To live life as a Christian, is to live within a redeemed covenant community consisting of God’s people who enjoy the fellowship of His presence – eternal life (Ps 133:3). This is fellowship. Fellowship with God is the starting point that shapes and defines how we are to view everything else. The goal of our fellowship is the corporate worship of God – to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever (Jn 4:23-24), which includes becoming more like Jesus Christ. God’s covenant community consists of everyone God calls out of darkness into His marvelous light (Dt 4:20, 34; 1 Pet 2:9). This Messianic community is the Ekklésia – the called out ones. The New Testament church is the continuation of the Old Testament people of God, and as such, the Ekklésia or Qahal consists of all the redeemed of all the ages (Eph 2:19-22). Regarding the church there are three significant truths: (1) Christ has begun to build the true Temple of God with His resurrection (Jn 2:19; Eph 2:20-22); (2) the place of true worship has now been universalized to any place where the Spirit resides in true worshipers (Jn 4:21-24); and (3) Christ is the True Temple, and if we are in Him, than we are a part of it (Mt 12:6-8; 1 Pet 2:4-5). God created the church to be His covenant community, to be His visible witness, and to be His instrument for the gospel.
What is Fellowship? Fellowship was created when the Son of God was incarnated in the Man Jesus – Emmanuel. God calls us out of darkness and into the glorious light of Jesus Christ not so we can go at it alone but so we can experience fellowship with Christ and each other through the Holy Spirit (Jn 17:21; Eph 2:5; Col 1:13, 22; 2 Tim 1:9; Heb 10:25; 1 Jn 1:7). The Bible uses the word “communion” κοινωνία koinonia meaning ‘common’ to describe the union believers have with the risen Christ and each other. Koinonia in the biblical sense is used largely to refer to the enterprise people share together, by way of resources, in order to work together toward a common goal. With this in mind, Christians share a common life with God and each other. The Scriptures tell us that God’s people are one body in Christ (Jn 10:16; 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:14-18; 3:6; 4:4). And Christ indwells His church in the fellowship or communion of the Spirit (2 Cor 13:14). In this way Christians have fellowship with Christ and each other through the Holy Spirit. Fellowship with God is the starting point that shapes and defines how we are to view everything else.
There are three great unions in Scripture: (1) the union of the Persons of the Trinity (Gen 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Num 6:22-26; Mt 3:16-17; 28:18-20; 2 Cor 13:14, et al.); (2) the union of the two natures of Christ in One Person (Jn 3:13; 17:5; 20:28); and (3) the union of Christ and believers in the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:20; Jn 14:17-18; Rom 8:9; Col 1:27; Heb 13:15; 1 Jn 1:3, 6-7). This chapter regards the third great union. As God’s people we are the house of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Fellowship is the participation and common life that believers enjoy in Christ. Fellowship entails sharing our lives with one another. Stepping out in the covenant community to share the new life we’ve received. There are essentially three basic elements to a Christian’s fellowship with God: (1) The Scriptures – God speaks to us by His Word; (2) prayer – God speaks to us in prayer; and (3) fellowship – God speaks to us through His people. In these three ways, God draws us nearer to Himself.
How do we enter Fellowship? When the Lord appeared to Abraham, He said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Gen 15:1). As Calvin states, “Here we see that the Lord is the final reward promised to Abraham, that he might not seek a fleeting and evanescent reward in the elements of this world, but look to one that was incorruptible. A promise of the land is afterward added for no other reason than that it might be a symbol of the divine benevolence, and a type of the heavenly inheritance.”2 The author of Hebrews tells us, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9
By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:8-10). Abraham’s commitment to what he was to receive afterward was demonstrated, as John Owen tells us, by the way he sojourned as a stranger:
He built no house in it, purchased no inheritance, but only a burying place. He entered, indeed, into leagues of peace and amity with some, as with Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre (Gen 14:13); but it was as a stranger, and not as one that had anything of his own in the land. He reckoned that land at present no more his own than any other land in the world – no more than Egypt was the land of his posterity when they sojourned there, which God had said was not theirs, nor was so to be (Gen 15:13). The manner of sojourning in this land was, that he “dwelt in tabernacles;” These tents were pitched, fixed, and erected only with stakes and cords, so as that they had no foundation in the earth; And with respect unto their fitting condition in these movable houses, God in an especial manner was said to be their dwelling-place (Ps 90:1).1
Owen adds, “This place whereunto he went is described by his future relation unto it and interest in it; he was ‘afterwards to receive it for an inheritance.’ At present he received it not, but only in right and title, nor during his life.” The point being made here is Abraham’s call is a pattern of the call of every Christian. We, like Abraham, are called out of the world, to live as pilgrims on the Way (Ps 84:5-7; Is 26:7; 35:8; Act 9:2; Jn 10:4; 1 Pet 2:11); And, like Abraham, not having a permanent residence here, “confess that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” as we look to the “heavenly country,” the heavenly Jerusalem – the city of God (Ps 48; Is 26; Gal 4:26; Heb 11:13-16; 12:22; Rev 21).
All of these titles, “heavenly country,” city of God,” etc. represent the future state of blessedness and rest which the saints are permitted to enjoy now in part. For the rest God promised to the patriarchs was far more than just a secure life in an earthly land of promise. The promise of the land typified the eternal inheritance they were to receive – God Himself (Gen 15:1; Eph 1:11, 18; 3:6). The author of Hebrews makes this point abundantly clear when he writes, “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb 4:8-10).
The point is this, long after the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua was achieved, David spoke of a rest that might be entered or forfeited. The author of Hebrews uses the word rest no less than eleven times in twenty verses (Heb 3:11, 18; 4:1, 3 (2x), 4, 5, 8, 9 (Sabbath rest), 10, and 11). That rest katapausin is a positional one which awaits a future consummated one. For, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest’ (Is 66:1). And in the fullness of time Jesus comes and declares, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the place of eternal Sabbath rest. But a sword guards the way to that rest (Gen 3:24; Mt 10:34; Heb 4:12). Jesus is the True Temple, the place of God’s eternal rest. But the only entrance into the Temple is through the narrow gate (Mt 7:13-14; Acts 4:24).
According to Greg Beale, in Christ we have a positional rest in which we await a future consummated practical rest. Beale writes, “Christians begin now to enjoy existentially a Sabbath rest by virtue of our real inaugurated resurrection life which has been communicated to us through the life-giving Spirit. But our rest is still incomplete because our resurrection existence has begun only spiritually and has not been consummated bodily.”2 Then as Augustine said, “Our flesh will be renewed by being made exempt from decay, just as our soul is renewed by faith.”3
The point being made here is the Sabbath rest, the rest Christians enjoy because of Christ’s perfect atonement, is both a personal and corporate dimension. Christians begin now to share Christ’s resurrection life together in covenant fellowship. They enter that fellowship with God in Christ and with each other by the Spirit.
Although the capacity for fellowship was given by God to all men this capacity was mutilated by sin. John White tells us that “Sin has damaged our capacity to know one another because it damaged our capacity to know God. Therefore any attempt to mend the broken fragments of humanity, however exciting or apparently successful, will be illusory and doomed to ultimate failure unless humanity’s relationship with God is restored. I cannot have true fellowship with you unless both of us have fellowship with God.”4 That is why the author of the Book of Hebrews in chapter four culminates his teaching on the Sabbath rest with these words:
11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
The Word of God spoken of here is the Person of Christ – the incarnate Word of God (Heb 4:12); the pronouncement of truth to which we must either receive or reject. To Him we must give account (Heb 4:13). Christ knows and searches all hearts. His words penetrate into our very souls and deal directly with our consciences, discerning who is regenerate or not. He is like the flaming sword that guards the way to paradise. Our words regarding Him will either justify or condemn us (Mt 10:32; 12:33-37; 16:15; Lk 19:22).
In chapter four of the Book of Hebrews, we are admonished with these words: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Heb 4:1-2). God led Israel out of bondage in Egypt to serve Him in the desert. They had the gospel preached to them (Gal 3:9), but virtually end masse the visible assembly proved unfaithful to Yahweh, forfeiting the Sabbath rest because of unbelief (1 Cor 10:1-22; Heb 3:19) – the unpardonable sin. By virtue of their being part of the visible assembly, the Israelites reckoned they had eternal security.
How many in the church today are guilty of the same presumption? We cannot go to heaven on our father’s coat tails. Or perhaps they think they are saved because of some outward acts they’ve done – they went up forward, raised their hand, or filled out a decision card. And those actions might accompany saving faith, the point is we have to know Christ personally! It is to Him we must give an account. So, how do we enter fellowship? Christ calls us into it (1 Cor 1:9). As a result of Christ’s resurrection, God’s people, as mediating-witnessing priests are to extend His tabernacling presence throughout the whole earth, themselves serving as God’s building materials for His end-time temple (1 Pet 1:4-5).
What we have discussed so far is fellowship with God and each other is grounded solely on the Word of God (Heb 4:1-16). The proof our regeneration is that we submit to the authority of the Scriptures. And because our corporate faith rests on the conviction of God’s revealed truth, the belief in biblical infallibility is an imperative. It is the great sin of modern times that many deny this. If we deny the infallibility of the Bible what do we stand on (Mt 7:24-25)? For the church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim 3:15). A second important aspect of fellowship is it’s only on the basis of Christ perfect atonement (1 Jn 1:3-4). Of this much has already been said. A third aspect is our fellowship with God is evidenced by our obedience to the gospel (1 Pet 1:22). With these points in mind we may see that God’s purpose in Christian fellowship has two goals: first, is so the church may be a visible witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ. And, second, that through His established means of grace, He may build His church.
Fellowship is God’s instituted way of making a public profession of the faith and hope of the gospel. The apostle Paul, encouraging Timothy, admonishes him to “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim 6:12). It is by our true profession of faith that we enter into fellowship with the saints (Rom 10:9-13). Fellowship is also the visible bond of our union with the disciples of Jesus. When we meet with other Christians we are bearing testimony to the saving power of Christ. We begin to share the common life of the saints.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!…For there the Lord commanded the blessing—Life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1, 3).
1 – John Owen, An Exposition of Hebrews, Vol 7, 67.
2 – Greg Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2004), 293-312.
3 – Augustine, City of God, Book XX, Chapter 5, 715.
4 – John White, The Fight, 141.