The word fellowship is interchangeably used with friendship in our churches today. But true fellowship is vastly different from any form of friendship. True fellowship is a friendship based on a mutual bond between two believers and that mutual bond must always be God.
The Fellowship of the Believers (Acts 2:42-47)
We can learn a lot from the example of the early church in the book of acts. There, the fellowship of believers is defined by those praying together, breaking bread together, living together and enjoying favor of all the people every single day. That seems like a distant utopia. But how does our fellowship look today?
Do we only break bread with our fellow believers or do we only listen to their problems without offering them prayers or do we just pray without wanting to depart from our belongings to support our fellow believers. We try to pick and choose the various aspects of fellowship according to our convenience. No one wants to go the extra mile for our fellow believers (Matthew 5:41). Till we develop the Christ like selflessness, we will never have true fellowship in our churches.
As for confusing friendship for fellowship, we need to take stock to determine whether God is the central part of our fellowships. Without God, our fellowship will soon turn into a Friday night dinner party with our friends. It will leave us with a sense of satisfaction and pride in doing something for God, however, that is not what God had planned for us at all.
Warning Against Idolatry
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians warns against mixing with unbelievers saying that there is no fellowship between light and darkness. But how can we emulate one of Jesus’ last instruction and take the gospel to the ends of the earth without mixing with unbelievers (Matthew 28: 19).
Lets be clear on who Paul is talking about. In order to become an unbeliever, one must have at least heard the gospel of Christ and rejected the theory completely or accepted it at a superficial level. The former don’t pose a major threat to our fellowships, as they are honest about their beliefs and would rather not join with us. However, the latter, who lie to themselves and others around them about accepting Christ in their hearts, pose the greatest threat for our fellowships and they end up merely replicating friendships. Their actions may seem for the benefit of the fellowship but their intents are derived from the prince of this world.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you. – 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
Taking this into account, we can understand the context of Paul’s warning to the early church on separating outward believers from true believers. Mixing with people who do not want to have Christ at the center of their fellowship will only lead to our spiritual downfall.
A Superficial Prayer Group (Acts 12:11-17)
One such example of a fellowship can be found in Acts chapter 12, where the entire church was praying after Peter was jailed. They had just witnessed the beheading of the apostle James and were earnestly praying that Peter not face the same fate.
The angel of the Lord intervened and rescued Peter from Herod’s clutches in an utterly supernatural manner. When Peter came to his senses and found that he was outside the stronghold, he could not wait to share the good news with his fellow believers.
One such house that he visited was having an all night prayer meeting of the ‘believers’ at John Mark’s childhood home. This is the same John Mark who gave us the gospel according to Mark. Surely this was no ordinary fellowship of believers taking place at his home.
Even though their main prayer point would have been the safety of Peter, no one was willing to believe that Peter was knocking at the door as the servant girl had reported. They even called Rhoda, the servant girl, mad and assured her that there was no way Peter was at the door and that she probably saw his ghost.
Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place. – Acts 12:17
Did Peter break bread with them? Or did he join-in with them in their prayer group? Or did he spend any time with them at all? No, he quickly moved on to another fellowship. We can learn a lot from both Paul and Peter, for whom bad fellowship often became a stumbling block in their mission for Christ.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7
If we claim to have true fellowship, we must turn from our evil ways and have a selfless attitude towards our brethren. Our thought process should not be about “What can I gain” but rather “How can I contribute”.
Like our worship sessions, our fellowship should be a means to reach God. If we do not keep God at the center, our fellowship is leading us towards darkness by ignorance.
Once, few of our friends planned to join the gym together to help keep each other motivated. We would often meet for breakfast after our workout and discuss our daily lives. This sort of became a ritual for us. Slowly, we would start meeting just for breakfast so that we can meet our friends everyday even when the gym is closed or we have skipped our class due to fatigue. The main goal for our group was to keep each other motivated to be fit but our need for friendship became our priority.
In a similar way, our fellowships always start with the noble intent of getting close to God as a community but ends with us being closer to our community as our priority. So let us learn from Paul and Peter and not loose sight of our end Goal lest we might get lost in the various distractions of this world, most of them coming from our own christian circles.