… it is only in the communion of saints that the (Holy) Spirit is to be found…
What a great quote to start this post looking at some concrete terms around how the community of the Church might function. We are going to, from this point in this particular series, be looking at some real, practical, examples of how we can describe the Church, because there is something special happening when the people of God gather together. The Church is not just a physical reality, but a spiritual one as well, and we cannot describe the Church only in physical, empirical terms, we have to include in this the revelation of God, who he is and what he is about in calling the Church into being.
So to get at this idea of what exactly the Church is the NT uses a lot of different metaphors. We have ideas like the Royal Priesthood, holy nation, temple of God, living stones in that temple, family of God, citizens of the new kingdom, body of Christ, brothers and sisters in Christ. All of these metaphors, that we could spend hours talking about each one of them. So what I am going to do is just take one, koinonia, and go a bit more in depth, take it apart look around at the different meanings and then draw out some practical ways of living that come out of the word, and what koinoia lived out might look like.
We arrive at this word koinonia through our understanding of a part of the work of Christ in coming, living, dying, rising again, and ascending into heaven. Part of that work was to restore our relationships with each other. The effects of his dying and rising again are far more than just our relationship with God, it is also about bringing us back into a better way on imaging the Triune God that we worship and confess as Lord. What we’re going to do is go through the places in the New Testament (NT) where the word, or variants of it, occur, and see what they can tell us about how life together may be lived.
The first place that we see this word used is in Acts 2:42-47:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:42-47 ESV)
Can you see where in these verses, or guess, where the Greek word koinonia might be used?
It is in verse 42 that we see it used…
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and KOINONIA, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
We get a retelling of this story at the end of Acts chapter 4 – or rather a description of the life of the community that God has called into being.
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
(Acts 4:32-35 ESV)
A derivative of our word, or actually one of the root words – appears here in verse 32 – koinos – where it says that they have all things in common. Twice here we get a description of the community where this koinonia is a central part of the life of the community, so let’s take a look at the definition (taken from blueletterbible.org):
There is a lot to take in there, so why don’t we pause, and come back to looking at this word, it’s uses, and how it might be relevant to our topic in the next post.