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Fellowship is sharing or being part of an activity. Is it possible to be guilty of a wrong act even if we do not actually commit the act? What about encouragement or tempting others to sin? Is it wrong to support, assist, or cooperate with those who do evil acts? What if we defend, protect, or justify those who sin? What does the Bible say?
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Ephesians 5:11 – Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.
Christians know we should not actively commit sin. But we may think we are all right if we do not do the sinful act. The purpose of this lesson is to consider ways we might be wrong because of fellowship in error.
“Fellowship” means sharing or being part of something. Forms of the word are translated communion, participation, partaking, being a partner, etc. It is possible to share in an act, whether good or bad, even if we do not actually do the physical act. This study will consider fellowship in sinful things, but we may illustrate the principles with examples of right things.
This sometimes involves difficult decisions. It may or may not be easy to decide how far to go in avoiding indirect involvement in practices. Nevertheless, there are definite Bible principles we must consider.
Consider some fellowship with sin that we should avoid.
We might fellowship the sins of others by actually joining them in doing sinful deeds.
Ephesians 5:6,7 – Do not partake with those who practice the sins listed.
1 Timothy 5:22 – Do not share in other people’s sins. Keep yourself pure.
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 repeatedly warns us not to fellowship or agree with evil. God’s people must come out from among those who practice evil. Be separate. Do not touch their sinful practices, but cleanse ourselves from defilement.
What are some applications or conclusions?
(Psalm 1:1,2; 1 Corinthians 10:16-21; Proverbs 4:14,15)
Some might excuse participation because someone else started the practice: it was their idea, they dared us, tempted us, etc. All the passages above, however, warn us not to join a wrong practice, no matter who starts it.
Genesis 3:12,13 – Adam excused himself because Eve gave him the fruit. Eve excused herself because the serpent tempted her. But both participated so both were punished. Participation in sin is wrong regardless of who started it. If others seduce us, we must resist.
Proverbs 1:10,14,15 – If sinners entice us, we must not consent. Do not walk in the path they do, nor participate in their sins.
Even if others start the sin and seduce or manipulate us, we must refuse to participate. If people persist in tempting us, we should stay away from them (1 Corinthians 15:33). Active participation in sin makes us guilty before God. We must do whatever it takes to avoid sin.
(Genesis 39; Matthew 27:19-25; Proverbs 22:24,25; 13:20)
1 Corinthians 10:20 – The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.
The context discusses eating meat offered to idols in an idol’s temple. The idols are not really gods, so meat offered to them is just food. Some thought they could eat as long as they did not believe in the idol.
But eating in the idol’s temple was an act of worship to the idol just like eating the Lord’s Supper is an act of worship and eating the Old Testament animal sacrifices was an act of worship (verses 16-18).
A person may say he does not believe in the idol; but if he eats as part of the feast in the idol’s temple, he is having fellowship in sin because the act by its very nature is a sinful form of worship.
Transcendental Meditation is essentially a form of Hinduism. Participants offer gifts to Hindu idols and pray Hindu prayers. Many who do so are not Hindu and do not believe in Hindu gods. Nevertheless, various activities are by nature worship of Hindu gods. Those who participate are having fellowship with idolatry regardless of their intent.
Suppose a person attends a Catholic mass and joins in eating the mass. He might claim he is not Catholic and does not believe in Catholicism. But by participating, he is having fellowship in an act that by its very nature is a Catholic act of worship regardless of his intent.
Suppose a person attends a church that uses instrumental music and he sings along. He may say that he does not believe in using instruments. But his participation is having fellowship in an act that is inherently without Bible authority. His intent does not change the nature of the act.
If an act is sinful by nature, then participating is fellowshiping error regardless of our intent.
Even if we do not actively participate, we might still fellowship sin by encouraging or tempting other people to sin. We might do this either deliberately or indirectly through our influence.
Psalm 64:5 – Those who encourage one another in evil purposes are themselves evil (verse 2). God condemns, not just the doing of evil, but also encouraging and planning evil.
Matthew 18:6,7 – It would be better to drown in the sea than to cause someone else to sin (stumbling block). Temptations will come to everyone, but woe to the man who causes them.
Christians are trying to save people and help them serve God. Leading people into sin is the opposite of our Christian purposes. We are wrong if we encourage people to participate in sin even if we ourselves do not actively participate in the act.
Romans 1:32 – People who practice the sins listed (verses 29-31) are worthy of death. But so are those who approve of those who practice these things. Other translations say: “consent with them” (ASV) or “have pleasure in them” (KJV). We are wrong, not just when we do evil acts, but also when we encourage or approve of others who do them. (Galatians 2:9; 2 John 10,11)
When a person encourages other people to do wrong, he may say, “I didn’t do it. He did it.” But then the person who did it justifies himself by saying, “It was his idea. He talked me into it.” We do not want to admit guilt no matter what our involvement is. But God rebukes both the one who does the evil and the one who encourages it: both are fellowshiping sin.
(Proverbs 12:26; Proverbs 28:10; 16:29)
Genesis 3:12,13 – Consider the serpent in Eden. Did he eat the fruit? Suppose he had said, “I didn’t eat it, why blame me?” But God did condemn him because he tempted Eve. Note that we have people in all positions here. Adam ate but tempted no one else to eat. The serpent did not eat but tempted others to eat. Eve both ate and tempted Adam. God punished all three. They all had fellowship in the sin. (2 Chronicles 19:2)
Matthew 27:19-25 – Jewish leaders persuaded the people to ask for Jesus’ death. Pilate gave in and killed Him, but he tried to shift the blame to the people. Who was guilty? The Romans who actually carried out the crucifixion, or the Jews who demanded it?
Acts 2:23 – Peter told the Jews (verse 5) they killed Jesus (compare verse 36), but they did it by the hand of lawless men: the Romans. Both the people who did the crime and those who promoted and condoned it were held guilty. All had fellowship in the sin.
Suppose some teenagers are in a store and they dare one of them to shoplift. Who sinned? Both the one who steals and the ones who encouraged it.
The same applies if we encourage people or think it’s “cool” or “awesome” if somebody tells dirty jokes, drinks, gambles, sees a dirty movie, reads pornography, sees how far he can go with a girl, etc. Even if we do not do the sinful act, if we encourage it or take pleasure in it, we are guilty of fellowshiping sin.
1 Corinthians 8:9-13 – We might encourage sin by our influence and example even when we think people should not do it. Some Christians did not want to worship idols but wanted to eat meat offered to an idol in the idol’s temple. Other people, seeing them, would think it must be all right to worship the idol; so they commit sin by eating as an act of worship to the idol.
Suppose a man does not drink but goes to the bar to be with friends who are drinking. Or he does not gamble but goes to the casino with his friends who gamble. Even though he does not drink or gamble, his influence leads those who see him there to think their conduct is acceptable.
It is possible to know an act is sinful yet so act as to encourage it by our influence. If we do, we sin because we had fellowship in the other man’s sin: we contributed to it.
(Genesis 39:6-10; Acts 8:1; 22:20; 26:10; 2 Peter 2:7,8)
Again, even if we do not commit overt sinful acts, we might have fellowship in sin by paying others to do it or by providing what they need or otherwise cooperating with their sin. This area of fellowship and the previous one (encouragement) often go together.
First, consider some illustrations.
Exodus 17:10-12 – When Moses held up his hands, the Israelite army prevailed. But Moses grew tired, so Aaron & Hur held up his hands. They assisted him, providing what he needed.
3 John 5-8 – Brethren traveled for Jesus’ name (verses 6,7) working for the truth (verse 8). Gaius was commended because he welcomed them and set them forward on their journey (verses 6,8). This was “receiving” them and made him a fellow-worker for the truth (verse 8).
Other Bible examples involve supporting, assisting, providing for preachers by giving meals, a place to stay, etc. (Luke 10:1-12; 2 Kings 4:8-10). If men preach the truth and you provide for them, you are sharing in the preaching, even if you do not actually do the preaching.
3 John 9,10 – But Diotrophes refused to “receive” these but spoke against them. Note: Christians are commended for assisting men who teach truth, but Diotrophes was rebuked for not receiving those men. This helps us understand the next key passage.
(Philippians 1:3-5; 4:14-16; Hebrews 10:32-34; 1 Samuel 30:24; 2 Corinthians 8:4)
2 John 9-11 – If men advocate and practice error (verse 9), we should not be fellow-workers with them. We should not receive them into our house or greet them (“bid Godspeed” – KJV). Understanding the things we should do to support preachers of truth, helps us understand the things we should not do for false teachers.
So, we must not support people’s sins: do not finance their efforts to spread false views, do not provide for their needs as they do it, and do not encourage them or assist them. Do not do anything that would rightly be taken as encouraging them in their stand for evil.
Luke 22:2-6 – Jewish leaders paid Judas to betray Jesus. They did not kill Jesus and did not betray Him. Yet they were incredibly evil. They financed, planned, and encouraged evil.
Proverbs 1:14 – Evil men entice others to join them in thievery, and suggest they all have one purse. Financing evil work is fellowshiping evil even if we do not personally do the evil.
Acts 7:58; 8:1; 22:20 (26:10) – Saul consented to Stephen’s death and held the coats of those who stoned him. He did not have to cast stones to be guilty. Cooperating and assisting in the act was sharing in it.
* Drive a get-away car for thieves (“I didn’t steal anything…”)
* Drug dealer; operator of pornographic website
* Nurse who assists in an abortion clinic
* Divorce lawyer (he may not divorce his wife but just helps others)
* Bartender, employee in a distillery, clerk in a liquor store
* Amish people refuse to own cars but often want other people to give them rides in their cars. They refuse to own TVs but will watch them in waiting rooms or even work in factories that make them.
* Contribute financially to false religious groups or false teachers.
* United Way/United Fund – money from your check goes to Catholic or Jewish charities or Salvation Army plus pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood.
* Giving to “Churches of Christ” that support missionary or benevolent societies, sponsoring churches, entertainment, recreation, etc.).
When you understand the principles involved, you understand that involvement in such activities is fellowshiping sin.
When people are rebuked for error, sometimes other people come to their defense to justify them. They may not practice the act; but if a friend or family member is involved, they try to protect him from rebuke or church discipline, etc. Or they tolerate their sinful conduct and claim to accept them as pleasing to God without saying they need to repent.
The call of our society is to “tolerate” just about every form of religious or moral error. The only people who are viewed as being wrong are those who speak out against sin.
Exodus 23:7 – God does not justify the wicked, so neither should we but should keep far from a false matter. We must not do such sin nor justify those who do it.
Proverbs 17:15 – He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both an abomination to God. If people do not sin, we must not treat them as sinners. But if they are in sin, we must not justify them, defend them, or protect them from the Scriptural efforts of people who rebuke them. (Leviticus 5:1; Psalm 50:16,18; Deuteronomy 25:1; Proverbs 24:24,25)
Ephesians 5:11 – Do not fellowship sin, but reprove (expose) it. Some people think they are all right as long as they are not actively practicing a sin. But if they justify and defend those who do it, or if they protect them from those who would rebuke them, are they exposing and reproving the sin? Such is still disobeying the passage even if they do not commit the act.
1 Timothy 6:3 – Some will not consent to sound words. Instead of accepting the truth, they object to it and defend those who practice error.
Numbers 16:41 – God slew Korah and his companions for rebelling against Moses and Aaron’s leadership. Some people objected to this discipline and assembled against Moses and Aaron. God plagued them and over 14,000 died (verses 42-50). These people were punished, not for committing the sin of Korah, but for objecting when people opposed their error.
Deuteronomy 13:8 – If even a nearest friend or family member sinned (verses 6,7) people must not protect him from disciplinary action, but should join in that discipline (verses 9ff).
Joshua 7:1,10-13 – Israel lost a battle because sin was in the camp. One man had taken forbidden possessions, so God refused to be among the people till they disciplined the man (verse 12). When the people punished the man, then God blessed them again (verses 19-26).
1 Corinthians 5:1,2,9-11 – The church in Corinth had an adulterer in their midst. Paul rebuked them for tolerating and accepting the man in his sin. He instructed them to refuse to keep company with him, not even to eat with him, and so put away evil from their midst (verse 13).
2 Thessalonians 3:6,14,15 – God commands us to withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly, not to treat him as an enemy but hoping he will be ashamed.
When the church tolerates error in its midst and does not insist that sinners repent, we appear to accept such conduct. Sinners do not see their need to repent, other members may think they can practice sin too, and the world thinks we do not oppose sin. When we take God’s prescribed steps to deal with sin, then we “clear ourselves” in the matter (2 Corinthians 7:11).
No church or teacher has the right to rebuke or discipline those who are not in error. But if they are in error, anyone who defends them becomes a partaker of that error. And the church itself appears to accept or tolerate the error until it takes an open stand to discipline the error.
(Acts 9:26-28; 2 John 9-11; Matthew 18:15-17; Titus 3:10,11; Romans 16:17,18; 1 Timothy 1:3-11,19,20; 2 Corinthians 2:6-11; Hebrews 12:15; 1 Corinthians 15:33)
Ephesians 5:11 – The alternative to fellowship with sin is to reprove or expose it. It is not enough to not participate in the sin. We must actively speak out against it. When we do, we will find that applications in fellowship often resolve themselves. People in sin will not want to fellowship us.
Nevertheless, this topic often leads to difficult applications. But the principles we have discussed are clearly Scriptural. Instead of ignoring them, we must develop the maturity to apply them (Hebrews 5:14).
Luke 23:50,51 – Joseph of Arimathea was a good and just man. He had not consented to the decision to slay Jesus. Christians must be good and just people, but there is far more to this than just not overtly doing evil things. Like Joseph, we must make sure that we are not supporting, encouraging, or tolerating the sins of others.
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.