How to Participate in, Contribute to, and Receive from Meaningful Fellowship
I’ll never forget what a member of a hunting ministry said when we were planning a fall hunting event. “Why would I want to come to a dinner about hunting, when I could actually be hunting?” I’ll be honest. It was a bit of a punch to the gut, but it made sense. He wanted to participate in the actual activity, not a representation of it.
Participating in Meaningful Fellowship
God has called his church to be a group of people that seeks out and participates in meaningful fellowship within the body. He doesn’t want the extent of our interaction with one another to only be discussing health needs, golf, or practical business matters of the church operations. One pastor said this, “Fellowship is not when two saints get together. Fellowship is when two saints get together and talk about Jesus.”
In Colossians 3, Paul tells us to set our minds on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. That’s right where Christ actually is. In doing this, God gives us a clear depiction of our responsibility to participate in meaningful fellowship both for our good and his glory.
While the primary theme of Ephesians 4:1-16 is unity in the church, Paul is illustrating two things for us in the opening verses:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. (Eph. 4:1-2)
Paul’s instructions require our participation. Nothing about it is a passive activity. We need to be there! This doesn’t mean that Paul is forgetting the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. Rather, he is instructing us to submit our natural desire to isolate ourselves from the fellowship to the lordship of God to press us into fellowship with one another.
We may not be used to existing with one another in the church this way. Biblical, meaningful Christian fellowship is not well illustrated by the western concept of a business relationship. It is not about you and I walking away from the boardroom table with as much in our pockets as we can gather. In order to participate in meaningful fellowship, we must be obedient to Jesus’ command to give of ourselves for the good of one another (John 15:12-13).
Another example of the necessity of participating in meaningful Christian fellowship can be seen in Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
In verse 24, we see the active participation played out once again. To consider how to stir another brother in Christ is to have them on your mind at some other moment throughout the week besides Sunday. It means you are thinking about their good and praying for them. It means taking what God has revealed to you in his word and lovingly speaking and demonstrating that truth into their lives.
Contributing to Meaningful Fellowship
My first experience with a hunting outfitter was eye-opening. I’m so used to performing every necessary task, from scouting to hunting to processing meat, that it felt really strange to not be part of each aspect of the outing. I was only filming on this particular hunt, but it still felt out of place not to have done any of the work leading up to the hunt, or even spend the long nights afterward cutting up meat.
I was participating in the hunt, but it didn’t feel like I was contributing to it at all. The hunter and I were taken to our hunting location, sat until dark, and then we and our kill were picked up and taken back to camp for dinner. While it was certainly enjoyable, it didn’t feel like a “team sport.”
In Ephesians 4, Paul points to the source of Christian unity in the church:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:4-6)
The first and most important reason we can contribute to meaningful fellowship is because we have this source of unity. Our heavenly Father is the same God. Our hope is in the same Christ. And those two things together provide the means necessary for us to be edified by one another.
But just as it is possible for an individual to profess Christ with their mouth and have their heart far from him (Matt. 15:8; see also Isa. 29:13), it is also possible for a Christian to actively profess unity in the body of Christ while passively contributing to it. It’s the difference between a fully guided hunt and a do-it-yourself experience.
Part of loving the people of God must include contributing our time, talents, gifts, and experience to their edification. God knows our tendency. So, he has given us the means:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Eph. 4:11-14)
Paul lays out five things that God has given us within the fellowship of his people, and it is good to consider them both from the angle of what we are missing and what we might be withholding from the church by failing to contribute to meaningful fellowship among God’s people:
Equipping for the work of ministry
Building up the body of Christ
Maturity to the fullness of Christ
Discernment (v. 14)
It is within the fellowship of the churchthat we have been given the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers. We have also been given varieties of spiritual gifts according to 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
Every believer in this world possesses a spiritual gift or God-given talent that can be offered up to contribute to meaningful fellowship. It is important for us to consider the measure by which we have been blessed and called in certain areas to contribute to the building up of the body of Christ. For example, if you are gifted in teaching, do not withhold that ability in your relationships among God’s people.
Receiving from Meaningful Fellowship
Sometimes I need to be alone. Hunting does that for me. It may be because I need time to work through a complex issue, or perhaps I need to understand something from God’s word without distraction. Other times, I find myself in great need of time with other people—perhaps on a hunting trip with friends or at a simple lunch break with a mentor or colleague. Rather than giving of myself, I need to be the one receiving a word of edification, accountability, or simply a good laugh to ease the stress of life. I love Paul’s use of the body illustration in Ephesians 4, because it speaks so well to our need to receive from meaningful fellowship in the church:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:15-16)
The systems of our physical bodies are so dependent on one another, that when you remove one system, others fail. On the other hand, God has also designed the body to compensate for itself in the event of a failure.
It’s important to understand that if we are truly working to edify the church—and those around us are doing the same—then we will be edified. Often, however, we find ourselves in a position where our primary activity in the church is only contributing to fellowship and not receiving from it.
One of Scripture’s best illustrations of being too busy to receive comes from Luke 10:38. Martha couldn’t see through her distraction of serving. She simply wouldn’t sit down, listen, and fellowship with the Son of God. She was trying to give when she should have been receiving. Unfortunately, too many people serving in the church look down on Martha, when they should be convicted by their own hyper-busyness.
We need God’s grace in this situation. We need grace to continue to give of ourselves, but we need grace to be still and receive the food of God’s word. We need to speak the truth in love for the sake of maturity; but we also need to hear the truth, so we can continue to grow and mature.
Romans 10:17 reminds us that “faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of Christ.” Our faith has come to us by the grace of God, and he has used his word to be the mechanism that brings the truth of the gospel. The power of the gospel is not limited to our conversion. It is the source of our daily faith and strength and maturity.
These things cannot be attained by way of isolation from the body. Just as God’s people need you, you need God’s people. You need their love, you need their prayers, and you need their accountability. Participating in, contributing to, and receiving from meaningful unified Christian fellowship is the earthly illustration of the justified, unified, and glorious relationship that we now have with our heavenly Father through Christ our Lord.
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