Youth at First - January 2014

Κοινωνία (koi-nō-NEE-uh). Fellowship. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot lately in contemporary Christianity. But what does it actually mean? When the Bible talks of fellowship between believers (Acts 2:42), what sort of relationship is it describing? And what are the implications for us today?

The start of the New Year means the end of the Thanksgiving/Christmas season which, if your holidays are anything like mine, involves a whole lot of spending time with friends and family, enjoying each others’ company, and eating good food. For most Christians, especially for us Southern Baptists, that’s what fellowship entails: church family and food. But biblical fellowship involves so much more. Take note that in Acts 2:42, the first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers.” If fellowship was simply the breaking of bread, then Luke would have no reason to note that they devoted themselves to fellowship and the breaking of bread, as that would simply be redundant.

What then is Biblical fellowship, koinōnia, all about? We find a hint just a few verses down in verse 44: “and all who believed were together and had all things in common (κοινή, koi-NAY)” For anyone who knows anything about Biblical Greek, you will recognize the word koinÄ" to be the Greek word “common”; in fact, koinÄ" is the term used for the “common” Greek language in which the New Testament was written. KoinÄ" and koinōnia come from the same root. Thus, we have a relationship between what is common and what it is to be in fellowship. Biblical fellowship refers to the commonality of things between believers. When the early church was devoting itself to fellowship, it was devoting itself to the sharing of everything: a common Savior, a common goal, common worship, common lives, common possessions, common joys, and common hardships.

Most uses of the word koinōnia in the New Testament refer to instances of this sharing of life together, of partnership (Acts 2:42, 1 Cor 1:9, 2 Cor 6:14, 8:4, 13:13, Gal 2:9, Phil 1:5, 2:1, 3:10, Philemon 1:6, 1 John 1:3, 6, 7), but a few instances take the idea of sharing to another level. One of Paul’s tasks on his missionary journeys, especially on the second and third journeys, was to collect an offering from churches in the Gentile areas to return to the church in Jerusalem in order to provide economic support for the church there. In multiple places in the New Testament, koinōnia refers to the contribution, the partnership, or the sharing of physical and monetary goods with others (Rom 15:26, 2 Cor 9:13, Heb 13:16). From this we see that Biblical fellowship at its center revolves around selflessness and humility, some of the highest virtues of Christianity.

As Christians, we live our lives in response to the Gospel and the immense Love, Mercy, and Grace that God has bestowed upon us. Because God provides our everything, it only follows that we should be more than willing to share everything with others. Fellowship starts with our selflessness and our willingness to bless others with God’s blessings to us, whether or not those blessings are reciprocated. The early churches in the Gentile world expected nothing in return for their gifts to Jerusalem; they simply valued the welfare of their Christian brothers and sisters.

True fellowship begins with us giving of ourselves, and when the whole Church behaves in this manner, something beautiful emerges. Biblical fellowship can only exist within the confines of Gospel relationships; the world has nothing like it to offer, as evidenced by Acts 2:47: “and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” When people see true Biblical fellowship, they cannot help but want in. So next time you hear about a church “fellowship,” think about what it truly means. We as a community of believers come together in spite of our differences, gathered around the message of the Cross, and give of ourselves to love, support, cherish, participate, and commune with one another. It doesn’t simply happen around a dinner table. It happens all day, every day. We share our whole lives in common, no matter the cost, for the glory of Christ our Savior. That’s true Fellowship. That’s Κοινωνία.

-Nick Taylor

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