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Koinónia as a Key to Understanding Our Global Mission

Over decades of study, I have pondered many of Jesus’ pithy sayings. One that has especially intrigued me is in John 5:17, where Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”[1] What could Jesus possibly have meant by that?

As best I can tell, this statement indicates a supernatural relationship between God the Father in heaven and His Son Jesus, carrying out His will on earth by the energy and direction of the Spirit. Jesus went on to say that He could not speak or do anything unless He saw what His Father was doing (John 5:19). Evidently, this partnership is based on a close and unbroken fellowship of divine love between the Father and the Son. From all eternity, they have shared the same nature, the same mind, the same motives, the same mission, and together express a unity of being devoted to one eternal purpose.

But, in reflecting on this truth, I had to wonder, if the very Son of God could do nothing of eternal value on His own, how much less can we do using our ideas and human strength—good and inspiring as they may be?

Part of the gospel we have tragically ignored is the provision for us to have this same fellowship and share in this same eternal life with the Father and the Son empowered by the Spirit. In John 17:21, Jesus expressed His desire, “that they (His disciples in every age) may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”


“Part of the gospel we have tragically ignored is the provision for us to have this same fellowship and share in this same eternal life with the Father and the Son empowered by the Spirit.”


What an astounding statement. If there ever was a description of true fellowship, this has to be it. Here, Jesus declared God’s eternal pleasure to dwell in a people and bring them into unity with Himself. When this becomes a visible reality, the world will believe that God is real and has sent His Son as the true Messiah, Savior, and King.

Later, the apostle John wrote to the early believers of the first century in 1 John 1:1-4, inviting them into this supernatural fellowship of divine life.

“We testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us; what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write so that our joy may be made complete.”

The Invitation to Koinónia

John helps us understand that even before creation, each member of the Godhead enjoyed and expressed eternal, divine life. Father, Son, and Spirit together in one fellowship of perfect love. The Greek word translated “fellowship” is koinonia. It is from the root word koine, which means to share something in common. For example, the language spoken throughout the Mediterranean world at that time was known as Koine Greek. Koinonia describes a close partnership based on sharing a common life. This koinonia was one of several vital essentials the early church in Jerusalem enjoyed (Acts 2:42). In the above verses, John invites all his readers into this divinely inspired common life.

But this common life is not experienced simply through doing Christian things together. It does not happen in the Fellowship Hall for 20 minutes after a church service. Koinonia conveys the idea of intimacy. It means sharing a common life form―a life energy coming from a completely different source, a different realm, if you will.


“Koinonia means sharing a common life form―a life energy coming from a completely different source, a different realm, if you will.”


I think we can all agree that the eternal God lives in an altogether different realm―a perfect, infinite, spiritual realm characteristic of Himself. This realm is just as real, yet totally “other than” the physical, material world He created. From our human perspective, we could say that God lives in a parallel universe. Although God inhabits an eternal, spiritual world, He desires and is working toward integrating these two worlds for our benefit and the fulfillment of His ultimate purposes. In an astounding stroke of genius, God has provided the means for us, mere fallen mortals, to enter His perfect, eternal realm and become His beloved children―beginning in this temporal, material age.

The New Testament writers used different terms to describe this realm, including the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven, being “in Christ,” and eternal life. The word “life,” found in the New Testament, is typically zóé in Greek. Zóé does not primarily describe physical, biological life. It refers to derived life―a life energized and sustained from outside itself. Zóé could be understood as a spiritual life forcea “life-giving life.” Jesus said, “I came that they may have life (zóé), and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). John, the apostle, reminded his readers that “He who has the Son has the life (zóé); he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (zóé).” (1 John 5:12)

The phrase “eternal life” is aiónios zóé and implies life originating from another age flowing from God’s uncreated self-existence. Aiṓnios does not focus on the future per se but rather on the quality and characteristics of the age (aiṓn) from which it comes. In John 3:36, Jesus proclaimed, “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life…” Also, note John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Thus, in Christ, we can experience God’s indwelling life in the present based on koinonia with the Father and His anointed Son.


“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”


True koinonia happens in the Spirit by receiving and abiding in this gift of God’s divine zóé life. And as we move deeper into fellowship with God, it spills over into our relationships with one another. This is the mystery of koinonia.

Koinónia and the Global Mission

The practical application of this principle for exploring missions is two-fold.

  • God desires to extend koinonia to every person and people group in the whole world
  • Therefore, God’s representatives must be experiencing true koinonia and possess God’s eternal life before being able to offer it to others

Mission as the extension of koinonia is found in Philippians 1:5, where Paul wrote, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy for you all, in view of your participation (koinonia) in the gospel from the first day until now.”

Paul used the word koinonia in praising the Philippian believers because of their faithful participation or partnership with God in the work of the gospel. This does not mean they were all professional preachers. Instead, it indicated they had a living partnership with the Father and expressed their fellowship with Him by participating in the gospel (announcing the name of Jesus and the arrival of God’s Kingdom). They were working together with God to see His pleasures and purposes fulfilled.


“Paul used the word koinonia in praising the Philippian believers because of their faithful participation or partnership with God in the work of the gospel.”


To the Corinthians, Paul expressed this idea of partnership with God when he wrote, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Later, in 2 Corinthians 6:1, he wrote, “And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

Paul had a certain understanding of his work as a gospel messenger. In his mind, God had a part, and he had a part. God was the initiator and supplier of the grace and truth needed for the work. He was the messenger and trusted servant, only doing what Jesus told him to do. Never did he confuse the two roles.

Koinónia: the Fulfillment of God’s Eternal Purpose

The gospel of the Kingdom is the invitation to enter this koinonia with God lived in fellowship with His global family. We are privileged to participate in this glorious eternal life and invite others into it. This is what it means to partner with God in accomplishing His work. This fresh perspective redefines the mission task, turning it into the privilege of a divine partnership. The work belongs to God. We are His beloved family and faithful agents in the world.

This perspective becomes clear as we reflect on several key passages beginning in Psalm 2:6-8.

“But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.
I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’
Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth as Your possession.”

Here, YHWH, the One who sits in the eternal Heavens, declares that He will settle all human rebellion by enthroning His Son in His rightful place and establishing His benevolent reign. As a reward, the everlasting Father will give His Son all the nations over which He will rule forever. This passage describes a profound aspect of God’s eternal purpose. All that God made is but the stage to showcase the beauty and glories of the eternal Son before the whole created order. And He will ultimately inherit it all on His coronation day when He ascends His rightful throne as King of Kings before all nations.


“All that God made is but the stage to showcase the beauty and glories of the eternal Son before the whole created order.”


Revelation 5:9-10 reveals Jesus’ role in this plan. Speaking to the glorified Christ, the redeemed community cries out,

“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Through this passage, we learn that Christ has purchased these Psalm 2 people and nations with His own blood and, thus, paid the price for them to be forgiven and enter God’s Kingdom―His eternal realm of righteousness, peace and joy. It’s already a done deal. By His sacrifice, He brought them under His reign and made them priests unto God. This passage also completely torpedoes our inherited notion that eternal life is simply going to heaven. Clearly, the redeemed from these nations are not living in heaven. They are reigning with Christ and enjoying eternal life in a material, resurrected body on the restored earth.

In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave His followers their assignment in this divine plan. Even though God has already included all these people from every nation in His redemptive work, most are unaware of this glorious provision. Jesus brought His first disciples under His leadership by teaching them how to follow Him and obey His commands. Consequently, they had koinonia with Him and began experiencing the transforming power of His life-giving life. Then, He told them to continue His mission by announcing the arrival of God’s Kingdom and making other faithful disciples among all the nations (again, remember Psalm 2) so that they, too, can receive the benefit of His sacrifice.


“By His sacrifice, He brought them under His reign and made them priests unto God.”


Making disciples who make disciples was their job description. This is how God’s Kingdom advances across the world. And with these new disciples who are enjoying eternal life and living in koinonia with God, Jesus will personally establish His Church (His representatives, the gathered faith community) in every place and generation until He returns.

We find the climax of this whole operation revealed in Revelation 7:9-10.

After these things, I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

What in the world is going on here? John is helping us peer into eternity and paints a word picture of the redeemed community from every tribe, tongue, people and nation worshipping the Father and the eternal Son seated on the throne. In this scene, we discover that what the Father promised the Son in Psalm 2 has been gloriously fulfilled.

Conclusion

Thus, we cannot think of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) as a task to finish, but rather a divine partnership (koinónia) with the living God to help prepare a gift for His Son. God has a part, and we have a part. This divine partnership ultimately results in us inheriting the Kingdom and Christ inheriting the nations as their preeminent and magnificent Savior, Shepherd, and Bridegroom King.

Paul summed up the whole matter when he wrote to the Corinthians in chapter 15, verses 24-28.

“Then comes the end, when He (the Son) hands over the Kingdom to the God and Father after He has abolished all rule, authority and power. . . . When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.”

God’s eternal purpose is that HE and His Kingdom become the all-in-all (the everything) in the whole created universe. He calls all nations and peoples into alignment with His perfect will and makes them into a beautiful Bride who gives her allegiance and devotion to the exalted Son. Together, they will live in divine, yet very practical, working koinonia forever.


“Together, they will live in divine, yet very practical, working koinonia forever.”


Now, that may sound extraordinarily ethereal and abstract, but it is our destiny nonetheless. As God’s loyal subjects, we get to experience eternal life and serve alongside Him in this present age . . . and into the age to come. So, let’s abandon our own human ideas about church and missions, leave the task mentality behind, and welcome God’s invitation to join Him in what He is doing.


[1] All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible.


Excerpted from G. W. Steel, For the Fame of His Name: Rethinking Church and Missions for the 21st Century (2022). Used with permission.

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