Koinonia – What does it mean

If you haven’t already, please view my “About Koinonia” page. It is first in the series of pages.

The Literal Meaning

There are a number of sources that will tell you the literal meaning of “koinonia.” They all generally say the following.

Koinonia is the anglicisation of a Greek word that is translated as “communion” or “fellowship” in many of our modern bible translations.

The word is rich with meaning. It is often used to describe the relationship within the early Christian church as well as the act of breaking bread in the way which Christ prescribed during the Passover meal often called the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Wikipedia has a very good encyclopedia section on koinonia that comes close to giving a spiritual understanding. But, like many of the things that Jesus said and did, it has a spiritual meaning that goes beyond the literal understanding of the word.

There are three Gospel records of the Passover feast that Jesus shared with his disciples. The first in Matthew 26:26-29, the second in Mark 14:22-25 and the third is in Luke 22:14-20. They all describe the event without much variation. It is again described in 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 and that is where we will begin our study on the spiritual meaning of koinonia.

How we have koinonia with Jesus

1 Corinthians 23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Christ as the Passover feast
In each the records Jesus explains that the bread is his body. But the Passover feast was not the first time that Jesus referred to his body as the bread and it is not by chance that Jesus introduced the new formula for the feast during the time of Passover.

(St. John 6:48, 50, 51) “I am that bread of life.” “This is the bread that cometh down from heaven, that a man eat thereof, and not die.” “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” Jesus continued His statement of the living bread in verses 53-58. 53 “Except you eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

What does this mean, his flesh is living bread and that it gives life to the world?

This is not an easy thing to understand. In fact after hearing Him say this, (St. John 6:60) “many of His disciples said ‘This is a hard saying, who can understand it?” and then (St. John 6:66) “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” In all honesty, this is a hard thing to understand today.

How do we understand the real meaning of these words? Lets look at verse 63 “These words that I speak unto you are spirit, and are life.”

These are words that are understood through the living spirit. They are not literally understood. So when Jesus said, “my body is meat indeed; and except you eat my flesh, you have no life in you,”, these words have a practical application we can follow in our lives if we come to understand the meaning through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus took upon himself a human body of flesh and blood for many reasons but the two most important are first as a means of contact, used to engage the attention of men and show by example the reality of his message. The second reason was to be offered as a sacrifice for the sin inherited to all the offspring of Adam.

The Old Testament Passover
This offering was symbolized in the Old Testament by the lamb slain and the flesh eaten at the time of the Passover supper. Now the natural body (not the spiritual body) is nourished by the consumption of the lamb’s flesh but under the law it was prohibited to eat the blood. This was the commandment given through Moses (Lev. 7:26).

In the verses of St. John, Jesus is establishing a new model for the consumption of the true and eternal Passover feast; now both the flesh and the blood. The blood being the life of that which is eaten (Gen. 9:4).

To summarize this point we have: the type (the lamb) under the Law using the letter as a medium to express the will of God for human conduct in relationship to God and other men and women, just as Jesus used His body as a medium to show the same. The lamb of the Old Testament Passover was eaten apart from the blood, (the life of that which was eaten) because the law did not give life to its subjects but grace in Jesus does.

Therefore, the gospel of grace and truth, which represents Jesus’ body as a medium of expression, must be eaten by faith, and responding in obedience is the life (blood) which we drink.

This is the “cup of the new covenant” established as the true and eternal Passover Feast. This is what the “new creature” partakes of as his life and health sustaining nourishment.

This is called communion by present-day Christians. In the Greek, this is what is called “koinonia,” translated communion, meaning: having in common, a partnership, a fellowship, an intimate participation, becoming one in experience and interests. Can this be done by eating crackers and drinking a swallow of grape juice? I am not criticizing the use of this formality in assembled worship. This is a fine form we might experience physically to remind ourselves of the spiritual significance. But by hearing the gospel and having it applied to our daily conduct, we are in intimate participation and become one in experience and interest with Jesus Christ.

James 1:22 says, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” So the life, (blood, our activity) must be carried out as ordered by the flesh, (letter of the Word). How is it possible the have true communion, “koinonia”, otherwise? You simply can’t be in Christ and Christ in you in any other way.

The apostle Paul wrote of this subject in 1st Corinthians 10:16 and again in 11:23-30. First in 10:16 “The Cup of Blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (koinonia), of the blood (life) of Christ? The bread which we break (rightly divide), is it not the communion (koinonia), of the body (bodily pursuits) of Christ?” Jesus explains what this cup represents in St. Mark 14:24, ‘…,this is My blood (life), of the new covenant, which is shed for many.” That is, given that many may be able to share in its power and accomplishments.

The Bread in the Tabernacle
Now the bread was also used as an illustration in sanctuary of the tabernacle and on the side across from the show-bread (south side) was the lampstand with seven candled lights (Ex. 37:17-24). This represents the seven attributes or gifts of the Holy Spirit. As the worshipper feeds on the show-bread, the seven gifts (attributes) of the Holy Spirit are kept active (illuminated) in the life of the worshipper according to the individual impartation of the Spirit.

Someone approaching the throne of God must pass through the effects of both the bread and the lamp to get to the altar of incense. You must first partake of the knowledge of the Word to be an active doer of the Word.

Now you can approach the altar of incense, representing the fragrant scent of the prayers, supplications (expression of deep need; plea) and intercessions of the people. Here the ministering mediator (priest; 1st Peter 2:9 “a royal priesthood”) came face to face with the inner veil, which he was forbidden to pass through. Only the High Priest was permitted to go through once a year.

But when Jesus was crucified, this veil was ripped in two from top to bottom, laying bare the throne of God to the one engaged in prayers, supplications, intercessions, praise and devoted worship. (Heb. 10:19 “Therefore, brothers, having boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way; which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a High Priest over the house of God,..”)

So now, to members of the Church, there is one compartment, no separating divider. All are one in Jesus Christ. St. John 17:20 “And I do not pray for these alone, but for those also who shall believe on Me through their word, 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in you, that they may believe that you sent Me….23 and that the world may know that You have sent Me.”

This is the complete and true communion. Koinonia…..All made One. Everyone subject to and enjoying the same privileges and responsibilities. God demands oneness in relationship, all controlled by one Spirit, all bearing the same characteristic disposition of living activity. Complete “koinonia,”: having in common, a partnership, a fellowship, a participation, becoming one in experience and interests.

In Christ, “The Word,” we find complete “koinonia,” communion and fellowship with the Father (The divine nature), in experience. Jesus says in St. John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.” No man can experience divine nature except he abide in Christ, the Word.

You can’t have communion with Jesus, neither with one another, unless you rejoice with their joy, weep with their sorrow, suffer at their reproaches, instead of using the occasion for self-exaltation. The gifts of God complement one another, not compete with one another.

2nd Timothy 2:12 “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” If we suffer His reproach, His persecutions, etc. we will reign in love with Jesus.

Koinonia is a relationship of union between God, Jesus and Christians, all bound together by common purpose, interests, activities, temperament and experiences.

This is the kind of relationship that the church is meant to have. Not just with Jesus and God the Father, through Jesus, but with each other. This is meant to be an extremely close relationship. It is meant to be so close that the words used to describe it are the same words used to describe a marriage…partnership, intimate participation, becoming one. This is one reason division is so damaging to the church. It is like a part of the body divorces another part.

Paul gives a number of instructions and words of caution concerning the consummation of “koinonia“. Continue in this study by examining his instructions here.

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2 Comments »

  1. cecilia said,

    powerful thank you very much for thisvrevelation

    • tclickenger said,

      Thank you for your kind words. Glad that it revealed some truth to you. I pray the revelation impacts your life in profound and effective ways.


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