The Fellowship of Christ
A Sunday Morning Exhortation
“Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from
idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge
ye what I say. The cup of blessing which
we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the
communion of the body of Christ? For we
being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all
partakers of that one bread. Behold
For the sake of giving some background we need to explain that in this passage, and in its larger context the entire chapter, the Apostle Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to flee from idolatry. And in order to not be seduced by the entrapments of idolatry he advises them to not even eat the food that is offered them if it had been dedicated to idol worship so as to not disturb their conscious or state of mind as they ate. If they were not aware of the food’s source then they were to eat freely (vs. 27), taking the natural benefit from the food that it provided. In this we see that spiritual issues are very much a state of the mind. As another scriptural passage states “the flesh profiteth nothing”.
Paul gives two striking examples in this passage to teach the point he was making about the issue of idolatry. On one hand the eating of meat dedicated to idols the other is the partaking of the bread and wine that commemorate the blood and body of Christ. Though both are physical acts they both meant nothing unless accompanied by a state of mind that was sincerely appreciative and involved with what such “food” actually represented. As Paul continues to teach in the following chapter regarding the Memorial table itself, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” The “unworthily” as explained in I Corinthians 11 was in reference to those who partook of the memorial emblems as an action of feeding the natural desire for food rather then partaking it in true remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice.
In I Corinthians 10 Paul repeatedly uses a couple of Greek terms that are translated by different words in the English that teach us an important lesson as it relates to either our relationship to Christ or our relationship to idolatry or sin in general. In verse 16 we see the word communion used twice – “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” The Greek word for “communion” is koinonia, which is often translated by the more familiar word “fellowship”. In verse 20 we read, “ I would not that ye should have fellowship (koinonia) with devils”. The term “koinonia” (otherwise rendered “fellowship” or “communion”) does not mean merely just some kind of relationship but in its fullest understanding means “that which is held in common”. Something has to be “held in common” in order for the term to properly apply. We will speak more on that in a moment.
Also in this passage we see the word “partake” or “partakers” used. Verse 17, regarding the body of Christ, states “for we are all partakers of that one bread”. The priests who ate the meat of the animal sacrifices are told as being “partakers” of the altar – knowing that the altar represented Christ. [It is worth noting here that Aaron refrained from eating such meat when Nadab and Abihu were killed by God for offering strange fire. His frame of mind, being distraught at the unfolding of events, was such that he could not properly and sincerely “discern” the spiritual significance of the altar while being emotionally distracted. So it is evident that Aaron appreciated the holiness of the spiritual importance of “partaking” of such meat dedicated to God. He was not capable at that time of “discerning the Lord’s body” as it were and understood the serious ramifications of partaking if he was not mentally prepared to do so, not wanting to bring “damnation” upon himself.] And further regarding this word “partake” on in verse 21 we read, “ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” The word “partakers” comes from the Greek “metecho” and carries the meaning of sharing.
So in combining the words we have considered we see the idea of “of sharing those things we have in common”. Such commonality can either be based upon the sacrifice of Christ and all that it pertains to or it can be a unity based upon idolatry and sin, but neither of these opposing principles can be combined. They are as opposite in their identity as black and white and as far apart in their geographic location as north and south.
But what is this “fellowship” and “sharing” as it is taught to us regarding the sacrifice of Christ? First it needs to be understood that communion or fellowship is much more then just an association. Fellowship involves oneness of mind, the walking together of those who are united in agreement upon vital principles. Such fellowship, as Paul demonstrates to us in the passage already read this morning, can be for good or evil. We are called to have fellowship, oneness of mind and purpose with Christ. The natural tendency of man, as was demonstrated by the Children of Israel on many an occasion, is to have fellowship with sin. In Ephesians 5: 11 we are commanded, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness”. So fellowship, or koinonea, can be for good or bad. The idea that there can be true fellowship or koinonea without a oneness of mind and purpose is not valid. The old proverb that “Birds of a feather flock together” is very accurate in describing such commonality – it is a natural law of nature that those with common biology, interests or objectives naturally cling together. Fellowship is not something that is forced but is a natural outgrowth of something much more fundamental. Holding things in common (whatever that might be) acts as a magnet in bringing together those of shared understanding. If there is commonality then there is fellowship. If there is a commonalty to participate in the actions and desires of the flesh then there is fellowship with the world, which brings many together under such terms. If there is a commonality of faith and conviction in the Truth as it is in Jesus then there is a state of fellowship in existence under such conditions. As Paul states in verse 17 of 1st Corinthians 10, “For we being many are one bread”.
Though the breaking of bread was a part of such a “fellowship”, such commonality was not limited to the breaking of bread alone. Quoting from bro. Alex Kay in a pamphlet on “Unity” he stated, “Fellowship comprises oneness of mind, communion, the walking together of those who are in agreement on vital principles. It is a many faceted thing”. There must be a common understanding of the Gospel or “The Things Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ” first as a foundation. Regarding the early believers and their common faith that they had we are told that they “continued stedfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Building upon this foundation there must be not only be a shared understanding of the Promises made by God regarding His Plan but a shared understanding as what needs to be done to obtain the goal – united on not only where we are going but how and what it will take to get there. Referring back to our use of the “Birds of a feather” proverb, there are many types of bird families that migrate south during the winter months. There is a specific geographic location that each birds species will travel to every fall. But not only do they share the location as to where they go they also share the same techniques on how they get there. They don’t merely take to the sky and somehow arrive at the appropriate place but they have a distinctive route that is embedded in their minds. And while they travel they have the same techniques of flight that help the flock to make the very rigorous and trying journey a success. This example demonstrates to us the vital importance as to understanding the meaning of fellowship, commonality of a desired goal and a shared understanding of the techniques needed to make the goal attainable.
Regarding the fellowship that we are so concerned with, which goes beyond the act of the Memorial Service and in many ways precedes the act, the scriptures themselves speak of fellowship in broader terms. That there is “the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord”, “the fellowship of the ministering of the saints”, “the fellowship of (Jesus’) sufferings.” The Apostle John states, “that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ”. He continues on to say, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but is we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Paul tells the Phillipian believers that they are partakers with him in grace.
So as we consider this passage back in 1st Corinthians 10 that speaks of the partaking of the bread and cup of the Lord it is important for us to realize that merely partaking of emblems is not fellowship unless preceded by a commonality of faith and hope to God’s Truth and those things required of us. It is a sharing of Truth, both in belief and practice. Fellowship (having things in common) must first exist in order for the partaking of the Memorial table to carry its fullest meaning and benefit. Unity with God and His Son first as well as commonality with those who we partake. For those who would contend that the “breaking of bread” is “only between ourselves and God” this passage does much to dispel such a notion. The use of the word “koinonia” (or to have things in common) does show that we must have something in common with Christ and not with idolatry in order for us to partake of the “cup of blessing”. But not only is fellowship with God and Christ but as is stated in verse 17, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread”. This no doubt has implications beyond just the partaking of the Bread and Wine. But the “breaking of bread” is the result of TRUE fellowship. It is related to fellowship as baptism is related to belief in the gospel. Baptism is the public evidence of inner conviction, and just as baptism is worthless without first believing so is the breaking of bread without meaning if not preceded by fellowship – fellowship with God and His Son, as well as with each other. When we partake of these emblems it is to be based upon a common belief and appreciation for what the bread and cup represent. When we partake we are partaking together. We not only show our conviction and love for God providing a sacrifice for sin and for Christ carrying out his role as the Redeemer for the race, but we demonstrate our common hope, acceptance and appreciation for one another by gathering together to jointly partake of the emblems. If such a thing is not the case then our efforts in coming together to partake in such an activity is without meaning and a mockery to the institution that has been established.
The fellowship of Christ is something that we hold in common, it is our fellowship and something that is to be carefully maintained. We are not to have “fellowship with idols” or in other words anything that corrupts a pure conviction and worship for the One True God. As we come together we do so not partaking of an act that stands alone by itself but is to be evidence of something more profound, a declaration of our commonality – our shared hope. And what should also be an appreciation for the glorious plan of redemption that we have been so very blessed to understand and be a part of. As it involves Christ and our relationship to one another we are told in 2nd Timothy 1:10, “ But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, Who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” It is this light that we wish to maintain in common understanding and which should be our hope to be joint partakers in the fellowship which is to come in the future Age.