J. M. Davies, Canada
From the fact that man was created in the image and after the likeness of God, it is safe to deduce that it was God’s design and desire that man should enjoy communion with Him. This was in marked contrast to the beasts over which man was given absolute dominion. The record of Genesis 3 would suggest that the Lord God and man had experienced such times of communion before sin entered and marred that fellowship. One of the great purposes of the Gospel and the redemptive work of Christ presented as the ministry of reconciliation is to restore this fellowship. Hence the apostle John says that “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ”, 1 John i. 3. By the effective call of God the Christian is automatically introduced into this fellowships and every Christian assembly should be a local expression of it. This fellowship should not be thought of as a circle or group of which a person may or may not be a member., but as a life or an enterprise in which every Christian has a vital interest and an active share. A Christian who is living in the enjoyment of fellowship with God will of necessity seek and enjoy the fellowship of those who have a common interest in the blood of Christ and a common membership in the body of Christ, 1 Cor. 10. 16-17.
The author has had the privilege of seeing some of the wonderful redwood trees in California. These grow to a tremendous height and are correspondingly large in girth. Yet though they are very large their roots do not penetrate deep into the soil, so that if one tree stood alone its very height would constitute a hazard in a storm. But these giants of the forest do not grow singly; they grow in groups in very close proximity. One may sprout out of the roots of the parent tree. Being a closely knit group each one is a protection to the other. This is an allegory. Fellowship is an absolute essential to the Christian if he is to stand up to the storms and stress of life in its many spheres.
In this Epistle, the word fellowship appears three times and in three different connections. But in addition, the apostle seems almost to have coined words and expressions to emphasise the importance of fellowship in the life of the believer. He puts the prefix which may be rendered “fellow” to some nine or ten words. Thus he uses words suggesting that we are fellow-partakers, 1. 7; fellow-athletes, 1. 7; fellow-souls, 2. 2; fellow-rejoicers, 2. 17; fellow-workers, 2. 25; fellow-soldiers, 2. 25; fellow-helpers, 4. 3; fellow-yokebearers, 4. 3; fellow-imitators, or imitators together, 3. 17. The word fellowship is mentioned in the following connections:
1. Fellowship in the Gospel, 1. 5
The apostle gave thanks for the way the assembly at Philippi had consistently manifested interest in the furtherance of the Gospel by communicating with him in his work. At Thessalonica they sent to him twice within the short time he was there. Altogether they communicated with him on five different occasions, and to the shame of the other assemblies, they were the only assembly to do so, 4. 15. This personal and direct interest by the Philippians is thus recorded for our example and pattern. They worked out in a practical way their whole-hearted fellowship with the apostle in his work of evangelising, 4. 15, and in the confirmation of the gospel as well as in its defence while he was in bonds, 1. 7. The assembly at Philippi was exemplary in this way. This was possibly due to the fact that Luke may have stayed there during the years which intervened between Paul’s first visit recorded in Acts 16, and his next visit in Acts 20. The pronoun “we” does not appear in these intervening chapters, but appears again in chapter 20. Luke’s ministry in the first assembly on European soil was productive of much blessing. Thus the furtherance of the gospel became a matter of paramount importance to the Philippians. This aspect of fellowship should never be underestimated.
2. Fellowship of the Spirit, 2. 1
In chapter 1, the emphasis is on the gospel. Six of the nine references to this theme are found in this chapter. But in chapter 2 it is the need for mutual forbearance and love within the fellowship of the assembly that is underlined. In chapter 1. 27 he urges upon them the necessity that their citizen-life, their life as members of a heavenly colony, should be worthy of the gospel. They were to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”. Internal strife would lead to disintegration and this was to be feared, whereas the persecution and the imprisonment which they were undergoing was to be considered as a privilege, a gift from the ascended Lord. In chapter 2.1 their attention is drawn to the resources of the triune God upon which they could draw. The word “if” is not used to suggest any doubt, but as an argument. Thus the apostle exhorts them to consider the boundless consolation that there is in Christ, the fathomless love of the Father and the wonderful fellowship of the Spirit. Thereby they would be enabled to be like minded, having the same love., of one accord, or joined in soul, of one mind, cf. 2 Chron. 30.12. Had Paul been able to be with them, doubtless their difficulties would have been resolved without much argument. All would have gladly submitted to his counsel. But in his absence they were to work out their own salvation from this impending disharmony, and they were to do this with fear and trembling lest they might become the instruments in the hands of the enemy to disrupt the fellowship of the Spirit. The basis of true Christian fellowship is not racial, national or social affinity, but the possession of a common life in Christ. This is to be enjoyed and maintained in the energy of an ungrieved Holy Spirit whose movements are always unquenched.
3. Fellowship of His Sufferings, 3. 8-11
In this wonderful passage the apostle crystallizes for us in seven statements of tremendous spiritual import his earnest desire and consuming zeal. Together they are like a beautiful rainbow painted over against the dark background of his present bondage and frustrations. The sufferings of Christ here referred to are not the atoning sufferings. Neither Paul nor anyone else can have any part in these. It was “by himself” that He made purification for sins, Heb. 1. 3. In that glory none shall share. On the Damascus road, however, the Lord had said to Saul the persecutor, “why persecutest thou me?”. The apostle never forgot this and ever after viewed his sufferings in the pathway of service not only as on the behalf of Christ but as part of the sufferings of Christ. He refers to this again in the letter to the Colossians. He rejoiced in his sufferings for them, thereby filling up that which was behind of the afflictions of Christ for His body’s sake, which is the Church, Col. I. 24. Looked at in this light his sufferings took on a totally different character. They were sufferings which he shared with the Lord. It was a fellowship of suffering which linked him in a fellowship with all those who suffered for Christ’s sake.