Several disciples and I were having lunch at a local restaurant after worship on a Sunday. A few of us were wearing ties and one could assume that it looked like we had just come from worship (because who wears a tie anymore, right?). We indeed had, which prompted a stranger to come up and say, “How sweet it is when brethren have fellowship together!” Quite! But what he clearly intended as he gestured with his hand was how great it was for brethren to eat together. Fortunately, eating a meal together is not fellowship. In fact, if it is fellowship, we have serious spiritual problems. Let’s explore the misunderstanding.
When Jesus walked the earth, He often ate meals with people. On several recorded occasions, He ate meals with sinners. Mark 2:16-17 shows us one such occasion. There, Jesus recognizes that the people He was eating with needed saving; they were sinners. Now, if sharing a meal is fellowship, then Jesus was in fellowship – a spiritual concept (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1) – with sinners. This confusion of food with fellowship was the problem the Pharisees had. Follow their type of logic: If He was in fellowship with sinners, then He was in fellowship with sin. For us, if He was in fellowship with sin, then He was not a perfect sacrifice and you and I are still, and will forevermore be, dead in our sins. Therefore, either eating is not fellowship, or Jesus is not our Savior. See how dangerous this misunderstanding is?
Another example is the common use of “fellowship” to describe any kind of amoral (not to be confused with immoral) activity done in common with other people. If this is indeed fellowship, then we have the same problem as the previous example. It creates an inconsistency in the Scriptures as well, like the case of 1 Cor. 5:9-11. There, Paul tells us that we must not even eat with a brother who is involved in sin. But he also implies that we have no such expectations of people in the world. Therefore, if eating/working/playing together is fellowship, then we are forced to be in fellowship with the world but not worldly “Christians”? This is inconsistent. You will regularly need to eat and work with sinful people. There is no way to get away from that, even if you wanted to (1 Cor. 5:10). If we say that eating a meal is fellowship but not sharing a job, that too is inconsistent. No. Eating, working, playing, or anything of the like are not inherent manifestations of fellowship. This is good news! Let’s see why.
There are times when fellowship with sinners is a distinct reality. Thankfully, it is clearly defined. By doing sin (1 Tim. 5:21-22). 2). By condoning sin (Rom. 1:32, Jas. 3:1). And by supporting sin through false teachers (2 John 1:7-11). Jesus did none of these. So, since having a meal is not fellowship, that means we too can invite a sinner to lunch, and discuss the need for the salvation that only Jesus can provide. Then, maybe, we can have fellowship as fellow disciples of Christ.