What is fellowship? It is a great Bible word – koinonia (κοινωνια) in Greek – and it can mean many different things. Usually we imagine having coffee or sharing our lives with other believers. Or maybe we think of having communion with God, an intimate relationship with our Creator and Saviour. Perhaps a fellowship can be a local congregation. My church even has fellowship in the name. But fellowship can also mean a surprising thing. It can also mean…wait for it…money!
While preparing for this Sunday’s sermon from Philippians I had to grapple with an interesting phrase in 1:5. Paul is expressing great thankfulness for the Philippians and is thankful in particular for their fellowship in the Gospel. Fellowship with one another I have known. Fellowship with God I have experiences. But what does fellowship with the message of Good News mean? Turns out it means giving money.
Koinonia (κοινωνια) can also be translated as communion, partnership, participation. In Romans 15:26 (both NKJV and ESV – my favourites) the word is rendered as contribution. Specifically it is a financial contribution to Jerusalem Christians in need. In Philippians, Paul is thankful for their financial support right from the start of the letter. At the end, he is explicit in his mention of their money:
15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 4:15-17 NKJV
What he is talking about is their fellowship in the Gospel. What this means for us is that:
We must contribute to Gospel work. If we believe the Good News is the message of God and the hope of the world, we need to put our money where our confession is. Support local or foreign missionaries. Give to organizations that do represent God in both word and in good deeds (word and deed go together). And of course, tithing to the local church counts as fellowship in the Gospel too.
Money is spiritual. I don’t mean by this that money is immaterial. At the ATM it can be touched. I mean that the way we use money shows where our priorities are. When we give to alleviate suffering or empower the disadvantaged, we are showing we value human life and dignity. When we contribute to spread Good News, we are valuing God’s message to the world. Where your treasure is, there ________. Finish it for me.
So go ahead and enjoy that coffee and prayer time with a brother. By all means, gather for a little lunch after worship. But remember that sometimes Fellowship = $$$.