“What a golf game! Man, did we have great fellowship!”
“The fellowship at the retreat was just terrific!”
That word “fellowship” seems to mean many things to many different people. Like a worn coin, it’s losing its true impression, so we had better take some steps to rescue it. After all, a good Bible word like fellowship needs to stay in circulation as long as possible.
True Christian fellowship is much deeper than sharing coffee and pie, or even enjoying a golf game together. Too often what we think is “fellowship” is really only acquaintanceship or friendship. Christian fellowship is much more than having a name on a church roll or being present at a meeting. For it is possible to be close to people physically and miles away from them spiritually.
The word fellowship simply means “to have in common.” We have a tendency to use the word very loosely these days. Any gathering of Christians in which there is a feeling of happiness and camaraderie is called fellowship. We have almost made the word synonymous with good food and a few laughs. But that, of course, makes Christian fellowship no different from what unbelievers often enjoy.
We cannot have fellowship with someone unless we have something in common; and for Christian fellowship, this means the possessing of eternal life within the heart. Unless a person has trusted Christ as his Savior, he knows nothing of “the fellowship of the Gospel.”
Paul’s fellowship with the Philippians was more than merely enjoying each other’s company. It was a partnership. People who by nature had nothing in common found a common life in Christ. Think again of Paul’s ministry in Philippi. Lydia the slave girl and the jailer had nothing in common until they come to Christ (Acts 16). The gospel of Christ made them partakers of the same life and partners in the same cause. One of the sources of Christian joy is the fellowship believers have in Jesus Christ. Paul was in Rome and his friends were miles away in Philippi, but their spiritual fellowship was real and satisfying. In Philippians 1:1–11, he describes true Christian fellowship in three ways.
I have you in my mind (1:3–6). Paul’s relationship with the church at Philippi was a good one and the tone of his letter to them expresses the warmth of his love and the depth of their fellowship in the gospel. Paul could not think of the Philippians without giving thanks to God for their fellowship. Isn’t it remarkable that Paul is thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaits his trial in Rome, Paul’s mind goes back to the believers in Philippi and every recollection he has brings him joy. Read Acts 16 and you will discover some things happened to Paul at Philippi that would have produced sorrow in most people. He was illegally arrested and beaten, was placed in the stocks, and was humiliated before the people. But even those memories brought joy to Paul because it was through his suffering that the jailer found Christ! Paul recalled Lydia and her household, the poor slave girl who had been demon-possessed, and the other dear Christians at Philippi; and each recollection was a source of joy. (It is worth asking, “Am I the kind of Christian who brings joy to my pastor’s mind when he thinks of me?”)
As the apostle gave thanks for their participation in the work of the gospel, he wrote, “He [God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6). Paul was very good at slipping little nuggets of breathtakingly glorious truth into the portions of his letters. This verse is one of those nuggets and tells us:
1. Salvation is God’s work. The Philippians did not begin the work of salvation in themselves only to have God come along and add a little to it. It was entirely His work. God provided the way of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and He even enabled the Philippians to receive that salvation.
2. Salvation is a good work. Salvation lifts the sinner from eternal condemnation and ruin and makes that person part of God’s family, and a partaker of God’s eternal glory. Who would dare say this is not a good thing?
3. Salvation is a sure work. God does not begin it and then abandon it somewhere along the way. He does not pull His people from the flames of destruction only to allow them to slip back and be consumed. God completes the work of salvation. We know what it is to plan a work and undertake a work only to see it fail. But it is not so with God. We must not picture God the Father looking over the redeemed multitude in eternity and saying, “I did fairly well. Eighty per cent of the saved finally made it home.” God will not have to say such a thing because all His people will make it home. Not one will be missing! The faithful God will faithfully complete His work!
We will not go astray if we apply these verses to the work of salvation and Christian living. We are not saved by our good works (Eph. 2:8–9). Salvation is the good work God does in us when we trust His Son. This work will continue until we see Christ and then the work will be fulfilled: “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2).
It was a source of joy to Paul to know God was still working in the lives of his fellow-believers at Philippi. After all, this is the real basis for joyful Christian fellowship, to have God at work in our lives day by day.
“There seems to be friction in our home,” a concerned wife said to a marriage counselor. “I really don’t know what the trouble is.”
“Friction is caused by one of two things,” said the counselor and to illustrate he picked up two blocks of wood from his desk. “If one block is moving and one is standing still, there’s friction. Or, if both are moving, but in opposite directions there’s friction. Now, which is it?”
“I’ve been going backward in my Christian life and Frank has really been growing,” the wife admitted. “What I need is to get back to fellowship with the Lord.”
In Part 2, we will look at two more ways Paul describes true Christian fellowship.