Thursday, June 30, 2005

Fellowship or Friendship

According to the Greek thinker, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), there are three kinds of friendship: friendships based on usefulness and advantage; friendships based on pleasure; and friendships based on goodness and virtue. The first two do not necessarily involve people who feel affection for one another, and are not always formed around a common vision of virtue and a good life that sustains, fosters, and strengthens each friend in his commitment and progress in living well.

Aristotle lacked one very important aspect in his formulation as he tried to seek friendship within the city-states of Greece. He did not personally know Jehovah God or His Son Jesus Christ. However, this does not negate the truth of what he thought about friendship. All truth is from God, so we can use Aristotle’s premise as it does help us understand friendship in the sense of ‘koinonia’, the Greek word for fellowship.

“Koinonia” expresses the idea of holding something in common and is most often translated “fellowship”. New Testament fellowship is a means for developing commitment to the Kingdom of God and faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, and for advancing the spread of Gospel. We are friends with one another as we hold Christ in common. Fellowship is then built on friendship that is centered on holding in common a joint commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.

We Christians identify mostly with friendship based on fellowship. But the other kinds of friendship may apply in some of our associations. We draw closer to those who strengthen our search for goodness and virtue. Naturally, we do have acquaintances that may not fall into this category, and though we do count them as our friends, it is in a different way than we do with our Christian brethren. However, these associations are important, for they form a large part of the field of harvest in which we are to work for Christ.

In our ongoing fellowship with one another, we endeavor to raise each other to a higher spiritual level in Christ. Our fellowship is primarily built around the knowledge and acceptance of Christ and enhanced by our normal earthly interests. Just as important is the raising of the spiritual level of our friendships to a higher spiritual level over time. Friendships, with their inherent common interests, can be an effective way of reaching the goal of bringing our unchurched friends into the kingdom of God, and establishing them within our fellowship.

Our New Testament fellowship should be guided by a clear conception of a sanctified life formed by the virtues contained in the Word of God. It must include a clear understanding of how to grow in that sanctified life. It should enable us to spread and defend that life among unbelievers. And it should allow the Word to protect us from being conformed to the godless ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. The mutual stimulation of Christian minds will better enable us to proclaim and defend the Gospel and the Christian worldview it develops.

As we consciously strive to develop our fellowship in Christ, our gatherings should center on a study of the Word of God. We should absorb the Word as we let the Holy Spirit guide us. Then we should use the Word to evangelize others within the spheres of our influence. And we should be prepared to give a defense of the Gospel as we penetrate the pagan culture around us.

Our fellowship should prepare and enable us to share the Word with our friends of similar vocation as we come together in groups for study. It should help us to penetrate their professions with the Gospel and its worldview.

While pleasant conversations with our friends and family are part of our fellowship, we must not let them be the totality of our fellowship. Our fellowship often is filled with too much trite conversation which has no clear goal or purpose. Too often we allow the everyday topics more importance than spiritual topics. When we do meet to study, the focus is usually too denominationally centered or on self-helps just for our human natures. Although these are important, they usually are not driven to better help spread the kingdom of God through the Gospel of His Son.
Self-improvement is good and has its place, as does a normal conversation, but our commission, the purpose of our fellowship, is to evangelize the world for Christ. Even our self-helps are to be aimed in this direction that we may enter more deeply into the spiritual life of the kingdom of God, developing a more articulate and effective ministry in the spreading of the Gospel within our circles of influence.

Finally, the question is not fellowship or friendship, nor is it fellowship and friendship. It is our fellowship that is centered on Jesus Christ, with a desire to bring all our friendships into fellowship with Christ.
The above article is one that I wrote and was published in the March-April 2005 issue of "Life Lines" a publication of the Southeastern Mennonite Conference in conjunction with the South Atlantic Mennonite Conference at Christian Light Publications, 1006 Chicago Ave, Harrisonburg Va. 22802.