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New Life Ways 5 Fellowship

It wasn’t the best way to meet a new neighbor. We had moved into our little townhouse in Lakewood, Colorado. My parents had driven with us to help us move and the landlord told us they could park their car in the neighbor’s parking space. They weren’t expected to move in until later in the week.

People sometimes do the unexpected. I answered the banging on our door to see Alan staring down at me. Alan was about 6’3” with a deep voice and no smile. “I believe you are parked in my space” he said from a not so happy place. “Well, actually, that’s not my car. It’s some old guy that’s staying somewhere around here for a few days,” was my response.

From that rocky beginning we forged a friendship with Alan and Keri. They started coming over for dinner many nights or we would walk across the parking lot to their place on their nights to cook. They started coming to our home group from church and became fast friends with our church friends.

We helped each other through hard times. We babysat each other’s kids. One night at our group they asked if they could invite some friends of theirs to join the group. We took a vote. (That was a joke.) Greg and Sarah joined our group and were later baptized.

They were baptized because we did many things together as a group. We met regularly. We shared meals together. We studied Scripture together. We prayed together. Helped each other. Cried together. Laughed together. At one point they said, “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Mark and Debbie were our closest friends in that group. We each had two boys who were about the same ages. We spent a night at the ER when Kris toddled into our gathering one night and said that Matthew had eaten all the chewable Tylenol. “Of course he did,” I thought. “That grape flavor is pretty awesome.” We called the poison control center and they said we had to get to the ER. The docs there sent us home and then later, about 3 a.m. they called and said the two oldest boys needed to come back and have their blood drawn. Again. So Mark and I took them in and stayed until they were cleared to leave. Again.

When people use that worn out phrase—“do life together”—well, we did life together. Or, as the Scripture says, we “devoted ourselves to the fellowship and the breaking of bread.”

So did the first disciples. The word for “fellowship” we find in Acts 2:42 is the Greek word koinonia. It is a different and deeper nuance than the way we use the word “fellowship” today. One website exemplifies how we connect “potluck” to “fellowship” in these church bulletin bloopers:[1]

Church potlucks are always popular and a good opportunity to fellowship. Here are some humorous potluck bloopers:

  • Potluck supper at 5 pm.—prayer and medication to follow.
  • The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.
  • The fasting and prayer conference includes meals.

We have come to equate getting together for a Super Bowl party as fellowship. That may work in the world of Webster where it is defined as “companionship, company”,[2] but not the biblical world. In the world of the early church koinonia defined fellowship. Here are some examples of its use in the New Testament:

  • “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). Here Paul is saying that by taking the Lord’s Supper—the cup and the bread—we are sharing in what Christ has done for us.
  • “… they begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints…” (2 Corinthians 8:4). The Macedonian Christians wanted to share in the giving—even out of their poverty—to help other churches.

Perhaps one of the best examples of the use of koinonia is found in John’s writings to the church.

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life —  that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3)

Notice that those who knew Jesus “testified” and “declared” those things to others. Why? They had “fellowship” with God and Jesus and wanted their readers to have “fellowship” with “us”—both with those disciples and with the Father and the Son.

Fellowship, then, is a sharing. But it is much more of a sharing than just food, although food and a table often encourage the true fellowship. The fellowship the New Testament writers want us to have is a sharing of the life of Jesus with each other and with God.

Is not that consistent with what Jesus taught? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). It makes sense, does it not, that the main activity of our devotion would be to each other and to God?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this kind of fellowship. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who lived from 1906-1945. When Hitler rose to power he could see no German-Christian compromise with him. He helped create the independent “Confessing Church” in Germany.

His resistance and his part in a failed assassination attempt on Hitler landed him in prison. He was executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II. While in prison he wrote two classics: The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. Listen to what he has to say about koinonia in his book Life Together.

Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.[3]

This fellowship is a gift. We need to receive it thankfully. Often we don’t. We worry about whether we studied enough. We worry about whether we talked enough. We worry about whether we prayed enough.

But God does not. When we gather together in the fellowship of the breaking of bread, God smiles. He smiles when we are devoted to each other. Faithfulness is our part. Fruit is God’s. We don’t have to be taking its temperature constantly.

Then Bonhoeffer writes: “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”[4]

No community is going to live up to your dream of it. And whether you or I realize it, we ourselves will ruin that dream. And finally…

Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. This is true not merely at the beginning, as though in the course of time something else were to be added to our community; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, for eternity.”[5]

See the difference between Christian koinonia and Webster’s fellowship? The difference is Christ. He brings us together. He binds us together for eternity. That’s a thought, isn’t it? You and I get to be together for eternity! Before you rush out to celebrate that idea, let’s consider one more thought.

This kind of fellowship does not happen by only participating in large group gatherings. There is sharing that happens in the church when we gather as a large group. We receive teaching. We share songs of praise. We pray and we give. And we break bread together at the Lord’s table.

But following the “one anothers” found in scripture happen best in smaller groups. Depending on who is counting, there are between 47 and 59 passages exhorting followers of Jesus to: love, encourage, accept, forgive, bear with, confess sins to one another, instruct, admonish, spur each other on to love and good works, tolerate…that’s a good one to end on.[6] These “koinonia” behaviors are meant to be done face to face. And they are designed to help us learn to behave like Christ with each other. “The New Testament writers are less concerned with how believers feel about each other than they are about their actions—their living together as community and publicly as disciples.”[7]

Add to the list an “each other” found in Hebrews 3:13—“But encourage each other daily…”—and we see that the idea of koinonia is something that takes place beyond Sundays. Sunday gatherings are important, but there is often little interaction between the participants and many rush out the door as soon as the service is over.

The early church met in the temple courts and from house to house. Much of their fellowship happened in the homes where their behavior bent towards those mentioned in the “one another” passages. What was talked about in the larger meetings was walked out in the homes and in the streets.

Is that the church you experience? A church where you have people you know that you interact with in “one another ways”?

Alan and Keri and Greg and Sarah taught our group of young couples, years ago, that there is something that happens when a few people practice “one another” relationships where Jesus is what brings you together and binds you together. When you break bread and share it, lives begin being shared. Some will see things they have never experienced before.

Jesus put it this way: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). There’s another one. A one another. And with it Jesus tells us that koinonia is simply loving each other the way he has loved us.

Devote yourself to that. And be ready to bake more bread for breaking. You’ll need it.

[1] http://thesouthern.com/lifestyles/leisure/church-bulletin-bloopers/article_864d8915-3d28-5bee-b274-bfbf4fe6378f.html

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fellowship

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, 30

[4] Ibid., 27.

[5]

[6] For a complete list of the “one anothers” in Scripture, Google is your friend. Or click here: https://overviewbible.com/one-another-infographic/

[7] KAREN SHEPARD, Authentic Fellowship, Christianity Today October 1, 2003 at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/october/28.102.html