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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Fellowship

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Nothing is so prominent in early Christianity as its sense of fellowship. The Corinthians, with their extreme individualistic tendencies, are an exception among the Pauline communities. 1. This fellowship is primarily a religious fact: it is fellowship with the heavenly Lord, who, though hidden in heaven (Acts 3:21), is yet sensibly present to His followers (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20). Even the individual believer knows that he is in fellowship with Christ. St. Paul, using a mystical form of expression, says that it is Christ and not himself who lives and acts in him (Galatians 2:20). He speaks also of ‘the fellowship of his sufferings’ (Philippians 3:10), which allows his own sufferings to participate in the saving power of Christ’s afflictions for His Church (Colossians 1:24, Ephesians 3:13). The fellowship with Christ to which God has called Christians (1 Corinthians 1:9) has not yet been fully realized, but is still to be hoped for. To be with Christ for ever is the whole desire of the Apostle (1 Thessalonians 4:17, Philippians 1:23); in the present time he has but a foretaste of the joy to come. St. John emphasizes the fact that this present fellowship with Christ (1 John 1:6) is fellowship with the Father and with the Son (1 John 1:3). Since it is the Holy Ghost who mediates between Christ and His believers, St. Paul speaks of ‘fellowship of the Spirit’ (Philippians 2:1) as well as of ‘communion of the Holy Ghost’ (2 Corinthians 13:14), the same Greek word (κοινωνία) being used in both passages. Fellowship with the heavenly Lord, who sits at the right hand of God, and makes intercession for His followers (Romans 8:34; cf. 1 John 2:1, Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:25 etc,), is realized in prayers which are heard (2 Corinthians 12:8 f.), and in revelations (2 Corinthians 12:1, Galatians 2:2; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15). Fellowship with the Holy Ghost is realized in certainty of salvation and boldness in prayer (Romans 8:15 f, Romans 8:26; cf. Hebrews 4:16), in moral strength (Romans 8:13 f, Galatians 5:16 ff.), and miraculous gifts of every kind-the ecstatic gifts of prophecy and speaking with tongues, and the natural gifts bestowed by the Spirit, such as governing and helping in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:8 ff, 1 Corinthians 12:28 ff.).

2. Fellowship of the faith (Philemon 1:6) is fellowship of the faithful. This is an exclusive fellowship: ‘what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14). St. Paul, and still more St. John, strive hard to maintain this exclusiveness in their churches-not for reasons of utility, as in the case of the Greek clubs; not from national prejudice, as in the case of the Jewish synagogues; but from the standpoint of Christian morals: the fulfilment of the high ordinances of the gospel is only possible in the midst of a Christian congregation (1 Corinthians 6:1-11). The separation of the members of the Church from social relationship with the heathen world, which St. Paul endeavoured to effect (cf. his scruples regarding invitations to heathen houses or temples, 1 Corinthians 10:27), was carried out in later times (1 Peter 4:4, 3 John 1:7); and the leaders in the Church even began to insist on avoiding all fellowship with Christians of doubtful character (2 John 1:10 f., 1 John 4:1 ff, Revelation 2:14 ff, Revelation 2:20 ff, Judges 1:19 ff.).

To this exclusiveness in externals there corresponds an inward intensity: to be of one accord, to have the same mind (1 Corinthians 1:10, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 2:2, Romans 12:16), to love the brethren (Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, etc.), are oft-repeated commands. ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens’ is a law of the Church (Galatians 6:2); all are members of one body (1 Corinthians 12:12 ff.), and so all have joy and sorrow in common (1 Corinthians 12:26, Romans 12:15). One sign of this fellowship is mutual intercession (2 Corinthians 1:11, Colossians 4:3, 2 Thessalonians 3:1), another is the kiss of peace (2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26). At the so-called Apostolic Council, James, Peter, and John gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship in token of their mutual recognition of one another as fellow-workers in their different mission fields (Galatians 2:9). Later on it became customary to send messengers and letters from one church to another. St. Paul mentions not only his fellow-workers (Romans 16:3) but also his fellow-prisoners (Romans 16:7, Colossians 4:10). Christianity is called a brotherhood (1 Peter 2:17; 1 Peter 5:9; 1 Peter 5:1 Clem. ii. 4).

3. Fellowship-and this is the main point-is to be exercised actively towards all members of the community. In this sense fellowship is one of the chief characteristics of the primitive Church of Jerusalem (Acts 2:42); it is characteristic, too, of the relationship between the Pauline communities. St. Paul praises the Philippians for their fellow-ship in furthering the gospel (Philippians 1:5), i.e. taking part in the Apostle’s missionary work by personal activity, prayers, and contributions of money. In this way they had fellowship with his afflictions (Philippians 4:14). The churches of Macedonia besought the Apostle ‘with much intreaty in regard of … the fellowship in the ministering to the saints’ (2 Corinthians 8:4), i.e. that they might be allowed to join in the collection for the poor of Jerusalem. Thus the word κοινωνία acquires a meaning which the EVV [Note: VV English Versions.] have tried to express by the rendering ‘contribution’ (Romans 15:26, 2 Corinthians 9:13; Authorized Version ‘distribution’) or ‘communicate’ (Hebrews 13:16). He that is taught in the word is advised by St. Paul to communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things (Galatians 6:6). Fellowship, then, becomes a system of mutual help-the care of the poor and the sick, the feeding of widows and orphans, the visiting of prisoners, hospitality, the procuring of labour for travelling workmen (Didache, xii. 3ff,), are some of the proofs of fellowship. By these means early Christianity showed itself to be a social power far surpassing all rival organizations and religions.

Literature.-E. von Dobschütz, Christian Life in the Primitive Church, Eng. translation , 1904; A. Harnack, Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten2, 1906, i. 127-171 (Eng translation , Mission and Expansion2, 1908, i. 147-198). Cf. also the Literature at the end of the article Communion.

E. Von Dobschütz.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Fellowship'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/f/fellowship.html. 1906-1918.

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