Fellowship is an essential Christian experience and practice. Yet it seems to be getting squeezed out of much contemporary Christian living. So here are some thoughts about it.
The first is that Christian fellowship requires time. This point is so elementary, but it is liable to be forgotten. We cannot have fellowship unless we set aside the time for it. This may mean that we have to change our priorities, and it does mean that times of fellowship have to be organised.
A second feature of true Christian fellowship is trust. Of course, the question we should ask is not, ‘Can I trust that person?’ Instead we should ask, ‘Can that person trust me?’ Trust is not only revealed in confidentiality. In a sense, that is easy. All confidentiality requires is for a person to keep his mouth shut about an issue. Trust also involves commitment. Commitment in Christian fellowship will be seen in the frequency of meeting together, and in the fervency of earnest, regular prayer for one another.
A third feature of Christian fellowship is tenderness. Each person in a Christian church has sore points. They may be current troubles in providence, they may be mistakes in the past, they may be disappointed hopes from long ago. When believers meet together in fellowship, they show great sensitivity for one another. This does not mean that they cannot have a disagreement about an aspect of Christian doctrine or Christian living. Yet they will be tender to one another. They will also be tender of each other’s reputations. Whenever you hear a believer running down another believer, you can deduce accurately that they are not having fellowship together, and it is usually the fault of the person who is repeating the problem.
A fourth feature of Christian fellowship is transparency. By this, I mean that true fellowship cannot take place where there is pretence. Instead, we have to be honest. If we are honest with regard to our limitations in Christian understanding we will learn from those who have made great discoveries in the Bible; if we are honest with regard to our lack of Christian progress we will be challenged by those of our number who have made advances in the Christian life. But if we pretend that we know everything and are making constant progress in the Christian life, we will get no benefit from times of fellowship.
The final feature of Christian fellowship to note is that it requires talk. It is not possible to have corporate fellowship in silence. One can be present in a room full of others in which nothing is said. What happens then is that it would make no difference if the rest were not there. Proper fellowship requires sharing. We should not go to a time of fellowship intending to say nothing. I don’t mean that we should make up a speech beforehand and let it rip whatever is being said. Instead we should be willing to contribute to what is being discussed. We should imitate the example of the believers mentioned in Malachi 3:16: ‘Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.’