Despite what some on social media may say or what the news may suggest, we live in marvelous age that people of the past could only but imagine. 

From a purely material perspective, we have adequate shelter against the elements.  We have an abundance of food and water.  We have things which transport us, services that care for us, and things that entertain us.

          From the intellectual perspective, we have schools, colleges, universities, and online institutions all complete with literally millions of books and articles.

          From the spiritual perspective, we have a buffet of belief systems ranging from religions, crystals, stars, books, and self-help philosophies with which we can safely choose.

          Yet, despite our abundance of things, knowledge, and spiritual offerings many people are dissatisfied with life.  Instead of fulfillment, there is loneliness.  Instead of peace, there is distress.  Instead of calm assurance about the future, there is timidity and anxiousness in this life and about the next.

          The anxiousness and lack of peace is translating into more aggressive behavior not just among adults but among our children.  A teacher in a local high school shared with me some observations about the aggressive behavior of children.  The teacher shared that the number of fights per day in the school is much higher this year than ever before.  The principals and teachers believe that the children are bringing the stress of our new COVID home and social lifestyles into the schools where it is then offloaded.

          We now live in an age of outrage.  The outrage on nearly every topic has begun to shift the central focus of lives from what we hold in common to what we hold in our differences.  How we differ is becoming more important than how we are similar.

          What is the antidote for this growing separation?  I would like to suggest the antidote is found in a change of heart expressed by the ancient Greeks in a single word, koinonia.

          Koinonia is defined simply as fellowship.  It is the close association between persons, emphasizing what is common between them and by extension, participation, and sharing, contributing, and gifting in one another as an outcome of such close relationship.  The word koinonia in its various forms is used over 40 times in the New Testament.  I would like us to take some time over the next couple of weeks to come to know what the Bible intends for us to understand about fellowship.

          We begin today with the perhaps the highest order of koinonia, fellowship, expressed in our Scripture reading by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth.  Paul had established the church of Corinth on his second missionary trip.  Corinth was generally a wealthy city with a melting pot of cultures, philosophies, lifestyles, and religious beliefs.  I offer that description not just for the historical setting of Paul’s words but to see that our society differs from Corinth perhaps only in scale.  Paul was now away from the Corinth on his third missionary trip when unsettling news reached Paul.  The people of the Corinth church were beginning to separate and divide into different camps and groupings.

          Let’s look at Paul’s opening words from his first letter to the Corinthians.  “I always thank my God for you [the followers of Jesus in Corinth] because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He [God] will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship [koinonia] with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4-9).

          Let’ start with Paul’s last word here.  “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship [koinonia] with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).  Paul made clear to the Corinthians that God acted on their behalf.  How so?  God was the one who called each member of the church to come into fellowship, koinonia, with his Son, Jesus.  Humanity’s embrace of God begins when they accept fellowship, that close association and sharing, with Jesus.

          Jesus was and is essential for the relationship with God.  Why is that so?  God is holy. God is without sin.  God is divine.  We are not holy.  We do sin. We are human.  Jesus is holy.  Jesus is without sin.  Jesus is divine and human.  Jesus who is one sent by God to serve as a bridge between God and us, between the holy and the sinner, the divine and the human.  Through Jesus we can receive from God and be forgiven our sins and brought into holiness.  Jesus explained the relationship between sinner and God this way, “22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:22-23).

Sometimes the Bible can be a little hard to follow because of its reliance on pronouns.  If we added a few names and more descriptive words to what Jesus said and reduce a the number of times you, we, and they were used, Jesus words, actually a prayer, might sound more like, “22 I, Jesus, have given those who fellowship with me the glory that you, God, gave me, that my friends may be one with me as God and I are one— 23 I in fellowship with my followers and God in me —so that my followers may be brought to complete unity with God, Me, and each other” (John 17:22-23).

The unity of God, Jesus, and the believer is the central theme of the gospel.  This unity, this sharing and close association, is the highest form of koinonia, fellowship.  Paul’s opening words to the Corinthians was that “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship [koinonia] with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).  It did not matter what the person’s standing was in life, the common action was God calling and each member responding to a fellowship with Jesus. Paul would later write, “28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Fellowship with God and Jesus meant fellowship with each other regardless of any other social, racial, economic, political, or I suppose we could add today, vaccination status, that humanity wanted to construct.  The divine-human fellowship was and still is the vision of satisfaction, fulfillment, peace, and assurance.  God knows humanity desperately needs fellowship with him and each other. 

          But there was a problem in Corinth.  Paul wrote, “11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you” (1 Corinthians 1:11).  There was a problem with the fellowship between believers in Jesus Christ.  The koinonia, the fellowship between believers, perhaps the second highest level of fellowship, was fractured among the believers in Corinth.  Those in the church of Corinth, instead of enjoying satisfaction, fulfillment, peace, and assurance were beset with dissatisfaction, loneliness, distress, and anxiousness.

          Paul concluded that a breakdown in fellowship between believers was not caused by some personality differences among a few people but was caused by a spiritual issue.  Meaning, the breakdown between people was a symptom of a breakdown in the highest order of fellowship, koinonia, with the person of Jesus Christ.

          Paul said, “10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.  12 What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul”; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas (or Peter)’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’  13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?’” (1 Corinthians 1:10, 12-13).

Paul was bluntly reminding the Corinthians that the unity that had, the peace they enjoyed, came through Christ alone.  It was God working through Jesus that brought each member of the Church into unity with God and because God did that for each person, each person was brought into unity with each other.  The Corinthians had taken their eyes off the person, the work, and fellowship with Jesus Christ.  As a result, their unity with each other began to fall apart.  Personal preferences or personal backgrounds which had been given over to the unity with Christ began to reemerge and those differences came to be seen as important.  The loss of focus polarized the church.  The koinonia, the fellowship with Jesus had weakened and as a result the fellowship between members of the church was in tatters.

          Paul’s words reveal to us that koinonia, is a spiritual partnership or fellowship of believers.  It is not to be something loose or at arm’s length. This fellowship involves is an active engagement with God and other believers.  It is much more than mere attendance at church meetings or for church suppers.   If we truly recognize the value that God Himself has placed on this partnership with Him through Christ, then our response should be shown in the sincerity of our love for the Lord and each other.

          What was Paul’s remedy for this situation?  Paul concluded the folks at Corinth needed to reconnect with the power and unity of Christ. Paul wrote, “17 Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).

          Paul reminding people of the basic truths of their faith.  The cross, both awful and wonderful, both to be feared and to be loved, was man at his worst and God at his best.  It was through the cross that koinonia, fellowship between the Holy God and the sinner was possible.  For God sees the sinner through the cleansing power of the cross. Jesus on the cross took the sins of those of the Corinthian church and in exchange, Jesus gave those same members his own record of sinlessness.  Jesus’ death on the cross put an end to the sins of those in the Corinth church.  We might visualize this form of koinonia as the vertical post of the cross, connecting God and humanity.  Because the relationship with God was right, the relationship with other believers could be made right.  We might visualize this form of koinonia in the horizontal beam of the cross.  Paul wanted the people to remember the truth that the power of the cross brought about fellowship with God and each other.

But Paul was not done with reminders of koinonia.  Paul continued later in his letter that the fellowship with Jesus could be experienced over and again.  Paul said, “16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation [koinonia] in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation [koinonia] in the body of Christ?  17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

          Paul was reminding the Corinthians that fellowship with God through Jesus Christ and each other, could be experienced with the full senses every time they took of the bread and cup.

          Paul’s words about koinonia apply to us as well.  If we want to experience satisfaction and fulfillment in our lives, we must ensure our fellowship with Jesus is firm.  We should contemplate that the cross is not a piece of jewelry or a decorative ornament.  The cross is how we have been saved.  The cross is how we have a sinless record before God.  The cross is how we have fellowship with God through Jesus.  We can see that every time we look at the cross.

Likewise, if we want to experience peace and assurance in our lives, we can come to the Lord’s table and take the bit of bread.  We can experience the bread with our senses and be reminded that it is Jesus feeds us and strengths us.  We can also take the cup and experience Jesus as he changes us, renews us, and refreshes us.

          Let us enjoy today koinonia as we come to prepare ourselves to renew our close association with Jesus and each other at the table he has prepared for us. Amen and Amen.