Does this exchange sound familiar?
Bill: “Hello, how are you doing?”
Steve: “I am good . . . and you?”
Bill: “I am doing well also.”
Steve: “Great! . . . See ya later!”
Bill: “You too!”
This kind of short, being-friendly-but-not-wanting-to-really-talk-about-anything-important, dialogue happens all the time. We have these discussions with people at work, passing by in the grocery store, sporting events, parties, and unfortunately . . . at church.
This has bothered me for some time.
Why do we have these same types of conversations with our brothers and sisters at church? Now, I understand that there are occasions where it is not the best time or the proper setting to have a lengthy conversation. However, our time together is called fellowship (Greek. koinōnia). Koinōnia, in its biblical context, means to “share with someone in something which he has,” and “to have a close mutual association.” It’s a term I never use to refer to hanging out at a work related event, or birthday party with unbelievers, BBQ at a neighbors house, or any other type of gathering that is not with those of the family of God. I am sure no other Christian does either.
How are Christian relationships supposed to be different?
We who are of the family of God have a close, mutual association in Christ. In fact, it is because of Christ that we have been united into one body of believers, a royal priest hood belonging to God (Rom. 7:4; 1 Pet. 2:9). Paul uses the phrase in Christ quite often in reference to Christians. Paul uses the term koinōnia to speak of the direct participation of the believer with Christ, which is a spiritual communion with the risen Lord (1 Cor. 1:9).
Why does he use that phrase and not just call us believers in Christ or fellow children of God?
Because all who are born-again have died with Christ in his death and have been made alive with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5-10), granted that we share (koinōnia) in his sufferings. We are united into one body, under the lordship of Christ, “having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2).
Therefore, if we are to be of the same mind and same love, loving others, demonstrating that we are of God, we should seek God’s will together in one mind, which is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3; cf. Rom. 6:19,22).
How are we to do that, staying the course on the path of righteousness?
Through the fellowship and discipleship within the church, united in Christ and in communion with the Spirit.
The author of Hebrews, speaking about the rest for us in Christ, says
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (3:12-14).
God’s means for keeping believers in Christ is through the body, to keep our hearts from the hardening effects of sin. It is through grace-saturated fellowship, exhorting, encouraging, and praying for each other daily that God uses as the means to sustain us until glorification (Read 1 Cor. 12:1-26). Our sanctification depends on our fellowship with our Triune God and each other.
Ultimately, true biblical fellowship is a relationship, not an activity.
How do we turn our quick, superficial conversations into koinōnia?
A few months back I decided to try something different, to be more intentional in my conversing with believers on Sunday or any other time. So, after the typical how-are-you-doing exchange, I ask, “What has the Lord shown you this week?” The responses I received have been astonishing. Every response gave me a glimpse into the window of a fellow brother or sister’s heart. We got to share in something we both have in common—struggles with sin and a desperate need for Christ.
Over the last few months, many have shared with me their joy in Christ due to a particular situation, whether in prayer, reading the Bible, or through trials. And some opened up in need of guidance, encouragement, or just needed someone to listen. The crucial element in all of this is that the conversations went from the natural to the supernatural. We were talking about something that the world doesn’t have or truly understand—our spiritual lives in Christ. We were experiencing true koinōnia.
Just recently, I ran into a newer family at our church just after our Wednesday night Awanas program. I have interacted with the husband a few times over the last few months but only discussed trivial matters. And our last interaction ended rather awkwardly, because there were no more superficial questions left to ask. So, we just sat there and stared at each other with silly grins on our faces.
This was before I began asking this question.
Well, this time when our trivialities ended, I asked him, “So, what has the Lord shown you recently?” He said, “Nothing.” And we were back at that awkward place again.
What now? You can’t say, “Oh, sorry to hear that. Take care.”
My entire purpose in asking this question was to “share” in another Christian’s life in Christ. And in this moment, here was a man that needed to be encouraged. I asked him if he has been reading his Bible, and he said he hadn’t but then pointed to his wife, letting me know that she reads all the time. I encouraged him to make time daily to be in God’s Word. I told him that he is the leader of his house, and if he wants his children to grow up in a house where the Lord is the head of it (and I now he does), then his kids need to see their daddy reading it daily, guiding the family by its wisdom, and uniting his family to be one in Christ.
He was much appreciative of what I said. Praise God.
I could have just shaken his hand and said, “How ya doing?” And I know he would have just said, “I am doing good.” And that would have been the end of the conversation, followed by a wave and a “see ya later.”
But really, he was in a rough patch. If you are not reading the Bible regularly then you are starving yourself (Matt. 4:4). That is an extremely dangerous place to be in. I thank God for that conversation and hope that the Spirit convicts him to be in the Word, and I look forward to asking him the same question when I see him again, Lord willing.
I have never been so blessed in fellowship. Seeking to talk and share what we truly have in common—Christ—is what makes our fellowship different from the conversations we have in the world.
— Romans 11:36
1. 86 times; or in him 33 times; Ex. Rom. 6:11; 8:11; 12:5; 1 Cor. 1:30; 3:1; 2 Cor. 1:21; 5:17
2. Phil. 1:29; 3:10; 2 Cor. 1:5; cf. Rom. 8:17
3. 1 John 4:7-8; cf. Rom. 13:8