With this mark I am speaking of a delight in and commitment to fellow believers, or the body of Christ. The Christian life is not intended to be lived alone, in isolation from the rest of God’s people. No, when God calls us He calls us both to Himself and to His people.
When the Bible speaks of the Church, or the fellowship of God’s people, it does so in two senses. First, there is the concept of the universal or invisible Church. By this is meant all the number of the redeemed throughout the centuries. Only God knows the heart of a man, and therefore only God knows all those who are true believers. We see this, for example, in 2 Timothy 2:19a: “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’.” On the other hand, there is what we call the local or visible church. By this is meant the local congregations of believers in any given area (e.g. Free Grace Church of Tampa Bay; the church(es) of Corinth). Local or visible churches are the manifestation of the universal/invisible Church. In the visible church there exists a possibility of mixture of true and false believers. Again, we see this hinted at in 2 Timothy 2:19b: “‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.’” We know, however, that not all who name the name of Christ are truly saved (see vv. 16-18; 1 Jn. 2:19). It is in the context of the local church, however, that our profession of faith is lived out and put to the test.
The fact that Christ institutes church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20) goes to show that it is His will for His followers to live in community, not isolation.
What, then, is fellowship? Fellowship among Christians is a mutual relationship involving a common bond, mutual support, and mutual participation in ministry (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32; 1 Cor. 14:12; 2 Cor. 8:3-4). Although we typically speak of fellowship when we gather together in a building to converse with one another and share a meal, the word denotes much more than this, as these passages demonstrate. Fellowship is the sharing of our very lives, and it is in the context of the local church that this is most vividly demonstrated. Such fellowship is best actualized in this local church context.
It is in the context of the local church that we submit to authority, grow in sound doctrine, utilize our gifts for the edification of others, and work toward the spread of the gospel (Eph. 4:1-16; Rom. 12; Titus).
The Christian desires to be with God’s people, and in them is his/her delight: “As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight” (Ps. 16:3).