Fellowship / Koinōnia

by Mike Ratliff

42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NASB)

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 has 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.

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.

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)

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 the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to 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.

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “ I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be MY people. 17 “ Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “ And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 “ And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. 1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 NASB)

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 NASB translated as partnership in v14 is μετοχη or metochē. It means “sharing or participation.” In v15 of the NASB we have the word harmony, 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 words in common with, which is the Greek word μερις or meris, which means “a share or portion of something.” Finally, in v16 in the NASB 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 Freemasons. 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!

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