A few weeks ago I was talking to my niece, Stacey Tafao, and she mentioned that she had heard a speaker say there are differences in the closeness of relationships. I was intrigued, so I decided to do a little study on some Greek words—from Strong’s Concordance—since I don’t know Greek. I began my brief study by looking up the words for friendship, kinship (kinsman in the KJV) and fellowship. I realized before I started that the most common word we use today, relationship, is not a King James word. The other words make for some interesting musings about “ships” that are sometimes holey and sometimes holy.
I’m so glad God chose to write the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek because they are so rich, precise, and colorful. Proverbs is full of verses about friendship, probably the easiest of the three words to understand. Friendship most often means associate or fondness. At its base meaning, friendships are not as close as our other two “ships,” except when friendships intertwine with kinship and fellowship. So what does God tell us about the other two words?
As I bounced around the Concordance with fellowship and kinship (kinsman), I found degrees of closeness from casual to intimate. In some uses, kinship meant to accompany, to be near. In several places the word for kinsman indicated a relative, the way we think of kin today. The other use for kinsman was more intimate—it means a redeemer. Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman redeemer, an Old Testament foreshadowing of Christ as our kinsman redeemer. Still today we usually think of blood relatives as close, special relationships, even if kin are angry or estranged from each another. But our other word, fellowship, means something closer than blood—something closer than friendship or kinship.
The Greek word for most uses of fellowship in the New Testament is kononia. I remember back in the 70’s that kononia was one of the buzz words of the time. Most likely it was the beginning of what we now call community and small groups. The buzz was all about sharing company, co-participation, partnership, and communion—all translations of kononia. The push was to bring about deeper shared participation in church groups that would resemble what the disciples had in the book of Acts. To many of us reared in churches devoid of true closeness, kononia was a wonderful goal. But community kononia is not what I want to look at here.
Although community is necessary—and wonderful to experience—I want us to consider how individual fellowship is a more intimate “ship” than kinship or friendship. To some, brought up on “Blood is thicker than water,” kinship is the best ship, regardless of how the kin around them are behaving. To some who have endured abuse and rejection from kin, friendship is the best ship. At least friendship gives some semblance of connection while staying away from kinships. But I believe the Bible is telling us that fellowship is the highest goal. It goes deeper than blood; it connects us spiritually.
Fellowship in the Greek language gives us a picture of “two fellows sharing the same ship.” For me the emphasis here is on the words sharing and same. In fellowship, whether the other person is blood kin or a friend, the deepest intimacy comes only when the two (or more) share God’s values and God’s ways. It has the connotation of “intercourse,” one meaning of the Greek. That does not mean sex, it means true intimacy—an authentic relationship based on sharing the same as God shares. True intimacy is knowing and being known, loving and being loved—a safe ship for innermost emotional openness.
Even if we pretend it is not so, all of us long for true intimacy. Let’s look at a few verses that will help illustrate this kind of sharing. 2 Corinthians 6:14 tells us: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership (intimacy) have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship (communion) has light with darkness?”
This verse is most often used to say believers and unbelievers should not marry or become business partners. Here I want to look at in regards to the sadness that comes when we cannot have true fellowship with a friend or a kinsman. We long for intimacy and communion with some whom we wish were in the same ship with us–we thought they were–but then we find it is a “holey ship.” They do not share the same values nor live God’s way. It’s possible they are believers, but something is missing from the relationship—the connection is not there because of fear, anger, bitterness, or lack of a teachable spirit. Pride, self-justification, defensiveness and hard hearts put holes in the ship we yearn to sail in together. It just will not float without shared values and viewpoints. Light and darkness cannot make it in the same ship.
In 1 John 1: 3-7 we find fellowship used four times, each time, like 2 Corinthians 6:14, contrasting light and darkness. All four times, fellowship is the Greek word kononia—sharing communion. As I was musing on the word communion in regards to these thoughts about degrees of closeness, it occurred to me that I could see “common union.” I never thought of that before. Don’t you just love when you see something new? Common union is the idea I’m trying to get out here–the kind of fellowship we are to have with God. It is something deeper than friendship and kinship, though we certainly can have common union with both friends and kin. When we do find shared values in common union, we experience what God designed us to live—joy-filled, authentic, deep, intimate, connected relationships. There is nothing like it, regardless of how we found the connection. There is not much that hurts worse when we long for it and another’s wounds or character punch holes in our ship.
Throughout life’s journey we will experience sailing in holey ships with some people, and that is very sad—but I encourage you to recognize and enjoy when you are in a holy ship—fellowship—common union—with others, whether the relationship is one of friendship or kinship. And may common union be what you find with God.
“But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. . . ” 1 John 1:7a