When we are “born again,” by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are born into an extended family of believers, what we call the Church. Throughout the New Testament, we find various expressions and illustrations that give us a picture of what exactly that is. In the letters of Paul, “the Bride of Christ” and the “Body of Christ” are used to illustrate the unity we are to experience, a unity that celebrates our differences in gifts, talents, etc. The message is clear, however, we stand together, in community…in koinonia.
The most common translation of the Greek word, koinonia, is fellowship. In Acts 2, for example, Luke says:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Luke 2:42 (NASB)
In their cultural context, the early believers were wholly devoted to one another, meeting together regularly to share meals, pray together and hear the apostles teaching, continually. This was not your church potluck kind of fellowship. There was an intimacy that is particularly telling in the word, continually. This was their habit. This was their lifestyle. They depended on one another. They cared for one another. They shared resources and space. This was true fellowship.
As the message of the gospel spread throughout the known world, needs arose…some of them were enormous. In Romans 15, we read:
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Romans 15:26 (NASB)
This is an example of koinonia as contribution. In this case, the contribution was monetary, to meet the needs of Christians in Jerusalem who were experiencing a time of drought and famine. As word spread, brothers and sisters responded. This can be seen as a model, even today, as Christians who have the means help suffering sisters and brothers around the world with their physical needs. At home, we are called to do the same. Genuine community means that we respond to our brothers and sisters who are in need. We offer assistance. We offer shelter. We give freely and with joy, because it is our privilege to contribute. It is an expression of our love for God and for one another.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we see stated what is only illustrated elsewhere. Koinonia is a call to participation. Paul says:
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. Philippians 1:3-5 (NASB)
Each of us, individually and in community are participants in the gospel. As we use the gifts and graces of God within our community, we realize the purpose for which God created the church: the proclamation of the gospel. As we give; as we teach; as we preach; as we serve; as we ____________, the grace of God is realized, not just for the church, but for the unchurched. In so doing, we fulfill that for which God has redeemed us. Jesus instructs us to let our lights so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our father in heaven. I believe that light illumines the path for believer and unbeliever, alike. In Ephesians, Paul declares that we are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, that He prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10). As we walk and work, in fellowship, we are participating in the gospel. What a privilege!
We all learned to share early in life. If you have children, you make every effort to teach them to share their toys graciously…and fail miserably most of the time, right.
Well, we’ve more than covered the privilege of sharing our material wealth with others above. Here, we’re talking about sharing the load, as it were. All too often, the church places the burden of ministry on the shoulders of the “professionals.” You know, that’s what we pay the pastors to do, isn’t it? Nothing can be farther from the truth. Biblically, the pastor/teacher’s role is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16).
We are all called to share in the work. We are all gifted to share in the work. It is not a burden. It is a privilege. Again, as we walk and share in the gospel, we declare our love for God and one another.
No…there are no Lone Rangers here. We seek to walk in fellowship, in koinonia, in community, with all the rights, responsibilities and privileges that brings.
What “part” of koinonia do you most enjoy? What challenges you the most? I’d love for you to participate and share in the comments, below.