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The Joy of Fellowship

Happiness is transactional, but joy is permanent, resilient, visionary and strategic, and goes far beyond the here and now. 
Read Time: 9 minutes

The first time the word fellowship appears in the New Testament Scriptures is at the founding of the early ecclesia, where the brethren “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42).1 The word for fellowship, koinonia, occurs 20 times in the Scriptures and has the sense of sharing things in common, and having communion and community with each other. Fellowship among the disciples of Jesus is a key aspect of the Christian life, as believers in Jesus Christ come together in love, faith, caring, and the encouragement of each other.

We have the example of how a fellowship is supposed to look and function in Acts 2:42-47, where the early first-century ecclesia began. We are told that “all that believed were together and had all things in common,” (v. 44) meaning they all shared their time and resources and saw to the needs of each other. They had daily Bible study for their spiritual nourishment, shared joyful meals of fellowship in each other’s homes, and gave YAHWEH thanks and praise, doing what was good and right in His sight as He instructed through Jesus. That is the essence of fellowship.

The Spirit moved the apostle to write to the believers in Phillippi, declaring:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2). 

Koinonia means agreeing with God and one another, being united in desire and purpose, and ministering “through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13). Our koinonia with each other is based on our common koinonia with Jesus Christ. 

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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 cleanses us from all sin. (I John 1:6-7).

A powerful example of what koinonia means and what it should look like in practice can be found in a study of the phrase “one another” in the Scriptures. Scripture commands us to be:

  • devoted to one another (Romans 12:10 NIV),
  • to honor one another (Romans 12:10 NIV), 
  • live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16), 
  • accept one another (Romans 15:7 NIV), 
  • serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13), 
  • be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32 NIV), 
  • admonish one another (Colossians 3:16 NIV), 
  • encourage one another (I Thessalonians 5:11 NIV; Hebrews 3:13 NIV), 
  • spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24 NIV), 
  • offer hospitality (I Peter 4:9 NIV),
  • and love one another (1Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11; 3:23; 4:7; 4:11-12). 

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.  (Philippians 2:2-4 KJV).

In Western thought and culture, eating is done mainly for flavor and nutrition and is often done alone; if eating is together, there is minimal regard for who is at the table. However, in many Eastern cultures, eating was considered a special event exclusively enjoyed among trusted friends and loved one. They often shared food and utensils and even ate from the same plate!

We see this happen at the Last Supper, where Jesus said, “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.” (Matthew 26:23 KJV). Because the ancients usually sat comfortably on the floor while eating, this gave fellowship the connotation of a repose, relaxation, and intimacy. At the Last Supper, we also see “the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?” (John 21:20 KJV).

Happiness has connotations here and now, based on the current situation, but it can be fleeting and temporary. Joy, however, has the connotation of being long-lasting and not necessarily current. It is why Scripture advises us to look “unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 KJV). Happiness is also transactional, but joy is permanent, resilient, visionary and strategic, and goes far beyond the here and now. 

Clearly, Jesus’ first advent life was far from happy, as he had to contend with his own nature, with the burden of bearing the responsibility of carrying the future hope of all humanity, and with his friends and family who ridiculed him and doubted his Messiahship, Beyond that, the Jewish leaders who followed him around, harassing and trying to frustrate the work of salvation he purposed at every opportunity. He also dealt with the stubbornness and unbelief of most of the people he encountered, even the faithlessness of his own disciples. In addition, he had the specter of his painful crucifixion in mind as he preached the good news of the gospel wherever, whenever, and to whomever would listen. 

Despite all of these things, he still had joy because he understood that at the end of the painful process, he would accomplish his purpose and be exalted to sit at the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1). This joy motivated Jesus. It allowed him to look beyond his current unpleasant situation and see the blessing of the reward of his work of sacrifice and salvation.

The fellowship and togetherness we share now are a taste of the joy of the fellowship we will share forever in the Kingdom of God. Having fellowship with Jesus necessitates also sharing the “fellowship of his sufferings.” From this, we share a life that conforms with Jesus’ life and the promise of a reward of the blessing of resurrection. When reflecting on his own suffering, the apostle said: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” (Philippians 3:10 KJV).

Fellowship involves partaking in common things, not just food and shelter but also a shared experience. By being partakers in the fellowship of his sufferings, we also are partakers and identify with Jesus’ death. He also identifies with us, as we share the experience of “suffering for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye.” (I Peter 3:14 KJV). We share fellowship with Jesus in the type of life he lived and his death. We can look forward with the hope of being allowed to share in his resurrection and being partakers together with him of  “the joy that was set before him.” (Hebrews 12:2). Fellowship also means having “one mind” and a common spiritual perspective.

It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us. (2 Timothy 2:11-12 KJV).

The purpose of God is to bless the earth, not just to people it with a race of immortals who glorify Him: the earth should also be a Kingdom consisting of a family of priests. So everywhere there will be loving fellowship with the Father, with Jesus, and among brethren related by the blood of Jesus, the Anointed One. These things considered, we can agree that “if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (I John 4:11 KJV), especially since love is the crucial identifier that we are indeed children of God. We are partakers in the joy of fellowship with the Father, the Son, and one another. There will be joy in the Kingdom because there will be no such thing as hatred, malice, grudges, bitterness, and resentment, “for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 KJV). Only love, peace, and harmony will be present. These things are consistent with the Spirit of God. (Romans 8:13-14).

The beauty and blessings in the joy of fellowship are illuminated when contrasted with its opposite: selfishness and self-centeredness. As a survival strategy, the group’s good is more important than the good of the one, and working together is more advantageous than working alone. Fellowship is each one being concerned and looking out for the welfare of everyone else. Selfishness involves sacrificing everyone’s welfare to satisfy a personal desire. Selfishness is, therefore, short-sighted and dysfunctional and will ultimately prove to be fleeting.

Even though there will be joy in the end when the Kingdom comes, we can enjoy some of that joy now. At the same time, we wait in probation for the fulfillment of all things. We are to inherit the Kingdom (Galatians 3:29, 1 Thessalonians 2:12), and therefore, we must practice Kingdom life in this current dispensation in preparation for “the acceptable year of the LORD” (Isaiah 61:2 KJV; Luke 4:19 KJV). When our Master returns to usher in the age, we will rejoice with everlasting joy (Isaiah 51:11 KJV). We must, therefore, pray for the shalom and wholesomeness of each other, and see to the welfare and best interest of each other. This situation is a foretaste of good things to come.

The superiority of fellowship over selfishness and self-centeredness is seen in that fellowship involves unity and working together to achieve common goals and a shared purpose. As such, brothers and sisters working together must help each other whenever we stumble. The Preacher advises that “two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 KJV).

This benefit we receive from everyone helping each other is perfected because, while we share in fellowship with our brothers and sisters, we also share with the Father and His beloved Son. Together, they are more than willing and capable of further lifting us when our feet slip. God confirms that “though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:24 KJV). As always, we are comforted by the fact that the Father is just a prayer away, and when our foot slips, we should “humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4:10 KJV).

We live in a real world with real people, and we have real issues. We often may find ourselves in situations that we may not desire nor enjoy and may feel distressed and discouraged. But because we share a fellowship with each other and the Father through Jesus, we can help and encourage each other and empathize with each other’s feelings, sharing in each other’s pain. It’s why Scripture advises that we “confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” (James 5:16 KJV). 

This action is very important because we often create and live in our delusions and distortions of reality. We can think everyone else’s life is perfect, as they don’t seem to have any apparent issues. If we put on a facade to conceal our struggles and failures, this thought usually arises, thus deceiving those with whom we share fellowship.

So when we see our troubles, we believe something must be terribly wrong with us. The result is we get discouraged and suffer in silence. When we share our weaknesses and strengths, our failures and successes, we do a world of good for those who are going through their own pain and struggles; they will understand that they are not alone in their pain. And just as we were lifted up and helped by the Father, others will be encouraged to know the Father will also help and lift them up!

The other practical implication of sharing fellowship is that too often, we have problems and struggles we guard and keep secret. We thus deny ourselves the help and comfort available from within the fellowship we share. Sadly, the issue is often only revealed when it is too far gone and beyond repair. We need each other to help encourage one another, and we should have the character and reputation to be discreet when another confides and shares their problem with us.

The fundamental principle at the heart of the Last Supper is fellowship, where Jesus institutes the Breaking of bread and drinking of wine, tokens of remembrance for the disciples and the believers who joined the ecclesia through their preaching. We belong together as a fellowship and a loving spiritual family of believers, thus fulfilling the prophetic teaching and intention of Jesus’ prayer to the Father when he prayed: 

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:21-23 KJV).

Casmon Gordon,
Manhattan Ecclesia, NY

  1. All Scriptural citations are taken from the English Standard Version, unless specifically noted.
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