The love of Christ constrained Joseph of Arimathaea to take his stand in faithfulness to Christ regardless of all consequences, and to take it alone, but he has no sooner done it than he is joined by another. Nicodemus, braving the frowns and scorn of his fellow–Pharisees, throws in his lot with Joseph, and they, with two or three women, are joined together as one to do honour to their rejected and dishonoured Lord. It is a moving sight to see them identified with His dead body, Himself their object, their love to Him the bond that makes them one! In them we see illustrated what true Christian fellowship in this world is. Look at those “two or three” (Matt. 18: 20) as they tend the sacred body of the Lord, wrapping it in linen clothes with the spices and bearing it away to the sepulchre. The world is lost to them and they are heedless of its praise or blame. They have one common object––Christ––they are absorbed with Him. They are acting according to the mind of heaven and with the approval of God.
It is well we should ask the question as to how we stand in regard to this same matter. Any fellowship that we may profess is a mere show, if what moved the hearts of these people is lacking. We may stand for external correctness, and strive to have everything according to the terms of the truth, and be intolerant of any who do not see as we see, but if there is not this faithfulness to Christ and this affection for Him that binds hearts together as one, it is of no account to God. It is the shell without the kernel, and a stumbling block to others.
Do we know the meaning of the words “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not [the] communion of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not [the] communion of the body of Christ? Because we [being] many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf”? (1 Cor. 10: 16, 17). Do we know what it means to “announce the death of the Lord, until he come”? (1 Cor. 11: 26). It means that we stand together in faithfulness and affection for the One whom the world rejected, and that by eating His supper together, which brings Him to mind in His death for us, we declare to all who can take notice that we are identified with Him, that we stand by His cross––that His humiliation has become our boast and our glory. It is a solemn stand to take but a blessed one. It will not meet with the world’s approval, but it will have God’s. It will cause us to walk in self–judgement and in separation from the world, but it will open up for us a sphere in which Christ is everything and in which we shall be more than satisfied with His love, for it is written “eye has not seen, and ear not heard, and which have not come into man’s heart, which God has prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor. 2: 9). These things are revealed to us by His Spirit and they are our common portion to be enjoyed together as faith produces faithfulness, and faithfulness draws us together in holy, happy fellowship.
“If any fellowship of [the] Spirit”—so wrote Paul to his beloved Philippian brethren. Not just fellowship, but fellowship of the Spirit: for fellowship, whilst having an outward form is essentially spiritual. Euodia and Syntyche, (Phil. 4: 2), though ostensibly walking together, had fellowship in name only—the spiritual affinity between them was absent. Hence the word “to be of the same mind in [the] Lord”.
Note that is not fellowship with the Spirit here, but fellowship of the Spirit—that is, a fellowship characterised by the Holy Spirit. It is the basic spiritual partnership that must underlie all outward ties. Thus, at the end of two long epistles, much taken up with Assembly practicalities, Paul seeks that the communion (or fellowship) of the Holy Spirit might be with all the saints in Corinth, (2 Cor. 13: 14). Without it, there is no real Christian fellowship at all.
Now if there be fellowship of the Spirit, there is also fellowship of the flesh. This is solemn for it means that fellowship that ceases to be characterised by the Spirit of God degenerates to what is, in practise, fellowship of the flesh! It is vital that we use diligence “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace”, (Eph. 4: 3). Think of Paul and Barnabas in this regard. No doubt they were still outwardly linked after the angry exchange of Acts 15: 39—but the fellowship had gone. They still moved under the same banner, though apart, but the spiritual partnership was missing. How sad that two men of God, once so close, should be driven apart by “warm feeling”!
On a brighter note, consider Paul’s words concerning Onesimus: “that thou mightest possess him fully for ever; not any longer as a bondman, but above a bondman, a beloved brother”, (Philemon 15, 16—see also Ex. 21: 1–6). Onesimus’s committal to Philemon, such that Philemon would possess him for ever, is a sure indication of a fellowship of the Spirit. It is not as a bondman, but as a beloved brother that Philemon is to possess him.
Note that word “beloved”! It is common in some circles to address persons as beloved brothers when it is obvious in practise that this is far from true! What does “beloved” mean? We need go no further than Matt. 3: 17: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight”. That is what beloved means! Brethren, if there are problems in meetings then let us address them, and not pretend that they do not exist! We must not paper over matters! No fellowship is pleasing to God unless characterised by His own Holy Spirit.