Paul was joyful about the “fellowship in the gospel” that the church at Philippi had with him (Philippians 1:4,5). You probably know that the word translated “fellowship” there is koinonia. A study of that word in the New Testament reveals that fellowship is partnership, real involvement, actual working together in the same way for the same cause. Paul had true Gospel fellowship, or partnership, with that church.
When I keep reading all of Philippians, it is strange to me that many today read Philippians 1:4,5 and see something like this: “That’s what fellowship is all about! The Gospel! As long as someone is preaching the Gospel then we can be in partnership with them for the Gospel!”
Really? Paul was saying that as long as they were preaching the Gospel he could partner with them? He did write to the same church that he rejoiced whenever Christ was preached, even if the preaching was in “pretence” (1:18), but he did not state that he would be in fellowship with whoever preached the Gospel. He said that he was in fellowship with the church at Philippi “in the Gospel.” That is not the same as declaring, “I fellowship with anyone as long as they are preaching the Gospel.”
The context actually reveals that the Philippian church defended and confirmed the gospel with him (1:7), he taught them (whole Epistle), they were to be in one accord with him (2:2), he sent men sent to preach to them (2:19-25), they were to be of the same mind and walk as Paul (3:15-17), they were to do what they had “learned, and received, and heard, and seen” in Paul (4:9), and they gave financially to him (4:15-17). That is way more than, “you preach the Gospel and I preach the Gospel, so let’s partner up!” (with fist bumps all around).
By the way, we can’t forget that the church at Philippi was started by Paul. They had the same doctrine and practice. So, they were fellowshipping because they were the same thing. You don’t get from Philippians that they were in fellowship in spite of the differences they had with Paul. It wasn’t “we’re really different, but we fellowship in the Gospel.” Not at all. Again, he commanded them to have the same mind and walk as him.
So, Philippians actually shows what real “fellowship in the gospel” looks like. It is with unity of doctrine and practice. If you are having a hard time with this, then consider a study of all of Paul’s Epistles. I am confident they will not lead you to the silly notion that Paul would promote ideas such as, “well, we don’t baptize the same way as them, they have doctrines that are inconsistent with ours, they practice differently in regards to many things, and they have an assortment of texts of Scripture that are disagree with each other, but they’re good men, so we should be friends and fellowship with them. Hey, they preach the gospel, so let’s fellowship.”
Let’s let “fellowship in the gospel” be what it really is: Real partnership in the Gospel. Don’t make it an exercise of pretending to ignore all the differences so we can fellowship. Rather, let’s have the same doctrine and practice that we see in the Scriptures, so we can have true “fellowship in the gospel.”