Human Fellowship 

 

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (I John 1:7). Fellowship does not mean the acknowledgment of others as being Christians or the approving of their conduct. Sometimes we hear it said, "I just cannot fellowship that person." By this the speaker means that he cannot approve the person's conduct or feel that he is a true Christian. This is not, however, the true meaning of the word "fellowship." Acknowledgment or approval is not fellowship at all. Fellowship is an internal, not an external, thing. It is the harmonious blending of kindred spirits. Fellowship can exist only among those who stand upon common ground, or those who are of a similar spirit. Fellowship can exist only where there is a likeness, a similarity, where the same elements exist in the different persons.

We can have fellowship with people in anything where there is a common tie or common interest; for example, those engaged in the same work, members of the same organization, or persons interested in the same cause, etc. Wherever these common interests exist, people will be drawn together and will have a fellow-feeling for each other. Good people find each other and seek each other's society. Evil men do the same. One sportsman is attracted toward another; one business man, to another man engaged in the same business. A member of an organization is drawn to other members of it whether it be a political, religious, business, social, or other form of organization. All this is fellowship.

There are many kinds of fellowship, but we are interested here only in spiritual fellowship, or fellowship in the spiritual life. When Christians are associated in a church, they have two kinds of fellowship. There is, first, associational fellowship, or the fellowship that comes from being associated in the same organization. This tie of association that binds them together is often mistaken for the fellowship of the Spirit. It is not, however, this fellowship, but something quite distinct from it. Spiritual fellowship is the blending of kindred spirits, whether these be good or bad. Christian fellowship is the blending of the Spirit of God in the hearts of God's people. It is the heart-tie that unites them one to another. It has its origin in God. It can not be made; it cannot be forced. It is spontaneous. It is the affinity of like elements. We cannot make ourselves have fellowship with some one. If it exists at all, it exists naturally, simply because both parties are possessed of the same spirit.

Sometimes a congregation will seem to be in fellowship with one another, and each will have confidence in all the others. A stranger may come in and may discern at once that some of those in the congregation do not really posses the Spirit of Christ; in fact, they may possess quite a different spirit. The congregation has fellowship with them, but it is associational fellowship, not fellowship of the Spirit. The one coming in from the outside does not have this associational fellowship, and so he can readily recognize that no spiritual fellowship exists. Sometimes the mistaking of this associational fellowship for spiritual fellowship allows things in a congregation to come to a bad state before the members are aware. A pastor will often detect in certain members of his congregation things that the body of the congregation cannot discern. Such cases are very hard to deal with, because the congregation or a part of it are liable to mistake the associational fellowship they have with those members for real spiritual fellowship, and to think that such persons are all right and that the pastor is wrong in his judgment. They are likely, therefore, to take a stand against the pastor and for the individuals with whom he would deal, for whose souls he labors.

Fellowship is not always a safe test of the spiritual condition of others. They may be all right, and they may not be all right. If we are right and have spiritual fellowship with them, then, of course, they have the Spirit of God; but we may have associational fellowship with them, and yet they may not possess the Spirit at all. Let us, therefore, make our judgments carefully. Let us not render our decision in haste. Let us prove all things.

Again, there may come among us persons who are real Christians and with whom we would have fellowship in the Spirit were it not that we realize that we have not this associational fellowship; but, realizing that we have not such fellowship, we are apt entirely to overlook the spiritual phase. This may prevent us from giving acknowledgment to some of those who are really God's people. We ought, therefore, to be careful to distinguish between these two different kinds of fellowship.

Fellowship is something that is sensitive and easily influenced by circumstances. A number of different things will prevent us from having fellowship with people, even if both we and they have the Spirit of Christ. Fellowship cannot exist where there is a lack of confidence. No matter what the cause of that lack of confidence, it will prevent the operation of fellowship. Whatever destroys our confidence in people destroys our fellowship with them. If our confidence is based upon fellowship and anything happens to hinder that fellowship, then our confidence in the person is immediately weakened; after confidence is weakened, fellowship is still more decreased; and as fellowship is decreased, it still further weakens confidence. Thus, the two things react upon one another to the destruction of both.

Suspicion will destroy fellowship. As soon as we begin to question a person, at once fellowship begins to decline. Any wrong attitude that we may hold toward a fellow Christian will hinder fellowship with him, no matter what that attitude may involve. If we find fault with and criticize others, it will break our fellowship with them. If we in any way do them a wrong, the fellowship is broken. Let us beware, therefore, how we judge people from the standpoint of fellowship alone.

Fellowship is a tender plant. It will grow nowhere but in the sunshine; therefore anything that casts a shade will destroy it. The thing that causes the shadow may be a real thing, or it may be only a thing of the imagination or supposition, but the result is the same in both cases.

How sweet is true Christian fellowship! How glorious to have our hearts bound together by its ties! How we should cherish and nourish it! With what care we should protect it from harm! We can have this fellowship with people that we have never seen, yes, even with those in the remotest part of the globe. Our love goes out to our brethren and sisters in the heathen lands. Those of another race and another color and another language than ours become very dear to our hearts. The Christian ties become stronger than the ties of relationship. Our brethren in the Lord become dearer to us than our flesh and blood kin. The ties that bind us are sweeter and stronger. How precious is the communion of saints when we all drink in of one Spirit, when fellowship flows from heart to heart and God is in all and through all! Let us treasure it, therefore, and watch it carefully lest harm come to this tender plant.