If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:6)
The broader context of today’s verse is, of course, the truth that fellowship with Jesus – walking with HIm – is what creates and sustains fellowship in His body. He is the centre of real fellowship and without him, anything else is simply counterfeit.The essential meaning of the word ‘fellowship’ involves disaparate – very different – characters and personalities coming together around at least one significant ideal or purpose. Fellowship groups – like guilds or clubs – simply impose a set of rules in order to manage things or to exclude certain types of people, but the core meaning remains the same. It is the principle that guides all fellowship and which often results in the odd or unusual friendships we encounter through our lives.
‘Fellowship with Christ’ is a phrase that slides so easily off our tongue. It sounds good. It sounds spiritual and offers a sense of security. It lends itself to validation through any number of verses – He will never leave us nor forsake us, or God in Him and Him in us. These, and the principle behind them, are essentially and completely true. That is indeed God’s Word, His promises to us, and as His children and His people we can joyfully take hold of each one.
But have we considered the nature of fellowship and what it really implies and demands from us? The problem with the word is that common usage has set it up as a kind of ‘one size fits all,’ a vague, generic term that covers all possibilites and which sounds meaningful even though it doesn’t carry the full weight of relevance that it ought to. A quick etymology trip down memory lane – to the 13th century – reveals that it’s original, essential meaning was a ‘body of companions.’ The fundamental meaning of the word companion is ‘one with whom one eats bread.’
From this simple exercise we begin to see that fellowship is far more than a loose term that we can use to define a people who hang around together. Of course, both immediately allude to two central motifs of the Christian faith which in fact are rooted in the same thing: the body of Christ and breaking bread – breaking bread together was a common term used to describe a shared meal. Already, we’re seeing a vast and rich relevance in the lives of believers in this simple phrase that we often use without thinking.
We don’t have the time today to delve deeper into the range of historical customs and social significance of sharing a meal, but it’s worth looking at if you’d like to expand your understanding of the matter of fellowship. For now, the important point is that it assumed obligations and responsibilities from all parties. Even outside the church and the Jewish context, breaking bread together formed a social language that dictated how people were to react, respond and relate to one another.
So what, then, is fellowship with Jesus and how does impact our lives, both in terms of what we receive and what we give? This is, of course, the first characteristic of fellowship, one which underpins all the others with a deeper significance so often ignored.
Fellowship is a ‘two-way street.’ So often our relationship with Christ – fellowship with Him – is measured in terms of what we receive from Him. He is the host, and therefore has the obligation and the responsibility to entertain us and meet our needs. This is the basis of comfortable Christianity. It is also dangerously incomplete and on-sided. Fellowship with Christ requires equal and complete commitment from us. Unless we follow His example, it’s not true fellowship.
This truth opens up a wealth of new understanding and significance. Christ epitomises total completeness. He represents the great I AM of God – the ‘all things’ we so eagerly take hold of in coming to him. The ‘exceedingly, abundantly,’ and the ‘God so loved that He gave.’ The important truth is that our fellowship with Christ is total. No aspect of the life of Christ is withheld from us. All that He is, has and does is ours – and that includes those things we would prefer to avoid. We share totally in all that is Him.
First, we share in His great love. He loves us, totally and completely, despite what we were and are without Him. We then, must love as He does. His love for me is part of His love from the world. He doesn’t love only those who love Him or follow Him. He loves the whole world and died for the whole world, whether they choose to believe in Him or not. If we are united – in fellowship – in His love, we must love the world with the same fierce and sacrificial response that took Jesus to the cross, irrespective of how we may personally feel about them.
Secondly, our fellowship with Him is one of shared desires. What He wants should be what we want. By entering into His body, by becoming a part of Him, we assume His desires as our own. We are to desire the glory of God in all things, the will of God in all things, to be obedient in all things, that all men be saved – even those we consider bad or evil or deservidng of judgement. We are to desire to walk in righteousness and turn away from our sins. If we take time to examine every personal desire, we will see that it has its righteous counterpart in the desires of Christ. Fellowship with Jesus, then, requires complete surrender to His nature and desires in us.
Third, we fellowship with Him in His work. His final commndment to His disciples was to go to all the nations. This includes our difficult boss, the hard-nosed reprobate who may live next door, and the infuriating family member we’d happily never see again. We share with Him in being a witness to reveal the Father by living lives that are a testiomy to Him. Fellowship with Jesus means speaking His words, doing His deeds, and praying His prayers. It means intercession. It means being a watchman. It means giving warning of the judgement of God that is to come. It means loving the unlovely and feeding the hungry, and protecting those who are outcast and alone. If we want to hang with Jesus, we must expect to share His work.
Finally, our fellowship is in His suffering. It means we share His reproach, His persecution, His humiliation, His agony, His distress, His anguish, His pain, His betrayal, His isolation. These don’t even begin to describe the full measure of His suffering. Remember that He was required to endure the total sin and punishment of the entire human race from the creation of the first man to the end of this world in a single moment. He carried the full weight of every human failing, emotion, experience and condition in that same moment. It is grace that makes it possible for us to share even a small part of that, and it is grace that enables us to do so. But we cannot fellowshp with Jesus and expect to avoid sharing in His suffering. It is what empowers everything else.
How easy it would be, when reading this, to fall into a place of despondency and condemnation. In our human frailty, we so often miss the mark and fall short of His glory. But grace is eternally present. Our fellowship with Jesus is like that of the discipls. As they walked with Him daily, they learned from Him. He forgave them, loved them, strengthened them and taught them. Fellowship with Jesus means that He gives Himself. He imparts His own nature and all we need to enter into that place of complete, surrendered fellowship.
But it is a process, a lifelong ‘learning curve.’ We don’t have to have it all together before we come to Him. We don’t have to get it right overnight. Part of sharing in His suffering is the laying down of self, that taking up our cross and yielding our lives. It’s walking from Gethsemane through trial and along the hard road to Calvary. In some ways, we become a Simone of Cyrene, willingly shouldering the Saviour’s cross in order to represent Him in His work.
But fellowship with Jesus offers a glorious truth. As we share everything else, so we will also share in His joy, His exaltation and His place in eternity. His going before us prepared the way for us to fellowship wit hHim in all things. He has prepared the way here in the world, and He has prepared the way in the next. That is the abiding, eternal grace of fellowship with Christ. He has already done it – for us, in us, through us, with us. He is there in every single possible way.
Lord Jesus, we give You thanks for the totality of your commitment to us. By Your grace, Lord, teach us to draw near into full fellowship with you. Help us to look beyond self, beyond our desires, to the things You call us to be part of. Teach us to share in the whole of of You, not just the parts we’re comfortable with, and give us strength, courage and wisdom to surrender all in the joy of fellowship with You.