Fellowship is not just connected with privilege but also responsibility. The word fellowship in Greek is koinonia, while those partaking in that fellowship are koinonos and the verb to fellowship is koinoneo. When Paul says that the nations have “participated” (Rom. 15: 27—koinoneo) in the spiritual things of the Jews, that is privilege. When John writes that “he who greets him partakes” (koinoneo) “in his wicked works” (2 John 11), that is responsibility. Again, Christians are exhorted not to be forgetful of “doing good and communicating [of your substance]” (Heb. 13: 16), where the word communicating is koinonia. We are responsible to be marked by such fellowship, while those receiving the “contribution” (Rom. 15: 26—koinonia) are obviously privileged.

   When the Gospel writer says that James and John “were partners” (koinonos) “with Simon” (Luke 5: 10) it means far more than that they were simply occupied in fishing. We know from Mark 1: 19, that after calling Simon Peter, the Lord walked on a little further before calling James and John. Yet Luke does not say that they ‘were koinonos with Simon in fishing’ but simply that they ‘were koinonos with Simon’. We get similar truth taught elsewhere. Titus was Paul’s “companion” (2 Cor. 8: 23—koinonos), the implication being that there was a bond between them that stretched beyond merely travelling in the same direction. Again, when Paul writes to Philemon, he speaks firstly in v6 to “thy participation” (koinonia) “in the faith”, but then uses stronger language in v17 when he says “If therefore thou holdest me to be a partner” (koinonos) “[with thee], receive him as me”. The latter brings out far more the sense of responsibility to one another that attaches to fellowship.

   Sadly, the concept of fellowship that many hold today is dangerously one-sided. Thus, there is a great emphasis on the privilege of sharing in common, while the parallel truth of the responsibility of partnership is almost ignored. In relation to fellowship, Paul refers us to God’s earthly people: “See Israel according to flesh: are not they who eat the sacrifices in communion” (koinonos) “with the altar? (1 Cor. 10: 18). So have we taken that lesson on board? Anyone acquainted with the OT Scriptures knows that both privilege and responsibility attached to being a participant at the altar of Israel, and that failure in responsibility had serious consequences.