The Basis of Fellowship
by David Neal
Many are so confused about what it means to fellowship. Their sentiment is that we must assemble in a religious institution or organization (i.e. denomination) known to most as “going to church.” This notion is so prevalent (widespread, established, customary, traditional) that most equate such attendance or membership to salvation. This study will reveal that our salvation (hope) is found in Jesus Christ alone; and will disclose the basis and purpose of fellowship. There is a distinct purpose for our assembling that most are not actively practicing or participant in.
Jesus took the original Ten Commandments and reduced them down to two. Upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Mt 22:40) and these are more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices (Mk 12:33-34). The first of these commandments is: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength (Mk 12:29-30, also Deut 10:12-13). Clearly our first (priority) responsibility is to God. Our primary fellowship (relationship) is with God. The second commandment is like it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Mk 12:31). Fellowship between men would be a subset of the second commandment. Although important, it does not precede (come before in order, position, or rank) or supersede (displace, take the place of) our relationship with God. The relationship that we have with God must be predicated (based upon, established by) on His truth.
To seek God apart from His truth, in some other way, would be the equivalent of idolatry (worship of a different or false god not founded in the truth). God’s truth is His Word (Jn 15:3). Psalm 119:89, “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.” AND Psalm 119:160, “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.” The Lord said: Jeremiah 9:24, “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight saith the Lord.” Judgment concerns making righteous decisions based upon the truth. Psalm 33:4-5, “For the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth. He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” We have now established that God loves (delights in) truth (Ps 86:11, 119:42), righteousness and judgment. Our relationship with God will be founded upon these principles. To know and serve such a God is great wisdom (Ps 111:10). Psalms 96:13, “Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.“
Christ began to assemble His body (Rm 12:5, 1 Cor 12:12, 27, Eph 3:6) with the gathering at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Jesus had told them: Luke 24:49, “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” What was this power from on high that God felt was so necessary to give? John 14:26, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” The Holy Spirit was given (sent) to teach us the Words (commandments) of Jesus (Who is the Word, Jn 1:1-2). Man had God’s written Word (Moses and the prophets), but always interpreted it through fleshly eyes and misapplied it (Rm 8:7). The Pharisees, Saduccees and scribes thoroughly immersed themselves in the Word, yet did not “receive” God’s own Son (Jn 1:11) and worse, they killed Him. They were: 2 Timothy 3:7, “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Man always seeks his way (Rm 10:3).
The Holy Spirit dwells in us (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19) and will guide us and “unfold” (make known, unseal the mystery1) correct understanding and applications of God’s Word and thus know the truth. Jesus said: John 16:7-8, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” Again, notice the importance: It is expedient (advantageous, favorable, profitable – to a given purpose) to the point that even Jesus should leave to make it happen. Also note that the Holy Spirit teaches truth, righteousness and judgment. These are the attributes of God that we discussed in the first paragraph. These are foundational principles for building relationship (fellowship) with God or our fellow man. Perhaps you may recall the golden rule: Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” This is righteous judgment – notice how the verse agrees (links to) with the second great commandment (Mt 22:39, Rm 13:8-9). Through the Spirit we have access to God’s wisdom and Christ’s direction all the time – to the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:10, 16). Can we possibly have greater understanding than this? Can the Spirit’s role be diminished (reduced or lessened in importance)? John 16:13-15, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” The Spirit will guide us into truth, He will speak of Jesus, who is the Word of God (Jn 1:1-2, Rev 19:13). The Spirit will also guide our path or way. 1 John 2:27, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” The Spirit and the Word (Jesus) go hand-in-hand – they are inseparable; and they always agree. Now, is there any doubt that we are to be led by the Spirit to understand the Word so as to know the truth? Therefore, God has sent His Spirit to make possible our ability to know God’s truth, live righteously, and exercise judgment. If we do not have the Spirit, then we are not Christ’s (Rm 8:9). Let us repent of our ways and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). Verily, he who hath eyes to see!
Although we can be individually taught of the Spirit, the Lord has additionally provided: Ephesians 4:11-13, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” These positions are a subset of the Holy Spirit’s work as they are assigned of the Spirit (Eph 2:20-22). These servants are intended to aide the believer in walking toward God (never away). To be legitimate (genuine, valid), these men must also be led of the Spirit to know the Word and thus preach the truth. They cannot be blind leaders of the blind (Mt 15:14) else they (and the assembly) will fail and this is not God’s purposes. Their authority must come from God; not religious degrees of man. They do not preach in man’s wisdom (being humorous and entertaining with stories and jokes), but as the Holy Ghost teacheth (1 Cor 2:13). Romans 10:15, “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Notice in the above verse, that their purpose is to edify the body. To edify is to instruct or enlighten in the truth; or improve understanding (Mt 5:19). These are to edify concerning truth, righteousness and judgment. These are not a “special” class of men designated to “rule over” others (Mk 10:42-44). Every member of the body of Christ is gifted by the Spirit in some way to edify each other (Rm 12:4-8).
We serve one another (not Lord over one another). A true and sincere man of God will speak God’s Words and live them by example for all to see (2 Cor 6:4-10). 1 Peter 5:3, “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.” Thus, these man will be filled with the Spirit; understand the truth; live righteously; judge correctly; and will thereby edify others to do the same. Stewards (those who manage the affairs of another) must be found faithful (1 Cor 4:2) – that is to do things as God would have them done. These leaders given to perfect the saints (who have less understanding) to maturity (the knowledge and application of God’s truth as utilized and performed in one’s life) so they can realize their place within the body and go on to help others. We must also realize that the early church assemblies did not have the benefit of the New Testament writings nor was the knowledge of Christ widespread; and this increased the importance of the leadership. These men were directed by the Holy Spirit (consider the book of Acts). The reverse is somewhat true today. We have God’s Word readily available (do any take the time to read it?); knowledge of Christ abounds (but blindness persists due to ignorance and misplaced priority, gospel is distorted); true sincere men of God are far and few (those filled with Spirit, understanding truth, living righteously by example). Leaders are necessary and important, but remember, the Spirit will teach us (Jn 1 Jn 2:27). In the absence of true leadership (lacking, deficient), the Spirit can raise up individuals to fulfill God’s purposes, when a group submits.
When believers are led and taught of the Spirit (and men of God appointed by the Spirit) to understand and apply God’s truth (Word), they will be “likeminded.” Doesn’t it stand to reason that if we are led and taught the same truth, from the same source (Is God divided?), that we would be of the same mind (in accord, agreement)? This is why Paul said we are to be likeminded in Christ and are to be united with no divisions – one mind (1 Cor 1:10, 2 Cor 13:11, Rm 12:16, 15:5, Php 1:27, 2:2, 2:20, 1 Pt 3:8). There is only one body and it must have only one mind – the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). We must strive for unity in the Spirit (Eph 4:3-6). At this point many would say, “you will never find such a gathering; we’re only human.” This attitude would be to deny the working of the Spirit and the truth of the Word. Are we called in God’s truth or a multitude of opinions leading to confusion? So, the basis for fellowship is likemindedness. This applies to your relationship between God or man. Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” We must at least (minimum) agree to seek the truth of God’s Word through His Spirit and apply it to our lives as it is unfolded. If your not willing to live God’s Word, then whats the point and the basis for your belief? If we cannot agree that we are to totally submit to Jesus Christ as head (Acts 20:8, Eph 1:20-23, 5:23, Col 1:8); the Holy Spirit’s work/role in our lives; the truth of God’s Word; and Word/Spirit’s relevance and application in our lives; then there will be confusion and misdirection – a tossing about.
The purpose of fellowship, with each other, in or out of an assembly, is to edify, exhort, encourage admonish, and teach one another, each having been filled with and submitted to the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 5:11, Heb 3:13, Rm 15:6-7, 13-14, Col 3:16). To edify is to instruct one another in the truth of God’s Word. To exhort is to urge and embolden (make confident, hearten, encouragement) one to live godly by strong appeal, advice or argument. Isn’t this what the early church leaders did: Acts 11:23, “Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” We are to exhort one another to continue (be steadfast) in the faith, for we enter into the kingdom of God through much tribulation (Acts 14:22). We express the love of God to each other, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost (Rm 5:5). We encourage one another in the faith by giving confidence, inspiration, hope, persecution, and support. We are also to admonish one another. Admonishing is to instruct and direct; warn or notify of a fault; to reprove with mildness; and counsel against wrong practices.
Another important aspect of dealing with each other and a facet of love is forgiveness. We forgive as our Lord forgave us (Mt 6:14, 18:35, Mk 11:26). We also teach one another by revealing the things the Holy Spirit has shown us or done in our lives. We guide others in their walk from experience of our own personal struggles and victories. Generally speaking, our fellowship with one another is for the express purpose of encouraging one another to walk down that “narrow path” that leads to God – To go toward God (the light, 1 Jn 1:5, Is 60:1-5). Practically speaking, we encourage each other to lovingly (freely), submit to and obey the will of God through Jesus Christ. This means to die to self and the things of this world. To stop being self-centered and start being God-centered. To deny self (make necessary sacrifices), take up our crosses and “Follow”2. To lose our life of self and thus gain life in Christ3. We encourage one another to stop loving the things and cares of the world; the pride and pleasures of life; the lusts of the flesh, eyes and other things; and the deceitfulness of riches; (1 Jn 2:15-17, Mt 13:22, Mk 4:19, Lk 814). We renounce our will and come back under God’s authority. Everything points us to this purpose. We zealously (passionately, fervently, fanatically, eagerly, enthusiastically) serve Christ in all that we do (thought, manner, deed). If this does not appeal to you (maybe you say, “wait a minute”) then there is a disconnect between you and God, because this is the way things are done in heaven.
Each of us has a personal responsibility and a group responsibility toward God. Your personal responsibility relates to the first great commandment (your relationship with God). You are to absolutely put God first in your life – Jesus must be your first love (Rev 2:4). Loving with heart, mind, soul and strength is all encompassing. You must fill your heart with God’s Word (read often and persistently) such that it becomes who you are (Col 3:16). You must apply God’s Word to your life and live it – you obey Christ’s commandments4. You must walk as Jesus walked5 (following) and conform6 to His image – in His likeness. This will inevitably result in personal sacrifices and many battles with the flesh. You must overcome7 the world (things of). In doing so, you must guard your heart (what goes therein) and must abstain, abhor, eschew, refrain, depart, hate, cease, reprove and cleanse yourself from all evil8. You pray unceasingly, worship and offer praise. All of this is possible through Christ (Php 4:13) – He has given you His Spirit. Your walk with Christ will develop your relationship with Him. You must also be thankful for the Lord’s provision in your life. You also forgive others as Christ has forgiven you. Having not neglected your personal responsibility, you are now ready for your group responsibility. You are to edify, exhort, encourage, admonish and love your fellow brethren concerning all the things of your personal responsibility. You relate to, sympathize and have compassion for what others are experiencing and you help.
Now sincere and reasonable people who are truly seeking God will agree with what has been written thus far, but might add: “Yes, but the devil is in the details.” This would be a good assessment of the problem. In many “religious” assemblies, the devil, and not the Holy Spirit is the greatest influence. The devil appeals to the flesh – the lusts thereof. Romans 8:8, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” God says throughout His Word that we must be submitted to Him (completely under His authority). What was the devil’s original lie? That you could transgress God’s will, seek your own will (ye shall be as gods) and not die (ye shall surely not die, Gen 3:4-5). Man really does like to seek his own will (in keeping with the rebellion) and often examines things through the eyes of the flesh (1 Cor 2:13). As a result, “religious” man (those seeking God their way), must now seek justification to pursue the flesh with a godly covering (soothe the conscious). Hence the popular gospel message of our modern day. This message generally says that Jesus died so that we could have forgiveness (and license) to continue in our sin. The message is not worded just this way, but is certainly practiced this way (under a cloud of deception and spiritual blindness). However, Jesus came to bring “restoration” (Ps 23:3) which is also “reconciliation9.” This means that Jesus came to deliver10 us from our iniquities and own rebellious lost way and bring us back under God’s authority (as it was prior to the fall of man). Psalms 85:10, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
Surely we can agree that God would not overlook, excuse or pardon man’s transgression (which man mostly continues therein) without an atonement or cost (sacrifice). Atonement is reconciliation after enmity whereby reparation is made by giving an equivalent for a wrong committed. God’s righteous character had been judged unworthy by man, and was greatly dishonored and rejected. Even so, God in love and mercy made possible a way for man to come back under His authority. God sent His only begotten precious Son (Jesus) to pay the very costly price (Rm 5:11). Now, does it make any sense that Jesus would come and die and thereby make restitution such that man could have license or covering to continue to seek his own way thus continue to sin (resultant from)? – the very thing that God hated and would not overlook which necessitated Jesus needing to come. Is reconciliation based upon God’s terms or man’s? Does God yield to man in a give and take? The truth is that Christ came to deliver and set free (Jn 8:31-36). Those who justify the continued rebellion (through their myriad of religious arguments), love the darkness and refuse the light. The devil’s ploy (trick, plan, tactic) is to keep your eyes upon yourSELF and your own way. He is cunning and man is gullible (naïve, easy to fool). This is accomplished through all that “glitters” in the world using your own lust (free will) to entice “your way.” This is the broad path to destruction (Mt 7:13). No one (of the many) that are on the broad path really believes they are on it! Many have neglected their personal responsibilities before God. They have made the world their priority (television, magazines, movies, games, money, sports, careers etc.). They are in the image of the world – overcome. Their “primary relationship” is with self in seeking the things of the world (their own way). Many do not read God’s Word at all (or very little), or pray, fast, make sacrifices, avoid evil, etc. We must come out (2 Cor 6:17, Rev 18:4)! We fight the devil’s dominion (principalities, spiritual wickedness, rulers of darkness) through truth, righteousness, and faith – knowing, speaking and living God’s Word (Eph 6:12-18). Many (if not most) churches are filled with those who do not know truth, live righteously or walk in faith – only superficially (seemingly, on the surface). What has been the basis of their fellowship? Who has shunned the world? Who has grown to maturity? Who is overcoming? Many seek their relationship with God only through religious institutions, and are force fed by them (truth or consequences). This allows things to be cut and dry; God has His time, and they have theirs. God demands our full time in all that we do. We will only see the truth when we earnestly seek God and put away all the things of this world and the religiosity of man.. Until then, there will only be blindness (by intent, Mt 7:6). 1 John 5:4, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.“
Man has “religiously” sought his own way in seeking God. Romans 10:3, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness (seek God their own way), have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (God’s way).” There is a disconnect due to man’s ignorance which results from the blindness of seeking self. Often, then Spirit is shut out as man desires to do the leading. This results in a form of godliness, but denies the power thereof (the Holy Spirit, 2 Tim 3:5). Very generally speaking: Man forms institutions and organizations (i.e. denominations) which he controls. Man mostly desires God to serve him (bless Me) in his religious endeavors. Man also desires God to conform to his image such as being an unconditional “love god.” After all the devil’s original lie to man, “ye shall not surely die,” equates to unconditional. Religious man tells us that a quick little repeated prayer gains one eternal security (once saved always saved), rather than a life of faith. The Holy Spirit changes one’s heart (Jn 3:3, 2 Cor 5:17), but man demands adherence through signed doctrinal or belief statements. Religious man builds huge buildings (complexes, modern versions of cathedrals of old) for his comfort, through borrowed money (from the world, payment deferred, debt incurred – bondage, Pv 22:7), and then worships these facilities (time, attention, resources, maintenance, payments) – but Jesus is suppose to be our first love (a tear rolls down the cheek). These churches are a reflection of the world (Rm 12:2). They Christianize (make religious) the things they desire and this justifies and gives validity (another tear follows). There is no basis of fellowship (upholding truth, living righteously, correct judgment – observing fruit, Mt 7:20), for members and growth (numbers) are what they desire (another tear trickles down). There is no encouragement to come out of the world, because they are in it’s image (another tear). There is such division (separating, splitting up, partition, schism, rift, discord, disagreement, divide) of purpose (another trickle). They work many religious works, but neglect their daily life of “living” faith (several tears, I do not know them, Mt 7:22-23). They say there is no need for admonishment, for all are equally guilty – no need to reform, a free gift (salvation) cannot be earned or sustained by our actions (more tears, a stream begins to form) – how could things have become so twisted – misplaced faith (I know them not). Isaiah 59:4, 8-9, 14, “None calleth for justice (righteousness), nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.” This has become more a social club than the church described in the Bible. We’ll be as the world to win the world – a woman (harlot) rides the beast (Rev 17:1-6). Revelation 21:7, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.“
Jesus came seeking the lost sheep (Mt 15:47, Lk 19:10). Perhaps you are a little lost religious sheep? Still seeking your way, but greatly in need of being led on the correct path. You must humble yourself, repent and fully turn to the Lord; not with lips, but with heart and actions. Jesus came to pay a cost (atonement) that we could not pay. Christ also came to lead us back to God. First Jesus led by example (His life of total submission and obedience is detailed in the Gospels), then said, “Come follow me.” Those who are “following” enter in through the strait gate (which is Christ) and are led of His Spirit down a narrow path (difficult by design). We walk as He walked and this path conforms us to His image. We relinquish our rebellion and self-will and lovingly submit and obey His. This is walking toward God – for God’s will must be done (performed). We are not earning anything because the one who “follows” does not set the path (course, agenda). Our relationship is found in Christ’s truth as walked by His example. Our fellowship to each other is also based upon Jesus’ truth and the path we now share. If your leadership or the brethren you are now assembling with are not supporting you in doing these things (and actively living them), then what is the point of your fellowship with them? Come out! Have relationship with God and fellowship with family members or close friends until God adds to your number or directs you elsewhere. Some say, “But a small gathering is not legitimate?” These are consumed in their religiosity and tradition. Come out! Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them.” This verse was very specifically and intentionally put into God’s Word for such a time as we live (as in the days of Noah – widespread wickedness). This is to comfort us that we do not need “numbers” or even “facilities” to fellowship, just a couple of sincere hearts that love the Lord. Jesus is in the midst of such – Praise God!
1 Mystery of God – Mk 4:11, Rm 16:25, 1 Cor 2:7, Eph 1:9, 3:3-4, 9, 5:32, 6:19, Col 1:26-27, 2:2, 1 Tim 3:9, Rev 10:7
2 Follow Jesus – Mt 10:38, 16:24, Mk 8:34, 10:21, Lk 9:23, 14:27
3 Die to self – Mt 10:39, 16:25, Mk 8:35, Lk 9:24, 17:33, Jn 12:25, Rm 8:13
4 Keep Jesus’ commandments – Jn 14:15-17, 20-21, 23, 15:10, 1 Jn 2:3-4, 3:24, 5:2-3
5 Walk as Jesus walked – Ps 119:3, 128:1, Hos 14:9, Col 2:6, 1 Jn 2:6, 2 Jn 1:6
6 Conform to Christ’s image – Lk 6:40, Rm 8:28-29, 2 Cor 3:18, 4:10-11, Gal 3:27, Eph 4:13, 15, Col 1:20, 3:10, Heb 13:21
7 Overcome – 1 Jn 5:4, Rev 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26, 3:5, 3:12, 3:21, 21:7
8 Avoid evil – Eph 5:11, 1 Pt 3:11, 1 Thess 5:22, Rm 12:9, Ps 37:27, 97:10, 119:101, Pv 3:7, 8:13, 14:16, 16:17, Is 1:16, Amos 5:15, 2 Cor 7:1
9 Jesus reconciles – Ps 23:3, 69:4, Rm 5:1, 10-11, 2 Cor 5:18-19, 20, Col 1:21
10 Christ delivers from sin – Mt 1:21, Acts 3:26, Jn 1:29, 2 Tim 2:19, Gal 1:4, Col 2:11, Ti 2:14, 1 Pt 2:24, 1 Jn 3:4-6, 5:18, Rev 1:5