Last week we started a conversation about a concern coming to the Apostle Paul from the church that he planted in Corinth. The concern was that the believers in that church were divided and not getting along. Paul concluded the primary source of their problem was a spiritual one. Namely, that the members of that church had wavered in their fellowship with God through Jesus Christ and, as a result, the relationship between the believers faltered.
Paul used a Greek word for fellowship. He used koinonia, meaning a close sharing and caring relationship. Paul encouraged the members of the church in Corinth to be united in fellowship with God because of the work done by Jesus Christ on the cross.
Paul also encouraged the members of the church to remember Jesus through the sharing of the bread and cup of communion for communion is an intimate fellowship with God through Jesus Christ and is an ideal expression of fellowship between believers. In communion, we see Christ in God and God in Christ. In communion, we see Christ in us and us in Christ. In communion, we see we are united one to the other through Christ. Communion, the sharing of the Lord’s Supper, is a key moment of the Christian experience and gives us a visual expression of koinonia, an intimate fellowship and act of sharing between believers.
We need fellowship between believers. We always have we always will need it. It is with communion in mind that I want to share with you some words I wrote about eleven years ago about communion. My wife found a copy of my remarks a few weeks ago and believe these words are still true today. The day I shared them was June 11, 2011, to be precise. The occasion was Sunday morning at the beginning of the worship service at the Latham church. The prior Sunday we had celebrated the Lord’s Supper in worship as we had done so for many years. Unbeknownst to the congregation, the individual who prepared the bread for the communion service was ill with a severe intestinal flu. Much of the bread used in the communion had become contaminated with the virus. The days following that Sunday most in the congregation became ill, some so seriously ill that they required hospitalization. This is part of what I said that day:
“This last week many in the congregation experienced illness that source of which seems inescapably linked to last week's worship service. In some way an unseen virus entered our midst and infected the people we love. Most people have recovered from the virus and have regained their physical strength.
While the virus was unpleasant it did last only a few days and we need to guard against future outbreaks. More importantly, however, we need to guard against an even more deadly unseen virus. That is the virus of fear. This is a virus that is brought to our minds by Satan himself. He wants us to be fearful of getting sick again. He wants us to be fearful of being in the presence of one another. He wants us to fear common meals and the joy of sharing the Lord's Supper. Satan would use this virus to accomplish his goals and keep us apart. He would use the virus of fear to try and stop our efforts to reach out to the community.
The antidote to the virus of fear also cannot be seen but it is far stronger than fear. It is faith. Faith itself cannot be seen, weighed, or directly measured. But it can become manifest when we trust in God. For when we trust in God, we are fearless. We know there are illnesses in the world, but we are not persuaded by the fear they can create because our faith overpowers that fear. So today we move forward unwilling to give one inch of ground to the enemy of God. We will celebrate the advancement of this congregation in knowledge, holiness, and compassion.”
We did battle with a virus eleven years ago and we have been doing battle for two years with another virus for these past 2 years. Both viruses are serious, but neither is as near as deadly than virus of fear and anxiousness among those who believe in Christ.
Our New Testament reading today, from the Book of Acts, gave us a glimpse into the overpowering strength of Christians to combat fear and replace it with fellowship. Luke wrote, “42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship [koinonia], to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The early church had reason to fear. Their leader, Jesus, had been crucified. Yes, he had been raised from the dead but there was reason to fear similar treatment for his followers. The Apostles, Peter and John, had been arrested. We would read in Chapter 4 of the Book of Acts that, “1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day” (Acts 4:1-3). Sadly, being arrested for leading a worship service is not just something from the past. Arrests still happen, even in Canada, where pastors were arrested for offering in-person worship services for their congregations.
At this same time, the early church was getting formed, there was a man named Saul who was inciting people to persecute the followers of Jesus. Saul’s behavior led to the death by stoning of a follower of Jesus named Stephen.
The followers of Jesus had good reason to be fearful of gathering and being known as Christians and yet that fear was overpowered by a behavior known as koinonia, fellowship. We need to let that sink in for a moment. So great was the love these first Christians had for God that they could only make that love make sense on earth by expressing love toward other believers. Luke said, “42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship [koinonia]” (Acts 2:42). Despite the fear, the earliest Christians gathered in devotion toward God and each other. The gathering of Christians from the church of Jerusalem was not some occasional event by a few of the leaders or those who were thought to be in a pastoral role. Luke used words such as, “Everyone,” “All the believers,” “Anyone,” and “Every day,” to describe the scope and frequency of these gatherings. Faith was overpowering fear and anxiousness. Faith in Christ was drawing people together as though there was an irresistible attraction. Luke used words such as “common,” and “together,” to express the unity that came when they placed faith in Christ and not fear in what might be or may be the response from those who were opposed to Christ.
What did these early Christians do when they were together? How did koinonia express itself by their conduct? Luke used the words that these early Christians listened to “apostles’ teachings,” “broke bread,” “sold possessions,” “gave to those in need,” and they “praised God.” Fellowship was not just a single act; it was an entire lifestyle of actions. Fellowship was not simply exchanging Sunday morning pleasantries. Fellowship was fearlessly spending every day working to find ways to connect with other Christians for any form of encouraging, grace filled, and uplifting behavior.
What was the resulting feeling that the early Christians received from devoting themselves to koinonia? Luke used such words as, “awe,” “glad hearts,” “sincere hearts,” and “joy.” These words were all positive and encouraging words that expressed a lightness far removed from fear and disagreements. Koinonia, is a spiritual gift from God, given to the followers of Jesus Christ.
When we start talking about spiritual gifts some people start tuning out because too often the conversation about spiritual matters gets so vague or so weird that people are not sure what anyone means anymore. Recognizing the risk of us not understanding spiritual gifts, I want to offer a simple clarifying illustration using a natural gift that we do understand. Several years ago, a friend gave Becky and me a gift of five of his paintings. He was an accomplished artist and so we were happy to have those paintings and hang them on the walls of our house. If you know me well, you would know how much I dislike putting nail holes in the walls of my house. So, putting five holes meant I really liked these paintings. But these gifts, as beautiful as they are, do not do anything. They are passive. The do not generate any pleasure on their own because they just hang on the walls. Becky, I, or someone else must look at the paintings before the value of those gifts can be received as we enjoy them. If these painting given to us as a gift were instead packed away in our basement where no one would look at them, then the gift would have no value.
Spiritual gifts follow a similar pattern in life. If we are given a spiritual gift, its value is not realized until it is put to use. If we receive a spiritual gift and simple bury it by never using it, then we take the value out of the gift. A spiritual gift, like a natural gift, must be exercised or used as intended for its value and usefulness to be received.
God gave Christians the spiritual gift of fellowship [koinonia], an active sharing of life, with him through Jesus Christ. We must actively receive Jesus for God’s gift to be realized. Otherwise, God’s gift will mean nothing to us, and our lives are unchanged.
Once we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are enabled with the spiritual gift of koinonia, fellowship, only this time for living life with other believers. But here again, we must actively and deliberately use that gift with other believers for the gift to be realized. Fellowship is not a spectators’ sport. We must use the gift. Fellowship requires that we be actively engaged with one another in specific activities in order to reap the many benefits God intends. What are those activities that enable the spiritual gift of fellowship? Luke mentioned five enabling activities.
- First is membership. Fellowship is for people who have become members of the church. Fellowship is a blessing for those who gather in the name of Christ. Fellowship is a Christian-to-Christian experience and is there for members of the Church to receive.
- Second is actively participating together in the development of our spiritual character. The early Christians “42a devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,” and “47 praising God.” We enable the spiritual gift of fellowship when we begin our time together seeking God’s presence and end it with praising him for our time together. If God is not involved in what we do, then it is not fellowship.
- Third is engaging everyone in fellowship; not just a few. I am not sure how many people recognize the unusual blessing God has given this church. This church is blessed to have six generations in its membership. From youngest to the most senior among us we have the Gen Alpha, iGen or Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation. We are blessed with the vibrancy and playfulness of youth, the idealism of emerging adults, the steadiness of those experienced in life, and wisdom only possible through years of living. Most churches may only have two or three generations of people, we are blessed with six and can enjoy the fullness that God intends for us.
- Fourth is engaging in breaking the bread, a phrase carrying the double meaning of participating in the Lord’s Supper as well as enjoying a good meal together. Enjoying either meal is a time of recognizing we are alike. We all have the need to be refreshed with nourishment for our bodies and for our souls. A good meal brings about laughter and conversation and tears down the walls of misunderstanding.
- Fifth is caring for the physical needs of others in the fellowship. The early Christians sold property and their homes to provide comfort to each other. The principle in play was the more we care for our own, the more credible our testimony becomes to others about our faith in Jesus and the love of God for all.
These five activities marked the early church and gave definition to the word koinonia. These activities led to a people who were joyful, glad in heart, sincere in heart, and in awe of what God did and was doing. We too have such fellowship and joy. Our pathway to enjoy even greater fellowship is to pursue our fellowship with God to the utmost with love and devotion. For wherever love abounds and the virus of fear cannot stay.
I am glad you are here today that we may be in fellowship with each other. Let us all be devoted to God through Jesus Christ and to one another that we can enjoy the spiritual blessing of fellowship reserved by God for us. Let us pray.