By sis Tan Yan Ling
Non-Christians may observe that Christians often call their gatherings, which usually involve food, "fellowship." So, it may appear to them that "fellowship" is simply a meal together. But is that true according to the Bible? Is simply having a meal together or a session to play games together or a skills-sharing workshop a "fellowship"? The short answer is "no." What the session embodies matters.
A quick search of the digital New King James Version of the Bible, Bible dictionary, and concordance shows that the word "fellowship" appears 15 times in 14 verses in the New Testament (Act 2:42; 1Co 1:9, 10:20; 2Co 6:14, 8:4; Gal 2:9; Eph 3:9, 5:11; Php 1:5, 2:1, 3:10; 1Jn 1:3, 6-7). The word "fellowship" in these 14 verses is translated from four Greek words-koinnia, koinōnos, metochē, and sugkoinōneō - which carry the ideas of sharing, being a partner, and partaking, i.e., taking part in something along with others. Therefore, the four Greek words are also translated in other verses in the Bible as "sharing,", "contribution," "communion," "partners" and "partaker." So, we can understand that fellowship is not just merely a meet-up for a meal. Fellowship in the Bible involves exchanges and a sense of community.
God is central to Christian fellowship, for we are called into the "fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Co 1:9). Our fellowship, or sharing, or communion, is of our faith (Phm 1:6), in the gospel (Php 1:5, Php 3:10) and with God (1 Co 10:16, 2 Co 13:14). We follow the pattern given in the Bible to come together to share physical resources and exhort, encourage, teach, listen and care for one another to 1) show our association to God and 2) help one another, including ourselves, continue firmly on our Christian walk.
A Christian fellowship does not exist without God as the focus in our hearts, minds, and souls. Some Christians coming together for a meal at a restaurant to update one another on personal matters or to play games or learn a skill can proclaim God if Christian living skills and graces are encouraged or practiced or taught in the activities. It is easy to stray if we just go through the motions, seeking pleasure in other people or activities, and forget God in our actions. In the absence of God, we have to ask ourselves if we are merely gossiping or indulging in the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, leading to sin.
We are in fellowship with one another and with God so long as we walk in the light. (1Jn 1:7) A purposefully organized fellowship event has value because the physical presence of people doing things together is a great source of encouragement to those present, it provides an opportunity for us to get to know one another better, and the activities can strengthen the church’s ability to do more for God. It also increases our visibility to others, so it can facilitate evangelism. That is why we meet physically for worship every week, and God commands us not to forsake this assembly (Heb 10:25)! Members of the church also put in the effort to organise other fellowship events to increase our social contact and service opportunities.
A lot of sharing goes on during fellowship activities, and we learn to receive and also give when we come together. Sometimes we need to be humble enough to accept others’ kindness, whether it is gifts or exhortations, so we can stay the course and not fall. At other times, we may need to draw from ourselves and be inconvenienced to bear our brethren’s burdens. Christian fellowship will not always be enjoyable, and we have to learn to look to Jesus for strength (Php 4:13).
Fellowship activities can also be daunting for new members as they find their place in the family of God to give and receive. When I was a new member, I would be offered food, comfort, gifts, and many helpful little things (e.g., a lift home) by people I had just met, and I would wonder whether I should accept these new acquaintances or politely refuse them because I felt out of place. I had to make an effort to accept the church's outreach and participate in the activities. It also takes time to find out what I can give back to the community. So, senior members of the church must embrace new members with love and patience, and new members also need to have the courage to join in and persevere so we can keep the fellowship going. We can learn to accept and participate by considering how Jesus accepted us when we repented and obeyed His gospel, as well as how we audaciously first came to Jesus when we were full of sins. We need to stay together because a lamb that is not sticking to the flock can easily lose its way.
I find serving to be one of the easiest ways to integrate into the church. So, I am grateful and honoured to be able to organise ladies’ fellowship activities at our congregation for the last two years and get to know everyone better. I am also immensely thankful to everyone who has generously and lovingly contributed in every big and small way to make the activities possible. As we near the end of the year, planning for the next cycle of fellowship events will be starting soon, and I would like to encourage everyone to continue looking out for ways to participate and contribute so our fellowship can be ever strengthened day by day!