“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…for your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:3–6

How is fellowship in the Gospel much different than the world’s idea of friendship? A favorite Field Day contest among grade school children is the “three-legged race.” It is distinct from the wheel barrow race or a relay. Those kinds of contests require cooperation with each doing his part in a distinct sort of way, yet working with a common goal in mind. But the three-legged race is where two people tie one of their legs to their partner’s and must run in concert to reach the goal.

Mismatched people in a relay or a wheel barrow race are usually mismatched on purpose. For the wheel barrow race the person in front, walking on their hands, has to have superior upper body strength compared to the one behind. In a relay race you want the fastest out of the block to be the starter and you want the most explosive runner to be the finisher. In these contests mismatching forces a strategy in order to win. In the three-legged race mismatching leads to hilarious moments, falls, and inevitably leads to defeat. Better to make a pair of two who can think alike, are evenly matched in strength, and coordinate body movements.

Paul’s text, if you will pardon my analogy, is like someone graduating from the “relay race” of worldly friendship to the communion of the saints, where we all run, but we all run together to finish the race set before us. Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the Philippian believers is a joyful prayer because God began something new in them in imparting saving faith through the truth of the Gospel, and he is confident that God will finish what He has started.

The word for fellowship is koinonia, often translated communion and partnership in the Scriptures. It is a word signifying a business partnership where a contractual agreement binds two parties together, working toward the same goal in joint interest. Though simply being a member of the human race creates a natural bridge to human partnerships (whether as a member of a family, a citizen of a country, or an employee of a company), there is a spiritual partnership that functions both inclusively and exclusively.

The worldling knows the meaning of being a fellow traveler (sunekdemos—Acts 19:29, 2 Corinthians 8:19) and a fellow worker (sunergos—Philippians 2:25). He even knows of being a partner (koinonos—a suffering companion, like Hebrews 10:33). But the worldling cannot know authentic partnership in Christ that is generated exclusively by the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of those who are born again. 2 Corinthians 6:14ff points this fact out: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship [in common] has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion [fellowship] has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God….” For this reason alone, believers should not date, let alone marry, unsaved people. The “three-legged” race of life will be extremely difficult on them.

Communion of the saints is a higher level of partnership. We refer to the “Lord’s Table” as “Communion” for this reason. Noah Webster listed this as one of his definitions for communion: “The body of Christians who have one common faith and discipline. The three grand communions, into which the Christian church is divided, are those of the Greek, the Romish and the Protestant churches.” Biblical Communion, as observed in the local church, is an act of worship focused on the work of Jesus Christ, in recognition of His substitutionary sacrifice symbolized by the bread, and in recognition of His payment to purchase His own through His shed blood, symbolized by the grape juice. As the local church gathers to observe communion, the body gathers around the commonly held truth of the Word, in common experience as spiritual partners in the efficacy of the work of Jesus Christ, and common association in both momentary and lifelong reverence before the Lord, with one accord. 1 Corinthians 10:18ff and Acts 2:42 bear on this subject. Life in Christ is at the center of communion in truth (John 17:16–22). Total allegiance to Christ and faithful obedience to His Word serves as the rock-solid basis of communion.

How is living communion of the saints built upon this foundation (Matthew 7:25ff)? By regular attendance and devotion to the Word in order to grow in knowledge of the Son of God (1 Corinthians 1:4ff). By regular sharing in the worship and observance of communion (1 Corinthians 10:16). By filling each day with Spirit-led decisions (Philippians 2:1ff). By identifying with Christ and His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). By purposely spending time with fellow believers and serving with them (1 John 1:3, 6f). By sharing your faith and resources with others (Philemon 6; 2 Corinthians 8:4, 9:13; Hebrews 13:16).

Communion of the saints is not a static reality or mere earthbound friendship. Biblical communion with Christ and His people must be purposely and actively sought out if you desire to be obedient to the claim of the Gospel upon your life. Trust and obey.