We are looking at the Love of God.

Word Studies

Because the love of God is often referred to in the Greek New testament by the Greek term agape or its derivatives, some people have taken the term agape, and built doctrines around it that reflect what the word might mean, if they were to give it definition. Sadly, more often than not, their definition has little to do with the Greek definition or the use of the word in the text of Scripture.

There are two Greek words that often cause some christians to sigh, roll their eyes to half-mast, have spiritual vibrations, and pay a lot of money to go to conferences where those two Greek words are used, often improperly.

Those two Greeks words are:

Someone said, "Just listen to those words. Don't they have a real spiritual ring to them! They sound like the words of angels." Folks, those are just Greek words. Words used to express the very thoughts of God, who is spirit, to mankind, who is mortal. These are words used by the Holy Spirit to explain God's love to believers, and the unsaved, if they are so inclined.

There is nothing special or spiritually significant about these words, until they are properly understood in the context that the Holy Spirit placed them. Often when those words are seen in the context used by the Holy Spirit, they convey different shades of thought in different contexts. A word study is a valuable tool for Bible study. The purpose of a word study is to know what that word means by definition, and how that word is used by the Holy Spirit throughout the Word of God. Word-studies are not an end in themselves. We study a word so that we can know the spiritual truth of the passage where that word was used.

What happens, to often, in word studies is the teacher, speaker or writer reads or refers to the passage containing a word, then removes the word from its context, and makes that removed word the text of the study, instead of the passage, itself.

In that type of study, very seldom does that word find its way back into the context, so that the text from which it was taken can be understood. Instead, the speaker or writer gives definition to the word by means of illustrations, instead of the lexicon definition and/or its usage.

define (Webster)
to mark the limits of; to determine with precision or exhibit clearly the boundaries of; to discover and set forth the meaning of.

An illustration can not give definition to a word. In some circumstances, an illustration can give clearer understanding to a definition. In word studies, illustrations should be used to throw light on an already established definition. If the definition of a word has not been established, and an illustration is used in an attempt to establish the definition, usually, the definitions emerging from such a process will be based mostly on a personal experience, and/or an experience of someone else. However, that type of definition will not mark the limits, determine with precision the boundaries or discover the meaning of that term.

The use of an illustration to determine the definition of a term usually creates a new definition, rather than discovering the already established definition. If you are interested in developing a new language, that process might be acceptable. If you are trying to discover the meaning of a word in an already establishing language, this process is of little value, and often a detriment. In the study of theology, when the method of giving meaning to a word through illustrations is used, it usually results in a new theology, which usually results in what the Bible calls a false doctrine. This has certainly happened in the case of the word studies presented by some teachers concerning the Greek words of agape and koinonia.

Don't leave me, this all has significance to our study and the understanding of God's Love. Let me illustrate the above facts in the use of the term koinonia by some teachers. Then we can see the dangers to be avoided in our study of God's Love associated with the Greek word agape.

In an effort to bring understanding to Biblical fellowship, or to connect with her audience (I don't know which was of greatest importance to her, God only knows), a speaker gave a very good illustration of Christian fellowship. That illustration has become almost a cardinal doctrine. To the best of my knowledge, this illustration was based on:

Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

The English word fellowship in v.42 is translated from the Greek word koinonia. To make a long story short, this speaker was trying to illustrate the difference between how some believers fellowship, and how believers should fellowship. Her illustration was that when most believers get together, they are like marbles in a bag. When you shake the bag of marbles or believers, they touch or bounce off of one to another, but they never become part of each other. She went on to say that in Believer's Fellowship we should not be like bag of marbles. Instead, we should be like a bag of skinned grapes. In that way, when the bag is shook or we have fellowship, we don't just touch and bounce off of one another, we become one with the others. We blend with each other by means of personal sharing or often referred to as bleeding. It's a real good illustration. There is nothing wrong with the illustration, except that's not what the Bible says, if that makes any difference.

I don't know if this lady was the originator of this illustration, or if she was just passing it along. That makes little difference. It was through her books and lectures that the illustration became a standard. Preachers, teachers and lecturers, all are desperate to find good illustrations that capture their audiences. So, this illustration along with many clones made their way into pulpits, lecterns and books all across this country, and even around the world.

The illustration does point out a partial truth that should be examined in the study of Biblical fellowship. Nonetheless, the illustration is not the definition of the Greek word koinonia, although it has become so to many. This may not have been the intention of this speaker, but that is one of the dangers of using extra-Biblical illustrations when teaching the Word of God.

Too often, the illustration, itself, takes center stage, and becomes the truth studied, instead of being an illumination of the Biblical truth. In cases of this nature, the Biblical truth becomes less than a stand-in for the featured illustration, and the Biblical truth is forgotten, altogether.

Sad to say, some have taken that illustration along with the new definition given to koinonia, by the illustration, and have built some very strange doctrines on this new definition. Some of those doctrines have made their way into Christian circles in such a manner that many believers do not recognize, or will not consent to the truth of Scripture, even when pointed out to them, because their trust is in a doctrine built on an illustration that has nothing to do with the meaning of the word it was designed to illustrate.

These two words of agape and koinonia are often used in the same breath by speakers at deeper life conferences, churches and in books on the same subject. Please understand! There is nothing wrong with these Greek words. The problem comes with the definitions wrongly placed on these words and the application of those definitions. The speaker at the conference often stands up, and in a husky emotional voice will say something like, "We have gathered here today to experience the ultimate of agape love, and to share with one another in a deep koinonia encounter of true Christian fellowship."

I call these people fundamental charismatics. These people would not think of raising their hands above their heads in an expression of devotion to God (which is somewhat Biblical from the Old Testament). After all, to raise your hands in devotion to God would be charismatic, and they are true fundamentalists. Yet, they will become so emotional over a doctrine built on an illustration, that they can't, or won't see the truth of the real doctrine of Biblical fellowship presented in the Word of God.


fellowship (koinonia - Greek)
partnership i.e. participation or social intercourse or pecuniary [monetary] benefaction; a communion, fellowship or sharing in common. (This word is used for fellowship at the Lord's table.)

The basis of this so called non-biblical koinonia or fellowship is personal sharing or bleeding in a public, or semi-public manner of their deepest inner thoughts, emotions and sometimes their sins. The release of emotions often leaves a person feeling better, or at least different. For some believers anything different would be better than they are experiencing, now. However, the practice of sharing our deepest inner being in a public or semi-public manner goes contrary to Biblical directives for public gatherings or church fellowship.

Biblical fellowship for a Body of believers, called a church, is that all those assembled share in common the same thing at the same time. The Word of God is quite clear concerning what type of information is to be shared in public or semi-public church gatherings. That would not be too hard to figure out even from the definition, to say nothing about the clear teaching of the Word of God.

Then what is to be shared in the public meeting of the church? To find that answer, we must go to the instructions of the Word of God, and only the Word of God, not some one's personal preferences or experiences.

1 Corinthians 14:26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

The church experiences koinonia (or fellowship) when the entire body is sharing in unity (or one mind) that which is being publicly presented. According to Scripture, we can share a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation, etc. but there is no mention of those assembled all sharing in my personal experiences, or the experience of others.

We will not follow all the Biblical instruction for public church fellowship (koinonia). However, you will never find Biblical instructions to the effect of publicly taking off your grape skin, and becoming part of the other grapes in the meeting or assembly of believers, whether in small groups or the whole congregation assembled.

Any time personal experiences are recorded in the New Testament, it is to illustrate a truth that has already been established, or a truth that will be established in the text. Personal experiences are never recorded in the Bible so that we can derive, from those experiences, spiritual strength, etc. Spiritual strength does not come from any human source, personal experiences included. Believers are in fellowship (koinonia) when they are of one mind in the study of the Word, or singing, or prayer, etc.

More Than Physical Presence

The fellowship of believers is not just physical, it is spiritual. When we attempt to relegate Biblical fellowship or koinonia to the physical aspect of being active in the presence of the others, we have missed the greatest part of Biblical fellowship or koinonia!

Forgive me for using both the English and Greek words so often. I would prefer to use only the English word, because I'm teaching an English speaking or at least English hearing audience. However, preachers have brought this Greek word into their teaching so often, that if I don't use the Greek word, some people won't know what I'm talking about.

1 John 1:3-7 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship (koinonia) with us; and truly our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. 5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship (koinonia) with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship (koinonia) with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Just a quick run through this passage will reveal a great deal about this aspect of Biblical fellowship. John is writing these things to people (even us) who are not in his physical presence. John can't see, hear or feel those he is talking to or about. He is writing to these unseen, and in some cases unknown people with the purpose of having fellowhsip with them v.3. All of the highlighted words in the passage above are translations of the Greek word koinonia that was described by one as being skinned grapes in a bag and blending together.

This fellowship was not only with those John did not see, and some he would never see in his lifetime, but this fellowship was also, at the same time, with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Whom he could not see or hear, either. This three-way fellowship (John, God, and others) with those he could see, and some of whom he would never see is based on (John and the other humans involved in this fellowship) receiving and obeying the message of the Word of God and walking in holiness.

When you, as a Believer, are receiving (obeying) the message and walking in holiness with Christ, you are at that time in koinonia with the Trinity, the apostle John and all other believers who are at the same time acting in a like manner, etc. Adding to all of that your joy will be full!

Has your joy level been a little low lately? Possibly the cause is your lack of real koinonia or true Biblical fellowship. Your lack of Biblical fellowship may have come about because you've been sitting around skinning off the outer layer of your grape (your life experiences) in an effort to have some koinonia, of some kind. You should have been sharing in the message, and walking in holiness with Christ. Many believers spend their entire Christian life searching for koinonia, instead of participating in what is already available to them. We miss so much when we try to put our own spin on the truths of the Word of God, instead, of seeking to discover what the Word of God really says, by comparing all Scripture with all Scripture.

If you don't know what you're looking for, you probably will never find it. Some believers have spent a good share of their life looking for koinonia, or what someone told them koinonia was like. All the time they were looking and striving to find koinonia, they were stumbling over the real thing and didn't even know it! What a shame to waste a whole Christian life in that manner, and tragically, many drag others with them through that waste land.

Not in Publically Sharing Personal Experiences

When you know what God's love (agape) is, and what true Biblical fellowship (koinonia) is, then this First Epistle of John comes alive with understandable truth, and its beauty is greater than any blazing sunset. But if you are still trying to get koinonia through some false means, or worse, you don't even know what koinonia is, then the Epistle of John will be a closed book to you, as well as most of the Word of God. Under those conditions, the best you can expect from your search is shared experiences of other humans. Let me tell you! There's not much joy in that! I can guarantee you that the experiences of yourself and others can never make your joy full v.4. Hearing the experiences of others may leave you emotional, and maybe a little depressed, because you've never experienced what the others have. This fact leads you to believe they must be more spiritual than you.

Instead of trying to gain spiritual strength through what God may have done for others, why not have personal fellowship with God and draw on the spiritual strength that God has for you, personally?

There is a time when we can and should share what God has done for, through and to us. Very seldom should this personal sharing be done in a group meeting, whether small groups, or the church assembled.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Our experiences of God's comfort can and should be shared with those in trouble in a very personal and private manner. We are "to comfort those who are in any trouble..." This is not a general declaration to the whole assembly, but only to those who are, at that time, in trouble.

Never are we to get together to share our experiences with the church or Body of believers with the false notion that sharing will bring fellowship (koinonia) or fullness of joy. When you try the personal experience route in a effort to arrive at koinonia, you are barking up the wrong tree!

We don't have the time to follow this truth all through the New Testament. So, let me call your attention to several other passages, just so you won't think that I have regressed to proof-texting.

1 Corinthians 12:7-12 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-16 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (agape).

Notice something is absent from those lists of things that are profitable for all the body. When I read 1 Corinthians 12, I didn't notice any phrases that said, "and to another the relating of personal experiences". I did notice several phrases that said, to another the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, faith, gifts of healings, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning or spirits, etc. but there was no mention of personal experiences.

Let's take a real quick peak at some other ways this Greek word for fellowship (koinonia) is used. The highlighted words in these passages are the translation to English of the Greek word koinonia. These passages will speak for themselves, if you will read them with the attitude of seeing what the Word of God says, instead of using the Word of God to support what you've already said. There are more such references where this Greek word is used, and many more references where the concept is presented.

Hebrews 13:16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Philippians 3:10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
Philippians 1:4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,
Ephesians 3:9 and to make all people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;
Galatians 2:9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
Romans 15:26 For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.

My dear Christian friends, please don't settle for an emotional high caused by some human's experiences. Those experiences are often some calamity that turned out all right in the end, or possibly ended with an... "Oh! How I wish I hadn't, So, please don't do what I did." Whatever is the trigger of this roller coaster of emotional highs and lows, it does not compare to the "joy inexpressible" God wants you to know through this koinonia, or true Biblical fellowship. You can have real fellowship with the believers who are in your presence, and the Apostle John, and believers of the past and present who are not with you at the time, and the Holy Trinity all at the same time! That's not pie in the sky by and by. It is a spiritual reality that God wants every believer to experience on a continual basis.

It's time believers understood that we are a body, not a bag of skinned grapes. True Biblical fellowship is through and because of a common life, not similar physical experiences. That common life is the Life of Christ flowing through the believers as they function within the Body of Christ.

If you are searching for fellowship through personal sharing of experiences, then the best you can hope for is a bag of skinned grapes, and whatever emotional strength you can gain by the bleeding or confessions to one another. That type of fellowship is only external and terminal at best, but it's all the world has to offer. However, Biblical fellowship comes about through a bleeding of a different type. Biblical koinonia comes because of the Blood of Christ, and is internal within the believer as the Life of Christ, and is eternal. You have to make your choice which koinonia you are going to seek and participate in.

We've only scratched the surface of this subject of Biblical fellowship. I trust you can see that it is imperative that we understand what the Bible says on these subjects, not what some human has presented through experience!

This fact is equally true of the Love of God, and its associated Greek word agape. To understand, experience and share this eternal love, we will need to search the Scriptures carefully, compare and harmonize accurately, and always have our daily walk in the Spirit.