John Scarsbrook, Killamarsh, England
Fellowship is one of those words that we use frequently, and at times can also misuse. To a degree we all understand it, yet seldom appreciate it as we should. We speak of being ‘in fellowship’ in a certain place. Also of ‘having fellowship’ with other people. Some speak of belonging to ‘the fellowship’ and we refer to the matter of ‘receiving into fellowship’. We need to understand, however, that true fellowship in the local assembly is not formed by association, nor by identification, nor even by participation. The reality of being ’in fellowship’, as Scripture would indicate, essentially involves my whole manner of life. It includes what I am, what I do, what I say, what I think and what I give. Fellowship is not a position I seek to attain, but a spiritual condition that I should enjoy.
The word most often translated ‘fellowship’ in our New Testament has to do with partnership, sharing in common with others. On other occasions, e.g., 1 Corinthians 10. 16, 2 Corinthians 6. 14, it is translated ‘communion’, and in Romans 15. 26 ‘contribution’. Fellowship is part of that abundant inheritance prepared by God for the blessing and enjoyment of ‘them that love him’, 1 Cor. 2. 9. The whole basis of fellowship is the Lord Jesus Christ and the great work of salvation. Our apprecia-tion of Him, and our obedience to Him are reflected in the measure in which we enter into the enjoyment of fellowship.
It is no doubt obvious to most readers that with regard to those who are not saved, we must show concern, care and love, and every effort should be made to present the gospel. We can, however, have no true fellowship with someone until he or she is born again, 2 Cor. 6. 14-16. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the great dignity associated with our salvation, 1 Cor. 1. 9, ‘called unto the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’. John‘s desire, 1 John 1. 3, is that we should enjoy fellowship one with another, in the knowledge also that ‘our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ’. Our appreciation of this will bring joy to our hearts, v. 4. The first mention of fellowship in the New Testament is in Acts 2. 42. It is one of those distinctive features which marked the early church. It is easy to see that for those believers this was not something haphazard, temporary or casual. They ‘continued steadfastly . . . in fellowship’. There was earnest perseverance and diligence. It was an integral part of their life! The measure in which we appreciate the privilege of being associated with a New Testament local assembly will determine the seriousness with which we approach our responsibilities.
There are, broadly speaking, three areas of responsibility in the life of a Christian. These are, first towards God, then to one’s own manner of life, and then responsibility towards others, both believers and unbelievers.
1. RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS GOD
This involves acceptance of His word and obedience to it. Regular attendance at all the assembly gatherings and a prayerful in-volvement in all the activities of the local church will go with this.
The first commandment given to Israel from Sinai was, ‘thou shalt have no other gods before me’, Exod. 20. 3. In other words, obedience and allegiance were absolute. There was no room for compromise. We like to remind ourselves that in this present age we are no longer under law but under grace. However, we do well to remember that it is the same God, the God of Sinai, Who has displayed His mercy, grace and love toward us in His Son. When we consider the great cost of our redemption then surely our desire to be willingly obedient to Him should be no less than that of the absolute obedience demanded by the law.
The New Testament writers make it abundantly clear that there are levels of responsibility which involve every member of the assembly. John writes to older men (fathers), to young men and to those young in the faith (little children). Paul and Peter write with instructions to elders, to old and young, brethren and sisters, husbands and wives. It should be the ambition and desire of every believer to determine from the Scriptures their own responsibility toward the One Who has done so much for us. We live today in a society that promotes cultural differences and encourages ‘alternative lifestyles’. Yet all the time, in a subtle and insidious way, it is moulding the minds of the people to conform to standards which oppose the word of God.
One area under constant attack is the relative role and responsibility of men and women. Scripture makes perfectly clear that each has their own distinct function, and the world’s wisdom should never be applied to the order of the local church. In Genesis 1. 27, 28, we see God‘s purpose in creation. There was, first, equality. ‘God created man (genetic term) in his own image’. Then we see diversity in creation, ‘male and female created he them’. Followed by unity in creation, ‘God blessed them, and said be fruitful and multiply’. Our responsibility in the assembly is to maintain the principles and continue the practice established in the word of God, if we are to enjoy the fellowship of His presence and know His blessing.
2. PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
The epistles are full of teaching regarding a further area of responsibility – that which determines my own manner of life as a believer in the Lord Jesus. Scriptures such as Romans 12. 1, 2; Colossians 3. 5; 1 Peter 1. 15 and 1 John 3. 11, illustrate the importance of cleanliness, self control and integrity if fellowship is to be maintained and enjoyed. Sad to say, it is possible to be in attendance at the meetings, and even engaging in public service, yet at the same time harbouring secret sins which deny the whole basis of fellowship and counteract any possibility of spiritual progress. Such behaviour, if unchecked, can blight the testimony and render ineffective the efforts of the assembly.
The attractions of the world, the temptations of the flesh and the wiles of the devil all conspire to rob the believer of any enjoyment of the inheritance.
3. RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS OTHERS
When we consider our responsibilities towards one another and also to those not yet saved, a whole panorama opens before us. When King David sought to encourage the people to respond to the challenge of providing and preparing materials for the construction of the temple, he left on record a vital question that we do well to heed. In 1 Chronicles 29. 1, David says, ‘The work is great’, and in verse 5, ‘Who then is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the Lord?’
The work is indeed great in every sense. Great in its dignity, its scope, its variety, and its opportunity. Whatever service or activity He calls us to engage in, remember, there is nothing trivial or mundane in serving the very best of Masters. In every assembly there is an abundance of work to be done. It is inconceivable that any member who is enjoying the blessings and benefits of fellowship, could claim that there is nothing to be done.
For those with responsibility as overseers there are the day to day care and the general ordering and administration of the assembly. In addition to this, there are essential prayer, teaching, visiting, caring and guiding. Furthermore, there is a great need for a ministry of encouragement. There should be concern that no member of the assembly should feel marginalized or undervalued. There is a need to nurture every spark of spiritual progress, to encourage every evidence of initiative and well directed ambition, and to be constantly building for the future well-being of the assembly.
For brethren and sisters the opportunities are abundant. The Lord has fitted each one with gift and ability to use for Him. In the Killamarsh assembly, an exercise on the part of sisters has resulted in a thriving parent and toddler group, a missionary outreach and a study group. Our younger brethren and sisters have organized and maintained a Saturday Coffee Morning, and with perseverance, is now providing encouraging results. A well organized tea, again mainly thanks to the younger believers, regularly brings in 40-50 elderly folk together with care assistants who all hear the gospel. These activities together with the regular assembly gatherings and a challenging and exciting prison work, ensure that there is plenty of scope for all to be involved.
Every member should be given help, guidance and encourage-ment to make some aspect of the work their own. Responsibility should be taken for it, and also a pride in it, in the right sense, as a job well done for the Lord.
It is of course appreciated that a number of believers reading this article will belong to small and elderly assemblies. There are dear fellow-believers who have borne the burden and heat of former days, and on occasion have toiled all night. They have kept the faith over many years, and who would even now give a great deal for the energy and vigour of youth. Be assured that the Master is not unmindful of your life’s service. It is indelibly written in the eternal record above awaiting reward. Remember also that no believer’s work is finished while the Lord still leaves us here. How good to covet the accolade given by the Lord to Mary of Bethany in Mark 14. 8, ‘She hath done what she could’.
Fellowship in a local church and in the service of the Lord is positive and intensely practical. There is a danger of becoming negative, introverted Christians locked into the idea that this is inevitably ‘a day of small things’. Such an attitude will only create wilting, withering, ineffectual assemblies, just waiting for the key to be turned in the lock for the last time! We have a living Saviour, Heb. 7. 25, a living word of God, 1 Pet. 1. 23, and the local assembly to which we each belong is ‘the church of the living God’, 1 Tim. 3. 15.
Let us value our association with that which is vibrant and real, always seeking to put our effort and energy into the work for which He has fitted us. Then we shall enjoy the blessing and reap the benefits of true fellowship.