As the apostles and other disciples searched for words to express new concepts and relationships they were experiencing through God’s Spirit in them, they came across the Greek term koinonia.
The word koinonia comes from the Greek root koinos or “common” and has to do with sharing and having affections or things in common. As the biblical commentator William Barclay points out, “Koinonia is the spirit of generous sharing as contrasted with the spirit of selfish getting . . . it is used to express a close and intimate relationship into which people enter” (New Testament Words, 1972, Kindle edition). The word could be used to describe a business partnership, a marriage covenant where spouses shared everything, the fellowship among brethren or a relationship with God.
In that first flush of spiritual love after the first Pentecost, the Church would gather together and have koinonia. Luke relates: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship [koinonia], in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The Mystery of Koinonia
Paul realized the value of this term when he used it to describe “the fellowship [koinonia] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ . . . according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him” (Ephesians 3:9-12, emphasis added throughout). It was a “mystery” or a revelation previously veiled about this koinonia relationship God the Father and Jesus Christ wanted to have with us.
In fact, this word has helped me pray more effectively when I realized we have koinonia when we go before God the Father and our intercessor, Jesus Christ. The apostle John emphasized its importance when he said, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship [koinonia] with us; and truly our fellowship [koinonia] is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
Communion Primarily Means a Spiritual Partnership
We often hear the word “communion” in regard to religion, but unfortunately it has mainly been taken to mean partaking of the Eucharist ceremony. For instance, as a Catholic, I had the sacrament of “Communion” for the first time at 7 years old. Of course, at that age I was just going through a ritual that had little meaning to me. Yet “communion” is actually the Latin term for koinonia and primarily means in the biblical context the sharing of a spiritual partnership. God the Father and Jesus Christ consider us as “partners” in Their work and Church, and They want us to have a spiritually intimate relationship with Them.
This is why we can call God the Father Abba, an endearing word which today would roughly translate as “Daddy.” As Paul states, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4:6).
We can also call Christ our Elder Brother, another affectionate family term. He was willing to give up His life to establish this loving bond with us and was not embarrassed to call us brethren—or His brothers and sisters. As Hebrews 2:11-12 says, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ‘I will declare your name [God the Father’s name] to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to you.’”
This revelation about the type of fellowship God the Father and Jesus Christ want to have with us is truly mind-boggling. It means They want to live forever with us in a state of koinonia—a concept best described in this context as an intimate family relationship.
Joint Heirs With Christ
Another amazing aspect of koinonia is the sharing of the partners’ possessions. We truly don’t have much to offer, but God the Father and Jesus Christ own it all. Yet They want to share what They have with us. Paul expressed it in this way: “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit [itself] bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:15-17).
There you have it—our goal is the sharing of creation with God the Father and Jesus Christ!
Finally, when we partake of the Passover (which is not too far away), we are expressing the koinonia relationship with the rest of the brethren. As Paul explained: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
This was Jesus Christ’s desire, that we have the unity of mind and spirit so “they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21).
Of course, this marvelous relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ and the brethren is based on us remaining faithful to the end. Paul wrote about this spiritual partnership when he said, “After all, we will remain Christ’s partners only if we continue to hold on to our original confidence until the end” (Hebrews 3:14, God’s Word Version).
It is interesting that our Church Vision Statement, based on Ephesians 4:16 and Hebrews 2:10, sums up well the spiritual goal of koinonia. It states: “A Church led by God’s Holy Spirit, joined and knit together by what every member supplies, with all doing their share and growing in love to fulfill God’s great purpose for humanity to bring many children to glory.” Notice how many times spiritual partnering, working together and sharing are stressed as we look to the glorious future God the Father and Jesus Christ are preparing for all of us.
Consequently koinonia is a key biblical concept which defines the relationship God the Father and Jesus Christ want to have with us—and with one another—now and for eternity. So let’s diligently work at it!