Part Three: Koinonia Means Sharing
Of the church in Jerusalem we are told that they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers (cf. Acts 2:42). This showed that they had a splendid unity in Christ. The common denominator among them was Jesus, their unifying, sharing factor.
They showed this also in how they very dramatically shared their physical possessions with one another. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:44-46). “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).
This sharing with one another is part of koinonia. Is it still for us today?
A Spiritual Sharing
One of the four references we deal with below (Phm. vv. 4-6) deals with a spiritual sharing, and yet it has implications of a physical sharing. The other three (2 Cor. 8:1-5, 9:6-13, Rom. 15:25-28) deal with the very material collection for the saints in Jerusalem who were facing more difficult times than that described by Luke in Acts. While we in our day do think of sharing spiritually in our fellowship, the sharing of material possessions is less often thought of as part of koinonia.
“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Phm. 4-6).
This slavemaster was evidently a good witness of Him. Perhaps he talked openly and casually about his Master and how he was His slave. His faith certainly showed in his love of the brethren. In the epistle Paul refers to how he should treat Onesimus. Paul expresses his confidence in Philemon with the word: “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (v. 21).
Paul writes this not to butter Philemon up so he will in a false pride do what Paul says. It is rather the case that Paul knows of the love and faith of Philemon and is sure it will show in how he treats the runaway slave who has now returned. Philemon evidently knows what fellowship is all about — sharing.
Are we like Philemon? Do we share our faith so as to bolster each other? We should share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear, and often for each other should flow the sympathizing tear. We who know Him so well need to hear from each other the Word so that our faith may grow. We must present to each other the scriptural optimism of Romans 8:28 and not be ashamed to go out on a limb to speak this even in the face of disaster.
We truly want the sharing of our faith to promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ. Let us each encourage each other by word and deed to put our confidence in the unseen Lord, to keep our hope riveted on our unobservable home in heaven, to not flinch when what we see seems to go awry. Faith, after all, is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Faith is assurance and conviction. To be in fellowship means to share this all- important commodity in a world that has it in all too scare a quantity.
“We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of afflictions, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means,of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints–and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
The first thing to remember in these three references is that the contribution spoken of was not regular church offerings. This was the collection made for the brethren in Jerusalem when they suffered physical deprivation. We may use these references or parts of them to teach regarding offerings for the Lord’s work in His kingdom. That is a proper application. But it must be remembered that the original context was for the material, physical relief of the saints.
This, perhaps surprisingly to some, is also part of our koinonia. “Taking part” is how koinonia is translated above. It is beautiful to see this picture unfold of the poor saints in Jerusalem being helped by the poor saints in Macedonia. Macedonia could hardly have been expected to give to the poor in Jerusalem because the hill country of Macedonia was itself impoverished!
You can imagine that perhaps there were those who spoke of how they would not give since it was needed at home just as much or more; and, after all, really we don’t know them over in Jerusalem. We cannot deny ourselves, can we, for the sake of those we will never even lay eyes on?
If there were those few who said this, the evidence is incontrovertible that they were silenced quickly and conclusively. The witness is “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality,” and “they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.” Why, we must help them in Jerusalem–they are our brothers in the faith!
So they took part, knowing full well what koinonia means.
It is simple to see how we today can so easily trip over our selfishness into Satan’s trap of not helping the brethren. We could say, of the orphan work in India, that it is really not for us to do. They are so far away. We shall never see them. Don’t we have poor people closer to home that need our help?
But, we are brethren with them, united by the sacrament of the one baptism. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:4-5).
Those little children in India in the care of our brethren in the CLCI* and the BELC* are one with us. Why, we must help them in India–they are our brothers and sisters in faith. “How can we saddle ourselves down to help someone we don’t even know?” was not the question from meeting place to meeting place in the poor hill country. The question was: “How can we help?”
Sowing And Reaping
“The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. . . . You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. Under the test of this service, you glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others” (2 Cor. 9:6-13 RSV).
No questions about it–as you sow, so shall you reap. The Jerusalem congregation, fully aware of what koinonia meant, saw to the care of those in need in their midst. They had sowed bountifully by having all things in common. From that common treasury they had dispensed to any as they had need.
And now the Jerusalem church would reap bountifully from the brethren in Macedonia, Achaia, and Rome. There were some wet blankets in Jerusalem who thought it not wise to sow quite so bountifully. Ananias and Sapphira were two such people. Time proves one right. the bread cast upon the water was now being found again from an unexpected quarter. The promise is now made to the Corinthians: “you will be enriched in every way for great generosity.”
What if, within our midst, we had one in dire need of our help? Would we extend our hand upon the basis that we are one in Christ? The flesh says, “Let somebody else help out.”
We assume that social security or disability payments or welfare assistance will come from government. But if we are one in the Lord, shouldn’t we want to help? Paul wrote to Rome about this expression of koinonia: “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem with aid for the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem; they were pleased to do it, and indeed they are in debt 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 blessings. When therefore I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been raised, I shall go on by way of you to Spain” (Rom. 15:25-28).
If at times you wonder if this should be part of what God’s people do, this sharing of one’s earthly goods with the brethren, this collection for the saints, then look at who was involved in it. The apostle and missionary Paul was carrying the collection to Jerusalem. Paul was busy in labors in the spread of His rule. And yet he takes the offering to Jerusalem. In his epistles Paul includes mention of it and encourages giving to this collection. This is part and parcel of our fellowship in the church.
Again we have seen that fellowship is a living, active, moving thing. It’s not a dead letter, because it springs of the Gospel and the Gospel is living, active, moving.
Fellowship is not static, but dynamic, because the love of Christ is a dynamic force in the Christian’s life. We believe in Him and confess our sin, pray for the saints, partake of communion, and share our faith and our goods with one another.
This glorious hope revives Our courage by the way, While each in expectation lives And longs to see the day.
–Missionary David Koenig