One of the Greek words used in the New Testament for “church” is “Koinonia”. It is not the most frequently used word—that is “Ekklesia”, which we discussed last week. But koinonia is indeed used, and, as is usual with translations from one language to another, it has multiple meanings. Those meanings are important for the church to be able to faithfully be the church.
One meaning is “fellowship”. This is the word used in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship (koinonia)”. The rest of Acts chapter 2 describes some of what that “fellowship/koinonia” involves: “the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” This kind of fellowship/koinonia is clearly much more than just a few people liking being together—it had an upward focus, on praying and worshiping God. It had an inward focus, on being together and caring for one another to the point of selling what one had to be able to afford to care for a “fellow” who had need. And it had an outward focus, as that meeting of needs also reached beyond just they themselves. And the result of this active “koinonia” was thus: “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved”.
The “outward focus” component of koinonia is emphasized in the other two passages for this Sunday. In Romans 15:26 Paul says he is going to visit the saints in Jerusalem, “for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share (koinonia) their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem”. And in 2 Corinthians 9 Paul commends the church in Corinth for their “great generosity” (verse 11) which they are expressing in their sharing (koinonia) with another church which is in need, far away from them. In both of these cases, koinonia is synonymous with sharing; a more literal translation might be “contribution”—implying financial sharing. And rather than just a nameless, faceless monetary gift, that it is “koinonia” conveys a sense of more connection, of more “fellowship” (the translation in Acts 2). Although, interestingly, this first-century koinonia/contribution would most likely involve sharing with people they would indeed never see—not even photos or video-chats. And yet it conveys a caring that fellowship involves.
It seems to me that the word “community” can convey the sense of fellowship and contribution/sharing that the church as “koinonia” is about. “Fellowship” doesn’t quite convey the connection of sharing deeply WITH one another, since it can sometimes seem more like two people sitting beside each other and not engaged WITH each other. “Contribution” can be even more impersonal and not “connected”. Even “sharing,” if it’s done with those we don’t have any interaction with, can be one-sided. “Community” on the other hand seems to me more egalitarian, more engaged, more involved--more like the gathering described in Acts 2:46: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts”.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
23 But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26 for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. 28 So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; 29 and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
2 Corinthians 9:7-15
7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.’
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!