Friday, June 28, 2019 -
Today in my Bible reading, I read Philemon 1:6: “And I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.” I wondered what was meant by the “fellowship of your faith?” King James’ version translates it quite differently, “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.”
So, okay, that makes it clearer. It must be that the sharing of your faith is translated in the New American Standard Version as “the fellowship of your faith.” The New International Version says, “your partnership with us in the faith.”
And so, when I looked up the Greek word I was surprised that the word translated so differently is koinonia, which is commonly used as a term for fellowship in the American church. But the meaning seems to me to be so much deeper than the meaning we have attributed to it, which is why it is not only translated so differently but used in very different contexts. It, in fact, appears 19 times in the New Testament (Acts 2:42; I Cor. 1:9; 10:16; II Cor. 6:14; 8:4; 13:14; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 3:8-9; Phil. 1:5; 2:1; 3:10; Philemon 1:6; I John 1:3,6,7; Rom. 15:26; II Cor. 9:13; Heb. 13:16). The latter three references and II Cor. 8:4 are in the contexts of sharing or contributing financially to those fellow believers who are in need. In II Cor. 6:14 we are told not to be bound together with unbelievers; “for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship (koinonia) has light with darkness?” In Paul’s blessing to the Corinthians in II Corinthians 13:4, he prays for the fellowship (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit to be with all of them. In I Corinthians 10:16 the word is used twice, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread we break a sharing (koinonia) in the body of Christ?” In Acts 2:42 we read, “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” In I Corinthians 1:9 we read, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship (koinonia) with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Ephesians 3:8-9 says, “To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, and to bring to light what is the administration (koinonia) of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things…” In Philippians 1:5 you read “In view of your participation (koinonia) in the gospel from the first day until now.” In Philippians 2:1 we read the “fellowship (koinonia) of the Spirit,” and in 3:10 “the fellowship (koinonia) of His sufferings”
So what does this mean for you and me? When Christ comes into our hearts through our repentance of and turning from sin, we enter into an inexplicable (in terms of those who do not know Christ) relationship not only with God, Jesus Christ our Savior, and the great Comforter, the Holy Spirit but with our fellow believers. We become partners. What we have becomes theirs. We become as one close-knit family. When we suffer, Christ is there for us, and we, in the same way, are there to be the one who shares in the comfort and relief of our fellow believers. Christ’s suffering was our suffering. He bore our sin so that we might have koinonia with Him and consequently with others who have been redeemed by His shed blood. We become one body in Christ with many members (I Corinthians 12:14) and we all depend on each other and need one another (I Cor. 12:15-27). We cannot survive without one another.
Koinonia is when you meet someone who is a stranger one moment, but as soon as you learn they are part of the family of God, you embrace them as you would a relative you did not know you had – because that is what you are! It can be someone of a completely different culture who doesn’t even speak the same language as you, but there is that bond, that koinonia, which someone who does not know Christ personally cannot comprehend or fathom in any way.
I saw this with my attorneys when in preparation for my criminal defense, began to interview our brothers and sisters in the Lord who knew Kathie and me, some on a much deeper level than others. But in each instance, there was that “koinonia” that amazed my attorneys. When there was suffering or a need of any kind, they saw that we were willing to do whatever we could to help, no matter the cost. And it was not limited to those we knew personally, but brothers and sisters in Christ the world over, who felt our “koinonia” with them, even those who just showed up on our doorstep. And it was that same “koinonia” Judge Arcara, my trial judge, saw as he read the letters that over 350 of my brothers and sisters sent to him on my behalf, pleading for mercy and leniency in my sentencing.
One final example, which is very current: A high school friend of my wife’s, who is a believer, has begun to correspond with my fellow prisoner “C,” whose life has been radically transformed, in a way that encourages him in the Lord. She wants to be put on his visitor list so she can come to visit him. And he is overwhelmed with wonder. He said to me the other day, “I’m just not used to people being nice to me for no reason!”But that is “koinonia.” It is just what Christians do. It defines us. The world does not understand, nor will it ever. It is the relationship we have with Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, that is evident in and through us that binds us together with one another. It is the glue that unites us as one in Christ. It is, as Philemon 1:6 says, the “koinonia of faith,” which never stops growing within us. It is to love one for another in every way possible, expecting nothing in return. It demonstrates one’s maturity in Christ.
However, the depth of “koinonia” we have with others is very much dependent on the “koinonia” we have with the Lord. As our fellowship, or “koinonia,” grows with the Lord, so does our love, fellowship or “koinonia” deepen for our brethren – even those we are not personally acquainted with. But this “koinonia” with the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit grows only as we make time for Him, and allow Him to speak with us on a daily basis, and as we confer with him. He blesses us in every way, just as we increasingly seek to bless others. It is a two-way street, this “koinonia” with the Lord. And as we commune with him, we, in turn, bless others, and so we increasingly intercede on behalf of those who are our family in Christ, both spiritually and physically. We bear one another’s burdens. That’s what the “koinonia” of faith is all about!
Jesus demonstrated His “koinonia” with us by giving His life for us, shedding His blood for our sin, suffering and dying for us. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from the Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you. This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:13-17). In Hebrews 2:11 we read He is not ashamed to call us brethren. In a practical demonstration, at the Lord’s supper, immediately before His death, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet.
That is “koinonia.” That is love for the brethren. That is true “koinonia” of faith.