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The Gift of Koinonia

[This article was previously published in our June newsletter.]

During the month of June, I will be on study leave. I’m really looking forward to this time—a time to write my ordination paper, to work on other writing projects, to prepare for upcoming sermon series, and to plan. As I prepare for study leave, I am reminded of the many gifts we have in this church. In order for a pastor to take a study leave, he has to serve in a church with many reliable people who can stay! And First Free has such people in spades. I am so thankful for a faithful and capable staff. And I’m also thankful for a generous church who gives of their time, treasure, and talents to build up the body of Christ. My reflections on my ability to take a study leave has reminded me of a sermon I preached on the nature of true fellowship (Greek: koinonia). I’d like to share three aspects of biblical koinonia and then show how they relate to where we’re at as a church right now.

Biblical Koinonia
The foundational thing we know about biblical koinonia is this; it’s a relational reality. It’s not primarily an activity. It’s a relationship with one another, based on our relationship with Christ. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (koinonia) with us; and indeed our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3). “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). The local church is the body of Christ. Our koinonia with one another is a relational reality.

And because we are one body, we are called to build up the body. And we build up the body through using our spiritual gifts in the work of ministry (cf. Eph. 4:11-13). And that brings me to the second aspect of biblical koinonia; it’s a practical partnership. We are called to partner in the ministry of the gospel both to those inside the church and those outside of the church. We’re called to proclaim the gospel so that it can go deep in God’s people and wide to all peoples. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine…because of your partnership (koinonia) in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3-5). Biblical koinonia is a partnering with the body of Christ in the gospel.

But the work of the gospel requires not only the use of our spiritual gifts. It also requires our financial gifts. And so the third aspect of biblical koinonia is it involves generous giving. It’s interesting, when Paul speaks of the financial gift of the Corinthians that went toward the work of the gospel, he uses the word koinonia. He says “They will glorify God because of…your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution (koinonia) for them and for all others” (2 Cor. 9:13). Because of the generous grace of our Savior seen in the gospel—”though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9)—we are called to be generous toward the mission of advancing the gospel. This is part of our koinonia in the body of Christ.

Practical Considerations
As I indicated in the beginning, I am so grateful to serve a church where we see biblical koinonia at work. We have a heritage of many people—both paid and lay “ministers”—who have given of their time, talents, and treasures for building up this body. It is this heritage that enables me to go on study leave. And for that I’m genuinely grateful!

And yet, this truth reminds me of a couple of needs in our church right now. First of all, we are so excited for our new Children’s Ministries curriculum—Children Desiring God. This curriculum change, however, will require more people to “partner” with Children’s Ministries. In fact, Judy Hollander, our Director of Children’s Ministries, says we still need around 40 more people for next school year to “partner” with us in the work of teaching our kids about who God is and what he’s done for them. If you’d like more information about the opportunity to serve in Children’s Ministries I’d encourage you to contact Judy at [Update: We need about 20 more people for next school year in nursery and preschool classes.]

Secondly, I’d like to draw your attention to our finances. We continue to see modest growth in our attendance. But that growth is not matched by giving. In fact, as you can see in the financial report in our weekly bulletin, our giving is down considerably. Our giving is as low as it’s been in four years at this point in the year (although our budget is higher!). Giving during May was noticeably below budget and year-to-date giving to expenses finds us over $136,000 short. As a result we’re operating on reserve funds at this time. While we don’t want anybody giving reluctantly or under compulsion—rather cheerfully—we do want you to be aware of the significance of the need at this time so that you can decide in your heart how you might respond.

I plan to spend time in prayer over both of these needs during my time on study leave and would ask you to join me in boldly asking God to provide for our needs as a church family through our koinonia here at First Free.