1 Corinthians 1:9
The word "fellowship" is from the Greek koinonia. The following English words translate the family of English words: "common, communion, sharer, partake, partner, contribution." In New Testament application, Thayer divides it into three parts: (1) the share which one has in anything, participation; (2) intercourse, fellowship, intimacy; and (3) a benefaction jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution. On the last application, Thayer adds, "as exhibiting an embodiment or proof of fellowship." Or, the contribution shows a fellowship that already exists.
Fellowship pre-supposes that the ones in fellowship have things in common. The word "fellow" is an Old Norse term for comrade or associate. It shows a state or condition in which such persons move. This is how we use the terms today showing our participation with others as we speak of friendship, partnership, sonship, etc.
In I Corinthians 1:9: "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." This passage establishes that something existed that was known as the fellowship of Jesus Christ. This fellowship involved the Godhead and "ye -- the church of God which is at Corinth." By studying the epistle, we learn that this fellowship involved changes in their state with God and with each other, as well as a change in their relationship.
The things that were common to every Christian were their state. They had each been lost and were now in a common salvation (Jude 3). Their very nature had been changed, and all had a divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). They all shared in one common faith (Titus 1:4). And, they all had a common responsibility of "sounding forth the word" (Phil. 1:5). Their state and relationship is why they had fellowship (Acts 6:1-6). This is significant when brethren push for absolute agreement before we can have fellowship.
Two Senses of Fellowship
In one sense, a Christian does not control fellowship with other Christians, either in state or relationship. Since God does the calling (I Cor. 1:9), it is God who decides who is in fellowship and man has nothing to say about it. We are partners because we share those things that are common to all Christians. While we may disagree about many things as we grow in the Lord, it does not change the fact that we are in fellowship.
In another sense, a Christian does exercise control of fellowship. It is something he extends or denies. We make judgment as to who we will walk with and endorse according to biblical instructions. Those that we believe are in fellowship with God, we "welcome such" (3 John 8). But, those that we believe are not adhering to the doctrine of Christ, we refuse to fellowship (2 John 9-11). The Jerusalem church made a judgment about Paul, because of his previous conduct, that they would not fellowship him (Acts 9:26). Later, they did fellowship him, after Barnabas persuaded them that Paul really was genuine.
So, in the areas of fellowship, as a state or relationship, it is co-extensive with salvation; it is universal and completely under God's control. In extended participation, it can be refused, it is limited, and it is very often local. It is under a Christian's control by guidance of the Word. Judgment has to be made in this area.
A Study in I John
I John 1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.
There are several irrefutable conclusions that we can reach about these passages. (1) Fellowship considered apart from persons would be meaningless. There has to be someone to be in fellowship with. (2) The fellowship of Jesus established apart from apostolic witness is impossible. What many consider as fellowship is not the fellowship that the Bible is talking about. (3) The only means we have to share with the Father and Son is to share with the witnesses through their declared message.
I John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us, we ought to also to love one another.
Here God makes a great declaration when John says, "God is love," what a powerful message! If we recognize that, we understand what is required of us in sharing by loving one another. Brethren really need to pay attention to that. We are to love one another because God loves us. Have you noticed how brethren treat those they claim to love? They love them so much that they completely ruin their good name. Think about it! If you notice, the passage says the result of loving is truly knowing God.
I John 5:9-13 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
What a wonderful passage. God gave us "witness" that we have eternal life. His requirement in this passage is "Believe on the Son" and the result is, we "Have eternal life."
Now, I wrote all of the above to say that we all have a share in light, love and life.
We share with God, who is the source of all there is, as we do three things: (1) Walk as He requires. (2) Love as He commands. (3) Believe what He says. Can you think of a better partner?
We share with all believers in the things of Christ as they do three things: (1) Walk in the light. (2) Love one another. (3) Believe the testimony of God.
Now, when we believe these things are what the other Christian is practicing, we should fellowship that individual. This is how we determine who we are going to be in fellowship with.
I won't mention any names but we just had a short gospel meeting with a man that I admire so much. He does not agree with me on the marriage, divorce, remarriage controversy and probably many other doctrinal questions. He knows we disagree, but we still have fellowship because we have determined that the other is observing the above things. I just think he is mistaken on the subject, and he believes the same about me. This idea that we must agree upon all doctrinal matter is ridiculous! And, yes, even Romans 14 is doctrinal (matters of faith) questions. I cannot think of an issue that is not a doctrinal question if it is in the New Testament.
I realize that we are not to fellowship the immoral, derisive, false teacher. I do not want to fellowship anyone that I believe disregards Bible teaching. But, most brethren that I know are following what they are seeing the Bible teaching.
I also understand that each person is responsible for "judging" in reference to joint participation by means of the apparent and external things he/she observes about the other person. The one thing that should be insisted upon by all is that whatever judging they do, let it be consistent. I think it is a foolish judgment that says everyone must agree with me doctrinally; but, if that is the course you take, at least be consistent and withdraw from every brother that disagrees with you. I think you will find, when done, that you are the only one in the world that is right.