by Richard Lim
What is “fellowship” in the Bible? 2 Cor. 6:14-16 gives a good description of what Bible fellowship is about. It has the idea of “partaking or a partnership”, “a sharing”, “in harmony or togetherness”, “having a part or portion”, “an agreement or approval”. Bible fellowship is one that is based on God’s terms (1 John 1:3-10). God does not necessarily have fellowship with everyone who says they are in fellowship with Him, Matt 7:21-23. Unrestrained and indiscriminate fellowship undermines Bible authority and compromises the integrity of the church. I believe that the Bible is very clear with regards to dealing with brethren who are erring, whether it be in the area of moral sin or doctrinal error, in that we need to limit our association and fellowship with them.
How do we have “fellowship” with brethren? When we participate together in the preaching of the word and identify ourselves with the brethren. In Gal. 2:9, Paul was extended the right hand of fellowship and share in the work of preaching with the other apostles. They were in agreement though initially the disciples were reluctant to accept Paul in Acts 9:26-28. The Philippian church was said to “to have shared with Paul” or “fellowship in the gospel” when they supported Paul financially in Phil. 4:15 & 1:5. Thus we have fellowship with a congregation or preacher when we contribute financially.
That is why we do not support preachers or churches that are in error for to do so would mean we are having fellowshipwith them (2 John 10-11). The churches of Macedonia were said to have “fellowship” when they gave financial aid to relief the saints in need (2 Cor. 8:4, Rom. 15:26-27).
Often times we use the example of Jesus eating with sinners as the scripture to justify that we can extend fellowship to everyone even those brethren that are in error. However, we fail to realize that the context in the case of Jesus does not suggest such.
Firstly, although Jesus ate with this group of people, it is certain that Jesus disapproved of their lifestyles because He specifically mentioned them as sinners that needs a physician which means they need to repent (Lk. 5:31-32). In fact, in Lk. 19 ff, we find that Zacchaeus had a change of heart resulting in the change of action which denotes repentance from the visit by Jesus. In Lk. 15, Jesus taught with two parables on repentance. This goes to tell us that we need to show our disapproval of the wrong and not give the picture that we endorse their actions. (I Cor. 5:1-5, Eph. 5:11).
Secondly, although Jesus was associating with these people in a physical manner yet spiritually there is no “fellowship” since they are of the world. What fellowship does the “world” have with Jesus? Look at 2 Cor. 6:14 which says “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” Therefore, those that are outside of Christ do not the “fellowship” with God since their sins have separated them from God (Isa. 59:1-2). Paul further explained that if we are not to associate physically with the “world” then we would need to go out of the world (1 Cor. 5:9-10). So although we do have physical interaction with the “world” yet we do not and must not have “fellowship” or condone their worldly lifestyle or actions. However, in the case of brethren, we already have the fellowship in Christ since we have been saved and is now in fellowship with God and are in the church (Acts 2:38,41-47;1 Cor. 1:9). Thus with reference to those that are erring, Paul made clear that we would have to limit our fellowship and even limiting our physical association to make the brethren realize their error so that they would repent (1 Cor. 5:5) and to preserve the purity of the church as “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6-8).
The Bible gave us several instructions towards how we treat brethren who are in error. They include marking and avoiding them (Rom. 16:17), not keeping company with them (1 Cor. 5:9), not endorsing their behavior (1 Cor. 5:1-2), taking note and having no company with them (2 Thess.3:14), withdrawing oneself from them (2 Thess. 3:6), exhorting and admonishing them (1 Thess. 3:15, 2 Thess. 3:12,), and rejecting them (Tit. 3:10). Finally we are not to severe our relationship with them totally and excommunicate them but rather we need to, at every opportunity, keep on admonishing them to the right way (1 Thess. 3:15, Gal. 6:1).