Question:

What you have said has been very helpful and I am growing in my understanding now.

This is what you said:

“Fellowship is a description of who they were. They were a people of one heart and one soul. Thus fellowship is a description of their state or attitude toward each other. When people turn it backwards they lose so much meaning. Sitting down at a meal does make the people at the table have one heart and one soul. But people with one heart and one soul do enjoy sitting down for meals together. People who use "fellowship" to mean a meal then to think you can do fellowship (as if fellowship was a verb). It is a noun that tells us how a group of people view each other.”

I have been looking at all the places where the noun koinonia appears and it is very difficult for me to see how it means what you say in some those verses. So can you give a brief comment on the following verses that will help me to understand, please.

For example, Roman 15:26 says that Macedonia and Achaia made contribution (koinonia) for the poor. I tried using the word “friendship” but that didn’t help. How would you make a fellowship to the poor or how would you make a friendship to the poor? It doesn’t make sense!

Please comment on these verses: Acts 2:42; Romans 15:26; I Corinthians 1:9; 10:16; II Corinthians 6:14; 8:4; 9:13; 13:14; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:9; Philippians 1:5; 2:1; 3:10; Philemon 6; Hebrews 13:16; 1 John 1:3, 6-7.


Answer:

When going between languages it is sometimes difficult to do a one-for-one word substitution because most languages have multiple meanings for some words. For example, in English the word "row" can be used to talk about a row of house, to row a boat, or to have a row between two people (that is to have a fight). In some ways we can see the relationship between a row of corn and rowing a boat because it means "in a straight line" and moving the oars moves them in a line. But how does a fight get in there? And if you try to do a straight one-for-one word substitution you get nonsense sounding things in another language.

The words we have been talking about all have the idea of "common" between them as the root word is koinos, which means common, communal, ordinary, unclean, or impure. Koinonia is a noun that, as I said before, means association, partnership, fellowship, communion, sharing, or contribution. In English, we tend to use the first four definitions as roughly equivalent words, but the last three are seen as something different. Yet in the Greek language it was seen as all one because at the root was "common" and "communal." An association is having a common cause. A partnership is having a common business, fellowship is having a common heart, communion is sharing common time, sharing is having common objects, and contribution is having a common fund. Which shade of meaning in English depends on its usage.

Fellowship, the having a common heart and mind, is seen in Acts 2:42; I Corinthians 1:9; II Corinthians 6:14; 13:14; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:9; Philippians 2:1; I John 1:3, 6-7.

Sharing, the having common things, is seen in Romans 15:26 (money); I Corinthians 10:16 (the Lord's Supper); II Corinthians 8:4 (money); II Corinthians 9:13 (money); Philippians 1:5 (teaching); Philippians 3:10 (suffering); Philemon 6 (teaching); Hebrews 13:16 (general sharing). Each of these can be seen as the result of having a common heart and mind. "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common" (Acts 4:32).

You asked about Romans 15:26 in particular. "For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things" (Romans 15:26-27). Notice in the larger context that the sharing of their funds did not create the fellowship between Christians in Macedonia, Achaia, and Judea. Fellowship already existed because the sharing of the gospel had created a bond of having one heart and one mind between Christians. The sharing of their funds was an expression of the fellowship that already existed, it was an attribute of that fellowship and in Greek, they used the same word to express it.

The point I've been making remains the same. All Christians should be of one heart and one soul; that is, they all should be in fellowship. "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10). Because that fellowship exists, we see it expressed in various ways of sharing everything we have in common with those of like mind. The sharing of things always occurs after the sharing of the heart and mind.

But it can't go the other way. You can't share things to create a fellowship. That was Paul's point in II Corinthians 6: "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people"" (II Corinthians 6:14-16). Doing things jointly with people with whom you don't have the same mind and same heart will not create a fellowship. The true danger is that it can corrupt your ideas. "Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits"" (I Corinthians 15:33). A fellowship might evolve but by Christians returning to the world of wickedness.

What has happened over the years is an attitude that if we set people down for meals together, we can make them have fellowship with each other. It is generally what people have in mind when creating "fellowship halls." It is toward this idea that I've been addressing. It is backwards. The church is told to create fellowship between Christians through the teaching of the Gospel. Those in fellowship then share things together, though the church isn't necessarily involved in all demonstrations of commonality. As a matter of fact, the church is not the place for common meals. "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. ... But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment" (I Corinthians 11:22, 34). But we find people trying to wiggle out of this by claiming they are providing "fellowship" through the meals. God didn't give the church such a command and it misses the point about what is fellowship.