What is Fellowship?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fellowship as “companionship” or as “a community of interest.” In my life, fellowship has taken many different forms. In my family, fellowship has looked like birthday dinners, Sunday after Church lunches, Friday night game nights, and weekend trips to the Mountains. Growing up in youth group, fellowship looked like silly games, late-night lock-ins, and short-term mission trips. Then it started to look like grieving together, navigating loss together, and growing up together. In college, it looked like sitting around a bonfire sharing testimonies with strangers until those strangers started to feel like family. Fellowship to me has looked like Church on Sunday morning, but it has also looked like living room Church, car Church, sitting on a rock at the top of a mountain Church, and standing on a beach late at night Church. Fellowship to me is gathering together with people who share my faith. Fellowship to me is showing up for the people I love when they need me, and the people I love showing up for me when I need them. Fellowship tells me I’m not alone. Fellowship holds me accountable, keeps me encouraged, and gives me hope.
“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
– Philippians 2:1-2
The Greek word for “fellowship” in this passage is “Koinonia” which means “communion” or “sharing in common.” As followers of Jesus, our common interest is Jesus. He is what unites us. He is the common ground that holds us steady through the highs and lows of life. Our backgrounds and life experiences may be different, our beliefs and feelings may be different, our personalities may be different – but Jesus unites us all, despite our differences.
I find it interesting that the word “communion” is used in the definition for fellowship. This is significant, especially considering that we are in the season of Lent right now. We are in the season leading up to Easter, leading up to the day we set aside each year to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Communion is about sharing in the suffering of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10:16 says, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” The beauty of communion is that we take it, and we give it. We pass it to our neighbor. We share it. In Matthew 26:26 at that first Lord’s Supper, “… Jesus took some bread, and after blessing it, He broke it and gave it to the disciples…” Communion is about being broken and poured out. Jesus gave of Himself. The bread represented His body, and He broke it and gave it away. The cup represented His blood, and He poured it out. That’s what Fellowship within the Church looks like. That’s what the Body of Christ looks like when we are following in the example of Jesus. It looks like giving of ourselves.
Why is fellowship important?
Fellowship is important because from the beginning of creation, God knew it was not good for man to be alone. Eve was created out of this need. She was created to be a helper for Adam. Bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, they became one (Genesis 2:18-25). God Himself exists as a Trinity – as three in One. In Genesis 1:26 He declared, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us two is better than one, because when one of us falls there’s another to lift us up. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to encourage each other and build each other up. Romans 12:4-10 tells us we all have different gifts. The Church operates as a body. We need each other. Our differences unite us. Our differences make us strong. Our differences keep us moving forward. As Dallas Willard writes, “Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of His greater presence much better than scattered individuals.”
What is the role of confession & submission in fellowship?
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
– Philippians 2:3-8
In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard writes, “Confession alone makes deep fellowship possible.” He goes on to say, “In it we let trusted others know our deepest weaknesses and failures. This will nourish our faith in God’s provision for our needs through His people, our sense of being loved, and our humility before our brothers and sisters. Thus we let some friends in Christ know who we really are, not holding back anything important, but, ideally, allowing complete transparency. We lay down the burden of hiding and pretending, which normally takes up such a dreadful amount of human energy. We engage and are engaged by others in the most profound depths of the soul.”
Confession involves the disclosure of our sins. It is humbling ourselves. It is being transparent with other believers about the areas where we fail and fall short. This is not the Catholic practice of confessing to a priest in order to receive penance for our sins. Only Christ forgives. Hebrews 3:1 tells us He is our High Priest, and 1 Peter 2:5 tells us we are “being build up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood.” We have direct access to God. He hears our prayers. Romans 10:10 says, “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Our salvation comes through confession. Confession deepens our fellowship with other believers, and with those who are coming to new faith in Jesus, because it opens the pathway for us to relate to one another on a deeper level. When trusted believers and spiritual leaders know our weaknesses, they can pray with us and help hold us accountable. When we expose the sins of our past by putting them in the light of Jesus, then those who do not yet believe will begin to see His grace at work within us and they will be drawn to know Him as we know Him.
In submission, we yield ourselves to the authority or control of another. Fellowship is not only about surrounding ourselves with like minded or commonly grounded people who share our faith, but it is also about surrounding ourselves with strong leaders of the faith. It is about surrounding ourselves with spiritually mature people who can speak truth and impart wisdom to us. It is about allowing ourselves to be discipled and poured into so we can then go out and make more disciples and pour ourselves out for others. If we only ever pour ourselves out without ever being poured into, then we’ll become spiritually dry, empty, and burnt out. We have to find balance. Dallas Willard writes, “In submission we engage the experience of those in our fellowship who are qualified to direct our efforts in growth and who then add the weight of their wise authority on the side of our willing spirit to help us do the things we would like to do and refrain from the things we don’t want to do.”
How can we practice confession & submission in our fellowship with one another?
Galatians 6:1-2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens. This means to take it up and carry it. Our brothers and sisters can’t help us carry our burdens if they never see the load we’re carrying. They can’t know if we don’t tell them. We aren’t meant to carry this weight alone. That’s what Jesus is for. That’s what His Church is for. He has put people in our pathway to help us carry the load.
Hebrew 13:17 tells us to submit to our leaders because they keep watch over our souls. God has placed people in authority in the church to warn us against the sins that are trying to ensnare and entangle us. These people in places of spiritual authority are there to provide loving correction, to pray for us, to counsel us, to admonish us. We have to be willing to receive their words, because they may be only a messenger God is using to speak His Word to us, and their counsel may be what God is using to confirm His calling for us.
Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” This word “subject” is a Greek military term which means “to arrange troop divisions in military fashion under the command of a leader.” In non-military terms, it means to have a voluntary attitude of giving in, of cooperating with others, of assuming responsibility, and helping shoulder a burden. We all have seasons in life where we are placed on the front line of the battleground, and we all have seasons of life where we are in the background helping nurse the wounds of those who’ve returned from the front line.
We are in a battle against sin and against the evil powers and forces of this world every day. We all have different roles to play, and different positions to hold. We will all be in different positions of spiritual authority at different points in our lives. Sometimes God will have us issuing the commands and speaking His Words to hearts who are hurting, and sometimes we will be the hurting heart that needs to receive a healing word or a firm command. In every time, in every season, we should always be humble in our confession, receptive in our submission, and faithful in our fellowship.
Why are confession & submission important in our fellowship?
James 5:16 tells us to confess our faults to one another and pray for one another. The word “confess” in this verse is the Greek word Exomologeō which means “to say the same thing as another.” This type of confession is an agreement. It’s saying, “Me too.” This is why support groups, recovery groups, and addiction ministries are so important. When you’re confessing to someone who shares the same struggle, they can understand how difficult it was for you to say no, to turn away, and to resist the temptation. They can share in your sorrow because they know the pain. They can share in your rejoicing because they know what it took to get where you are. They will pray with you through the valley, and they will praise with you on the mountaintop.
Proverbs 28:13 says, “He that conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will have compassion.” In this verse, the Greek word for “confesses” is Yadah which means, “to throw, to shoot, to cast at or away” and it can also mean “to revere or worship with extended hands, to praise, to give thanks.” In this sense, confession is a way of casting our crowns at the feet of Jesus. It is saying, “This is who I am, in exchange for all that you are.” Our good deeds are filthy rags compared to His righteousness. Confession reminds us of this reality. It reminds us of our sinfulness, and therefore it reminds us of God’s righteousness. When we confess our sins, it humbles us and magnifies Him. It is an act of worship, an act of praise and reverence. This type of confession is also similar to casting out a fishing line. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus said. When we are honest with others about our sinfulness and God’s faithfulness, it is like bait on the end of a fishing line. This world is starving for a need only Jesus can satisfy. Let’s show them what He can do. Let’s show them who He is. Let them see Him in us. Let them hear the Good News in the stories we tell, the salvation we profess, and the message we proclaim. He forgives because He loves, and we know that loves because He first loved us. Let’s share His forgiveness by giving it away as freely as we received it. Let’s draw others to Him by being open and honest in the confession of our sins. When I think about the importance of confession, I think about the woman caught in adultery. I think about when Jesus drew that line in the sand and asked those who were without sin to cast the first stones. I picture those stones falling to the ground as each person turned and walked away. An act of confession – I am not without sin. I have no right to judge. And it left only her and Jesus. It left only her and the only One who could judge, the One who could condemn, but He chose not too. That’s what our confession does. It points to Jesus. It allows Jesus to do what He does best. It gives Him control. It gives Him the power to forgive us as only He can. It gives Him the power to unite us as only He can.