Fellowship Refs
Believers are called to fellowship with other believers and with God and Jesus on the basis of shared goals and beliefs. The advantages and difficulties of fellowship are detailed in the Bible and we must be willing to work hard to make the most of fellowship.

Acts 15:1-31

Some Jewish believers were convinced that circumcision was still essential for salvation and demanded that Gentile believ­ers in Antioch be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas sharply disputed this and were sent to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about the matter. The conflicting opinions were openly discussed before the apostles and elders who (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) ruled that circumcision was not necessary. Despite strong disagreements, fellowship and unity were strengthened because both sides put truth before personal pride.

1. Why was circumcision important to some believers (v1,5)?
2. Did Paul and Barnabas keep quiet to avoid causing trou­ble (v2)? Did their objections help or hinder fellowship?
3. Why were Paul and Barnabas sent to Jerusalem for a ruling (v2)? Discuss what might have happened to the believers’ fellowship if nothing had been done.
4. Who decided what particular doctrines were to be imposed on the Gentiles (v28)?
5. What does this example teach us about what is required in working for fellowship? Is a strong disagreement a good basis for breaking fellowship?
6. How does fellowship help believers (v31)?

Fellowship is sharing
Biblical fellowship is built on a shared calling, shared beliefs, shared hopes, shared faith, shared suffering, shared participa­tion in the emblems of Jesus’ body and blood, and a shared inheritance. Without sharing these things there is no biblical fellowship.

Believers have fellowship because of shared:
• calling   Hebrews 3:1;
• faith   Romans 4:16;
• gospel   1 Thessalonians 2:8;
• spiritual blessings   Romans 15:27;
• comfort   2 Corinthians 1:5,7;
• hope   Ephesians 4:4; Romans 5:2;
• inheritance   Colossians 1:12;
• suffering   2 Corinthians 1:5,7; 2 Timothy 1:8, 2:3; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 4:13; Revelation 1:9.

There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called-one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Paul tells us that there is one right way and fellowship comes from choosing to share in that one way. We are not asked to define or refine the one shared hope, but to accept it as God has presented it in the Bible and devote ourselves to it.

John tells us that the gospel and hope were proclaimed

. . . that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

If our fellowship were limited only to people like us, it would be important enough, but John reminds us that God and Jesus are included in the fellowship we are invited to share. John goes on to say that the fellowship of obedient believers with God and his son Jesus is “walking in the light”. Disobedience is described as “walking in darkness” and makes such fellowship impossible.

Fellowship takes effort
After the initial preaching of the apostles, thousands believed and devoted themselves to fellowship amongst other things.
Acts 2:42 This was necessary because fellowship amongst believers is not natural-it takes hard honest work. Fellowship would be easy if everyone agreed in everything, but the conference in Jerusalem showed that this does not always happen. Real fel­lowship comes when believers maintain unity despite personal disagreements because their aim is to live in peace. Peter tells us

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9)

One body: the advantages of fellowship

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)

Since God has made a vast range of characteristics and skills in different people, the diverse but united body can work in different ways to successfully show the glory of God to the world. A body works much less effectively if parts are missing or damaged. Likewise, our fellowship is weakened if members are hurt or neglected.
What are the particular skills that you can use for God?

We are all called to be one body with lots of different parts ready to work, rejoice, weep and grow together-stronger with diversity than we could ever be without it.

Paul watched fellowship at work in many places and saw that God gave different gifts to

. . . prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)

Paul also warned that believers could tear down the hard-won fellowship:

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. (Titus 3:10)

But fellowship is not . . .
Having considered many things on which fellowship is built, we must also consider what fellowship is not. Maintaining fellowship does not mean we should all be apathetic, or “keep the peace” whatever the cost. Jesus was prepared to challenge the Pharisees when they distorted the word of God. e.g. Matthew 23:13 Nor does fellowship mean we should all try to be the same in under-standing and attitude. Jesus chose a diverse array of apostles with very different backgrounds and attitudes.

We have one master and he has called us to strive for unity:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

• Believers are offered fellowship with God and with his son, on the condition that we “walk in the light” by obeying God’s laws.
• Fellowship is given to form one united body from all those many different types of people whom God calls.
• Selflessness and hard work are required to develop fellow­ship.

1. List some examples from the Old Testament of fellowship (good and bad) between individuals. You could start with David and Jonathan, Ahab and Jezebel, Ruth and Naomi.
2. List some examples from the Old Testament where people tried to or did destroy fellowship? (e.g. Psalm 55:12-14)
3. How should we decide when a person’s beliefs or actions prevent fellowship?
4. Read 1 Kings 19:12-18. Elijah said that he was the only true believer in all Israel, but God said that there were 7,000 other people with whom he had fellowship. What can this teach us?
5. Should differences of opinion be allowed to destroy fellowship? [Hint: look at the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-40.]

1. Since fellowship is based on shared goals and beliefs, it must exclude those who do not share the same goals and beliefs. What level of detailed agreement is required for fellowship to exist?
2. Exclusion from fellowship is not mentioned very often in the Bible. One of the most frequently mentioned reasons for exclusion was divisiveness. Find some Bible passages that mention this problem. What is divisiveness and what practical steps are required to exclude the person from fellowship?
3. Many passages indicate that those who work to strengthen fellowship will be blessed. How should the balance be struck between fighting to maintain unity and the exclusion required above?

• Biblical fellowship by George Booker (published by the Christadelphian disciple, 1979). This book considers many scriptural passages on fellowship and discusses the principles learned from them and their application today. 172 pages.
• Fellowship matters by Andrew Perry (published by Willow publications, 2nd edition, 1996). A comprehensive and careful analysis of biblical fellowship. 200 pages.
• BB Study 11.5
• Further letters to George & Jenny, Chapter 31, by Harry Whittaker (published by Muriel Whittaker, 1995). 4 pages. A frank letter about the problems of fellowship between groups of believers.
• The Christadelphians: what they believe and preach by Harry Tennant (published by The Christadelphian, 1986), Chapter 24 “Fellowship”, 12 pages.
• Reformation, by Harry Whittaker, Chapters 6, 32 and 33.
• The genius of discipleship by Dennis Gillett (published by the Christadelphian, 1984). Chapter 24 “Unity”. 5 pages.

36. The Lord's Supper
63. Friends