“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

Have you been to a church fellowship recently? Maybe a Super Bowl party? If so, what was it like? Typically it involves a lot of food (put me down as a “chips and dip” man) and some conversational banter. This seems to be the modern definition of “fellowship.” It’s all about “getting together” in a cloister or a holy huddle with most, if not all, energy being focused on self-oriented “feeding” or being “fed.” I’m not saying this is totally wrong but I’m of the persuasion this is not the complete biblical model.

Have you recently heard church leadership talk about the importance of fellowship, living in community, or doing life together? These are important as well, as long as these activities aren’t done in a vacuum and we become isolated from the culture we are called to engage with the Gospel. As we all know, fellowship, as we’ve come to define it, can be overtly comfortable and myopic, especially if it is an end and not a means to something larger and more outward in focus.

Let me make it clear that fellowship is important! After all, it was one of the key activities of the early church (see our focal passage above). But the Greek word for fellowship (koinonia) used in Acts 2 has much broader implications than just self-focused social gatherings. As it is used in other New Testament passages, the word demonstrates something more sacrificial and missional than what we have become used to. It can also be translated as “partnership,” “sharing,” “communion,” and, get this, “contribution.” Many of its uses in Scripture point to a sacrifice or service to one another, not some gluttonous social festivity. Here are some examples of this word and its context (the word(s) translated from koinonia is highlighted):

  • “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints– and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).
  • Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16.).
  • For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26).
  • “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you” (2 Corinthians 9:12-14).

I think it should be clear now that koinonia is much more than a party or idle, shallow chit-chat. It is about loving and doing and serving among one another (do a biblical word study on the phrase “one another” and you’ll get an even more in-depth look at what true fellowship is). It is such a dangerous, radical, sacrificial expression of community, in its deepest sense, that it produces a Gospel scream that pierces the insulated walls between us and unbelievers. For this type of dynamic fellowship inevitably grants us favor with outsiders (Acts 2:43) as we become reflections of the favor (grace and goodness) God has shown to us. This, in turn, is used by God to draw those observing to Himself (Acts 2:47).

In other words, the rich, self-denying fellowship Scripture describes can be the very tool God uses to transform those who don’t yet know His favor. And something tells me, if what we call fellowship isn’t touching the community around us, we aren’t experiencing the same type of koinonia that God expects.