Why is fellowship an important part of the Christian faith? Why is the command to assemble (Hebrews 10:25) and commune (1 Corinthians 11) so important to Christians?
In order to understand the importance of Christian fellowship, we must first understand its true meaning. The Greek words translated “fellowship” in the New Testament mean essentially a partnership to the mutual benefit of those involved. Hence, Christian fellowship is the mutually beneficial relationship between Christians, who can’t have the identical relationship with those outside the faith.
What is so special about Christian fellowship is that it exists because God has enabled it by His grace. Those who believe the gospel are united in the Spirit through Christ to the Father, and that unity is the basis of fellowship. This relationship is described by Jesus in His high-priestly prayer for His followers: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). Christ prayed that all believers might be as one body under one head, animated by one soul, by their union with him and the Father, through the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. This communion of believers with the Father and the Son, is begun and kept up by the influences of the Holy Spirit. The benefits Christ bestows, are not like the scanty possessions of the world, causing jealousies in others; but the joy and happiness of communion with God is all-sufficient, so that any number may partake of it; and all who are warranted to say, that truly their fellowship is with the Father, will desire to lead others to partake of the same blessedness (Cf. 1 John 1:3-4).
This relationship must be the basis of Christian fellowship. We can have friendships and relationships with non-believers, but true Christian fellowship can only occur within the body of Christ. We are united to one another by common beliefs, purposes and goals. Our hearts and minds are not of this world because we follow Jesus Christ, who said that His kingdom is not of this world (Cf. John 18:36). We know that we are pilgrims on a journey, and we long for the time when we will be in our true home (i.e. heaven).
The importance of true Christian fellowship is that it reinforces these things in our mind and helps us to focus on Christ and His desires and goals for us. As iron sharpens iron (Cf. Proverbs 27:17), in true Christian fellowship Christians sharpen one another’s faith and stir one another to exercise that faith in love and good works, all to God’s glory. The Word of God is a “double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), and it is with this that we are to sharpen one another—in times of meeting, fellowship, or any other interaction.
Clearly, this was recognized by the saints of the early church (Cf. Acts 2:42–47), who “devoted themselves” to teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer, all corporate activities that provided opportunities for sharpening one another’s faith.
There are two points to make about Proverbs 27:17. First, the meeting of two together in the Lord’s name will always guarantee blessing. It is a means of grace that the Lord Himself promised: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20). Also, we see a similar meaning in Malachi, for those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard (Malachi 3:16). When we sharpen one another’s faith in real Christian fellowship, the Lord bends an ear from heaven and is pleased. Not one word about Him which brings Him glory escapes His notice.
The fragrances of divine unity are best sensed in the relationship of David and Jonathan, son of Saul. When David was being hotly pursued by Saul, Jonathan sought David out “to help him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16), which leads us onto our second point. Iron sharpening iron is an opportunity to fulfill the Law of Christ. The apostle Paul says that we are to carry and share the issues and burdens that we face daily, to lament over personal sin, advise on how best to repent of it, and rejoice over the conquest of it. This is the same “royal law” mentioned in James 2:8, where we are exhorted to love one another.
Returning to the analogy, if a knife is blunt, it still continues to be a knife, although it is less effective, less useful in service. Let us therefore be encouraged to spend more time together, exhorting, encouraging, praying, admonishing, sharing God’s Word, praying over God’s Word and the needs of our local church, that we become sharper, more effective in the ministry that the Lord has assigned to each of us. Too often what passes as fellowship in the modern church is centered on food and fun, not on sharpening one another with the Word of God. In far too many instances, the only knives being sharpened are the ones used at potlucks.
Finally, a knife that has been sharpened will also shine more because all the dullness has been rubbed off its surface. Likewise, we will shine better for our Lord if we do the things mentioned above consistently, all of which will unite us in harmony. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Therefore, as the author to the Hebrews says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25).
Let “The Servant Song” remind us what true Christian fellowship means: