“Fellowship” is one of those Christian buzzwords that is tossed around loosely in prayers and sermons and church bulletins and such. One might speak of a “Fellowship Luncheon,” or thank God for “this time of fellowship”—the reference is to spending time with Christian friends.
But “fellowship” means so much more than merely socializing and enjoying the company of others. The Greek word is koinonia, and it means communion by intimate participation. In contemporary Greek, it refers to, among other things, marriage partnerships. Synonyms vary by context but include “commonality,” “contribution,” “sharing,” and “participation.” The noun is active and suggests the idea of not just being together, but doing together. Doing the work of Christ, bound together by his love, our common ground.
The word is used 20 times in the Bible, sometimes referring to the union of Christians with each other and sometimes to the union of Christians with their God. For example, “koinonia” is the word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 10:16 to refer to the sacrament of Communion; he speaks of us “participating” in the body and blood of Christ through our partaking of the bread and wine. Having fellowship with us—communing with us intimately, seeing us participate with him in the work of the Father—makes Jesus immeasurably happy.
The Last Supper was a pivotal event in the life of Christ and one of the most widely depicted in art, both Western and non-Western. But Indian artist Alphonso Doss cleverly thought to picture the “First Supper” instead, the first time the disciples gathered together for a meal with their Rabbi, Jesus. What might they have talked about, smiled about, laughed about that afternoon? What bonds started to take shape at this early stage? In ancient Jewish culture, sharing a meal was considered a sign of wholehearted friendship and peace. In a sense, that’s still true today, even in American culture. When you sit down at someone’s dinner table, it’s usually the table of a close friend or family member, right? (And if you’re angry at a parent or a spouse, you’d rather eat alone.) Jesus shared many meals throughout his thirty-three years, with all manner of people. That’s because he wanted to declare friendship and peace to all those willing to sit at his side and eat of his food.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:9 that “God … has called you into fellowship [koinonia] with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, God desperately wants everyone to enter into an intimate partnership with his Son, through whom we can share in his glory and grace. Jesus wants so much more than to merely “hang out” with us; he wants to bring us delicious joy, he wants us to taste and see that he is good! Revelation 3:20 provides a picture of Jesus standing outside your home with a picnic basket, knocking, inviting you to open the door and enjoy what’s inside the basket. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,” he says, “I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus extends the hand of friendship and invites us to commune with him eternally, to participate in his death and resurrection and thereby enter into the common love, joy, and purpose shared by Christians all across the world.