I originally wrote this article on koinonia almost nine years ago. And I find that it is still very descriptive of my life. If anything, this past year has only made my isolation worse. And, over the years, I have grown more comfortable with being alone. Yet there remains that desire to experience what Jesus prays for here. To experience the unity with other believers that he calls for us to have.
Acts 2:42 records that the earliest church was devoted to four things: the Apostles teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. The second of these, fellowship, is the Greek word koinonia; a word that means ‘communion by intimate participation.’
The first time I remember hearing this word was at the place and time when I came to know Christ as my Lord. That was 50 years ago, but the discussion left quite an impression on me. Koinonia was described as being much more than just friendship, hanging out together, or a potluck. Rather it described an intimate sharing of lives under the headship of Christ. Just like the parts of my body are pretty tightly integrated together, so, as members of the body of Christ, we should be tightly bound together with one heart, mind and spirit.
A Prayer for Unity
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.John 17:20-23 NIV
While the word koinonia is not in this passage, the idea of participating together in an intimate communion is. Jesus prayer here is as much for me and other believers of today as it was for believers of any time. Jesus prayed that we would be one. And more specifically, that we would be one like he and the Father are one.
The Desire for Koinonia
Over the past 50 years I find myself drawn to this passage frequently. I can’t help but believe that I am missing something in my experience as a believer. Jesus’ explicit desire for me is that I experience an intimacy with other believers that is, at least in some ways, similar to the intimacy he experiences with the Father. I must confess that I do not understand just all that entails, or how to achieve it. But I am convinced that I have failed to reach that oneness with other believers; although sometimes it seems like it is closer than at other times. And I must confess that the fault is largely mine: it scares me. But at the same time, it is something that I yearn for.
Humans are generally social creatures, although some are more or less social than others. And I tend to land on the side of being less social. I am quite comfortable with being alone; and even need a certain amount of alone time to be emotionally healthy. But at the same time I long to have closer relationships with others, to be a part of something bigger than myself. Marriage helps in this regard, but I still feel the need for more.
Breaking Down the Barriers
But how do I get there? How does a nearly 70 year old introvert break out of his shell, convince others around him to do likewise, and begin to experience koinonia? I have waited a long time for someone to come along with a big enough rock to break my shell from the outside; and it has yet to happen, apart, of course, from my wife. I guess I am going to have to start pecking away at the shell from the inside, trusting God to help me break free.
But I am afraid to. What happens when the people I hang out with discover who I really am? Will they laugh? Will they be shocked? Would I end up even more isolated? All of those are certainly possibilities. And that uncertainty acts like extra strength mortar, holding together the bricks of my security wall. As much as I hate to admit it, rejection is hard.
But maybe, if I take the first step, with a few trusted friends, then just maybe I might find that the risks that I fear are just overblown, and they in turn might be willing to let down their barriers a bit, and we might discover that it is good. And who knows; maybe, just maybe, we might be encouraged to continue to tear down the walls, brick by brick, until we experience koinonia. Yes, it is a risk. But how much greater is the potential reward.