ONE DAY I received an urgent phone call from a Christian friend asking if we could have lunch together that day. We met together periodically over lunch or breakfast to share what God was doing in our lives, to encourage and counsel one another, and to share prayer requests. I was not discipling him, nor was he discipling me. We were both involved in ministering to others, but we needed and appreciated the mutual strengthening that comes from these times together.
That day, however, wasn’t just an ordinary time together. My friend was hurting. Over lunch he poured out his heart to me concerning some difficult problems he was facing at work. I listened, offered a suggestion or two from the Scriptures as to how he should respond, and committed myself to pray for him. As I drove back to my office I did pray for him, and when I arrived home that evening I jotted down his need on my “emergency” prayer list.
His situation did not improve suddenly and dramatically, but over a period of several months God did answer our prayers. During that time I continued to encourage him, to pray for him, and to explore various alternatives with him until we saw God work.
This incident illustrates the importance and vital necessity of spiritual fellowship. Spiritual fellowship is not a social activity but a relationship of two or more believers who want to help each other grow in Christ. God has created us to be dependent both on Him and on one another. His judgment that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) is a principle that speaks not only to the marriage relationship but also to the necessity of spiritual fellowship among all believers. None of us has the spiritual wherewithal to “go it alone” in our Christian lives. Spiritual fellowship is not a luxury but a necessity, vital to our spiritual growth and health. Biblical fellowship involves both a sharing together of our common life in Christ and a sharing with one another what God has given to us. One of the most important things we can share with one another is the spiritual truth that God has been teaching us, which might be of great help to fellow believers. J. I. Packer has an interesting insight about this type of fellowship:
We should not … think of our fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an optional addition to the exercises of private devotion. We should recognize rather that such fellowship is a spiritual necessity; for God has made us in such a way that our fellowship with himself is fed by our fellowship with fellow Christians, and requires to be so fed constantly for its own deepening and enrichment.
Scripture contains a number of exhortations and examples on this subject. For example, Solomon says in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” It is in the exchange with each other of that which God is teaching us that our minds and hearts are whetted and stimulated. We learn from one another as together we learn from God.
Solomon, writing in Ecclesiastes, said, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10).
Solomon intended more than simply a literal application of these truths to physical situations. In his rather picturesque way, he was emphasizing the importance of fellowship. Two are better than one, first, because of the synergistic effect: Two together can produce more than each of them working alone. Two Christians sharing the Word together can learn more than the two of them studying individually. They stimulate one another. Second, two people together can help each other up when they fall or even when they are in danger of falling. One of the many advantages of fellowship is the mutual admonishing or encouraging of one another in the face of a temptation or an attack of Satan.
The writer of Hebrews was rather emphatic about the importance of this aspect of fellowship. In Hebrews 3:13 he said, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Then in Hebrews 10:24–25 he said, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Note the emphasis on encouraging one another in the face of temptation and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds. We need to be kept from temptation and we need to be stimulated when our zeal for Christian duty is flagging.
The admonition of Hebrews 10:24–25—“Let us not give up meeting together”—is not fulfilled merely by attending church on Sunday morning, as is so often supposed. Rather, it is fulfilled only when we follow through with the instruction to encourage, spur on, or stimulate one another. This cannot be done sitting in pews, row upon row, listening to the pastor teach. It can only be done through the mutual interchange of admonishment and encouragement. This is not to diminish the importance of the teaching ministry of our pastors. The Bible makes it quite clear that their ministry holds a vital place in our lives (see, for example, Ephesians 4:11–12; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 4:2). But we need both the public teaching of our pastors and the mutual encouragement and admonishing of one another. It is this latter that seems to be the main thrust of Hebrews 10:24–25.
Even the apostle Paul, spiritual giant that he was, recognized his need for fellowship with other believers. Writing to the church in Rome, he expressed the desire “that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:12). He wanted to strengthen the faith of the Roman Christians, but he also wanted them to strengthen his. He constantly acknowledged his need for other believers.
Historically, the church’s Apostles’ Creed speaks of “the communion of saints,” referring no doubt to both the objective community relationship and the experiential sharing of spiritual fellowship with one another. Packer tells us, “The Puritans used to ask God for one ‘bosom friend,’ with whom they could share absolutely everything and maintain a full-scale prayer-partner relationship; and with that they craved, and regularly set up, group conversations about divine things.”
We see, then, that the Bible teaches us the importance of spiritual fellowship and that church history affirms it. But how do we go about it? How can we have the kind of spiritual fellowship the Bible talks about?
First, spiritual fellowship with one another presupposes fellowship with God. If we are not having communion with God and learning from Him, we will have nothing to share with others. In addition, if we are not learning directly from God, we will not be alert and perceptive enough to learn from others. We will be dull of hearing.
Packer says, “Fellowship with God, then, is the source from which fellowship among Christians springs; and fellowship with God is the end to which Christian fellowship is a means.” Fellowship with God is indeed both the foundation and the objective of our fellowship with one another.
Second, spiritual fellowship involves mutual commitment and responsibility. We must commit ourselves to faithfulness in getting together, openness and honesty with one another, and confidentiality in what is shared. We must assume the responsibility to encourage, admonish, and pray for one another. Spiritual fellowship means that we “watch out” for one another, feeling a mutual responsibility for each other’s welfare. This does not mean that we transfer the responsibility for our Christian walk to another person or that we assume his, but rather that we help each other through encouragement and accountability.
This high level of commitment is normally made with just one person or a few selected people. Such a depth of fellowship simply cannot be maintained with every Christian, nor does God intend it. Though objectively we are in fellowship with every other believer throughout the world, in our subjective personal experience such fellowship can be maintained with only a few. We must look to God to lead us to the few special people with whom we can develop such a commitment and sense of responsibility.
As we accept the fact that spiritual fellowship with one another implies a personal fellowship with God and a mutual commitment to one another, we can then look at some practical suggestions, some specific activities that will help us experience vital fellowship with one another.
Bridges, Jerry. 2004. Growing Your Faith: How to Mature in Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.