N. T. Fellowship: Christians Sharing Together
"Because `sharing' in life is based on 'sharing' in spiritual things, the saint is forbidden to 'share' — as a Christian — with those who do not possess the 'common' faith and salvation, whether they be pagan or apostate."
The English New Testament often uses a variety of words and phrases for a single Greek root in its different forms. This is the case with regard to "fellowship." For this original Greek word-family (koin-), the King James Version at times has "common" (koinos); "be partaker," "communicate," "distribute," "to have fellowship" (koinoneo); "communion," "distribution," "contribution," "fellowship," "communication" (koinonia); "partaker," "fellowship," "partner," "companion," (koinonos); and "willing to communicate" (koinonikos).1 This article briefly surveys the usages of these words in the New Testament.2 It seeks especially to show the root thought running throughout the various members of the word-family, that is, the idea of something held in "common" and thus "shared." All the word forms are viewed here from the standpoint of this most basic and simple definition. I am perfectly happy with the present English rendering of the terms — that is not the point. I am simply attempting to show the basic relationship between the various terms as used in the New Testament. For that reason I will bring out the idea of "something common" or "shared" throughout this article.
Christian "Sharing" Begins As Individuals "Share" With Christ.
Sometimes the New Testament employs our "share" family of words to describe the sharing of Christians with Christ, the Holy Spirit, or God. So far as Christian "fellowship" is concerned, this is where we should start. Because men are "sharers" in flesh and blood, Christ took part of the same human state (Heb. 2:14). And because of what He accomplished in the flesh, men are able to be made "sharers" in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). To use an adage from the second century, "it is only because He became like us that we can become like Him."
The preaching of the gospel under the great commission is essentially a relating of Christ's "sharing" with us, and a call for men to "share" with Him in divine sonship. One enters this relationship with Christ on the basis of faith, by obedience to the gospel. Without the gospel, there can be no "sharing" with Christ, and unless men "share" with Him in this manner, they can have no Christian2 "sharing" with one another. Many participants in the so-called "Ecumenical Movement" totally ignore this basic truth, and that oversight alone destines it to failure so far as true Christian unity is concerned.
The Idea Of Christian Fellowship ("Sharing") Apart From The Preaching Of The Gospel And Obedience To It Is Preposterous. In The Light Of The New Testament, It Is Impossible. Christian "Sharing" Is Only Possible As Men "Share" Together With Christ — And This "Sharing" Can Be A Reality Only By Means Of The Gospel. Christian "Sharing" Is Based On The Apostolic Declaration Of Things Seen And Heard (I John 1:3). There Is First A "Sharing" With God And Christ — On The Basis Of The Gospel — Then A "Sharing" Between Those Who So "Share" With God And Christ.
It is not surprising, then, that Scripture says we are called (through the gospel) into a "sharing" of God's Son (I Cor. 1:9). There is also a "sharing" of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14), and because there is, Christians are to maintain unity of ambition and affection (Phil. 2:10. Those who "share" with Christ and God "share" a "common" faith (Tit. 1:4) and a "common" salvation (Jude 3) with one another.
Hebrews expresses the same thought by a different word (metochos). There saints are "partners" of a heavenly calling (3: I) through continued steadfastness (3:14). The same epistle also has them "partakers" (the same word) of the Holy Spirit (6:4) and, as sons, of divine discipline (12:8). Christ "shared" with us by His incarnation, life and death. Because of His resurrection and glorification, we can "share" with Him, through obedience to the gospel. If we "share" with Him, we automatically "share" with one another — for we then have a "common" commitment, or trust, or faith, and a "common" salvation. But Christian "sharing" involves more than a spiritual "commonness."
Christians "Share" In Daily Living.
The "shared" faith, "common" to all saints, becomes active (literally, "energetic," the same word found in Heb. 4:12) as it leads to a "sharing" in life through mutual concern (Phe. 6). This "sharing" in life has sometimes been total, as when the first believers had "all things common" (Acts 2:44, 45; 4:32). Most circumstances since then have demanded less, though they have always called for some outward expression of the spiritual "sharing" in a "common" faith and salvation.
Any "community" sharing of means calls for some "treasury" arrangement, and involves some manner of "contribution" on the part of those who are willing to "share." By association, then, the same word translated "fellowship" is also used to mean a "contribution." The basic thought is the same as before — only different aspects are emphasized. Paul uses our word in connection with the "sharing" of material things in his epistles to the Romans (12:13; 15:26-27), Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:4; 9:13), Galatians (6:6), Philippians (1:5; 4:15) and to Timothy (I Tim. 6:18).
Because This "Sharing" Of Possessions Grows Out Of A "Common" Faith And Salvation, And Because It Is Grounded In A Deeper Spiritual "Sharing," God Regards Even It As A Sacrifice Well-Pleasing To Himself (Heb. 13:16). The "Sharing" Of Acts 2:42 Probably Fits In Here — Either As Describing The "Shared" Life Of The Early Part Of Acts, Or The "Shared" Possessions Involved In The "Contribution."
When the "common" faith and salvation become active, Christians "share" in far more than material possessions. The same word-family describes a "sharing" in preaching and teaching God's Word (Rom. 15:27; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 1:5; 4:15). It is used of a "sharing" in the body and blood of Christ through a "common" partaking of the one bread and cup (I Cor. 10:16). The same words speak of suffering that is "shared," either with Christ (Phil .3:10; I Pet. 4:13) or with fellow saints (Phil. 4:14; Heb. 10:33). With a "shared" suffering comes also a "shared" comfort or consolation (2 Cor. 1:7). A "common" faith and salvation lead to a "common" life. What is "shared" spiritually in Christ Jesus becomes the basis for active "sharing" in external, physical, daily living as well. The first (spiritual) is the root. The second (physical) is the fruit.
Morals And Teaching May Affect This "Sharing."
Because the "sharing" of saints grows out of their "sharing" with Christ and God, whatever affects their relationship with God also affects their "sharing" with one another. Men "share" what they have in "common." If they do not have anything in "common," or lose what they once had in "common," they do not "share." This is not profound or deep — it is obvious in the very meaning of terms. In this regard, the moral behavior of the saint plays an important part in his "sharing" with other Christians. God is completely holy. Satan is absolutely evil. Each seeks to make men into his own image. Scripture speaks of the moral conflict in terms of "light" and "darkness."
It is evident from observation that light does not "share" anything with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). When light comes in, darkness goes out. When darkness is present, light is absent. The same is true with reference to the man who claims to "share" with God and Christ as a "partner" in the divine nature. Christians are commanded not to "share" in unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11; see vv. 2:12). They are children of light, and their conduct must reflect that relationship. The saint who says he is "sharing" with God, but is living according to darkness, is lying — it is as simple as that (I John 1:6). If he says that he "shares" with God, then walks in light, his life is in accord with his profession, and he "shares" not only with God but with all others who "share" with God (I John 1:7).4
When saints finally part company with another saint who has persisted in sinful living and refused to repent,5 they are simply acknowledging the fact that they no longer "share" a "common" faith (and thus life) with that person: he has renounced his "share" in that faith by unrepentant sin — and that is an unspoken proof of an "evil heart of unbelief."
The New Testament also uses the vocabulary of "sharing" with reference to false religionists. Some of these never had the "common" faith; others once "shared" in it. Some are non-Christians; others are false-Christians. Some are pagans; others are antichrists. For example, those who worship demons have nothing in "common" with those who worship God through Christ. Paul thus urged the Corinthian believers not to "share" in the worship of their pagan neighbors (I Cor. 10:18, 20). John heard a prophetic, heavenly voice call God's people out of sensual and idolatrous Rome, lest they "share" in either her sins or her punishment (Rev. 18:4). Saints have come from darkness to light. Their lives must always show that change.6 Even those holding the "common" faith and enjoying the "common" salvation (thus "sharing" in spirit and life with other saints) can lose their right to "share" as saints, by leaving the faith and salvation once held "common" with other saints. Faith in Christ (belief, trust, commitment) is an ABSOLUTE ESSENTIAL — without it there is NO spiritual "sharing" with either God or saints. If the Christian leaves this faith he also leaves God. If he leaves God, he leaves his "common" ground with other saints. And if he does this, Scripture terms him an "antichrist," or "reprobate," or "apostate," depending on the particulars of his damning departure from God. "Nothing common — nothing shared" is the self-evident truth involved. How very severe the punishment of the man who once "shared" but left that "common" ground!'
Summary: "Sharing" What Is Held In "Common."
Because saints individually "share" with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, they together have a "common" faith and salvation. When this "sharing" of faith becomes active, they "share" also in life with one another. This may involve "sharing" in material things, in worship, in preaching and teaching, in suffering and consolation. God's nature demands that those who "share" with Him must become holy. His people, therefore, are not to "share" in deeds of darkness — light and darkness have no "common" ground.
Because "sharing" in life is based on "sharing" in spiritual things, the saint is forbidden to "share" — as a Christian — with those who do not possess the "common" faith and salvation, whether they be pagan or apostate. In reality, such "sharing" would be impossible — where there is nothing "common" there is nothing to be "shared." On the other hand, where there is a "common" faith and salvation, where there is "common" ground, there may (and should be) a "sharing" of life among saints — insofar as it is consistent with their individual convictions of conscience.
By the study of God's Word, may we draw nearer to God, closer to one another, and more active in "sharing" as Christians — "partners" in a "common" faith and salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.7
- Not included in this summary are places where koinos is translated "unclean," "defiled," and "unholy," or the 15 occurrences of a cognate verb (koinoo) meaning "to make or call common or unclean."
- The purpose here is to summarize the teaching of Scripture in my own words. Because of this, the reader is urged to read each Scripture passage as cited.
- I do not intend to offend anyone by this term, but simply know no other word which fits as well here.
- Such an individual also enjoys the cleansing blood of Christ, according to the same verse, which proves that "walking in the light" does not mean he has no sin. Otherwise there would be no need for Christ's blood to cleanse. This child of God is still imperfect in knowledge and obedience, and always will be, but he has set his heart and mind to follow God, not Satan. The other extreme would be to say that he can never leave the light, which is also false, as the whole context proves.
- Such as the immoral man of I Cor. 5-6; the divider-offender of Rom. 16:17f; the factious man of Tit. 3:9f; or the disorderly person of 2 Thess. 3. These people all deny their faith by their lives and, unless they repent, forever lose their "share" with God and Christ and therefore with saints.
- I Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Gal. 5:17-24; Eph. 2:1-6; 4:17-24; Col. 1:12, 13; 3:5-11; I Thess. 1:7-10; Tit. 2:12; 3:3-8; I Pet. 4:3, 4; 2 Pet. 2:20-22.
- This can be done — as we have seen from Scripture — by false living or by false teaching. To be consistent, however, if one applies the diagnosis of such passages as 2 John 9 to a situation, he should also be willing to administer the "medicine" of v. 10 in that same case. The verses go together.