This vision of this chapter is to gain a fuller understanding of the New Testament Fellowship as it relates to the body of the elect. The mission is to explore New Testament Fellowship, using the following topics:
Background of the terms associated with the idea of Fellowship
Defining and Applying the concepts of koinonia practiced in Community, Communion, and Concern
This lesson demonstrates that God’s plan for fellowship was a complete, multi-faceted activity of the believers. In this fellowship, we share what is common to the elect: covenant through Jesus, the Word, and the Table of Remembrance. Additionally, we share ministry within the covenant community. Biblical fellowship is the synthesis of these covenant elements into a vibrant, energetic, relational body of believers. Please refer to the Appendix (3 – Koninonia in 1 John) for a brief study of Koinonia in 1 John. I have included a short survey to analyze your current practice of koinonia to determine if you meet John’s standards for complete joy!
Under the non-negotiable of the Gospel, we examined the call into the fellowship (1 Corinthians 1:9) that comes through the message of gospel. Because of our obedience to the form of the teaching, we understand that we have become participates in the gospel (Philippians 1:5). While we have considered the fellowship to be “in Christ,” we understand that our fellowship is with the Father, Son, and Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1; 1 John 1:3). Participating in the gospel will produce enemies. We are his body, and we know what they did to his body (Philippians 3:8-10). Finally, fellowship refers to the participation in faith through knowledge (Philemon 6).
There are no surprises in these passages. However, the Bible uses the term fellowship (koinonia) in other places that will broaden and deepen our understanding of the unique relationship we share with Christ and each other. The passages can be divided into three sections: Community, Communion, and Concern.
The conversion of three thousand on the Day of Pentecost immediately produces a society of believers. Seemingly, without taking a breath, Luke moves from Pentecost to daily life in the church (1). “Thus viewed, it provides a glimpse into the manner in which the new converts were incorporated into the believing community" (2). Luke writes, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The verb controlling the action is proskartereō. It is a compound word whose primary form means “be strong or steadfast" (3). Perseverance or persistence equate to this concept (4). “To be courageous,” or “to endure,” (5) supports the basic meaning “to stay by,” “to persist at,” or “to remain with.” In connection with objects, the compound word (proskartereō, as is used in Acts 2:42), it means “to occupy oneself diligently with something,” “to pay persistent attention to" (6). The compound verb often has the secondary meaning of decisive or unflinching perseverance. That is, “The persistent and submissive perseverance and tenaciousness of a self-enclosed group collectively oriented toward specific goals” (7) Luke seems to favor this term as he uses it for the same type of report in Acts 1:14 and 2:46.
Acts and the Pauline letters make it clear that God intended a leadership grown out of the congregation. This separation was based on giftedness. For more on this, follow the links under the section on Every Christian a Theologian. (Click here)
Depending on your faith tradition, you may call this Eucharist, Communion, or the Lord's Table. All of these terms refer to the same activity. Eucharist is the common expression used in the Catholic and similar traditions. The word comes from the Greek eucharisteō, which means “I thank you.” This word was used by Jesus when he instituted the Christian sacrament at the Passover celebration. The other terms are from the Reformed traditions and reference the table as belonging to Jesus or the implications of our verse in 1 Corinthians 10:16.
I hope you are fully aware of the position I take on the humanity of Jesus. My concern with much of Christianity is that we have become dualist. That is, we make a distinction between the physical and spiritual Jesus. In reality, the bible knows nothing of this distinction. Either Jesus was present or he was gone. He did leave his Spirit as we have discussed, but not as a free spirit roaming the earth. He is indwelling us. That is, we, as his body, are the incarnation of Christ today. We were “born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). This word that penetrates is compared to a sword in Hebrews 4:12 and Ephesians 6:17. In Ephesians, it is the Spirit that is wielding the sword! We are born from the Spirit. This concept sounds incarnational to me. Christ again has a body that was conceived through his word and the Spirit.
My goal is not to persuade you to a particular theology. My goal is to help you to achieve the fullest fellowship with Christ when you meet him in the Word, at the Table, and in fellowship with the elect. I desire for you to gain as much from these experiences as Jesus intended. To do this, we may need to throw off our traditions and follow this advice to, “Endeavor to read the scriptures as if no one had read them before me" (8). Regarding the Table of Koinonia, we will no longer see it as just a symbol or representative. We will hold the bread (Host) and say with confidence what our Lord said, “This is my body.” We will hold the cup and declare, “This is my blood.”
The scriptures do not attempt to explain how this happens. The explanations held by the church rose from the questions raised by heresies and the council decisions. For instance, early heretics taught that Jesus was a created being and not God. Once the church agreed on what the orthodox teaching was (what they had received from the Apostles), this spawned more questions. If God can be fully human, does this have an impact on our understanding of the Eucharist? If indeed, as we have been teaching, there is a real presence, how does it happen? Do the elements transform since they are Jesus. What, if anything, transforms the elements? Since there is a prayer raised (epiklesis), does this imply anything about the person saying the prayer? Could that person be standing in the place of Christ (in persona Christi)? Since many adhere to the authority of the scriptures, they do not raise or see the relevance of such questions. It may be a crude example, but for me it is similar to a TV. I know it works, and I have a very basic idea of how. Nonetheless, I do not need to know more than just how to turn it on.
John’s Gospel is the only one that does not offer the account of the Passover that gave us the Table. That does not mean he did not provide an understanding of it. In fact, he does more than the other three. He proposes an insight in which Jesus ascribes life to the bread of life, claiming that he is the bread. What is significant is that when the Jews question of how to eat his flesh, Jesus’ only answer was, “Just do it!” Please note that I have taken some literary license in my translation. Here is the text, “Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves” (John 6:52-53). Thus, the only conclusion we can come to is simply, “unless you eat the flesh … you have no life.”
Unfortunately, since we are so separated from Jesus physically, he has become just a memory. Since he lived two thousand years ago, the elements that stand in his place become memory joggers rather than reality. They aren’t Jesus for most. As a result, the Table of Remembrance becomes a look at the photo album or a stroll down memory lane for many and not the actual presence of Jesus. We admit his Spirit is there, but deny Jesus’ presence. So, we take the Table away. What do we have now? We have the same thing you do when you put away all the picture of lost loved one. You have the same experience when you have nothing more than a faint memory. Also, you have never met Jesus, so your memory is just words.
Our final section will look at koinonia as a matter of caring concern within the covenant community. Concern is hesed in action! As we discovered in the Fellowship of the Table, there is both vertical and horizontal sharing. Regarding the vertical in relationship to the communion, Paul writes, “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). This conclusion is based on the intimacy of verse 16. In this intimate relationship, we are bound together, sharing in ministry. Before we move into some particular activities of Community Concern, allow me to introduce you to two general fellowship statements. These become the foundational idea for the Concern.
I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective (Philemon 1:6)
Share (Greek is koinonia) with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16)
Would you consider your koinonia effective and sacrificial? Contemporary forms of fellowship are associated with friendly, active churches. As we have already learned, true fellowship is the covenant relationship with our Lord. For that covenant koinonia to be truly effective, it must involve sacrificial giving. If it is sacrificial, it is effective.
Sharing with God’s people is marked by the attribute of generosity, which is the overwhelming quality. This quality is obvious in the following verse. “Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13). The context of this verse is anchored to the command to have sincere love (12:9). The Greek form of the verb share in verse 13 gives the impression that this is to be a continuous practice (9). The early church was plagued with poverty. Thus, the need for help was relatively high. Generosity was a critical attribute for believers to demonstrate (10). A good example of this need was the church in Jerusalem. Why was there such a great need in the Jerusalem church? It is likely that many of the believers had been visiting Jerusalem at Pentecost when they heard the Word and became part of this new community. They were strangers, without employment, and the church would have to care for them if they remained there instead of going home. Community sharing was a regular practice of the church in Acts (2:41–47; 4:33–37). Additionally, there was a famine (Acts 11:27–30). However, relief was sent. Look at the account Paul gives in Romans, “For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution (koinonia) for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed, they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared (koinonia) in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (Romans 15:26–27).
There are two types of sharing mentioned in these verses. The first is the contributions designed to bring physical relief. For the reasons mentioned above, there was a great need in Jerusalem. The family of God responded, not to all of Jerusalem, but specifically to the saints. Just as judgment begins as the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), so does benevolence. Many churches today are involved in food and homeless ministries. I think the bible is very clear that the early church was not the world’s benefactor. They took care of their own. Even in Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about those in need, he referred to them as “brothers of mine” (Matthew 25:40). One may contend that the whole world is his family, but this terminology is reserved for the elect community (11).
The second is spiritual. The Gentiles were given the opportunity to know Jesus, the Gospel, and salvation. Paul told the Romans that these blessings belonged to the Jews. Because of their rejection, the benefits were shared with the Gentiles. For this reason, there should be a sense of gratitude from the Gentiles toward the Jews in Jerusalem. The blessings they cherished came from that original church. It was not a “pat on their back” that Paul was giving. He was stating that it was a moral obligation (12). After all, the spiritual blessings are greater than the physical (13).
There was a sense of duty that emerged from the gratitude of the Macedonian and Achaian Christians. The word “owe,” signifies a debtor. There was an obligation to “pay” for the blessings received. This debt is the same as our Lord meant by the great command to love God and love our neighbors. (Matthew 22:34-40) We would all do well to feel this sense of obligation to the ones from whom we have received the blessings of fellowship and salvation.
(1) While Luke does not introduce the term “church” until Acts 5:11, most would assume this title for the group of believers. This would be especially true with Paul’s stress on the church since Luke traveled with him. Luke simply refers to the group as their number (2:47).
(2) John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 118.
(3) Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 172.
(4) W. Mundle, “Καρτερέω,” ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 767.
(5) Walter Grundmann, “proskartereō,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 617.
(6) Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 172.
(8) Alexander Campbell, The Christian Baptist (Cincinnati, OH: D. S. Burnet, 1835), 229.
(9) The Greek verb is a Pres. Act. Part of the verb form of koinonia. I understand the present active participle to be a statement of nature, literally translated as the sharing ones!
(10) Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 238.
(11) The only possible exception may be in Ephesians 3:14-15 where God is call the Father and the giver of names of every family on earth. It would be a stretch to apply this to every term “brother” in the New Testament.
(12) William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, vol. 12–13, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 494.
* This page is an excerpt from is my book Non-Negotiable: Focusing on the Essentials of the Faith. The book goes into more detail on many of these issues.
Last update: 6 September 2015