Communion or Fellowship: With What and With Whom Is It?

1 John 1
COMMUNION or fellowship excludes everything evil. Consequently there must be limits to it. Scriptural fellowship starts from this basis: that those who know it, that is, Christians, are " in the light." (1 John 1:77But if 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. (1 John 1:7).) Consequently it is unknown, save by this company.
There may be unanimity, one mind, or a fellowship of men in evil (as Psa. 64:55They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them? (Psalm 64:5) among many other places, shows), but the word κοινωμία is not so used in the New Testament, nor is it used in a bad sense there anywhere. I speak here only of the thing itself, without including other compound forms of the word; communion there is only with what is good.
So far as I can find, the word communion or fellowship occurs only nineteen times (in Eph. 3:99And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: (Ephesians 3:9) it is considered not genuine) but it is not anywhere used vaguely, that is, as including or allowing the least particle of evil. It expresses the common feelings (and common is the origin of the word) of any two or more, with respect to a third. But naturally man is only evil (see Gen. 8:2121And the Lord smelled a sweet savor; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. (Genesis 8:21); Rom. 3:2323For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23)), and communion in the New Testament is only with what is good; therefore, this third, in or respecting which we have " communion," is and must necessarily be of and from God. Scripture shows that this is so.
Let the reader now turn to the last passage of the nineteen wherein the word is found. We shall there see that it is limited to a certain company.
It is not said here that we ought to have fellowship one with another, but that we have it, as the company walking " in the light." For the contrast is not between fellowship and no fellowship, but between darkness and light, for John begins by speaking of what he had seen and how the light had shone in, fellowship being introduced as the sure consequence. In verse 5 he has said that " God is light, and in him is no darkness at all;" while this is so, observe, he almost immediately adds, that there were men then upon earth who had fellowship with God, and he speaks of himself as one of these: " our fellowship." But this fellowship he declares to be impossible if we walk in darkness. " If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." (Ver. C.) And further observe how all the desires of the apostle's heart come out, in connection with the subject of fellowship, towards those to whom he writes, that they may know it. His words are the words of the Spirit of God, that have always cheered the hearts of the saints, and which reach down to and embrace us in this dark and perplexing day.
And now why does he write? He writes-1st (ver. 3), that they (the saints) "may have fellowship with us" (the apostles); and 2nd (ver. 4), that thus their joy "may be full." Never was there, and never will there be, a day so dark for His people that GOD cannot shine through it all; and we bless His name that He never did, and He never will, withhold fellowship with Himself from those who in truth seek His face. (Psa. 145:1818The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. (Psalm 145:18).)
It will help to a clearer understanding of 1 John 1:77But if 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. (1 John 1:7), if we keep distinct the two companies named in the chapter. There is then a company to whom this fellowship is unknown, though they may claim it. If they speak they " lie," and if they act " they do not the truth." They walk also " in darkness," in contrast to others who walk " in the light." These last form another and distinct company. They have " fellowship one with another," and with the apostles. If they speak, it is with the sense of their relationship with the Father. Though some are babes, yet even they have " known the Father." (1 John 2:1313I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. (1 John 2:13).) John is writing to establish them in it, spite of false ones and seducers. (1 John 2:19,2619They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (1 John 2:19)
26These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. (1 John 2:26)
.) He says it is " that ye may have fellowship with us," for he knew that the saints had the Spirit of His Son (Gal. 4:66And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6); 1 John 2:20,2720But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. (1 John 2:20)
27But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. (1 John 2:27)
), the " Spirit of adoption," so that they could enter into it. If they act, they " do righteousness" (1 John 2:2929If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. (1 John 2:29)) as those born of God. These then, and these alone, know anything of christian " fellowship." Its limits exclude all others-all that are not " in the light."
As four out of the nineteen occurrences of the word "fellowship" are found in this 1 John 1, we may gather up what we can from the apostle before looking at the others. It is only of those who walk " in the light" (ver. 7), and there it is known " with one another." It is there also with the apostles (ver. 3), and it is there " with Him" (ver. 6); with Him who is at once its source and its supply.
Notice, also, brought out here, how this fellowship " with Him" has come about. He begins the epistle by telling us what he had " heard, seen, looked upon, and handled." Grace had come down to man, and the eternal life, Christ, had walked about among men. He was God's gift. " This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life." (1 John 5:1111And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:11).) He " came by water and blood"; cleansing and expiation were both accomplished by Him. And, as to John, two things had followed: He had been manifested to him, and John had been drawn to Christ. (Chapter 1:2,2;5. 9, 10; and John 6:44,6544No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
65And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. (John 6:65)
.) The Father had both manifested Christ and drawn to Him, as He has with all who have ever come to Him. (Matt. 16:1717And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17).) Only with the Father's thoughts of Him John had to do. All else in this epistle is " the world" (chap. 2:16); and as to the world his record is brief. The world " knew him not." (Chapter 3:1.) But he could speak of fellowship with the Father, and with what but respecting the Son of His bosom? And not only so, for if the Father had manifested the Son to John, John had known Him who was thus manifested. He knew for his own heart that he was a disciple "whom Jesus loved," so that he can speak thus: "And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."
And to have communion with the Son, what is it but to learn of Him whose whole life down here, from infancy to the cross, was marked by the relationship known, which is contained in that one word "Father"? (Compare Luke 2:4949And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? (Luke 2:49), and xxii. 42.) He, the only One who perfectly knew it, has introduced us by the work of the cross into the same: " Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." (John 20:1717Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17).) And we learn of the Father and of the Son as taught of the Spirit, which is sent into our hearts " because we are sons." (Gal. 4:66And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6).) Thus is it that a man of like passions with ourselves can speak of that communion in which his heart delighted, desiring the saints then, and the saints now, to enter into and enjoy it with him, for thus it was, and thus it is, that grace has wrought.
But having found the company wherein fellowship alone can be, and how it originated being unfolded, we must turn again to Scripture, in order to learn what those who form it are further privileged to have fellowship with, and this will fully come before us in the remaining fifteen occurrences of the word.
The first of these, and the first in the New Testament, we find in Acts 2:4242And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42): " They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship." The apostles' doctrine, what they taught, we have now in the word; but the apostles' fellowship embraced the whole habit and tenor of their daily life. To Timothy he says, while dividing and distinguishing them: " Thou halt fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience." Communion or fellowship with the apostles demanded but one common object in life, one purpose, a daily history of long-suffering and patience. These early saints (Acts 2:4242And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)) possessed them.
And we are not left in ignorance respecting the apostles' object. Distinctly it is placed before us as to three of them. The word to Peter is, " Follow me" (John 21:2222Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. (John 21:22)); Paul says, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:2121For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)); and John writes, " He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." (1 John 2:66He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. (1 John 2:6).) And as to the way the world acted and thinks of the apostles, both the latter are clear in their testimony: " The world knoweth us not because it knew him not:" " By which [the cross of Christ] the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
We leave the reader to trace out more fully what is meant then, and involved, in the path of those who continue steadfastly in the " apostles' fellowship," only asking this one question which is pressed upon our spirit: How much of this, the apostles' fellowship, in which the early saints lived, and for their preservation in which John writes his epistle, do we live in the full enjoyment of now?
To continue. We have seen that "fellowship" is with the Father, and the Son, and with the apostles. It is also with the Holy Ghost. (2 Cor. 13:1414The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. <<The second epistle to the Corinthians was written from Philippi, a city of Macedonia, by Titus and Lucas.>> (2 Corinthians 13:14); and Phil. 2:11If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, (Philippians 2:1).) We worship in the Spirit (Phil. 3:33For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)); pray in the Spirit (Jude 2020But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, (Jude 20)); sing in the Spirit (Eph. 5:18,1918And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; 19Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:18‑19)); and are exhorted to be " filled with the Spirit." With one common voice, and so in " communion," " the Spirit and the bride say, Come," to Him who responds immediately to that call, " Surely I come quickly," in Rev. 22 By the Holy Ghost also the gospel is preached, and in this also the saints have " fellowship": " Fellowship in the gospel." (Phil. 1:55For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; (Philippians 1:5); Gal. 2:99And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. (Galatians 2:9).) In ministering likewise to the bodily needs of His people, we find again that the saints have " fellowship." (Rom. 15:2626For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. (Romans 15:26); 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:134Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. (2 Corinthians 8:4)
13Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; (2 Corinthians 9:13)
; Heb. 13:1616But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:16).) Connected also with this caring for the temporal interests of the saints, we find in Philem. 1:66That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. (Philemon 6) " fellowship" again used. Philemon having " communication" (really κοινωία, " communion") in the common faith of God's elect, is exhorted to make it " effectual," or operative in his reception and forgiveness of his former slave Onesimus, now also converted.
Of what this faith of God's elect is based on, the Lord's death, we are reminded in the breaking of bread on every first day of the week; and strikingly connected with it we again twice find the word "communion." "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?" (1 Cor. 10:1616The 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? (1 Corinthians 10:16).) It is thus in His own presence, " in the midst" (Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)), that we remember at the table the Lord in His death. Together there, on common ground, and all alike redeemed, we view afresh by faith " his hands and his side." We learn the preciousness of the price paid for our redemption (1 Peter 1:18,1918Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: (1 Peter 1:18‑19)), and we learn, too, the love that paid it (John 15:1313Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)), and also that provided it. (Gen. 22:88And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:8).) The object of faith, and the work accomplished by Him, are both before us in the breaking of bread. Precious to God is He who accomplished this work, and precious also to Him is that blood He has shed. In all the value of it I am there before Him. He who took my place of distance is now the accepted Man, " crowned with glory and honor." And here, and so connected with all this, I find the word " communion." Once afar off, without God and without hope in the world, I am now made nigh by that precious blood, I have this " communion of the blood of Christ," this " communion of the body of Christ," and two things follow in result in a world that crucified Him, namely, suffering and consistency.
Thus, in communion at the table, and consistent therewith, I shall learn something of " His sufferings:" " That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." Here we find again the word "fellowship" introduced. (Phil. 3:1010That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; (Philippians 3:10).) Self-ease is here excluded. Paul desired only to know practically Him who " pleased not himself"; and he says it in a day wherein he has to testify, even as to the saints, that " all seek their own," and Timothy was the only comfort he had. Death is the only terminus before the apostle in this path of consistency and faithfulness; it looms up distinctly before him, but he fears it not and contemplates it calmly; for, if it may be in his pathway through the sufferings of which he speaks then, he says, " To die is gain." To this " fellowship of his sufferings," beloved reader, arc we also called (Phil. 1:29,3029For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Philippians 1:29‑30)), and well may we pause and ask, What do we each know of them?
Finally comes in the word " communion" in the question of the apostle (2 Cor. 6:1414Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)), " What communion hath light with darkness?" A question already answered by the apostle John.
These, I believe, are the only places wherein the words communion or fellowship are used. We may briefly classify them thus: Communion or fellowship is, 1, With the Father; 2, With the Son; 3, Of the Spirit, or Holy Ghost; 4, With the apostles; 5, In the faith; 6, Of the blood of Christ; 7, Of the body of Christ; 8, In ministry to the temporal needs of the saints; 9, In " His sufferings;" 10, In the gospel; and lastly, 11, With one another.
Such is the scope of christian fellowship, and such its objects. Nothing can be more exclusive, since it is " in the light." The simple word fellowship rings the death-knell and sounds the condemnation of everything that is not of God. Known upon earth with the Father and the Son by the Holy Ghost, and in its varied exercises, which we have read, it goes on to its full measure, to be known only in heaven, and that city of God, " the bride, the Lamb's wife," where into there can enter nothing " that defileth."
The allowance of evil is destructive of fellowship or communion. Therefore, in the activities of John 13:4-174He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. 6Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 11For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. 12So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (John 13:4‑17), Matt. 18:15-2215Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. 21Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:15‑22), and Luke 17:3,43Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. (Luke 17:3‑4) (the reproduction on earth of Christ's present work on high), our individual and collective responsibilities one to the other are discharged, and thus can communion one with another exist. But the regret of some that there should be found to exist so little fellowship among Christians, that is, one with another, in the things of God, is often found to mean, when examined closely, "/t is impossible that faithfulness and fellowship can exist together-they destroy one another." This is man's idea. I believe we are taught just the opposite in the word; namely, that " fellowship" cannot be one with another apart from faithfulness. It is for us to take heed how we separate what God hath " joined together." We see both in Christ, fellowship and faithfulness. In fellowship with the Father Himself, He will not allow defilement in them. He cares about it, and to us also says, " Ye ought to wash one another's feet." " If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." This is faithfulness. Now, beloved reader, that company is, with whom alone fellowship can be sought and found. You know you can have no fellowship with any others; we need say no more, therefore, on that head, for you have learned it in the word (James 4:44Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. (James 4:4)). But with what you can have fellowship, when you have found the company, that same word must still be allowed to instruct you. It is a day when you must examine these things, and give words their right meanings. You will be questioned, doubtless, but if you have found the word of God as to the meaning of " fellowship," and with what, refuse evil, and go on unhesitatingly. Let its directions alone govern you and sway your actions, and then be content and fear nothing from either man or Satan. (See Psa. 91)
Η. C. A.