I suppose I have seen or heard the term “breaking bread” used with its Biblical connotation more often in recent years in secular and political contexts than in Christian contexts.¹ Perhaps this is because most of Christendom has gone away from actually breaking bread in their worship meetings, in favor of a pre-allocated portion to be taken by worshipers as part of their communion service. Digging even a little deeper for the root cause, one might be permitted to suggest that the loss of the terminology of breaking bread stems from a loss of understanding of how breaking bread with others relates to the concept of fellowship, or communion. Well-read journalists and politicians may be credited for understanding that if you “break bread” with another party, even figuratively, you have established a common ground, a participation, a fellowship with that party and its principles and ideals.
The term “fellowship” is, however, rather commonly used among Christians. Some use the word to denote their particular assembly of believers in a single locale, others may use it when speaking of a gathering of friends and family for fun and natural refreshment. But what does fellowship mean, and what are its connotations, when looked at in the Scriptures?
In the New Testament, both fellowship and communion are translations to English (from Anglo-Saxon and Latin roots, respectively) of the Greek word “koinonia” in its several forms. These terms denote a sharing with or participation in a cause, a person, or an association of persons. Koinonia is also translated using other English terms, and found in many contexts, including:
- That blessed and permanent association with the Father and the Son, into which Christians are called based on the work of the Lord Jesus Christ for us in bringing us to God. See I Corinthians 1:9 and I John 1:3-7.
- That association or participation we as Christians are privileged to have with others in body of Christ, which is effected and enjoyed by breaking bread together at the Lord’s table. See Acts 2:42; I Corinthians 10:16-21; and Philippians 2:1.
- The participation Christians may have in the work of the Lord by the sharing of their time and resources. See II Corinthians 8:4; Philippians 1:5 and 4:15 (“communicated”).
- The participation in others’ sins that Christians are liable to be implicated in if they are not vigilant and fail to apply Scriptural safeguards. See II Corinthians 6:14; 5:7-11; and I Timothy 5:22 (“partaker”).
Why is it important to understand the meaning of fellowship within the context of the various passages of Scripture where it is found? First of all, I believe, it is because God desires to have fellowship with His redeemed ones, sharing with us what He values about His Son, for the Lord Jesus was always, and will always be, the preeminent object of the Father’s heart (John 1:18 and 17:24). How could the Father not have an immense desire to share Him with us, for whom He gave the darling of His bosom, His only-begotten Son?
Secondly, referencing the last three points above, it is the great desire of the Lord Jesus that the members of His body here on earth have fellowship with each other in practice, on the basis of the truth of the Word of God. For that fellowship to be pleasing to Christ, we must be watchful that the apostles’ doctrine is maintained, that our fellowship is truly “of the Spirit”, and that we, individually and collectively, are not tainted or corrupted by fellowship with falsehood or idolatry.
Returning now to the collective act of breaking bread – the one loaf representing the “one body” of Christ referenced in I Corinthians 10: The apostles’ fellowship may be beautifully expressed by those that are Christ’s in the breaking of bread, and we have the privilege to do so often, just as the apostles did.² And from another aspect, it is in the act of breaking bread with other Christians (appropriate care being taken as to whom we partake with) that we really prove and maintain “communion with the altar”³, and with all other saints who are sound in doctrine and godly in practice.
Christian fellowship with others is not a casual matter, nor is it open to all comers without discrimination. Neither is it simply a local association of Christians meeting in one building. Fellowship as practiced by saints is a precious thing in the eyes of our God. Perhaps we could even speak of it as being delicate, with all the beauty and fragrance of a flower that must be maintained with care. May we seek to honor the Lord Jesus in our fellowship, until He comes and transforms our imperfect expressions of it into perfection.
¹ (Outside of a few circles where the term is regularly used.)
² Acts 2:42; 20:7-11; I Corinthians 11:26
³ I Corinthians 10:17-18, JND translation (The altar is an allegory of the Lord’s table.)