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In order to grasp what it means to devote ourselves to fellowship, we need to understand two Greek word groups: koinônia and its derivatives and metochos, a word that will become important because of its spiritual relationship to koinônia.
Before we consider the Greek words, we need to take a look at "fellowship" from an English dictionary to see what it might add to our understanding. According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, it means: a) companionship, company; association; b) the community of interest, activity, feeling, or experience, i.e., a unified body of people of equal rank sharing in common interests, goals, and characteristics, etc.; c) partnership, membership. The last definition has become an obsolete usage, but it is an important one, showing how our ideas of fellowship have changed over the years.
Three key ideas come out of this:
- Fellowship means being a part of a group, a body of people.
- Fellowship means having or sharing with others certain things in common.
- Fellowship can indicate a partnership, which involves people working together.
But what about Christian fellowship according to the Greek words for "fellowship" as used in the New Testament?
Koinos is the root word, which means "common, mutual, public." It refers to that which is held in common. For instance, the common Greek spoken across the Roman Empire is called Koine.
Koinônia is the primary word that is translated as "fellowship." Two main ideas are contained in it: a) "to share together, take part together" in the sense of partnership or participation, and b) "to share with" in the sense of giving to others. The New Testament usage emphasizes that what all parties involved share in common is in some way a relationship.
Koinônos is the noun form of the word, though used less often in the New Testament, meaning "a partner, associate, or companion." A similar word, synkoinônos, meaning "one who shares with" or "a partaker of," is used in Philippians 1:7: "For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners in God's grace together with me" (NET, emphasis ours).
It is easy to see that "sharing" and "partaking together" are central to fellowship.
The same idea is found in the other relevant Greek word, metochos, an adjective, along with its verb, metechô, and its noun, metoche. The basic notion in all of these words is "to have with" or "to have together." Specifically, metochos means "sharing in, partaking of," and thus its noun form means "a partner, associate." The verb, metechô, means "to become a partaker of" or "to have a share in."
We can observe these two Greek word groups in II Corinthians 6:14, where the apostle Paul uses them in parallel fashion: "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship [metoche] has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion [koinônia] has light with darkness?" Obviously, these questions are rhetorical. We know that these concepts are polar opposites; they share nothing in common.
Devoting Ourselves to Fellowship