Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Repairing Broken KOINONIA

It's been quite a few weeks since my last post. It's easy for the busyness of life (meetings, activities, responsibilities, out-of-town company, etc.) to melt one week into the next, into the next...

I want to muse a little longer on this subject of koinonia (see my 10/4/13 post). [By the way, in my last post, I defined koinonia as a partnering-sharing-fellowshipping-stewarding-partaking-companionship relationship.]  Understanding koinonia puts a whole new light on commands such as 'love one another deeply, comfort one another, carry one another's burdens.'  It is more than just ministering to another person--it is partaking, companioning, stewarding, etc. life together.  Our koinonia relationship with God lived out in koinonia relationship with other believers.

Cornerstone gathered last week as a church (or at least a portion of it) to discuss protecting, nurturing, and growing koinonia relationships in our body.  Virtually everyone in attendance has had a 'bad' experience with other believers or churches in the past--resulting in some break in the relationship, a koinonia break.  For some, it resulted in strained or estranged relationships; for others, it even resulted in leaving a particular church body.

In my last posting, I spoke about the role of forgiving others--otherwise our koinonia relationship with God is affected.  The challenge in all of our lives is not only learning to forgive but living out what we learn.  How many of us when we think about a past hurt still get a knot in our stomach? or thoughts of vengeance? or feelings of despair or disappointment or anger?  How many of us, when we see 'that person' in the grocery store, try to avoid that person by going down another aisle, or at least pretending to be interested in reading the sodium level on that can of green beans as they pass by?  How many of us have learned to be civil on the outside, guarding our tongues and demeanor, while the inside is cringing?

If any of that applies to you, you still may have a dark corner of unforgiveness in your life.  I write that last sentence with an 'Ouch!' because I thought I had no unforgiveness until I immersed myself in this word.  How subtle it is to accept, and even embrace, unforgiveness, especially when the hurt/sin was completely uncalled for and patently unfair.

The group from church discussing the subject of protecting koinonia made some excellent observations I'd like to share with you:

1.  We must be a people who learn how to not easily take offense at what others say or do. If we learn how to automatically forgive and let go, the seed of bitterness of unforgiveness never is sown.  [This also applies to not taking on someone else's offense.]

2.  For an offense that cannot be let go (either because of the nature of the sin, the effect on the sinning brother/sister, or the lingering effect on you or the Body of Christ), we must practice Matt. 18:15-20 on a timely basis.  Failure to do so, regardless of the reasoning, affects koinonia. And the enemy has a field day!

3.  If we have failed to practice #2 above on a timely basis, then our responsibility is to forgive and let go.  Scripturally, we have no wiggle room for continuing in a state of even passive unforgiveness.  [The appropriateness of going back to practice #2 after an extended period of time has passed should be carefully considered and determined on a case-by-case basis. This is where godly counsel should be sought.]

God takes koinonia seriously, doesn't He?  Wouldn't it be great to be part of a church who could experience ever-increasing koinonia--even in the midst of all of our messy relationships?  Easy to preach about--much harder to live out.  In fact, I would say it is impossible to live out without the Holy Spirit's empowerment.  May our lives be evident of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27)--and then koinonia will naturally happen.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Rethinking KOINONIA

I am currently preaching a series called 'What Church Is' (a Study in 1 Peter).  Last Sunday, I preached on what it meant to be a koinonia people. As part of that study, I came across a fascinating use of the word koinonia in 1 Peter.   I'll get to that in just a minute.

I've shared with you before how the word shalom is a word so rich in meaning that it really can't be translated well without using a hyphenated definition (peace-prosperity-wholeness-completeness-wellness-health).  It's the same with koinonia.

I had always assumed the word koinonia was translated 'fellowship'--a one-for-one translatable word. But in 1 Peter 4:13, I read this:  "Rejoice that you participate (koinonia) in the sufferings of Christ."  Say what? 

I quickly discovered that the word koinonia also needs to be viewed as a hyphenated definition.  Koinonia does define a relationship, but in a much more expansive way than just 'fellowship'.  A good definition would be: a partnering-sharing-fellowshipping-stewarding-partaking-companionship relationship.

The implications of this become mind-boggling. For example, in 2 Peter 1:4, we "participate (koinonia) in the divine nature."  We share in the very nature of God through Christ!  The essence of the Church, the Body of Christ, is found in this word koinonia. We partner with God in His activity, share in His nature, and steward that which He has given us.  The koinonia relationship that we are to have with each other is literally the practical expression of God's agape love (love in action)--the koinonia that He wants to have with us.

John put it this way in 1 John 1:7: "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship (koinonia) with one another..."  Do you see that?--the evidence that we truly have koinonia with God is demonstrated by our koinonia with one another!  Another way of saying this: If we are not experiencing koinonia with another believer, we are not in koinonia with God (i.e., walking in the light as He is in the light).  It is impossible to have a koinonia relationship with God and not share it with the rest of God's people.

Understanding koinonia puts a whole new light on commands such as 'love one another deeply, comfort one another, carry one another's burdens.'  It is more than just ministering to another person--it is partaking, companioning, stewarding, etc. life together.  Our koinonia relationship with God lived out in koinonia relationship with other believers.

If what Scripture says is true about a break in koinonia relationship between believers causes a break in koinonia with God (see Matthew 6:14-15), how many Christians are sitting in a church today with broken koinonia relationships in their past?  They've left their previous church because they were upset with the music, or the pastor, or the direction of the church, or the change in programs, or the color choice of the new carpet, or...  Whatever the reason (good or bad), there was a break in the koinonia relationship.

Many churches starting today arise as a result of these kinds of beginnings--precipitated out of a koinonia break. I'm part of a denomination that starts a lot of churches as a result of church splits/disagreements.  I even got caught up in one of these 'new starts' many years ago.  But I wonder...
  • I wonder...if we can really expect God's fullest blessing if we ignore broken koinonia with each other?
  • I wonder...if so much of the spiritual apathy and complacency we see in the American church is because of us not living out the reality of koinonia?
  • I wonder...if why we see a lack of distinctiveness (holiness) amongst so many of God's people is because it is the natural outgrowth of being out of koinonia with God?
  • I wonder...if churches really understood the koinonia of believers, would there be a greater unity among churches in a community?
  • I wonder...if churches really walked the talk about koinonia and unity, the words of Jesus' prayer would be answered that the world would believe (John 17:21-23) because of our unity and koinonia?
  • I wonder...if our prayers for revival (which always must start with repentance) should be refocused on praying for restored koinonia?
Just wonderin' as I sit here musing...