The Greek word translated as fellowship in Acts 2 is koinonia. It is a word rich in depth, meaning and challenge. It points to a quality of relationship and activity which is so much deeper than the chit-chat over a tepid cup of tea and a soggy digestive that sadly sometimes passes for fellowship.
Koinonia is profoundly practical and deeply relational. John Stott argues that koinonia ‘is a Trinitarian experience, it is our common share in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ (The Message of Acts, Inter-Varsity Press, 1990, p. 83). In Acts 2, koinonia is seen in followers of Jesus eating, praying and sharing goods together. In short, sharing their lives with each other and the world around them, in a prophetic symbol of the kingdom of God: a powerful sign of a Spirit-filled way of life that stands against sinful selfishness; a wonder of hope, reconciliation and generosity; a true community of belonging and service. Through the practical expression of Christlike love, koinonia draws people to Jesus, nurturing and sustaining disciples. It is evangelistic (good news), pastoral, practical and formative.
There is a risk that in deepening fellowship, Christians can become insular. So, as you explore this habit, let us keep asking how can we, personally and collectively, practise this habit beyond the fellowship of the gathered church, in our places of work, in the community and especially with those who suffer or are disconnected?
Fellowship invokes images of close, supportive, personal relationships, including: small groups of mutual care and sharing and times of prayer, study and conversation with fellow Christians, as well as being nurtured in our spiritual lives through the encouragement and companionship of our friends in the Christian community. These are powerful expressions of fellowship to be celebrated, nurtured and encouraged, reminding us of our need to draw alongside one another prayerfully and supportively on our faith journey.
Our Christian faith is not simply a private, personal affair; it unites us to one another through Christ and is at its most enriching and life-giving when experienced in fellowship and community with each other and with God. ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:20, KJV). But we must be careful not to confuse fellowship with closed groups which have formed such strong relationships and bonds that it is very difficult for others to be welcomed and embraced within them. Fellowship/koinonia by its very definition is a celebration both of loving gracious relationships and of open-heartedness towards others.
A church in the Birmingham Methodist Circuit, which first developed these resources, was blessed by the joy and challenge of welcoming a young couple seeking asylum. They enriched the fellowship which the members of the church shared, and connected them with diverse experiences of another culture which has a particular emphasis on hospitality, caring and generosity of spirit, despite the hostility they have faced.
As you ponder fellowship, reflect upon the ways in which you practise koinonia in your church and small groups. Give thanks for and celebrate those expressions of relationship with God and each other. Consider prayerfully and honestly how we sometimes fall short of the glory of God by neglecting our need for Christian fellowship. How far does our fellowship echo the self-giving gracious nature of our Trinitarian God’s relationship with us and all?