And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers(Acts 2:42, ESV).
What is fellowship? We use the term loosely but often fail to think about what it means. Fellowship isn’t red punch and cookies in the church basement (though many of us grew up with that routine). It doesn’t flow just because the lights are on. Nor does it automatically take place after a worship service when people gather in the church lobby and have cheesy conversations. Let’s blow the foul whistle on that; it’s a terrible caricature of fellowship.
Fellowship refers to our common life together—and that life together was the source of some of the early church’s power. In Acts 2:42, Luke draws our attention to two telling characteristics: apostolic teaching and mutual fellowship. “They devoted themselves” to this life, or “continued steadfastly” (NKJV). The original term for their devotion means “to be strong toward.”
The first Christians were strong toward fellowship. The Greek word is koinonia, which can also be rendered partnership, sharing, communion, or the summary word, fellowship.
Here is a longer and more precise definition: fellowship is active participation in a common interest. Another way to think of it is the simple phrase uncommon community.
Spending an hour in church together on Sundays, even if the preaching is solid and the worship is good, does not provide enough time or interaction to forge fellowship. Simply being together is too passive. Fellowship flows from active engagement.
You might overhear someone say, “We’re having Bill and Sheila over after church. We’ll watch the football game and have some fellowship.” Maybe they will; maybe they won’t. Watching the game is fun, but it’s not necessarily fellowship.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying each other’s company, fellowship is something much deeper and more substantive than fun.
Working together, praying together, and experiencing firsthand God’s work in the lives of people close to us increases our fellowship. Over time, a reservoir of rich, meaningful, God-centered experiences creates real, deep, life-sustaining fellowship in a small group or church body. What holds our history together is the Spirit of God working through the Word of God and our service to God, binding us together in love toward one another.
Notice these common elements: a shared faith among Christians, the same Spirit uniting our hearts, the powerful Word of God stirring us, our faith embodied in service to others, and our love on display as the distinct hallmark of Jesus’ followers. Those ingredients combine into true, fulfilling fellowship.
In our individualistic, busy culture, it can be easy to miss the significance of a common life together. You must intentionally seek it with other believers and be willing to risk the messiness of sharing the journey of life together over time. Remind yourself that fellowship isn’t just optional or helpful but commanded (John 13:34-35). Fellowship is a discipline, a needed practice. And one of the surest barometers of the quality of your Christian life is the quality of the Christian relationships in your life.
When have you experienced authentic fellowship? What did it look and feel like?
Consider the quality of the Christian relationships in your life as a barometer of your spiritual life. In what ways are you pressing in or pulling back from fellowship? What steps could you take to deepen a shared, common life together?
God, thank You that You don’t expect me to live this Christian life alone. You’ve surrounded me with brothers and sisters and have called us to uncommon community. Please help me to invest deeply in their lives and to stay engaged with them, even when things aren’t smooth or easy. Thank You for the cloud of witnesses who have gone before me, sharing a common life in You. I pray this in the name of Jesus, who makes authentic fellowship possible, amen.