Koinonia – Fellowship – part 2
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
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- [00' 00"] 1 John chapter 1 (NEB)
- [01" 00"] Recap of part 1
- [02' 31"] Looking at the word koinonia
- [04' 52"] John’s purpose
- [09' 17"] Vertical and horizontal relationship
- [20' 19"] Being the people God calls us to be
- [21' 59"] Closing prayer
1 John Chapter 1
The start of the reading is not in the recording.
It was there from the beginning, we have heard it; we have seen it with our own eyes; we looked upon it, and felt it with our own hands; and it is of this we tell. Our theme is the word of life. This life was made visible; we have seen it and bear our testimony; we here declare to you the eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we declare to you, so that you and we together may share in a common life,
Recording starts here.
that life which we share with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. And we write this in order that the joy of us all may be complete.
Here is the message we heard from him and pass on to you: that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to be sharing in his life while we walk in the dark, our words and our lives are a lie; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, then we share together a common life, and we are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus his Son. If we claim to be sinless, we are self-deceived and strangers to the truth. If we confess our sins, he is just, and may be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrong; but if we say we have committed no sin, we make him out to be a liar, and then his word has no place in us.
Recap of Part One
So last week we took our first steps into looking at what the early church in Acts stood for. The four things that they saw as important as the new breed of followers of Jesus as they stepped out of the comfort zone that was their Jewish heritage where these four things:
- Teaching of the apostles. At that time, those people who had spent time physically with Jesus in the flesh.
- Breaking of bread.
- And prayer.
We imagined what it would have been like for those onlookers to have seen this new community sharing their lives together: eating, doing life through sharing all they had. We imagined how different this lifestyle would have been from anything others would have seen or experienced before. Making them sit up and think, ‘Wow! Something different! Something more!’
These four things were the ingredients of the church. Most importantly, what we call church is primarily about fellowship. And as we look through 1 John 1 today, we discover that Christian fellowship is both among the believers here, and in other fellowships, and God. This is what makes us different from any other social group: it is not actually about us.
Looking at the word koinonia
The version that I just read from is the New English Bible. Not very popular, it was actually given to me on my dedication day back in 1976. One which highlights, I think today, the word fellowship quite well. I like how it used the words common life and share, for that’s it.
Fellowship, from the Greek word koinonia is a clever word as it can mean slightly different things to suit its context. It can be both a verb and a noun. Now, if you remember your primary school, you’ll know that verbs – I hope I’m right – verbs are action words – is that right? No? Yes? – verbs are doing words, nouns are names. So, for example, if I say that I’m going to bank some money, I’d be using the word bank as a verb; something I will be doing. Is that right? I’m ;looking at the primary school teachers here – they’re nodding. But I can also say, ’I am going to the bank,‘ using the word as a noun, as a name, the place where I am visiting.
So also with koinonia. It can be used as
- a doing word, such as participating, sharing, being in partnership with, even being in communion with; as well as
- a name, as in Acts chapter 2, as we were reading last week, the believers devoted themselves to the fellowship, the collective noun, perhaps, for a group of believers of Jesus.
Same word, different understanding. All to do with the community, sharing in it, being part of it, acting as part of it, together, in common, not alone.
So today I’d like us to look at what this common life that we might share in might look like from a practical perspective, but also from what John is talking about in the Bible.
The purpose for John writing, it seems, is that there are people who are going around spreading fake news about Jesus. The Docetists were going around telling new Christians that Jesus was like a phantom spirit; telling new Christians that he wasn’t really kind of in the flesh. So John is writing, we don’t know who to, to say, actually we’ve seen him, we know him. This apostolic testimony: that which they have seen and felt, that Jesus is fully human and fully God. Those who spent time actually with Jesus, their testimony is really, really, important.
[Aside as a mobile phone rings] Connecting people. [Laughter]
So, if we don’t have this relationship, if we don’t know Jesus, it’s difficult to have a common life together. It’s difficult to have a common life if we don’t connect with each other, if we don’t connect with God.
This week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday I was in Kent. So if you were trying to get a hold of me then the phone was on but not here, sorry. My former pastor, Stephen Greasley at Gillingham Baptist Church, asked if I would help to baptize a chap who I’d known about twenty-two years ago. Over that time he has come to faith and I’ve been part of that journey, along with many others at the church. This act of baptism, of being immersed in water in front of people, in front of the faith community, the church, was like being welcomed into the family. It was a privilege to be there and to help kind of drown him as he was being brought into the fellowship. I’d visited him in prison, I’d been to his flat. I’d been asked to be its best man at a wedding that never actually occurred. I’d been around in his tough times in life. He was somebody that floated in and out of the church life and over a number of years we kind of got to know each other a bit. What did we have in common? Not a lot, to be honest. I was a clean-shaven – back then –, law-abiding university student; he was an unkempt, almost homeless, chap who’d got into a bad lot, possibly because he was vulnerable. And yet, and yet, there was something that kept him coming back to this fellowship. Might have been the free heat on a cold winters day. Could have been a free coffee. Might have been to keep the loneliness at bay. But I think it was something else. I think it was because he was accepted as who he was. I think it was because he was loved. I think it was because there was a lady called Joyce who had time for him; and she kind of got alongside me and said, ‘Come on, let’s love this guy.’
So it was a delight on Wednesday morning to hear his testimony and it reeked of koinonia, it reeked of fellowship, knowing that there was a group of people who cared for him, a group of Christians who loved him. Twenty-two years after I’d met him, he said he wanted to declare Gillingham as his spiritual home. He’d seen people over the years and now he wanted in, along with his girlfriend – so it was the whole family, the whole household if you like – in spite of all the differences. This chap is now in the fellowship, he’s in the family, he’s part of who we are, despite the fact it’s two hundred fifty miles away. That’s cause for celebration and that’s why one hundred forty sandwiches were eaten before I’d dried off and gone back downstairs to share the party! [Laughter] Two tiny cheese sandwiches were all that was left. It’s all right, went out for lunch afterwards.
Vertical and horizontal relationship
The Christian community, the thing we often call church, accepts and welcomes everybody: children and adults, young and old, every which way of person. Nobody should be left out because, if God cares, we care. As his body on earth so we must be the body of Christ. Relationships matter. That’s the difference between a social group and a community of faith. Social groups have a particular interest in common. Followers of Jesus have both themselves and Jesus in common. The relationship we have as a fellowship is what might be seen as horizontal and vertical – that sounds like a bishop doing that kind of thing. Horizontal because we have good, deep, meaningful relationships with one another, where we are, where we share life together, helping one another out, praying for and supporting each other. And vertical because we have a relationship with Father God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
We have that through him, that experience of him, through prayer, action, living life with believers, being Jesus to one another and the world.
I just want to read two verses from what we read earlier, from 1 John 1:3 and 4.
What we have seen and heard we declare to you, so that you and we together may share in a common life, that life which we share with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. And we write this in order that the joy of us all may be complete.
Fellowship, both horizontal between ourselves, and vertical between ourselves and God, is what John seems to be saying here. These interrelationships between Christians and other Christians, between Christians and God. A common life, that common life we share with each other is based in who we trust: Jesus.
A common life isn’t just coming to church every Sunday to sing and to pray. Surely it needs to be deeper than meeting together to do these outward activities? Yes, it’s very important that we do. But we miss out on fellowship, on common life together, if that’s all we do. That’s why our relationships with one another need to be deepened. That’s why we really do need to share our lives with one another.
The onlookers – T think, I’m wondering out loud here – the onlookers at the first Pentecost in Acts chapter two would not, perhaps, have been drawn to the community if they had just seen people singing. Yes, the Holy Spirit came and yes, the people saw that there was something different and then afterwards we see three thousand people coming to know Christ that day. They saw people popping into one another’s homes, eating together, chatting, perhaps even working together. Acts 2 says that everything they did as a community was done with glad and sincere hearts. So it suggests to me that there was an intention, a real desire, to be in complete unity; complete, whole relationships with other fellow-believers. It wasn’t just a friendly hello on a Sabbath. It was true life together. That’s what drew others to join. It wasn’t a service, perhaps, it wasn’t by believing a set of rules, it was true, honest, devoted relationships together and to God, a common life.
Perhaps our common life can be glimpsed through the things we do for one another. I, for one, am encouraged by those already deeply involved in common life here. There are probably so many things that go beyond behind the scenes that I don’t know about. That’s fine.
I’m truly blessed that there are people in this room now who really do look for those who are widows or orphans; who take people to hospital; take people out shopping; prepare food; take them to church.
There are people here who have the gift of hospitality. They don’t do it because they feel that they have to. They do it because they want a relationship with somebody else in the fellowship and also because they know that it’s a great thing to do because they have a relationship with God.
There are parents who, in spite of their lack of sleep at night, still bring their children up in the way that they should go; still enable opportunities for them to be the best that they can be; still give up their lives so that their children can go to after-school clubs or dancing or whatever it is so that their children be great citizens in the future. Perhaps there are people here who might be able to offer an occasional babysitting evening so that parents can go out and have a little bit of time off. Of course, this means that we need to be in relationship.
And so I’m grateful, I am grateful, for the things that I see around me. I am so pleased that there are so many people on the flower rota, the people who welcome on the door, the people who serve tea and coffee and teach the children about the love of God. All those things that happen, just happen, because they’re family activities. We do some things because they need to be done. We do other things because we enjoy being together.
Relationships matter. Because we are called to be a community that loves one another and because we love God. And we can only love when we do life together. So I’m looking forward to packing the shoeboxes on the eighth of November – put the date in your diary, I think it’ the eighth of November – and to eating my Sunday sandwiches. Not because I like packing shoe boxes but because this activity will help me to get to know other people who will be packing shoe boxes with me.
We can’t be strangers with those we share fellowship with each Sunday and so any activity where we are: Bible study, prayer meetings, meetings at the coffee shop, popping round to people’s homes in the week, whatever it is, is both a social and a spiritual thing, is both horizontal and vertical. We bring the presence of Jesus wherever we go.
It’s not just a spiritual act of service when we come to worship on a Sunday, because it’s a naturally social thing, too. At the same time it’s a very spiritual activity as we are spending time with God, drawing close to him, offering him that time.
We are people who get together in community to worship, get community encouragement and teaching from the Bible, and go out into the world. And so it’s not so much I go to church, rather I am the church; it’s a much more natural way of doing life and it’s much more Jesus’ way of doing things, I wonder.
It’s a different way of thinking, it’s a different way of thinking, I know. It’s a way that I sense Main Street already does and, to an extent, does church. But let’s see, let’s see, if there are other ways in which our relationships with each other and with God are deepened. It’s only then that we become more open with one another, trust one another with less superficial things and the more important stuff in life. As we share life together, as we become immersed in this common life that John talks of, as we see Jesus in one another we learn more about Jesus and how he lives in each of us. We become challenged about how we move on in our spiritual walk because we do it together.
In fellowship with each other it’s easier to walk in the light as God is in the light. When we trust ourselves and our lives in deeper fellowship with others there are times when we can confess our need of God. There are times when we’re helped when we confess our sin, certainly to God, but perhaps even to a trusted friend. This makes it easier to walk in the light, rather than in the shadow of darkness. This is real horizontal koinonia fellowship.
John’s advice here seems to suggest that fellowship with God, that vertical koinonia, that vertical fellowship, is actually walking in a pathway that reveals as we walk it, with him and with others. This social, spiritual walk, John says, enables us to have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son cleanses us from all sin.
And so there is a social and a communal aspect to fellowship. True fellowship with God will always involve fellowship with one another in the Christian community.
The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. This is the removal of the obstacle to fellowship. And so as the fellowship of believers we are designed to be whole, whole beings, free from sin through accepting forgiveness by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Whole because we are living a whole common life with those who hold similar values.
Whole because we are joined through a fellowship relationship, fellowship with God our father and with one another.
Being the people God calls us to be
So what’ stopping you, what’s stopping us, from being that deep-seated, relationship-seeking community that God calls us to be? Let’s strive for good, strong relationships that are designed for living and for godly life. Earlier I explained that, for the writer of 1 John, Jesus needed to be tangible. It’s no different for us, here. We need Jesus to be tangible. We must model the love of Jesus to one another and to our world. Our community, our fellowship, isn’t just us, here. We take our shared life wherever we go: to our families, our workplaces, our social wives, to the shops – did I say social wives? Social lives!
But we need to practise this common life, and what better place to practise our common life, our common life with Jesus and to the world, than being in common with one another here?
So if there’s a need that you know, mention it, share it. If you need Jesus, tell someone. If you need to show Jesus to somebody, please do it. You don’t need my permission. This common life needs us to share together. Let’s practise it here. Let’s love and show the world what it really means, because if we can’t show the love of God to the world, who can?
Father God, thank you that you call us to be in fellowship with each other and with you. Father God, thank you that it is that circle of togetherness that draws us together with you. Would you please keep us together as a fellowship? Would you please enable us to welcome people as they come in on a Tuesday, on a Thursday, on a Friday, on a Sunday, whenever we meet together here but also when we are scattered from here? Would you please help us to be part of a community that you want us to be?
We pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.
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Scripture quotations on this page and within the talk are from the are from the New English Bible: Copyright © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press & the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961.