The Life of the Body
by Jerry Bridges
In Christian circles, the word fellowship has come to mean little more than social activity. It may mean the exchange of pleasantries over coffee and cookies at church, or the social functions of our high school or campus ministry groups. But this is not the meaning of fellowship in the New Testament.
The first occurrence of the word fellowship in the New Testament occurs in Luke’s account of the beginning of the New Testament church on the day of Pentecost. As a result of Peter’s sermon, about three thousand people believed in Christ. Luke says of them that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
We’re not surprised that these new believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to prayer. But to fellowship? It would seem strange to include fellowship along with teaching and prayer if fellowship meant no more than Christian social activity. Or consider the words of the apostle John in 1 John 1:3: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (nasb). In both Acts 2:42 and 1 John 1:3, the New English Bible translates koinōnia as “sharing a common life.” This is the most basic meaning of koinonia, or fellowship. It is sharing a common life with other believers—a life that, as John says, we share with God the Father and God the Son. It is a relationship, not an activity.
Those first Christians of Acts 2 were not devoting themselves to social activities but to a relationship—a relationship that consisted of sharing together the very life of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They understood that they had entered this relationship by faith in Jesus Christ, not by joining an organization. And they realized that their fellowship with God logically brought them into fellowship with one another. Through their union with Christ, they were formed into a spiritually organic community. They were living stones being built into a spiritual house (see 1 Peter 2:5), fellow members of the body of Christ. Koinonia is not primarily an activity; it is a relationship.
Koinonia also means sharing together in the sense of partnership. Both classical Greek writers and New Testament writers used koinōnia to refer to a business partnership. Plato spoke of the dissolution of a koinōnia—a business partnership.i Luke used a form of koinōnia to refer to the partnership of Peter with James and John in the fishing business (see Luke 5:10).
Whereas relationship describes believers as a community, partnership describes them as a community in action. A business partnership is always formed in order to attain an objective, such as providing a service to the public at a profit for the partners. In the same way, the concept of a spiritual partnership implies that it is created with the objective of glorifying God. Just as all believers are united together in a community relationship, so we are all united together in a partnership formed to glorify God.