By Carol Lerh, Singapore
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “fellowship”? It seems like too often, we think of it as simply “hanging out” with one another, playing games in youth group, or having casual conversations.
While there’s nothing wrong with all of that, do you sometimes wonder if that’s really all there is to fellowship?
In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he shows us a different picture of what true fellowship looks like. He starts by thanking the Philippians for their “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). Some translations use the word “fellowship” instead. What was this partnership or fellowship that Paul thanked the Philippians for?
The Philippian church was the first church Paul planted in Europe. It consisted of a merchant named Lydia and her household, a jailer and his family, and others who had become believers since its founding (Acts 16). While Paul wrote many letters to correct or rebuke problems in early churches, his letter to the Philippian church stands out as one of thanksgiving and rejoicing.
I’m sure the Philippian church was not perfect. No church is. But what set the Philippians apart was their razor-sharp focus: they were committed towards furthering their shared goal—spreading the good news of Christ. In supporting Paul financially and working with him (4:15), the Philippian church was not just spreading the gospel, but they were living the gospel out in community.
When Paul thanks God for his fellowship with believers in Philippi, he is not merely thinking of casual after-meal talks or fun games. Paul is thankful that the Philippians were working alongside him in sharing the gospel with the Gentiles, reaching out to those in need, and looking out for the interests of others even when they themselves were suffering.
That is true fellowship.
Have you ever read J. R. R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring?
In the story, the fellowship was made up of nine individuals from varying races and personalities, and different opinions about how to do things. These people didn’t just fellowship by sitting around a fire and telling jokes. That’s not the real fellowship.
Their real fellowship consisted of holding each other accountable for resisting the temptation of a perverted power. It consisted of defending one another from their common enemies. It was their dangerous journey to fight for what was good in the face of evil and death that made them a fellowship.
That’s what church should look like.
My church doesn’t always look like that. As a leader, I realize that we often try so hard to make church entertaining and relevant, that we forget the reason why we’re meeting in the first place.
If that sounds like your church too, don’t despair. Instead, let’s be encouraged to work towards the picture that Paul shows us of what true fellowship looks like.
Let’s start by having real conversations with each other about where we are in our faith. Let’s share in each other’s struggles (1:29-30), commit to journey with and pray for one another through the different seasons of life, and encourage each other to grow in spiritual maturity (2:12).
Because our fellowship is no ordinary earthly fellowship. We were brought together by no less than God Himself for a divine purpose. So let’s work together to fulfill that purpose of sharing His good news with the rest of the world (1:27).