ko-mun'-yun: The terms "communion" and "fellowship" of the English Bible are varying translations of the words koinonia, and koinoneo, or their cognates. They designate acts of fellowship observed among the early Christians or express the unique sense of unity and fellowship of which these acts were the outward expression. The several passages in which these terms are used fall into two groups: those in which they refer to acts of fellowship, and those in which they refer to fellowship as experienced.
I. Acts of Fellowship.
The acts of fellowship mentioned in the New Testament are of four kinds.
1. The Lord's Supper:
Our information concerning the nature of the fellowship involved in the observance of this sacrament is confined to the single notice in 1Co 10:16-17, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?" Owing to the presence of the material elements in the sacrament there is a temptation to limit the word for communion to the sense of partaking. This, however, does not entirely satisfy the requirements of the context. The full significance of the term is to be sought in the light of the argument of the whole section (verses 14-22).
Paul is making a protest against Christians participating in idolatrous feasts on the ground that such feasts are really celebrated in honor of the demons associated with the idols, and that those who participate in them come into fellowship with demons. As a proof of this point the apostle cites the Lord's Supper with which his readers are familiar. By partaking of the cup and the bread the communicants are linked together in unity: "We, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one bread." Thus the communion of the elements is a real communion of the worshippers one with another and with Christ. Unless the communion be understood in this spiritual sense Paul's illustration falls short of the mark.
The term for fellowship as used in Ac 2:42 is by some interpreted in this sense: "They continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers." The fact that the four terms are used in pairs and that three of them refer to specific acts observed by the company of believers suggests that the term for fellowship also refers to some definite act similar to the others. It is very plausible to refer this to the community of goods described in the verses immediately following (see COMMUNITY OF GOODS). The author might, however, with equal propriety have regarded the interchange of spiritual experiences as an act of worship in the same class with "the breaking of bread and the prayers."
Christian fellowship found a natural mode of expression in almsgiving. This is enjoined as a duty in Ro 12:13; 1Ti 6:18; Heb 13:16. An example of such giving is the great collection raised among the Gentileconverts for the poor saints of Jerusalem (Ro 15:26; 2Co 8:4; 9:13). To this collection Paul attached so much importance as a witness to the spirit of fellowship which the gospel inspires in all hearts alike, whether Jew or Gentile, that he desired even at the peril of his life to deliver it with his own hand.
A form of fellowship closely related to almsgiving was that of formal aid or cooperation in Christian work, such as the aid given to Paul by the Philippians (Php 1:5). A unique form of this cooperation is the formal endorsement by giving the fight hand of fellowship as described in Ga 2:9.
II. Fellowship as Experienced.
From the very beginning the early Christians experienced a peculiar sense of unity. Christ is at once the center of this unity and the origin of every expression of fellowship. Sometimes the fellowship is essentially an experience and as such it is scarcely susceptible of definition. It may rather be regarded as a mystical union in Christ. In other instances the fellowship approaches or includes the idea of intercourse. In some passages it is represented as a participation or partnership. The terms occur most frequently in the writings of Paul with whom the idea of Christian unity was a controlling principle.
In its various relations, fellowship is represented: (1) As a communion between the Son and the Father. The gospel record represents Jesus as enjoying a unique sense of communion and intimacy with the Father. Among many such expressions those of Mt 11:25-27 (compare Lu 10:21-22) and Joh 14:1-31 through Joh 15:1-27 are especially important. (2) As our communion with God, either with the Father or the Son or with the Father through the Son or the Holy Spirit. "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1Jo 1:3; compare also Joh 14:6,23,16). (3) As our communion one with another. "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (1Jo 1:7). Sometimes the idea of communion occurs in relation with abstract ideas or experiences: "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" (Eph 5:11); "the fellowship of his sufferings" (Php 3:10); "the fellowship of thy faith" (Phm 1:6). In three passages the relation of the fellowship is not entirely clear: the "fellowship of the Spirit" (Php 2:1); "the communion of the Holy Spirit" (2Co 13:14); and "the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ" (1Co 1:9). The fellowship is probably to be understood as that prevailing among Christians by virtue of the grace of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
It is not to be inferred that the idea of fellowship is limited to the passages in which the specific words for communion are used. Some of the clearest and richest expressions of unity and fellowship are found in the Gospels, though, these words do not occur in them. In fact, perhaps, the most familiar and forcible expressions of the idea are those in which they are represented symbolically, as in the parable of the Vine and the Branches (Joh 15:1 ff) or in the figure of the Body and its Members (Mt 5:29 ff; Ro 12:5; 1Co 12:1-31).
Russell Benjamin Miller