Koinōnia

by Mike Ratliff

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)

Most of the churches I attended in my life had something called “fellowship” and some even had  space dedicated to it called “fellowship hall” or something similar. We had time after “church” that was called “fellowship time” that always seemed to be a relaxed time of visiting together and just being friendly with each other outside of normal “church stuff.” In the New Testament the word that is translated as “fellowship” as in Acts 2:42 (above) is κοινωνια or koinōnia, which Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest defined as, “joint participation in a common interest or activity.” Instead of simply a friendly time of visiting together or a coming together for relaxation, κοινωνια, then, is a partnership, a sharing of something in common.

Carefully read Acts 2:42, which is at the top of this post. Here it is from the Greek text, “῏Ησαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ καὶ τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς.”

Here is my personal translation, “They were but remaining constant the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”

In this verse we have the fourfold activity of the church. The believers continued steadfastly in the teaching or doctrine of the apostles and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. It should be clear that these believers were not divided in any way. They had a single-mindedness to stand firm in what the apostles were teaching them and in doing that they partnered together to do so. In this they broke bread together and, of course, prayed together. There was a close communion with each other. This partnering together, this fellowship is second only to the foundational element of doctrine and teaching. It is crucial that Christians fellowship with one another.

True Christian fellowship is far deeper than simple socializing together. It involves a true union and bond in thought and desire, and goal. Carefully read the following passage.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5 ESV)

What was making Paul joyful? It was the Philippians partnership with him in the Gospel. However, greatest of all is our fellowship with our Lord Jesus Himself as Paul says in Philippians 3:10, “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

On the other hand, there is a flip side to κοινωνια that we must consider. There are some with whom we should never have fellowship.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 ESV)

Paul used four different graphic words in this passage to describe a relationship. We have already looked at κοινωνια, which is translated here as fellowship. The word the ESV translated as partnership in v14 is μετοχη or metochē. It means “sharing or participation.” In v15 of the ESV we have the word accord, which is the Greek word συμφωνησις or sumphonēsis from which we get our English word symphony. It means “unison and agreement.” Also in v15 we have the word portion, which is the Greek word μερις or meris, which means “a share or portion of something.” Finally, in v16 in the ESV we have the word agreement, which is the Greek word συγκαταθεσις or sugkatathesis, which is an accord or a consensus.

Paul’s questions using these words were rhetorical. Of course there can be no question of the importance of the Christian’s separation from the world. Paul’s word usage here was brilliant. He heaped them on upon another so there will be no misunderstanding about the believer’s forging too close a bond with non-Christians.

Think of marriage, business partnerships, dating, friendships, club memberships, et cetera. The next one may cause some discussion, but also think of those secret lodges or organizations like the Masons. They are not Christian. Even a brief examination of their literature reveals that. Therefore, we must be wise and not have any close relationships with these groups or people. It is God who has made these distinctions. Why? He wants the Body of Christ to be pure, to “be separate” and “touch not the unclean thing.” He does not want us to be defiled by evil or by fellowship with those who do evil. Think on this my brethren, when believers do fellowship with evil, they break fellowship and communion with God. He can only “receive us” when we are separate from this world.

Soli Deo Gloria!

3 thoughts on “Koinōnia

  1. Very good.
    So many times in my own life I have been sorely berated for my stand of separation.
    There are places that we all have to go, people we have to see on a regular basis; I am speaking of work, school, etc., and even family gatherings. But, these are NOT places of fellowship for me, it is very empty and shallow. The only true fellowship that I have is with the true saints of God and centered around the truth of the Word. Sometimes these people (family and saints) are the same people, but most times they are not.
    I have been told that I “exclude” people. I have not consciously or verbally done this, but I believe it is my own Biblical lifestyle and what that includes that makes people say this. Because I do not just “accept” or “tolerate” certain things, then I am accused of being exclusive. Well, this is the only place of true peace and victory for me.
    True fellowship around Jesus and His Word is such a sweet, precious gift. Not that we cannot talk about happenings in the world, the weather, and other more surface issues, but we always get back to Jesus, always!
    I never feel empty afterward, I think that is the difference. Praise God for the saints!

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