Fellowship? What Do You Mean By That? (Feb 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Keith Brenton

I’m a little concerned that when we talk about “fellowship” with regard to each other, our churches, salvation and scripture, we may be using a single word but attaching several different meanings to it.

Sadly, I am no Greek scholar. I think I understand that the word generally translated “fellowship” in the New Testament is koinónia, that it is a noun (feminine), and that in Strong’ Concordance it can have the meaning of partnership, participation, communion, fellowship:

(a) contributory help, participation,
(b) sharing in, communion,
(c) spiritual fellowship, a fellowship in the spirit.

(One of my ancestors on my mother’s side, Alfred Ellmore, caused some small stir among Restoration churches in his insistence that the use of it in Acts 2:42 could only mean a monetary contribution as it does in Romans 15:26, and that therefore Acts 2 authorizes the only permissible acts of worship among the saints. And, as I understand it, that they possibly had to be done in that order to be pleasing to God. Oooo-kay.)

I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to insist that this word can only have one of those meanings, and I think it’s possible for each usage to carry a little bit of more than one and possibly all in any given usage.

So the next thing I have to determine is how it is used in scripture — which I hope is our guide for using it among ourselves. Strong’s lists 19 as a noun (and 42 terms with the same or related root word):

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. ” ~ Acts 2:42

NAS: teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking
KJV: and fellowship, and
INT: and in fellowship the breaking

“For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.” ~ Romans 15:26

NAS: to make a contribution for the poor
KJV: a certain contribution for
INT: and Achaia a contribution certain to make

“God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. ” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:9

NAS: you were called into fellowship with His Son,
KJV: unto the fellowship of his
INT: you were called into fellowship of the Son

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? ” ~ 1 Corinthians 10:16

NAS: we bless a sharing in the blood
KJV: not the communion of the blood
INT: we bless not fellowship is it of the

(second part of verse)

NAS: we break a sharing in the body
KJV: not the communion of the body
INT: we break not fellowship of the body

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what <i>fellowship</i> can light have with darkness?” ~ 2 Corinthians 6:14

NAS: what fellowship has light
KJV: and what communion hath light with
INT: or what fellowship light with

“… they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. ” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:4

NAS: for the favor of participation in the support
KJV: and [take upon us] the fellowship of the ministering
INT: and the fellowship of the service

“Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of  Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:13

NAS: and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all,
KJV: for [your] liberal distribution unto
INT: generousity of the participation toward them

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” ~ 2 Corinthians 13:14

KJV: and the communion of the Holy
INT: and the fellowship of the Holy

“… James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.” ~ Galatians 2:9

NAS: the right hand of fellowship, so
KJV: the right hands of fellowship; that
INT: and Barnabas of fellowship that we [should go]

“… because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, ” ~ Philippians 1:5

NAS: in view of your participation in the gospel
KJV: For your fellowship in the gospel
INT: for the partnership of you in

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, ” ~ Philippians 2:1

NAS: there is any fellowship of the Spirit,
KJV: if any fellowship of the Spirit,
INT: if any fellowship of [the] Spirit if

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, ” ~ Philippians 3:10

NAS: of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings,
KJV: and the fellowship of his
INT: and the fellowship of the sufferings

“I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” ~ Philemon 1:6

NAS: [and I pray] that the fellowship>of your faith
KJV: That the communication of thy faith
INT: so that the fellowship of the faith

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. ” ~ Hebrews 13:16

NAS: doing good and sharing, for with such
KJV: and to communicate forget
INT: [the] good and of sharing not be forgetful

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have <i>fellowship</i> with us. And our <i>fellowship</i> is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. ” ~ 1 John 1:3

NAS: may have fellowship with us; and indeed
KJV: also may have fellowship with us:
INT: also you fellowship might have with

(second part of verse)
NAS: with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father,
KJV: truly our fellowship [is] with
INT: and the fellowship indeed

“If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. ” ~ 1 John 1:6

NAS: that we have fellowship with Him and [yet] walk
KJV: that we have fellowship with him,
INT: we should say that fellowship we have with

“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 1:7

NAS: we have fellowship with one another,
KJV: we have fellowship one with another,
INT: the light fellowship we have with

And, again — obviously — this is not an exhaustive list including those similar uses and other words that are relevant: accept; associate (with); shun; avoid and others.

My point is, the Bible uses the word in several different ways. Are we doing the same thing?

In light of these uses — and others you may wish to cite –I’d like to propose these questions:

  • How do we use the term “fellowship” today — and is it used the same way in scripture?
  • What does fellowship look like? Is it worshiping together? Is it socializing together? Is it eating together? Is it eating the Lord’s supper together? Is it leading worship? Is it whether you are considered saved by your church family? Whether you can be addressed as “brother” or “sister”? Whether your name is in boldface or perhaps has a star beside it in the church directory? Whether you can be helped out financially by a fund from the church budget? Whether you’re allowed into the church building or katy-bar-the-door?
  • Is it possible that having fellowship with God and, therefore, with one another (the very specific use in 1 John 1; Philippians 2, 3; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 6) could be different from a much more generic use that includes communion (1 Corinthians 10); charitable contribution (Romans 15, 2 Corinthians 8, 9); communicating, participating, showing hospitality/sharing time, knowledge and resources together (Acts 2, 1 Timothy 6:18, Philemon 1:6, Hebrews 13:16)?
  • If the answer to that third question is “Yes,” then it may well be that not all fellowship is contingent upon a shared relationship in Christ.

These questions, and probably many more that you are free to raise, really need to be discussed before we can continue to have a meaningful dialogue about who’s in, who’s out, and who decides.

We’ve got to — pardon the expression — come to terms with what we mean when we say “fellowship,” so we’re not talking past each other, but to and with each other about the same thing.

Now that sounds like fellowship.

categoria commentoNo Comments dataDecember 11th, 2013
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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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