Our first responsibility towards fellow Christians is fellowship. But this fellowship is not the mere getting together for fun, laughter, and Starbucks coffee. Some say that "fellowship" is simply the gathering of a few fellows in the same ship. But contrary to this frivolous saying, true Christian fellowship cannot be achieved by putting a few fellows on the same ship. In fact, we can have different ships or stations in life, but we must have "like-minded fellows" - that is, Christian fellows with a similar passion (e.g. love for God), similar directives (i.e. the Bible), and most of all, the same Savior and Lord.
Let us first define the secular understanding of the word "fellowship." Fellowship (Greek: koinonia) means sharing, communion, association, or partnership. For unbelievers, the gathering of a group of friends in the bar or nightclub, or the coming together of ex-classmates for a movie marathon is considered excellent "fellowship." Some others believe that studying for exams together, or just gossiping about life and people in some secluded corner of Orchard Road is considered close "fellowship." Christian fellowship, however, means much more. The Old Testament alone speaks much about such fellowship. For example, Christian fellowship is exemplified when:
1. True believers take counsel from the Lord’s Word together (Psalms 55:14);
2. True believers keep intimate friendship with those who fear the Lord, and with those who keep His precepts (Psalms 119:63);
3. True believers dwell together in unity (Psalms 133:1-3) of doctrine and practice;
4. True believers speak to one another in the fear of the Lord, and pray for one another (Malachi 3:16);
5. True believers strengthen the faith of one another in the Lord (1 Samuel 23:16), just as how Jonathan encouraged David by reminding him of the trustworthy promise the Lord had made to him earlier i.e. "you will be king over Israel" (1 Samuel 23:17).
Fellowship takes place in a variety of ways in the New Testament churches. The early church met together for the fellowship of breaking of the bread and prayer (Acts 2:42). The breaking of bread consisted of eating a fellowship meal - called the love feast - which was followed by the Lord’s Supper. There was also a great emphasis on the fellowship of prayer (cf. Acts 4:24-31; 12:5, 12; Phil. 1:3-4); believers often prayed together as an assembly. In the New Testament, fellowship also involved material means, e.g. monetary contributions in helping to spread the gospel (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 9:13; Phil. 1:5). It may even mean the sharing of rejection and persecution through identification with Christ (Phil. 3:10) and with one another.
Believing on Christ restores fellowship not only with God but also among fellow believers. The Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples illustrated the relationship between the vertical and horizontal dimensions of fellowship (Mk. 14:22-25). In that upper room, the Lord shared with his disciples a sacred love feast. The hearts of the Lord and his followers were knitted together by a deep sense of love and commitment. We find that later on, the disciples’ hearts were strongly united due to their common faith in the risen Lord. After the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament church was born. It is a society of people in fellowship with God and with one another. Therefore, in direct contrast to the secular fellowship amongst non-believers whereby fellowship with the Creator is broken, genuine Christian fellowship is primarily with God (Psa. 16:7; John 14:16-18, 23; 1 Cor. 10:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal. 4:6; Phil. 2:1, 2; 1 John 1:3; Rev. 3:20), and secondarily with those whom God had chosen in His Son Christ Jesus.
Dear brethren, one of your responsibilities as a Christian is to fellowship with and build up other believers in a local church. We must understand the fact that all genuine believers belong to the Body of Christ, and that each local church is in fact a microcosm of the universal, visible church militant. Believers belong together, not apart. Paul emphasized this through his use of "one another" (for example Rom. 12:10; 13:8; 15:7; 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; Gal. 5:13; 6:2; Eph. 4:2, 25, 32; Co. 3:13, 16; 1 Thess 4:18; 5:11). Because of their fellowship in Christ, Paul exhorted and commanded that believers are to accept one another (Rom. 15:7), love one another (Eph. 4:2, 15, 16; 5:2), build up one another (Rom. 14:19), be unified (Rom. 15:5), and admonish one another (Rom. 15:14). This Christian relationship with one another is important in the keeping of the unity of faith (John 17:11b; Phil. 2:1-4).
Furthermore, each true believer within the local church have different gifts according to God’s sovereign will (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:1ff.; Eph. 4:7-12). And due to the fact that each of us has differing gifts, we must all the more serve the Body of Christ within the context of the local church. "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you (1 Cor. 12:21)." Each of us believers as true members of the Body of Christ is needed for the edification of the saints, and ultimately, for the glory of God through the work of the local church. All of our gifts are needed within the local church.
Within the Bible, we do not read of individual Christian mavericks attempting to change the world for Christ, or challenging contemporary Christendom to adhere to one’s brand of theology. What we read of are communities of believers - assemblies of Christians united in heart and spirit, and worshipping and praying together for one another in various cities and locales.
Christian fellowship can sometimes be discouraging and even stumbling. In fact, I was recently very discouraged by certain allegations that fellow brethren had raised against me. We must nevertheless endeavor to be members of a local church for Christ sake. We ought not forsake the privilege of serving Christ in a local church just because some of our brethren had hurt us or discourage us. More importantly, we must also be careful not to "put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in [our] brother’s way (Ro. 14:13)."
If you profess that you know Christ, and has been "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Ro. 8:21)," I urge you to serve in a local church in whatever capacity or country that the Lord has placed you. It does not matter whether you are in Singapore, or New York, or New Delhi, or even Iraq. If the Lord has delivered you from the bondage of Satan, and has opened your eyes to spiritual truths in Christ Jesus, you have the responsibility to serve your brethren-in-Christ as a local church member. And the first thing you should do is to fellowship with fellow believers. "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Heb. 10:24-25)."
Note: In later posts, we shall explore the responsibilities of the local church member in view of the specific functions of the local church.