As I look ahead to this coming Sunday’s lectionary readings, the reality of koinōnia stands out to me. Koinōnia comes from the Greek word for “common” or “shared” (koinos), and so koinōnia has the idea of “that which is held in common,” “that which is shared among us.”
Contrary to the way we often use the word “fellowship,” in the New Testament Christians don’t “fellowship,” as a verb. Rather, we have “fellowship,” as a noun. This koinōnia is a gift from God, a gift of God’s Spirit to us as God’s people.
1 John 1:3 describes it this way: “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have koinōnia with us; and truly our koinōnia is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” There are things we hold in common, realities we share together—in 1 John these would be things like “life” and “light” and “love”—and as we share these common realities together we discover they are in fact realities God has shared with us, realities we hold in common with Jesus.
This “fellowship,” this koinōnia, is not just some abstract truth but a concrete, lived out experience. The love, light, and life we share together in Jesus works itself out in a shared life together, a common way of life in which we come together in acts of love and deeds of light that bring life among us and beyond us.
This “concrete koinōnia” comes out in another lectionary text for this Sunday, Acts 4:32-35: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common (koinos)… There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
This is the new reality the resurrected Jesus creates among us by the Spirit: a shared reality in which we hold in common a new life of love and light, in which we live out this new reality in ways which re-order our common life so that no one is needy, no one is marginalized, no one is oppressed by forces beyond their control.
Koinōnia is what the Kingdom of God is all about. It is what Jesus taught as he described God’s Kingdom in his parables, in his teachings, and in his ‘inaugural throne Speech’, (better known as the ‘sermon on the mount’.) God’s kingdom is what his life was all about. It is sad that so much of the Evangelical Christianity landscape which we have witnessed on media this last year is exactly the opposite of koinōnia. It is sad to see how much of Christianity has become all about my own rights and my own kingdoms at the expense of others, instead of what is best for our neighbors and our communities.
Christianity was never described in the Bible and therefore many have made it to whatever serves them best, but to describe oneself as a follower of Jesus is a whole other thing. Koinōnia is the abundant life that Jesus came to bring to all his followers.
Sartre said “Hell is other people” for reasons that are all too obvious, but the converse is equally true: the heavenly kingdom is other people, joyful exchange, mutuality fed by God’s Spirit. Unfortunately, for the past few years believers I have known for decades have recommended to me vile conspiracy theories concocted to promote hatred. They have sent me videos that spew malice at immigrants, screeds against science, etc. It is so pervasive that I limit my contact, not wanting to encounter the poison when I least expect it. I know well the sentiment of Psalm 120:6, “Too long my soul has dwelt with the haters of peace.”