Lesson 27: The Horizontal Expression of Edification – Fellowship | Biblical Foundations for Living

Lesson 27: The Horizontal Expression of Edification – Fellowship

We have learned that the primary task of the local church is to educate its membership. The truths a believer is taught are expressed toward God ( worship ) and toward fellow believers ( fellowship ). Technically, the word “fellowship” is also used to describe the believer’s relationship with God. The major emphasis of this lesson, however, will be the believer’s relationship with other believers.

The New Testament word for fellowship means “to share something in common with someone else.” It is a word that stresses unity and refers to three relationships that the believer has:

1. Believers have fellowship with God .

2. Believers have fellowship in the faith .

3. Believers have fellowship with one another .

I. Believers Have Fellowship with God.

A. Fellowship with God is synonymous with salvation .

People often use the phrase “fellowship with God” to describe the quality of their relationship with God. Obedient, faithful believers are said to be “in fellowship,” whereas backslidden believers are “out of fellowship.” However, this is an improper use of the phrase. Paul clearly viewed “fellowship with God” as a description of salvation.

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.   1 Corinthians 1:8 9

B. Fellowship with God is evidenced by conformity to His character .

Spiritual growth is not optional for the believer; it is the natural result of salvation. First John was written to give some of the tests of salvation. They are:

1. The test of righteousness

The true believer will strive to be righteous as God is righteous.

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.   1 John 2:29

[The idea here is doing right as a way of life, not sinless perfection. ]

2. The test of sound doctrine

The true believer will embrace the truth as revealed by the God who is the Truth.

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true  even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.   1 John 5:20

3. The test of love for other believers

The true believer will love other believers because God is love.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.   1 John 4:7-8

II. Believers Have Fellowship in the Faith.

Unity among believers is based upon belief in a common set of doctrines–“the faith” (Jude 3). Apart from such, fellowship is impossible.

[Common doctrine is the proper basis of unity. Since we believe this, we will never cooperate with those who disagree with us about major doctrinal matters. Those who stress ecumenism (the unity of various faiths in a common goal) downplay doctrine and seek to build unity thru other means, such as experience (e.g., tongues).]

A. Believers share the responsibility to proclaim the Word of God.

God has commissioned the local church to proclaim the Word of God. One way this can be done is through the support of missionaries. Paul was joyful over the support he received from the Philippian Church.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.   Philippians 1:4 5

Support of missionaries, however, does not fulfill the believer’s responsibility to proclaim the Word of God; there must also be personal involvement. To Philemon, Paul wrote:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith.   Philemon 6

B. Believers share the responsibility to defend the Word of God.

Fellowship in the Word of God involves more than proclaiming it; there must also be a commitment to maintaining purity of doctrine. This can be done in two ways:

1. Believers must not cooperate with those who teach error.

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.   2 John 10 11

[“This teaching” here refers to apostolic doctrine regarding Christ. ]

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?   2 Corinthians 6:14

2. Believers must refute error.

[A pastor] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.   Titus 1:9

All believers, not just pastors, should expose false teaching.

[C.f. also Titus 2:15. Refute means to challenge, expose or speak out against something. Some people accuse fundamentalists of being too negative and critical. This criticism is a reaction to the fundamentalist’s desire to refute and expose error. Refuting error is necessarily negative, although it does not have to be done in a negative or caustic way.]

III. Believers Have Fellowship with One Another.

Fellowship, or unity among the members of a church, is one of the distinguishing marks of genuine believers.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.   1 John 1:7

The Bible places great emphasis on this unity. It is described by a word that is translated “one another” or “each other.” This word appears over 100 times in the New Testament. Since unity is so important, believers should encourage and support it.

[Not unity at any cost. Unity is a good goal, but not the highest one. Unity should primarily be focussed on the local church. It’s good to have fellowship with many other Christians not from your church, but it is especially important to be in fellowship with those in your church.]

A. Believers strengthen their unity with one another through proper attitudes .

1. Believers should avoid the following attitudes toward one another:

a. Pride

Pride is the tendency to think more highly of oneself than one ought to (Romans 12:3).

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.   Romans 12:16

[C.f. also Prov 13:10 “Only by pride comes contention.” ]

b. Criticism

The Bible forbids a judgmental, condemning attitude toward other believers.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.   Romans 14:13

c. Envy

Envy is the improper desire to possess that which rightfully belongs to another.

Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.   Galatians 5:26

2. Believers should develop the following attitudes toward one another:

a. Humility

The opposite of pride, humility was despised by the society in which the first century church ministered, as it often is by our culture. God, however, greatly values humility.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”   1 Peter 5:5

b. Deference [to defer, to let another have his way]

The believer should possess an attitude which willingly yields his own rights and interests to the desires and needs of others.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.   Philippians 2:3-4

c. Patience

Patience is the willingness to bear with the shortcomings and quirks of others.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.   Ephesians 4:2

B. Believers strengthen their unity with one another through proper speech .

Words have great potential to be harmful or helpful. Accordingly, the New Testament greatly emphasizes the constructive use of speech.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.   Ephesians 4:29

[C.f. also James 3:5-8 ]

1. Believers should avoid the following kinds of speech toward one another:

a. Lying

Lying is deliberately misrepresenting the truth either in whole or in part.

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.   Colossians 3:9

[Notice the “whole or in part” bit. Half of the truth is a whole lie. Misrepresentation is lying.]

b. Slander

Slander is speech that is intended to injure . The word literally means “to talk down.” What is said may or may not be true; however, it is the motive and/or effect that is the issue. In other words, why are you saying it and what harm might it cause? A good rule to follow when discussing someone else’s problems is: Don’t say it unless you and your listener are part of the problem or part of the solution .

Brothers, do not slander one another.   James 4:11

c. Complaining

Complaining is a cancer that grows rapidly and has the potential of destroying a local church. Believers should practice constructive criticism rather than complaining. The difference between the two can be determined by asking the following questions: Is my comment addressed to the right person , is it being said with the right spirit, and does it include a biblical suggestion for change?

Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.   James 5:9

[If a person has a problem with something, he should deal with it the right way: go to the source. Most often, people just complain without approaching the person who can do something about it.]

2. Believers should develop the following kinds of speech toward one another:

a. Truth

The opposite of lying, truth is correctly representing the facts.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.   Ephesians 4:25

b. Encouragement

Biblical encouragement is more than a pat on the back along with a promise that everything will be all right. In the Church at Thessalonica, there was a problem that caused the congregation great concern. Paul addressed the problem by explaining to them appropriate doctrine . He then added:

Therefore encourage each other with these words.   1 Thessalonians 4:18

Therefore, encouragement is speech that provides comfort by focusing on the teachings of the Word of God.

c. Counsel

Paul challenged the members of the Church at Rome to counsel one another. Such counsel is biblical instruction intended to correct

sinful behavior .

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to [counsel] one another.   Romans 15:14

[Counseling should be of the kind that points out the problem and then gives the biblical remedy for it (“nouthetic”). All Christians should be capable of giving good counsel.]

C. Believers strengthen their unity with one another through proper actions .

1. Believers should avoid the following kinds of actions toward one another:

a. Partiality

A nineteenth century preacher once said that the gospel is the “great leveler,” meaning that there are no class distinctions within the church. The church is made up of one group of people:

sinners saved by grace .

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. – James 2:1

b. Retaliation

While few church members would consider hitting someone who offends them, some may retaliate in more subtle ways. Such retaliation can be anything from gossip to the “cold shoulder.”

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.   1 Thessalonians 5:15

c. Hostility

Believers should not be unfriendly or antagonistic toward one another.

If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.   Galatians 5:15

2. Believers should develop the following kinds of actions toward one another:

a. Service

God expects every believer to use the abilities He has given him to serve other believers within his local church.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.   Galatians 5:13

b. Benevolence

Benevolence may be defined as acts of kindness , or doing good to others. Believers should continually practice benevolence toward all men, especially toward other believers.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.   Galatians 6:10

c. Hospitality

Believers should use their homes and possessions as means of being a blessing to others.

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.   1 Peter 4:9

Note: There are occasions when believers must break fellowship with other believers.

[Note that this is with believers. Each of these is grounds for church discipline. Those who practice these things are the most dangerous and troublesome people in the church because they destroy fellowship/unity.]

These include:

1. Doctrinal deviation

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. – 2 Timothy 2:16-18

[There is room for some doctrinal differences, but not on the major tenets of the faith. Teaching wrong doctrine is especially dangerous. ]

2. Divisive spirit

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. – Romans 16:17

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. – Titus 3:10

[C.f. Prov 6:16-19. The Lord hates those who sow discord among the brethren.]

3. Disorderly conduct

Keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. – 2 Thessalonians 3:14

[Note that the discipline/dis-fellowshipping of an individual is to bring him to repentance. If he will not repent, one should treat him as an unsaved person and avoid him. Note also that this is why church membership is so important—if one is not a member, the church has no right to discipline the person.]

Recap & Review

In this lesson, we have learned:

1. Believers have fellowship with God. Fellowship with God is synonymous with salvation and is evidenced by conformity to God’s character.

2. Believers have fellowship in the faith. As such, they share the responsibility to both proclaim and defend the Word of God.

3. Believers have fellowship with one another. Such fellowship is dependent upon proper attitudes, speech, and actions.

Learning to Live It

1. A nationally-known evangelist comes to town to conduct a crusade and asks your church to participate. This evangelist is known for including Catholics, liberal Protestants, and charismatics in his crusades. Should your church participate? Why or why not?

no; to do so would be wrong for two reasons: 1) You would be associating in spiritual matters with unbelievers (contra 2 Cor 6:14-7:1) and 2) You would be associating with disobedient believers (contra 2 Thes 3:6, 14). We are not to cooperate with those who deny the faith. Instead, we should rebuke and expose those who cooperate in such ways with unbelievers. (E.g. “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” Billy Graham)

2. You often hear a friend of yours making the following statements:

• “I don’t mean to gossip, but have you ever noticed that

he . . . ?”

• “Is it just me or does so and so . . . ?”

• “Well, I think that she . . . and I’m not the only one who thinks so.”

• “Why don’t they . . . ?”

• “When are they . . . ?”

What is wrong with such comments?

They are not constructive, edifying, etc.; rather, they are gossipy, critical, adversarial, accusatory, etc.

How should you respond when your friend begins to make such comments?

Cut him off before he gets started. Tell him to address his comments to someone who can resolve the problem. Rebuke him for his wrong attitudes and actions.


  1. Pastor Onuchukwu Johnson. says:

    Dear Sir, i pick interest after reading through your write up. We are operating and evangelizing down here in Nigeria mainly the remote area where people are yawning and longin for the gospel. Your prayers and support wil boost the moral and build us spiritually. Can i be receiving the materials as often for my spiritually upliftment. Pastor Onuchukwu Johnson. P O Box 50 Ibolo Oraifite, Anambra State. Nigeria. +2348063934351


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