationships with just 12, and among those 12 there was one with whom He had an exceptionally close relationship (John 13:23).

Nevertheless, the potential for real depth in all our Christian relationships is tremendous. Are we really taking advantage of this resource God has given us? Are we making our conversations a deeply fulfilling training ground for our spiritual character development?

Are we putting forth the effort to have deep, fulfilling fellowship with God the Father and Jesus Christ in our prayer and our Bible study? So that we can be filled to abundance in our hearts with the Holy Spirit? So that true Christian fellowship will flow from us—encouraging, empathizing, provoking, exhorting, lifting up, inspiring, sharpening the character of our fellow brethren in whom dwells the same Spirit of God? Are we really drawing closer to each other, being fitly framed together as one Body (Ephesians 2:20-22), all helping each other to draw closer to the Father and to Christ?

Just spending time together isn’t enough. God wants us to have true Christian fellowship! The highest form of fellowship!

God wants us to fellowship firstly with Him—a deep, personal relationship. He wants our fellowship with the brethren to be an abundant, natural outgrowth of that. He wants us to have deep, personal relationships with each other, fulfilling His love in our dealings with all His children. He wants us to exert great effort—to challenge ourselves—and then to reap the richly rewarding benefits of relating to God and to each other on the spiritual plane, enjoying true Christian fellowship.