Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians in his usual style, by confirming the wonder of God’s grace. “God is faithful, through whom you were called into koinonia with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:9). Among the many facets of becoming a Christian, God calls us into a relationship with Jesus that is captured here by the Greek word koinonia. I often wish translators had used this term in English versions of the Bible rather than opting for the word “fellowship,” if for no other reason than the word fellowship does not have much meaning anymore.
First, almost no one says fellowship except Christians — it has become almost exclusively a religious term. And in my experience, most Christians are willing to use the word for almost anything that has to do with more than one person at a time. One famous preacher from a few years ago used to open his daily radio program with an invitation to “a time of Bible study, fellowship, and prayer.” I always wondered what kind of fellowship he thought his listeners might be having with him via a pre-recorded sermon played on a radio. Trivializing terms like this can have the unfortunate side effect of causing us to gloss over things like “God has called us into fellowship with His Son” as if it were some kind of euphemism for “being saved.”
The Greeks used the word koinonia all the time, in both secular and sacred contexts. It referred to a way of being involved with others for some shared common purpose. In many cases, it might be better translated as participation or perhaps interactive community. A few closely related terms that refer to the participants of koinonia can be translated companion or partner. When Paul says we are called into fellowship, he is not merely noting that we now have a new relative whose name is God. Nor is he thinking about membership in the local church or any other static description of how we are connected. He means to say that we have been called into participation with Jesus.
As children of God, we can consciously participate in an interactive relationship with Jesus Himself. No wonder Paul could be thankful for “the grace of God that had enriched them in every way” (v.4-5). We have been called into koinonia with God!