Christian fellowship is not merely jokes and friendly banter. Unity in Christ, lives centered on Him, and living as those who have a participation in the gospel and are partakers of grace are what are meant by being brought into fellowship. It is that which the outside world will not have. It is that which Christians have as we see the mission to which Christ has called us, and we set our affection on him and pursue his calling.
When we hear the word fellowship or Christian fellowship today, the image that comes to mind most frequently is a potluck supper after church when everyone is laughing and enjoying each other’s company. We envision spending time in small groups and hosting Christian church friends in our homes. Anything goes as long as Christians are having a good time talking to one another. But does the Bible mean that when it talks of Christian fellowship? Christian community goes beyond what one can experience in a neighborhood bar, Starbucks, or barbershop. It is more comparable to individuals who are conscripted from varied backgrounds, given a task, and then figure that out in their engagements as soldiers.
In the first few verses of his letter to the Philippians, Paul provides what is meant by Christian fellowship. To state the obvious, but for Paul, Christ is the centering and grounding element of Christian community. He lays it out for us in Philippians 1:5 and 1:7. He tells the Philippians in 1:4 that he prays joyfully for them, and he explains in 1:5 why: “for your fellowship (the word can alternatively be rendered as partnership or participation) in the gospel.” He informs them that “you all are partakers with me of grace” in 1:7. As we reflect on what Paul is saying, it becomes clear that fellowship is much more than just having coffee with a Christian friend to pray. While it might involve going out for coffee, the essence of it revolves around taking part in what God is doing in the world. We are included in it and have our unity around Christ and his mission.
I hesitate to use an illustration drawn from Lord of the Rings, but I believe it will help us better understand the concept of fellowship.