The Gift of Fellowship
We need fellowship. Not just friendship, but fellowship – that special sharing which is unique within the church. It is directly related to the gift of salvation and is the communion of individuals that occurs because they have together responded in faith to the proclamation of the gospel.
It is not that jovial hilarity that occurs when old friends meet and cronies spend the evening together. Some people seem to think that fellowship is expressed primarily by way of church suppers. Now, such get-togethers are good, even necessary. But, the fellowship that is peculiar to the church of Jesus Christ is expressed primarily when people who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit minister to each other's spiritual needs. As Christian people go through suffering together, endure hardship, withstand temptation, and experience the need to grow spiritually, they minister to each other. That's fellowship.
You could even say that fellowship in Christ's church is the gift of giving Christ's gifts.
In 2 Corinthians 8, the apostle Paul praises the Macedonian churches for their diaconal generosity in sending funds for the relief of suffering brethren in Judea, and says that “they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing (koinonia) in this service to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:4). We often think of fellowship as something we receive. No doubt, there is that aspect to it. Sometimes people are attracted to a church because they observe fellowship there that they would appreciate receiving.
Yet it is clear from this passage that the fellowship of the saints includes giving to the saints. If all believers concerned themselves with this aspect of fellowship, what a wonderful place the church would be!
Even the apostle Paul was somewhat surprised, exclaiming that “they did not do as we expected” (2 Corinthians 8:5). It is surprising when this kind of fellowship occurs, because we are naturally stingy with our time and resources. It takes the powerful working of the Holy Spirit within to produce this kind of fruit. Fellowship in the church is not simply a social concern; it is an intensely spiritual matter. Being made willing and able to minister to each other, the people of God have fellowship with each other.
One of the things we try to instill in our children, and try to display ourselves, are a concern for giving, rather than getting. And, Jesus told us which one is better, didn't he? The joy is chiefly in the giving, if we have learned at the school of Christ! In this, we copy Christ Jesus himself (see Philippians 2). That's fellowship – it gives!
Fellowship Gives Gifts
The Macedonians gave what they had. Paul says that they gave not only “as much as they were able,” but also “beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8:3). They gave very little, when you judge their gift by the standard of what was needed, and by what other people gave. But they gave much, because they gave not only until it hurt, but also beyond that point! Theirs were widow's mites –true sacrifices.
The members of the body of Christ are not exact duplicates. Not only do their spiritual gifts differ, but their material resources as well. Still, when it comes to the use of both, believers are equal. Whatever the absolute value of the gift, it is not measured that way by the King of the church.
Fellowship has gifts to give, but those gifts are not the product of self-amassed resources and possessions. Christians give Christ's gifts to Christ's saints! They are themselves ministers of the Lord Jesus, who supplies all things for his body, the church. They give not only offerings of money for the maintenance and growth of the church, but also understanding and prayer for the well-being of their fellow believers. More than once I've heard testimony from a hospital patient of sudden and significant release from pain – only to find out later that someone had been praying just then!
We give as gifts what Christ has first given to us. Christ's gift to me will become Christ's gift to you, and vice versa, as we share in the fellowship of his body on earth.
Fellowship is Itself a Gift
Remember, those Macedonians prayed for the privilege (literally, the grace) of giving. They weren't eager to give because they were such kindhearted folks, but because they were the thankful recipients of the love of God.
Just as it was their privilege to be saved, so they counted it a blessing to be allowed to fellowship with the saints by helping them. They felt privileged to have an opportunity to contribute to the wellbeing of their fellow Christians in Jerusalem. That's why they were so anxious not to be overlooked!
This would be like someone dissolving into tears because there were no prayer calendars left, or because he or she had been omitted from the prayer chain (no more room on the hospitality signup sheet?). People who don't want to be left behind when there's a chance to help others are people who understand fellowship. They call it a favor, a grace, a privilege. As the gift of salvation through Christ is received without merit, so also is this one!
Christians don't deserve to be saved – and neither do they deserve to be allowed to help others. They deserve to be left wallowing in their selfishness. People who have the gift of giving have received it because they have first been given the gift of salvation. The gift of giving is but another aspect of divine favor for unworthy sinners.