(I originally published this post three years ago as a series. I’ve combined the series into one post here, with only slight editing.)
Acts 2:42 states that the early believers in Jerusalem “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (ESV). In this verse, “fellowship” translates the Greek noun ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± (koinÅnia). In various passages of Scripture, this word is also translated as “association, communion, close relationship, generosity, contribution, partnership, sharing” (BDAG – a standard Greek lexicon). My questions in this article include:
- What is ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±?
- What is the source of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±?
- How does the church ‘devote themselves’ to it?
The noun ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± is never used in the Gospels, and Acts 2:42 contains the only use of the word in Acts. However, the author balances ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± in Acts 2:42 by using the noun ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½ÏŒÏ‚ in 2:44. Luke uses ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½ÏŒÏ‚ four other times, but only one (4:32) carries the same meaning as in 2:44. In these two instances, ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½ÏŒÏ‚ means “being of mutual interest or shared collectively.”
Witherington comments on Luke’s use of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± in 2:42 in The Acts of the Apostles – A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998, p.160):
The term itself means a participation or sharing in common of something with someone else, in this case eating and praying. Thus, fellowship is not a very helpful translation, for fellowship is the result of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±, of sharing in common; it is not the ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± itself. ÎšÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± is an activity which can result in fellowship of some sort, and it can entail things like sharing not just spiritual activities such as prayer but also physical food or other goods in common (v. 45, cf. 4:32-37).
If Witherington is correct, then ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± is not fellowship. Instead, fellowship is the product of having ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±. According to Acts 2:42-47, the believers had all things in common and shared with others. They prayed and shared meals together. However, this did not produce ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±. Instead, ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± resulted in these activities. These activities flowed naturally from their devotion to (persistence in) ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±.
This is important for the church today. Our fellowship with one another cannot be manufactured artificially through planned meals or activities. Instead, our fellowship/sharing/communion with one another will flow naturally as we devote ourselves to ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±.
What is the source of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±?
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) with us; and indeed our fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 ESV)
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, . . . (Philippian 2:1 ESV)
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV)
ÎšÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± is the common union between believers that is produced by God through the Holy Spirit. Our ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± with other believers is a direct result of our ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As such, ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± cannot be produced by believers through activities. Instead, all who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, share a common connection with other believers: “There is one body and one Spirit…” (Ephesians 4:4 ESV) “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)
As God produces ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± in the believer, the believer will naturally demonstrate that ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± through various activities – specifically through sharing their life with others. This type of sharing may include meals, conversations, contributions, etc.
Therefore, the church should not attempt to create ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±. Instead, it must teach believers how to “devote themselves to … ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±” as described in Acts 2:42.
In his first epistle, John reminds us that our ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± with one another is based on our ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± with God: “… so that you too may have fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) with us; and indeed our fellowship (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3 ESV). So, those who have ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± with the Father and the Son through the Spirit should also have ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± with one another.
In The Church Unfinished (New York: Paulist Press, 2004, p.83), Bernard P. Prusak discusses the ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± (which he calls communion) in the church in Jerusalem in Acts 2:42-47:
That communion was understood primarily to be a participatory unity in which all the disciples of the risen Jesus mutually shared a relationship with God, given gratis in and through Jesus. The mutual reception of God’s gift of self in turn generated a spirit of community and generous sharing among the recipients themselves. Christians had a communion among themselves that flowed from their mutual communion with God.
What does it mean, then, that the believers in the church in Jerusalem “devoted themselves… to ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±“? (Acts 2:42 ESV) If ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± is created by God in the believers who make up the church, why did they have to devote themselves to it?
As we answer this question, consider the remainder of Acts 2:42. Luke also states that the believers also devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the breaking of bread, and prayers. (Note: I understand that there is much discussion concerning this list. Specifically, are there two, three, or four items listed. I personally believe there are four separate items. However, the four are interrelated; they are not completely separate items.)
What does “devoted” mean in this verses? In Acts 2:42, “devoted” translates the Greek verb Ï€ÏÎ¿ÏƒÎºÎ±ÏÏ„ÎµÏÎÏ‰ (proskartereÅ). According to BDAG, in this context this verb means “hold fast to, continue in, persevere in.” In other words, the believers “held fast to, continued in, or persevered in” the ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± that God had already created in them.
The natural inclination of mankind is toward selfishness or self-centeredness. The supernatural inclination of a regenerated person is toward God and others (ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±). The believers in the church in Jerusalem were persevering in this supernatural inclination while denying the natural inclination. They were not creating ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± through various activities; instead they were deliberately living out the supernatural ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± that God had created within and among them.
What are the implications of those for a person who does not live according to this God-given ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±? As I see it, there are four possibilities: 1) The person is not regenerate; God has ever created ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± within him or her. 2) The person is quenching the work of the Spirit in his or her life. 3) If a believer is isolated from other believers, ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± may not be evident. However, even in this rare instance, the Spirit would be working through the believer to bring others to God and, thereby creating ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±. 4) Someone may not demonstrate ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± in his or her life because of a lack of discipleship. In other words, many people are taught that “fellowship” is when a church meets together in a certain building under the proper authority to share food. Other activities are simply social interaction, but they are not proper forms of “fellowship.”
However, ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± expresses itself in many different activities, in many different locations – as long as believers are demonstrating their care for one another and common bond with one another prompted by the Spirit of God. This could be expressed in a common meal among a large number of believers, but it could also be expressed by two believers sharing common interest. In fact, it is possible that large, organized gatherings disrupt or hinder true expressions of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±. Believers should express their common bond with one another in intimate, spontaneous, Spirit-led encounters where the “one-anothers” of Scripture are practiced – not out of duty, but out of love and concern.
If this is correct, then neither the location nor the activity is most important. Instead, Spirit-induced conern for one another leads to these expressions of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±. Perhaps more importantly, while we can teach the importance of expressing our love and concern for one another, demonstrations of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± cannot be taught. Instead, they must be modelled.
As an example, a friend of mine is a great model of hospitality. She has demonstrated ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± with brothers and sisters in Christ many times by opening her home spontaneously. I have learned much about hospitality from observing her actions. However, if I simply copy her actions out of duty, there is no expression of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±. If, instead, the Spirit prompts me to demonstrate ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î± through hospitality, her actions become examples for me and others. In other words, she has “stir[red] up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24) in myself and other believers by her encouraging expressions of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±.
If you have anything to add to this discussion of ÎºÎ¿Î¹Î½Ï‰Î½Î¯Î±, please comment. I look forward to learning from others as we study this important concept together.