↓Audio link to the sermon:
Good morning, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. In my last sermon, I started on the topic of “fellowship,” which is a very broad subject. Last month I talked about how fellowship is a relationship with God and relationship with other believers. Today, I would like to talk about two other aspects of fellowship: firstly, fellowship as partnership, and secondly fellowship as meeting the material needs of other believers. Let’s pray.
Fellowship as a partnership
In the Bible, the word “fellowship” can mean “partnership.” Two Greeks words are used by New Testament writers: koinonia and metocos. These words could mean fellowship, they could also refer to three different types of partnership: business partnership, ministry partnership, and partnership with the Lord.
First, koinonia and metocos can mean a business partnership. A clear example is Luke chapter 5 verses 7 and 10. Here, James and John were called Peter’s partners. They were, in a way, partners in the same business of fishing. The words used in these two verses are variants of metocos (metochois) and koinonia (koinōnoi).
Second, the word koinonia can also refer to ministry partnership. As an example, Paul used koinonia to refer to his ministry partnership in the following letters. In 2 Corinthians 8:23, Titus is his partner (koinōnos). In Philemon 1:17, Paul is considered Philemon’s partner (koinōnon). In Philippians 1:5, Paul says that he rejoices because of the Philippian church’s “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (koinonia).
Thirdly, metocos can mean partnership with God. As an example, in the letter to the Hebrews, metocos is used to talk about our partnership with the Lord. Hebrews 3:1 says, “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus…”. The word “share” in Greek is metochoi, a variant of metocos, and it is also repeated in two other places in Hebrews: 3:14 and 12:8. Here, metochoi shows that we are partners with Christ in his work of establishing God’s kingdom in this world.
So how does this understanding of fellowship affect us? Biblical fellowship is more than just time to socialize over food or coffee. It is more than just getting to know each other. If fellowship means partnership, it means we Christians are working together for a common purpose or goal. So what is our common goal? I’ll spend some time to talk about this before moving onto my final point about fellowship.
Purpose of the Church: Glorifying God through Worship, Edifying God’s People, and Evangelism
What is the shared purpose of Christians, of the Church? Over the years, Christians have expressed these in different words but here are three major purposes of the Church: First, to bring glory to God through worship. Second, to build up God’s people spiritually. Third, to share the good news of Jesus with the world.
First, the church exists to bring glory to God through worship. What is worship? Worship is more than just singing songs to God. Indeed, singing is one way we can express worship to God, but what is worship itself? It is to believe and to express that someone or something is great and amazing and wonderful. When we see the beauty of Nature, we worship God for being a Creator who designed all this beauty and all the species of the world. When we celebrate Good Friday and Easter, we invite the world to see how God came to save us from ourselves. Soon it will be Christmas. This is a time we specially remember how God saved us in a very unexpected way: he came to us as a weak human baby, born to poor parents. To worship God is to be amazed by his compassion for us, his creativity and wisdom, his goodness that no one can match.
Next, the church—also called the body of Christ—exists to build up God’s people spiritually. If you think about exercise, the purpose of exercise is build our body’s fitness. You can live without exercise, and you might not get sick but neither will you be strong. If you suddenly have to walk a steep hill, or climb the stairs, or carry a heavy box—you will probably be in pain. In the same way, God’s people need to grow stronger spiritually. If we do not receive spiritual food and spiritual training, our spiritual health will decline. A difficult challenge may paralyze us. Our ability to help others will be limited too.
Recently, Pastor Ino preached from Hebrews 6. The first verse of Hebrews 6 says, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” Just before that, Hebrews 5 says that we need to move on from “milk” to “solid food”—just like a newborn baby needs to develop from milk to eating “rinyuushoku”. After growing all our teeth, we can finally enjoy eating hard meat like steak—which babies cannot do. Ephesians 4:15 expresses it this way: “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of [Christ]”. Colossians 1:28-29 says, “[Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
To summarize, the Bible reminds us to grow and build each other in spiritual maturity. What are the signs of spiritual maturity? That’s a big topic by itself, but here is one sign that’s relevant to today’s sermon: the spiritually mature Christian is willing and ready to be used by God for evangelism.
That brings me to the third purpose of the church: We exist also to share the good news of Jesus with the world.
One of Jesus’ final words to his followers, before he left the earth, was this: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
A well-known Bible professor named D.A. Carson (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the US) expressed the importance of Jesus’ command in these harsh words: “Evangelize or die.” What D.A. Carson meant is that churches which don’t prioritize evangelism are not only failing to fulfil one of God’s purposes, but also failing to plan for their future. A church that doesn’t have new faces will only shrink, until it shrinks to zero.
To summarize: I have described one definition of fellowship as “partnership”. This partnership is to fulfil the purposes of God I just mentioned. So after listening to this definition, how can we apply it to ourselves, for example to IBF?
As a church, we have to ask ourselves regularly if we are still partnering to fulfil God’s purposes. For example, our weekly bulletin lists 4 visions that IBF has: life-impacting worship, community focus, discipleship, and family oriented. Once in a while, we need to reflect and assess how we are doing in these areas. And as individuals, are we partnering with God by offering our time to him? Or do we expect the church leaders to do all the work by themselves?
Let me summarize everything so far, and then move on: When Christians have true fellowship, they will partner with each other to fulfil God’s purposes. These purposes include bringing glory to God through their worship, building each other into spiritual maturity, and letting the world know the beauty of God and the necessity of Jesus’ salvation.
Fellowship as sharing materially
Finally—and this is my last point—fellowship can also mean contributing materially to the needy of the church.
Let’s look at examples in the Bible which talk about this type of fellowship. In 1 Corinthians 1:9, Paul writes, “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The word for fellowship here is “koinōnian” in Greek. This very same word appears in Romans 15:26, but it is translated as “contribution”: “For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.”
Another related word is “koinōnikous,” which Paul uses in 1 Timothy 6:18. It means “ready to share”: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and (koinōnikous) willing to share.”
In other words, the word “fellowship” in the Bible has one more aspect: That is, caring for the needy among us.
Now with the pandemic, many have lost their jobs. Some of my church friends in Malaysia were laid off or struggling to survive in their own businesses. In Malaysia, there are many refugees, and they don’t get governmental aid, so many are literally starving. So my heart was encouraged when I saw how God has used churches to help people in need, such as the refugees.
Recently, my wife’s home church started distributing food to refugees. Now, while the refugees have many physical needs, they actually need help in other ways too—such as help with education and language. A lady from my home church used to teach in a small school for Myanmarese children. This school is run entirely by volunteers, all crammed into one apartment. Since they cannot meet now because of Covid, my home church is running an online school for the children.
In Japan too, I have seen Christians helping each other and helping victims of various disasters. God is glorified when we do that. I myself have been blessed by Christians in IBF and from other churches. For example, when Sophie was born, we received so many baby items. We hardly needed to buy any clothes because we received so many. In fact, Elena had to say no to over 200 clothes because we had enough already. Also, IBF and our churches in Malaysia have supported us as missionaries in Japan over the past 5 years. We are truly grateful for how you have cared for us in many different ways.
I believe the gospel frees Christians to be generous. Perhaps this is how the early Christians described in the book of Acts were able to share their possessions and resources so freely with the needy.
As God’s children, we ultimately rely on Him to take care of us. God is not limited by our bank account, our salary, our abilities, anything. He owns the whole world, so as his child, you will lack nothing. At the same time: since everything we own is ultimately from God, we consider our possessions as God’s possessions. It’s not ours, we are just stewards of God’s resources.
Let me end by summarizing what fellowship is. Fellowship in the Bible is, firstly, the relationship between followers of Jesus who are bound together by the faith, the blessings, and the sufferings we have in Christ. Secondly, fellowship is our partnership to fulfil God’s purposes. These include bringing glory and praise to God’s name as we worship him, grow in maturity to be like Jesus, and help others do the same. Lastly, fellowship is sharing and helping with each other’s needs.
Let’s close with a short passage from Acts chapter 2, which captures the spirit of fellowship among the earliest Christians. Acts 2:42-47 describes what the first church in history was like:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The details of that scene may look different in our modern churches today. However, I pray that no matter what our churches look like, we may fulfil God’s good and exciting purposes for us.