Unity is defined as “a state of being one”. As Christians we are called to be one body in Christ, so unity is central to our understanding of fellowship, as fellowship is how we become the body of Christ.
Rick Warren, who wrote The Purpose Driven Life went as far as to say “unity is the soul of fellowship.” The New Testament talks more about the need for unity than it mentions Heaven and Hell, which shows just how importantly God views unity. He wants us to have harmony with our fellow believers, going through life together. Indeed, in his last hours before he was arrested, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that we would be united.
In church, fellowship is often viewed as the social side of things, separate from the main services. There is the clichéd tag line for many church events “Fun, food and fellowship” which puts fellowship in a box as something that happens only at a specific time. But true Biblical fellowship is about having open, honest relationships with the other believers around us, looking out for them, sharing their joy and pain, worshipping together, serving together, growing closer to God together. Not just having a chat over coffee after the Sunday service. We should be striving to have fellowship every day. Paul sums it up in 1st Corinthians 1 when he says “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.”(v10) – that’s what our fellowship should be about – putting aside petty differences, coming together, seeking God, and working towards His purposes as best we can.
We can see the ultimate example of fellowship in Acts 2:44-47 where the believers were meeting together every day, sharing everything, helping those of them in need, worshipping together, showing good will to each other, coming together in perfect unity. And the result of this was that each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. Because that is what happens when we get fellowship right. People will be attracted by what we have, and will want to be a part of it. And the flipside is that when we get fellowship wrong, when we don’t care for fellow believers, when there isn’t unity in the church, then it ends up pushing people away.
Central to fellowship is honesty. We are instructed to ‘speak the truth in love’, holding people accountable – in a responsible, mature manner – for any area in their life they may be slipping up in. It means dealing with difficulties, resolving them, not just ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away. Which will mean having some tough conversations, but is what Paul commands us to do:
“You must not simply look the other way and hope it goes away on its own. Bring it out in the open and deal with it in the authority of Jesus our Master. …It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.
Your flip and callous arrogance in these things bothers me. You pass it off as a small thing, but it’s anything but that.” 1 Corinthians 5:3-8 (The Message)
Humility also has a huge role to play in fellowship – humbly admitting your weaknesses, being open to correction, and actually caring about the wellbeing of others not just yourself.
Rick Warren says “Humility is not thinking less of yourself: it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is thinking more of others. Humble people are so focused on serving others, they don’t think of themselves.”
So let’s strive to come together in true fellowship, with humility and open hearted honesty, united as one Body of believers, living a life that will cause others to want to join us each and every day. Because, like it or not, we’re all in this together.