Mark D. Roberts

Part 5 of series: What is the Christian Life?
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In my last post in this series, I asked: What is the life revealed by God? The answer of John in his first letter is: Jesus Christ. Through the one who is the Life, we experience the fullness of life. In the first chapter of 1 John we learn much more about the essential character of this life.
John explains his purpose in telling his spiritual children about God’s life this way: “We are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1:3). Faith in Jesus, the eternal life that was with the Father, opens up a way to experience eternal life now, a life that John describes by the word “fellowship.” In fact he uses this word four times in the first seven verses of 1 John:

The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life. This one who is life from God was shown to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and announce to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was shown to us. We are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing these things so that our joy will be complete.
This is the message he has given us to announce to you: God is light and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth. But if we are living in the light of Godâ??s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. (1 John 1:1-7, emphasis added)

What does John mean by this word “fellowship”?
We associate fellowship with camaraderie and informal friendliness. At Irvine Presbyterian Church, we had a “fellowship hall.” It was a place for church potlucks, wedding receptions, and casual conversation on rare rainy days. But our sense of fellowship fell far short of the word â??fellowshipâ? as used in the New Testament. (Photo: The Family Christimas Celebration in the Fellowship Hall of Irvine Presbyterian Church.)
The Greek word translated as “fellowship” (koinonia) means far more than hanging out with friendly people in a comfortable place. Koinonia literally means “holding something in common.” Among Greek speakers in the Roman Empire, it was used in business to refer to partnership or joint-ownership, a relationship in which two people held business interests and assets in common.
Early Christians used koinonia for their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, that which we call “communion” (a word that is based on koinonia, coming to us through the Latin communio). By taking bread and wine in memory of Jesus, the first Christians were “sharing together” or “having communion” in him (1 Cor 10:16-17). Marriage could be called “the fellowship of life.” Sexual intimacy between spouses could be called simply koinonia. Clearly, therefore, koinonia implies a depth of relationship we don’t usually associate with a fellowship hall.
It’s hard to find an English word that unites the various and deeper connotations of koinonia. “Fellowship,” “partnership,” and “sharing” highlight limited facets of the word’s meaning. “Communion” gets much closer, but has a religious tone that might obscure the original sense of koinonia. The best translation I can conceive for koinonia in 1 John uses two words, “intimate fellowship.”
God’s kind of life involves, neither a casual relationship with him such as one might experience in a fellowship hall, nor a deep relationship that happens only when we “receive communion” in church, but intimate fellowship available at all times and in all places. God desires our kinship with him to consist of far more than a few rushed prayers or cameo appearances at Easter and Christmas services. The Creator of Heaven and Earth seeks an intimate, personal relationship with you and me. God wants us to share deeply in his life, both now and forever.
What a wonder! In our preoccupation with our personal search for God we can easily forget that God is searching for us too. That’s one of the major narrative themes of the Bible: God’s search for humankind, God’s effort to reestablish the fellowship between himself and his human creatures that was broken because of sin. Jesus Christ came, not only to save us from sin and death, but also to lead us into close, lasting relationship with God. As the source of eternal life from God, Jesus welcomes us into koinonia, intimate fellowship with God . . . but not with God alone.

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