Biblical Fellowship – Koinonia

“But if we [really] are living and walking in the Light as He [Himself] is in the Light, we have [true, unbroken] fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses (removes) us from all sin and guilt – keeps us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations.”   1 John 1:7 Amplified Bible

As we launch into our Fall series in 1 John (His Light, Our Delight) we will see the word fellowship repeated often.  A central point to the message of 1 John is that our fellowship with one another is born out of, or emanates from, our fellowship with God. The word fellowship (Greek: koinonia [1]) means intentionally moving toward a deep communing, a holy alliance of love one for another; it’s shared life (community) with others who have a passion for Jesus, the Son of God.  My own definition of koinonia is to break off a piece of yourself (the real you) and share it for the purpose of mutual benefit, edification and encouragement – embracing authenticity in a world more comfortable with an “image-is-everything” mentality.

To appreciate the full meaning of the word-group in the New Testament that conveys the nature and reality of Christian fellowship (i.e., the noun koinonia, the verb, koinonein, and the noun koinonos) as used in the New Testament, it is necessary to be aware of a fundamental point:

The fact and experience of Christian fellowship only exists because God the Father through Jesus Christ, the Son, and through the Holy Spirit has established by grace a relation (a “new covenant”) with humankind.  Those who believe the gospel are united in the Holy Spirit through the Son to the Father.  This relationship leads to the reality of a connectedness and into an experienced relationship (a “communion in community”) between us and God.  Those who are “in Christ” (as the apostle Paul often states) are in communion not only with Jesus Christ (and the Father) in the Holy Spirit but also with one another. This relatedness, relationship, communion, and community is what the Bible refers to as fellowship.  We can clearly see that fellowship is much more than grabbing a cup of coffee together.

By his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, Jesus Christ brought into being a new creation, a new order, and a new dispensation.  Jesus Christ exercises his relation in this new creation in and through the controlling and liberating Holy Spirit, whom the Father sends in the name of Christ. So to be “in the Spirit” is also to be “in Christ.” And this is another way of saying that Christians who are baptized into Christ and given the gift of the Holy Spirit are dynamically related to the Father through the incarnate Son in and by the Holy Spirit.  On the basis of this relationship there is the opportunity of deep and authentic  fellowship for Christians — both with God and with one other.

We know from the testimony of the early church that fellowship leading to a shared community was the natural result of the Spirit’s influence upon the Church (Acts 2:42-47).

It is apparent that fellowship is not some peripheral Christian teaching but is central to the outworking of God’s purpose in the world.  God is glorified when He is humbly reflected; by dwelling in unity, we begin to reflect our communal Maker.

In being responsively obedient to this calling, Southside Bible Fellowship urges each member to move toward a deeper involvement in the lives of others, to “do life together.” This article will serve as a short introduction to the topic of biblical community and what it is that we mean when we commend “doing life together.”

There are at least three primary and legitimate needs of every human being:  1) The need to feel authentically human;  2) The need to belong; and  3) The need to have a sense of destiny and purpose.  It is in the heart of God to fully meet these needs in every person.  The first and most important step is through conversion, which is the restoration of our individual relationship with the living God; the next step is through significant relationships with each other.  Some people find it helpful to think in terms of a cross (+), with our relationship with God signifying the vertical piece and our relationships with each other signifying the horizontal piece – the cross, and subsequently, Christianity is all about engaging and pursuing both the horizontal and vertical aspects of faith.

Our culture, unfortunately, sidetracks us with counterfeit opportunities for community.  The neighborhood bar is possibly the best facsimile there is for the fellowship Christ desires to give His church.  The bar is an imitation — dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality — yet it is tolerant, it is ac­cepting, it is inclusive, and it is virtually unshockable.  You can tell people secrets in a bar and they usually don’t tell others or even want to.  Bars flourish not because most people are alcoholics, but be­cause God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved.  There are scores of people who seek to medicate their shame and pain for the price of a few beers, drinking their courage instead of turning humbly to Christ.

Our hope is not that we would simply “hang out” with each other, but rather, that we would engage in a battle for deep and abiding relationships within the body.  We find the following characteristics to be particularly indicative of biblical community:

1. Love

Love can be a rather ambiguous term. We love our wives, our children, hot dogs, Mexican food, and the Patriots.  Surely we do not mean the same thing in each use of the term.

Five times in letter of 1st John, the apostle writes that believers are to love one another. However, he does not leave the command in ambiguity.

Rather, John qualifies the command by showing that love is best represented by the sending of the Son to die for our sins and thus is inherently sacrificial (1 John 3:16-18).  Let us love in truth and deed and not merely in word.  Love which is not sacrificial is really not love.

2. Consistency

The early church pictured in the book of Acts met daily to encourage each other and worship together.  Hebrews 10 tells us to not neglect meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, while chapter 4 tells us to exhort one another daily.  A clear Scriptural admonition exists toward long lasting relationships and deeply consistent presence in the lives of others.  Occasional or infrequent gatherings do not capture the spirit of the text.  Sundays services are mainly about worship.  Yes, we greet one another, yes we learn and grow — yet we gather primarily to worship, to remember what Christ has done, to acknowledge our deep depravity and receive afresh the abundance of grace that will do in us and through us what we cannot do on our own.  A time to gather between Sunday services is a time to grow in our fellowship with God and one another.

3. Worship

The early church spent its time in engaging in celebration of the Lord and the remembrance of the gospel through the means of grace, which were provided. We therefore find it essential for biblical fellowship to be about the pursuit of the Lord through the Lord ’s Supper, prayer, singing and the reading and teaching of the Scriptures.

4. Authenticity

People who gather together and yet do not truly know each other cannot rightly be called a community of believers.  The Bible commands the confession of sin, struggles and praises, which is evidence of a life of transparency.  This characteristic also bears with it a commitment to engage in the proper means of fighting back sin for the good of the sinner, the health of the body and the glory of the Lord.

Given the characteristics of community, what are the practical implications?  While the list could be quite extensive, a large number of our calling to community  could easily be seen by doing a thorough search of the dozens of “one another” passages in the New Testament. Such passages call believers to:

  • Love one another (John 13:34, 15:12)
  • Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
  • Comfort and agree with one another (2 Corinthians 13:11)
  • Serve one another (John 13:1-20; Galatians 5:13)
  • Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  • Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)
  • Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
  • Be honest with one another (Colossians 3:9)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Confess to one another (James 5:16)
  • Pray for one another (James 5:16)

At SBF we want our members to think and live Christianly.  We want to be distinct in the way in we work, speak, think, rest, and play.  We want to do those things that glorify our gracious Lord and Savior. To properly reflect His communal nature and to follow His communal commands, we must as a people engage in fellowship, which is sacrificially loving, consistent, worshipful, and authentically transparent. In this way, we seek to “do life together.”

[1] The anglicisation of a Greek word (κοινωνία) that means communion by intimate participation.

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