Nambour Uniting Church
A Greek Word For Your Mind: koinonia (Fellowship)
The word koinonia belongs to a large family of words, occurring some 66
times in different forms in the New Testament, with a root meaning “to
have in common” (koinos). It has become part of our everyday English
language in the word “coin”, i.e. what is a commonly accepted currency.
We are probably most familiar with the word from its use in Acts 2:42
where the early Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching,
and to “the fellowship” (koinonia). This “fellowship” is further defined in
v.44 where we read that they held all things in common (koina), sharing
their very belongings with one another. There is an interesting historical
precedent for this practice from a community in Lipara (1st Century BCE),
who “made their possessions common property and lived according to the
custom of common meals”1 The concept of fellowship, then, was much
more than simply a sharing of one’s beliefs or a common sense of belonging:
it actually expressed itself in practical, concrete action by sharing of
material goods and meals. In this sense it is often used to describe
distribution or sharing (verb, koinoneo, see Rom. 12:13).
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Philippians, appeals to the common bond
he has with them in the gospel (koinonia 1:5, 2:1). This common bond,
however, runs quite deep, for it involves a participation or sharing in the
very sufferings of Christ (Phil 3:10, 2 Cor. 1:7, 1 Pet. 4:13). When
Christians participate together in the Lord’s Supper, we are actually
identifying ourselves with the sufferings of the crucified Christ, by
participation (koinonia) in his broken body and shed blood (1 Cor. 10:16).
This represents the very heart of our Christian discipleship, so much so that
Peter claims we have become “partakers or sharers (koinonoi) of the divine
nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Now that is mind blowing!
There is one further unusual usage of koinoo, often translated in the KJV
as “defiles” (see Matt 15:11, 18 c.f. Mark 7:20, Acts 21:28). In these
instances “defilement” means to make something common, or reduce its
true value (translated as “unholy” in Acts 10:15). I wonder how often we
have devalued holy things as “common”?
Essentially, we are one in shared faith, respecting our various differences,
but united together in the love of Christ our Lord.
Rev Graham Warne
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