When the word fellowship is used in the Church, most of the time it seems like it is used to mean getting together to eat. And this can be a form of fellowship. But fellowship is supposed to be more than this. For those who have read the books or seen the movies related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, recall that the group that would journey together and protect Frodo, the ring bearer, was called the Fellowship of the Ring. I think Tolkien’s use of fellowship is more appropriate than the way we tend to use it nowadays. Here’s an example of fellowship:
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.
These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”
They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
– Mark 6:6b-13, NIV
What Jesus was calling His disciples to do was going to be very difficult. He was going to ask them to trust by faith that God would provide. That’s why they weren’t allowed to take anything with them. And they went out and they taught the message of repentance Jesus had given them. In addition, they were able to perform miracles such as healing and the casting out of demons. Yet if the goal was to get them to trust God, why didn’t Jesus send them out alone? Because He knew they wouldn’t make it by themselves. They would need each other. And if the ones who walked with Jesus needed someone else, what does that say to us?
It says we need each other. It says fellowship means more than just good food. Fellowship means something close to the Fellowship of the Ring, which is where we are there for one another, we protect each other, support our brothers and sisters in Christ, and put ourselves on the line for other members of the Body of Christ.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. – 1 Corinthians 12:21-26, NIV
I can’t do better than Paul’s words, because they are from God, so I won’t even try. I will, however, re-emphasize the points Paul makes. The body is supposed to be united, not divided. We are supposed to be concerned for each other. And when one of us suffers, we should all feel it. Likewise, when one has reason to rejoice, we all have such reason. Please note that none of this happens naturally. If it did we wouldn’t have war, strife, and discord. We wouldn’t have racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice. We have to work at this type of unity. We can be this unified because we are freed from sin through the blood of Christ. Now we have the ability as a concious act of our will to be one Body. Let me say that again, we can choose to be one Body. But that also means we can choose not to be one Body.
What does God want? Paul makes that clear. He wants one Body. Do we need to be together? Jesus makes that clear by the way He sent out those who walked with Him. Yes, we need to be together. We need to have true fellowship. We need one another. But it’s something we have to work at. It’s not natural. But it is important for our continued survival. If we keep trying to go at it alone, if we refuse to grow closer to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, then we are effectively standing apart, without support. And that’s exactly how we’ll fall: all alone. God never intended that. That’s why fellowship is so important as a spiritual discipline.