Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 2, 1963
NUMBER 1, PAGE 7,10b

Fellowship In The Gospel

Robert C. Welch

Fellowship is one of the most beautifully expressive words in the New Testament. It denotes the closest of relationships between God and his Son, between God and his children, between Christ and Christians, and among brethren. It has been sorely abused by men who have tried to cover their deeds with a richly significant scriptural word; somewhat like men saying Lord, Lord, and not doing the will of God. (Luke 6:46) Others have given it a twisted and perverted meaning in justification of ignoring sin, erroneous teaching and divisive action on the part of men; and ignoring that which the Lord requires of his people when such evil persistently continues.

There is always cause for thankfulness and rejoicing as men devote themselves to the fellowship which is authorized in the Scriptures. Paul's case is an example of such rejoicing and thanksgiving. He wrote to the saints at Philippi: "I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy, for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now." (Phil. 1:3-5)

What Is Fellowship?

The word in its rudimentary sense denotes partnership. The word koinonia of the Greek language from which we have this term means; "fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation," according to Thayer. Vine says that it means "sharing in common." It is this specific sense which is used in talking of the non-classical Greek which was used by the writers of the New Testament as koine, it was the common speech in that language.

In view of some of the common phraseology of men who now are seeking to introduce innovations in organization and practice among the churches, the comment of Lightfoot, in his commentary on Philippians, is striking. He says; "The words signify not 'your participation in the Gospel,' but 'your cooperation towards, in aid of the Gospel'." After referring to some other passage he states; "In the passages just quoted koinonia has a restricted meaning, 'contributions, almsgiving; but here, as the context shows, it denotes cooperation in the widest sense, their participation with the Apostle whether in sympathy or in suffering or in active labour or in any other way. At the same time their almsgiving was a signal instance of this cooperation, and seems to have been foremost in the Apostle's mind. In this particular way they had cooperated from the very first when on his departure from Philippi they sent contributions to Thessalonica and to Corinth and up to the present time when again they had dispatched supplies to Rome by the hands of Epaphroditus."

Several times he used the term cooperation in his description of the word fellowship. This word is a perfectly good one when it is used to describe what was done in the matter of churches and brethren assisting the needy and the proclaimers of the gospel. But there is no scriptural authorization of the practice of churches sending to one church, which in turn supervises a brotherhood wide program of work of benevolence or preaching. This has been named cooperation by brethren, but it is not the cooperation, fellowship, which is taught in the Bible, and is not that kind which is discussed by Lightfoot. It is an innovation unknown to the Bible.

Men may have joint partnership in a business which, in the rudimentary sense of the word, is fellowship; but this is not the fellowship which the New Testament authorizes. Men may have joint participation in some sinful practice, which would be fellowship of a sort, but it is not the fellowship of the Scriptures. The fellowship which is taught in the Scriptures is partnership in and joint participation in doing that which the Scriptures authorize as the work and worship of the Lord.

The primitive disciples "continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship." (Acts 2:42) When disciples eat the Lord's supper at his table they participate in a communion, fellowship, with the body and blood of Christ. (1 Cor. 10:16) When Paul and Apollos taught the word in planting and watering they were fellow-workers, they had fellowship. (1 Cor. 3:9) When men enter the kingdom of Christ and perform their obligations as citizens thereof they are said to be fellow-citizens, they share in the blessings and obligations of the kingdom, they have fellowship one with another. (Eph. 2:19) God is light, and when we walk in him, in the light, we have fellowship with him and with all who thus walk. (1 John 2:9) God's children have no fellowship with unbelievers. (1 Cor. 8:15) They are to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. (Eph. 5:11) These passages are not to be ignored.

Silent Partners

In businesses there are often silent partners. These men do not operate the business, often they may act as counselors, but more often they have financed the business. Not every Christian can personally go, spend all of his time, and effectively engage in, the preaching of the word. This does not mean that he can do nothing in this phase of the Lord's work. He can be the silent partner. He can contribute to him who preaches. This is what the saints at Philippi did, as they had fellowship in the gospel.

On several occasions this secondary meaning of the word is used in the New Testament, that is, it signifies the partnership in a matter, and with others, by means of contribution, or communication, to others. It is in this sense that the same original word is used when the command is; "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." (Heb. 13:16) The same original word is used when Paul said; "For it hath been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints that are at Jerusalem." (Rom. 15:28) He uses the same term when he commands: "But let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." (Gal. 8:8) Thus the Lord requires partnership, fellowship, with the poor saints and with the teachers of the word by the contributions to them.

The saints at Philippi began helping Paul by opening their houses to him while he was in their midst. (Acts 18:15, 34) They had fellowship with him in the gospel by sending to his needs while he was at Thessalonica. (Phil. 4:18) They had fellowship with him in the gospel as he went on to Corinth. (Phil. 4:15; 2 Cor. 11:8, 9; Acts 18:5) They had fellowship with him in the gospel as he preached in Rome, even to Caesar's household and to the palace guards. (Phil. 4:18, 22; 1:13) The fellowship was maintained by a simple arrangement of sending the contribution to the man doing the preaching by messengers such as Silas, Timothy and Epaphroditus, as the above passages state. There was none of the massive, finance consuming, organizations such as are known to present religion. They had no missionary society, no sponsoring church system of receiving and disbursing funds. How wonderful it would be if all Christians, all churches of the Lord, and all religious peoples could recognize and accept the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus!

— 1932 S. Weller, Springfield, Mo.