Koinonia: Experience It This FallSeptember 2008
by Matthew Paul Buccheri
Koinonia (pronounced: coin- no-knee-ah) isan ancient Greek word with deep, rich meaning—a word that the New Testament writers knew well; and a word you can begin to experience this fall in as little as seven weeks. So, what do we need to know about koinonia in order to experience it properly?
Koinonia = Fellowship
The word “fellowship” is somewhat of an archaic word in the English language today. It is used in twelve-step programs to express the time spent after an official meeting; and it is also used within the Christian church to speak about time spent among Christians outside of a church service. (Often with food involved!) But when was the last time you said to a friend from work, “Hey, do you want to go out and fellowship tonight?” Let’s face it, you just don’t.
In Acts 2:42, Luke gives his readers a description of some of the practices of the early church. He says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Most commentators note that the “apostles’ teaching” is something like Bible study or listening to a sermon. The commentators also agree that the “breaking of bread” is most likely shorthand for the Lord’s Supper. But what does Luke mean by “fellowship?”
Fellowship cannot be reduced to, as one writer suggests, “idle chitchat over steaming coffee before or after a worship service.” Fellowship, on the contrary, is gathering around what we believe and then living out that belief for the world to see. We believe the apostles’ teaching about Jesus’ death and resurrection; we come together around one table, breaking one loaf of bread to proclaim Christ’s death as a community; and we pray for our world, our city and our church. Koinonia for Luke, then, is the common Christian life recognized in belief and practice.
Koinonia = Partnership = Friendship
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi we get two more glimpses into the richness of the word koinonia. In the opening chapter of that letter he says that every time he prays to God, he prays with joy for the Philippians’ “…partnership (koinonia) in the gospel…” (1:5). Usually, when we think of the word “partnership,” it’s difficult for us (especially in New York) to rid our minds of its use in the business world. Yet, we all understand what makes someone a partner: a shared goal. In the Four Loves C.S. Lewis captures this when he writes, “Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; [while] Friends [are] side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” Thus for Lewis: partnership = friendship! And what, according to Paul, was his and the Philippians’ friendship based on? The good news!
Koinonia = Sharing (In)
Usually when Christians talk about the Holy Spirit, they do so by speaking about Him as though he were divided up into little tiny pieces and distributed among the community of faith. While it is not wrong to say “I have the Holy Spirit,” that statement doesn’t quite capture the profundity of what the Holy Spirit does. In Philippians 2, Paul gives us a glimpse into that profound mystery. There Paul writes, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship (koinonia) with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” In Paul’s very concise phrase (“if any fellowship with the Spirit”), he is reminding the church at Philippi that the reason they are a Christian community is because they share (koinonia) in the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the glue that joins them together as the community of faith.
So, if you want to learn more about what Christians and Redeemer believe and practice; if you want to develop deep Christian friendships and partner with Redeemer as we serve the city; if you want to share in the community that the Holy Spirit has established, then the way to do that is by participating in a Beta Group (or a Fellowship Group). Beta Groups are short-term Fellowship Groups that meet for seven weeks beginning this fall. Through worship, Bible discussion, prayer and service you, too, can experience koinonia. Whether you’ve been at Redeemer for a long time or are new to our church, Beta Groups and Fellowship Groups are where koinonia happens. To participate go to www.redeemer.com/betagroups or www.redeemer.com/fg
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