Fellowship & "One Anothering"

Guest post by Timothy Weeks

In our summer Connection Hour class, we have been exploring how members of the Church, God’s called ones, are to relate to each other. I would like to briefly explore how this topic of “one anothers” is related to the Church’s primary mission of fulfilling the Great Commission. I could state the question like this: “How does the gospel affect the Christ-follower’s relationship with others?”

The Apostle Paul serves as an example to us in the relationships he nurtured for partners in ministry, and the church at Philippi is an excellent example of a partnering church. The ramifications of the meaning of this concept provide us with the motivation and methodology for our model of ministry.

After hinting at his relationship with his coworkers in previous epistles (using terms like “companion”, “fellow workers”, and “co-laborers”), Paul made a startling statement in his epistle to the Philippian church when he said, “Because of your partnership in the Gospel” (1:5). I have recently wondered why the word “partnership” is sometimes translated as “fellowship.” This word is used frequently in the New Testament, so we should consider its importance. It is actually a very familiar term: you may be familiar with the Greek word “koinonia,” which means communion or joint participation. “Fellowship” conjures up many emotions and images when it is mentioned, but what did that word bring to mind in the thoughts of the original readers of the New Testament?

Perhaps D.A. Carson can help us better understand. In his comments on Philippians 1:5, he writes:

In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15:26).”

D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 16.

If we follow Carson’s reasoning, we discover that the New Testament concept of fellowship is a self-sacrificing partnership. He states further,

The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment.

Notice how those in partnership are linked by their “shared vision.” Now let’s go back to my original question: “How does the gospel affect my relationships as a Christ-follower?” It seems that Paul is stating that my relationships with other Christ-followers are rooted in a distinct, gospel-based partnership. All I do in relationship with other Christ-followers is rooted in our mutually shared vision. The Gospel becomes the foundation, the reason, and the purpose of our relationships.

So you might be asking, “How does this idea of gospel partnership fit in with our overall purpose here at Kossuth?” Three key words sum up our church’s vision: Gather – Grow – Scatter. These words describe our community. God has called us to Gather, Grow and Scatter in partnership with other believers. This is not a solo sport! So, who’s your partner? It is time to grab their hand and start “one anothering” those God brings across your path.