The Greek word normally associated with “fellowship” is the word koinonia. It doesn’t typically mean sit in the same room as someone for a church potluck. What does it mean?
It is a word that describes mutual interest and the connection that comes through joint participation and partnership. I am indebted to D.A. Carson (who I cite below) for point out much of what follows. We have this word in Philippians 1:5-6 and the NIV doesn’t translate it “fellowship.” In those two instances they translate it as “partnership.” That is more like it.
We need a richer definition of fellowship. That is too loose of a word. It doesn’t just mean being around or in close proximity to. It means being bought it. It means we risk things together, just as partners in a business venture risk things together. D.A. Carson points this out in his Basics for Believers commentary on Philippians where he points out the usage of koinonia in Romans 15:26 as a financial sharing for the collection Paul is taking up for the Christians in Jerusalem. If something is bad for you it is bad for me and if I rejoice I want you to as well. Paul tells us to do that in Romans 12:15. He makes the point even more clear in 1 Cor 12:24b-27,
“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.“
This is what fellowship should look like. I can potluck with you ever week but that doesn’t put me in true fellowship with you. Now, I wouldn’t refuse a good potluck but I also wouldn’t refuse true fellowship 😉
What makes Christian fellowship so interesting is that God has taken what had been two groups that were seemingly irreconcilable and reconciled them together into one new family through Jesus Christ. He has undone the Jewish blessing, thanking God for not being a women, slave or Gentile and included all of those along with their male, free, Jewish counterparts into one and the same family. Read through Ephesians 1-3 and look for this. It is what Paul calls the mystery of Christ that has now been revealed to us and that we now experience.
It is a powerful force.
It is more than a meal…it is about mutuality, connection and identity as much as anything else.