The fellowship of the Holy Spirit—koinonia—enables the believer to experience the presence and power of God even in dark times. Executive pastor Bobby Chaw unpacked this in his sermon last week.
“The most distinctive feature of early Christians was a continual presence of the Holy Spirit in all their affairs. It was the secret to their inner peace and the power against a hostile world,” Bobby Chaw, executive pastor of City Harvest Church told the congregation on the weekend of 16 and 17 July.
Similarly, Christians today can have the peace of God in their hearts and minds, even though they may be experiencing turbulent times, because Jesus is still present with them.
Pastor Bobby pointed out that the leaders of the early Church were imprisoned, martyred, and faced violent threats. Yet, Acts 9:31 described them as having enjoyed a time of peace, and the church grew in number.
“How did they do it? By the presence and partnership of the Holy Spirit,” Pastor Bobby explained. In Paul’s benediction to the Corinthians, he prayed for the fellowship—or koinonia in Greek—of the Holy Spirit to be with the church. (2 Cor 13:14)
Koinonia refers to a continuous flow of giving and receiving between two parties. In the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, He empties Himself—His love and power—and pours it out onto the believers. In turn, Pastor Bobby encouraged the congregation to respond to the Holy Spirit by giving back in fellowship.
The pastor went on to explain that koinonia does not only take place between God and the individual. Through the Holy Spirit, believers collectively have been baptised to form a single body (1 Cor 12:13). Hence, the early Christians became of one heart and one soul, bearing each other’s burdens (Acts 2:42).
“We are many parts individually, but we are one body collectively,” the pastor explained. “You’re not on your own—we need one another.”
KEEPING THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT
Before Acts 2, koinonia was not mentioned in the Bible. But at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Christians and a new kind of communion was created. “It was so unique that they coined a new term for it,” taught Pastor Bobby.
Pastor Bobby told the church that he has been in City Harvest Church for 33 years. Through ups and downs, including a decade of a public trial, his heart remains drawn into this fellowship with church members through the Holy Spirit. It has been estimated that the average adult makes more than 35,000 decisions every day. By extension, Pastor Bobby has made about 422 million choices in the past 33 years that have led him to that very moment last week: standing on stage, preaching to the congregation.
“God has a plan and purpose for our lives today. Therefore, treasure one another, and be thankful for the friendships and experiences we have shared. Do not be easily offended and quit on your cell group,” Pastor Bobby said, drawing applause from the churchgoers. Just as each one has received kindness and love from others, it is important to also “give” patience and forgiveness to others because koinonia is about receiving and giving.
The root word of koinoina is “koinos” which means common. Pastor Bobby shared three things that all believers share in common that binds them together. To know these three things is to purposefully hold on to these commonalities as they allow Christians to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).
1. Common inheritance
Every believer has a relationship with God (1 John 1:3). “The Lord Himself is our common inheritance,” Pastor Bobby taught. “In other words, when you are currently connected to God, you will be connected to one another in fellowship.”
Conversely, when a Christian loses his fellowship with God, he will eventually lose the fellowship with his fellow brothers in sisters. He will find himself getting annoyed easily and allowing offence to drive a wedge between himself and others.
“God is our common inheritance—what I have, you have it too. The way God loves me is the same way He loves you,” the pastor elaborated. In this way, believers do not need to be envious when they witness other believers being blessed. Instead, they ought to celebrate together because the same God can bless them too.
In the story of Cain and Abel, both brothers gave offerings to God, but only Abel’s offering was blessed and accepted by God. Cain became angry (Gen 4:6-7) and in that anger, he refused to participate in God’s plan to bless Abel and broke fellowship with God when he murdered his brother.
The key to keeping the unity and staying in fellowship with other believers is to stay connected to God, even when one cannot see or understand His plans (John 15:5). “When you’re connected to God, His life will flow into yours. But apart from Jesus, we are not able to subdue anger, hatred, bitterness, jealousy and other fleshly desires,” Pastor Bobby noted.
He encouraged the church not to be like Cain; instead, when they hear a brother or sister in Christ receiving a blessing, they must remember that God can do the same for them.
Pastor Bobby related how a Chinese Service member had asked him to pray for healing of her severe spinal problem. As he laid hands on her, the Holy Spirit reminded him of the woman with the bent back for 18 years (Luke 13:10-17). She too had a spinal problem and Jesus laid both hands on her and she was immediately healed. “You have that same inheritance! The same Jesus who healed her that day is the same Jesus you are calling right now,” the Holy Spirit told him.
2. Common ministry
“Koinonia expresses not just what Christians receive, but also what they give together,” Pastor Bobby continued. The early Church members sold what they had and gave to anyone among them who were in need (Acts 2:45). “Church, the reason why God blesses you with an abundance of resources is so that you can become a blessing to those in need,” said Pastor Bobby, referencing 2 Cor 9:8.
More than sharing material wealth, koinonia is also about sharing spiritual wealth, which is the gospel and personal encounters with God (Phil 1:4-5). That is also the Great Commission Jesus gave to His disciples in Mark 16.
Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 79, had preached in Africa since 1967. It has been estimated that over 79 million received Christ because of his ministry. Bonnke shared that the joy of the Lord refers to seeing sinners being saved and redeemed (Heb 12:2). When believers preach the gospel, they engage in koinonia with Jesus and enter His joy. Before he passed away, Bonnke told his wife that on his gravestone, he wanted just three words engraved: “He preached Jesus.”
Sharing the gospel to all people is the common ministry that all believers share, and that must be preserved.
In the Chinese Service that Pastor Bobby oversees, one in five members is aged 70 and above. He encourages this cohort to spend their remaining time on earth bringing people to Christ. Last month, a 78-year-old member, Mei Mei, was hospitalised due to Stage 4 cancer. In the ward, she preached about Jesus to the lady in the bed next to hers. She even got Lu Guo Rong, a pastoral supervisor to pray for the lady when he visited her in the hospital.
The pastor encouraged the congregation to be like Mei Mei. He added, “I pray that the fire of evangelism will burn in your hearts again, because this is what unites us together.”
3. Common duty
The great Apostle Paul was a great giver, but he needed support too (Phil 4:15). Much as he gave of himself to the churches, he lauded the Philippians church for giving back to him.
“Here in the third koinos, we both receive and give because I need you and you need me,” Pastor Bobby preached. “We are not competing against each other—rather, we are in partnership—koinonia—supporting each other.”
Christians have the duty of being each other’s keepers. Physical gatherings like church services and cell group meetings are therefore important because they offer opportunities for Christians to share a word of encouragement with each other (1 Cor 14:26). When a person worships online at home, they can only receive—there is no giving of themselves to build others up. Pastor Bobby explained that online services should only be an exception for extreme circumstances like lockdown or when one is sick. “Exceptions should not become the norm, or over time, you can drift away from God’s intent and purpose,” he explained.
God has put believers in this community to be a blessing and support to those in need. While some may feel that they have nothing to offer, Pastor Bobby revealed that sometimes one’s presence is enough. At a pastors’ meeting, Pastor Bobby met a fellow minister whom he had not met for a long time because of the pandemic, and gave him a hug. This touched his friend so much that he texted Pastor Bobby, thanking him for that brotherly hug.
“Let’s make every effort to keep the unity and fellowship of the Spirit through koinonia—a joint participation, firstly with God then one another,” Pastor Bobby encouraged the congregation as he closed his sermon.