Several years ago I was asked to attend a fellowship gathering at a church that I was interning at. It was made up of 75 or so retirees, and eager to get to know that segment of our church, I agreed. The evening consisted of a group meal (very good by church potluck standards), announcements about an upcoming bike trip, and concluded with some music by a local folk band. While I was thankful for having had the opportunity to join them, I left asking: Where’s the fellowship?
This is not an experience that is unique to this ministry in this particular church. In fact, I suspect that most of us have experienced something like this; a group of Christians gathering together in the name of spiritual growth but not moving much past small talk and entertainment. Now hear me out, small talk and entertainment are not the enemy. I have a group of college friends that I get together with every quarter for a lot of small talk and entertainment. But it does become a problem if our closest spiritual friendships never move past small talk and entertainment. We say we have fellowship with one another but what does that even mean?
What is Fellowship?
The most clear display of biblical fellowship can be seen in the opening chapter of 1 John. Here we see the dynamics of our grace-bought relationship with the Father and Son determining the dynamics of our gospel-driven relationships with one another. Here are four truths that we can learn from this passage.
1. Union with Christ Is Necessary – The full meaning of the word fellowship expresses a deep connection between two or more individuals, and the only force strong enough to form that connection across every class, race, gender, and age is the good news of the gospel. When we trust in Christ and are united to Him we obtain a new identity that becomes central to our lives and surpasses every other identifying marker. Furthermore, everyone who shares that identity in Christ becomes someone that we can connect with in a profound way that was not possible before.
John makes this point clear in verse three as he states his reason for sharing the gospel with his readers. He wants to partake in fellowship with them as they turn to Christ and share in a joint fellowship with the Father and Son.
2. Inviting Others in Is Expected – When you love someone you want to share the things you love with them. John is not content to reflect on the glory of Christ on his own. Rather, that which he has seen and heard he proclaims. Evangelism is not a stoic duty that we perform begrudgingly, but it is the proclamation of that which we love to those whom we love. So as you bask in the glory of Christ and the gospel, your impulse should be to tell that good news to others so that they might share in it with you.
3. Walking in Light Is Required – In the command for us to walk in the light John certainly has obedience in mind. We are to walk in the light as he is in the light (1:7, 2:1). But, he also has in mind our open confession of sin to God and to one another (v 8-10), which means that our times together should be a place where we can confess sin and ask for forgiveness.
This is a rare practice in Christian circles because it requires vulnerability, admission of wrongdoing, and sometimes facing consequences. But the good news of the gospel should free us to be more open with one another. When we sin we have an advocate with the Father and propitiation for our sins (2:1-2). If we have been justified before God, we do not need to seek justification before men.
4. Joy Is the Goal – It is not the extrovert in me talking when I say that there is a unique joy that is experienced only in the true fellowship of believers. John makes this clear in verse four when he says he is writing that his joy may be complete; meaning without their fellowship his joy is incomplete. So do not miss out on the gift that is before you when you walk in true fellowship with other believers.
So, as you reflect on the relationships that you have with those in your church (and those not yet in the church), ask: How do these measure up with the standard given to us in 1 John 1? Are they rooted in your union with Christ? Are they closed off to those on the outside, or are you welcoming others in? Are you practicing confession and repentance regularly? Are you seeking and experiencing the mutual joy that comes from all of these? I pray that you will realize the connection you have with one another runs deeper than you could ever imagine. And as you plumb the new depths of this reality may it transform the way you think about life in the body and your church community.
Ryan Potter is Assistant Pastor at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Kalamazoo, MI. Ryan is an alumnus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he received his M. Div. and is currently serving in the campus ministry for Good Shepherd at Western Michigan University.