Since the beginning of time, God had the plan to establish His eternal kingdom throughout His creation. The prophets Isaiah, Daniel, and Joel all foretold the beginnings of this kingdom.

  • Isaiah speaks of the glorious day when all nations will gather together at the same mountain.

  • Daniel says that the kingdom will begin as a small stone, but it will grow to be larger than any kingdom ever before.

  • Joel describes the events that will mark the great and awesome day of the Lord—when His kingdom will be established.

In the book of Acts, we see the fruition of these things on Pentecost. The kingdom begins with 3,000 Jewish conversions. In short order, the disciples are said to have been devoting themselves to fellowship (Acts 2:42). This is the centerpiece of a successful and fruitful church.

The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. The root word is koinos. Koinos, in all of its various forms, are used 73 times in the Bible. This word obviously conveys a central theological fruit, for it is one of the first things said about those who bowed to King Jesus. I want to use some space here to detail the nature of the word, both in secular Greek and Biblical Greek, after which I’ll speak to its prominence in Paul’s letter to Philippi. This is gonna be a long haul, so feel free to bite it off in chunks (haha).

In secular Greek koinos was used to express many types of relationships that had common principles or ideas. It especially refers to different types of legal relationships marked by common ownership. The Greek poet Hesiodus used it in reference to a legal relationship (Kittel, 789). Koinos is also used to express the common property of a married couple and common ownership in equal parts (Kittel, 790). Essentially, the word expresses a degree of commonality in relationships.

The early church fathers used koinos to describe mutual interests and collective sharing (Danker, 551). In Philo’s Every Good Man Is Free the word is used in reference to the Essenes. He talks about this group of people and how their homes were fully open to anyone else within the community. They even had a single treasury in which each would individually contribute in order to supply for needs equally. All men in the community had all things in common (Philo 85-86). The word is also used in The Letters of St. Jerome in reference to a certain group of monks called Ceonobites (from the Greek words koinos bios, meaning “a common life”). In this work, Jerome talks about monks who live in the same community (Jerome 22.34).

In the New Testament koinos is used 73 times and is translated in the ESV as…

  • Fellowship (19 times)

  • Common (14 times)

  • To defile (14 times)

  • Partner (10 times)

  • To share (8 times)

  • Sharer; participant (4 times)

  • To be connected (3 times)

  • Generous (1 time)

Now, let’s look at Philippians. This epistle has often been called the book of joy—because Paul mentions joy or rejoicing a number of times throughout the small space. Certainly, joy is a large part of the book, but there’s a deeper meaning for why Paul is petitioning for these saints to be joyful. Indeed, he clearly implies that his own joy on their behalf is incomplete because they don’t have the same mind (2:2). He calls them, therefore, to have the same mind as Christ Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. The impression is clear—the Philippians’ disunity was related to their lack of humility. This is why Paul commands them to complete his joy by being of the same mind. The clearest indication of their problem comes out in chapter 4. Two ladies had it out for one another, likely creating a larger division than their personal feud. More on that later. For now, let’s walk through the specific ways Paul uses koinos in this letter.

The first time the word appears in Philippians is in 1:5, and is a noun translated as “partnership.” Paul begins his letter with a prayer,

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now”…1:3-5

It is interesting that Paul starts out by complimenting them for the partnership/fellowship that they had from the start of the congregation. It is almost as though he is reminding them of their fellowship so that they may not forget it. The question arises as to whether the phrase “because of your partnership” goes with verses 3 or 4. The repetition of the word ‘prayer’ in verse 4 suggests the phrase goes with verse 4 (Melick). This would mean that Paul makes his prayer with joy because of their partnership, as opposed to thanking God because of their partnership. Certainly, this will be seen clearer in light of 2:2 where Paul inadvertently says his joy is not complete. This would help us to see that although Paul has joy on account of their partnership, there is yet something missing. However, as for this portion of the text, Paul mentions their real spiritual participation in regard to the Gospel (Jamieson).

The second occurrence of the word is in 1:7, and is an adjective translated as “partakers.” Paul is making mention and reminding them of what kind of brethren they have been, being partakers with him in regard to his imprisonment, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. This is significant because apparently, some individuals were seeking to afflict Paul while he was in prison (1:17). Whatever the attitude has been of some brethren, the fact that the brethren in Philippi made his imprisonment their own shows their wholehearted support (Melick).

The third mention of the word is seen in 2:1 and is a noun translated as “participation” in the ESV. A better translation would be fellowship, which demonstrates a close mutual association (Swanson 3126). The statement “if there is…any participation in the Spirit”, is one of four statements made by Paul leading up to his command for them to be of the same mind. “Although the word “if” brings doubt to mind, these clauses express little hesitancy” (Melick). The previous quote does not seem entirely accurate in light of Paul’s later mention of two individuals who are not of the same mind. In 4:2Paul entreats Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord, leaving the reader with the confident impression that his joy could not be complete. For if Paul’s joy is contingent upon their being of the same mind, how can one conclude that he is of complete joy when they are not in a state of complete fellowship?

Nevertheless, the question needs to be asked in regards to whether this verse is talking about the Holy Spirit or just a general state of mind. Paul seems to be referring to their fellowship within themselves, as opposed to the Holy Spirit. This is evidenced by the lack of a definite article preceding the word for spirit (Lange). The main point seems to be that Paul wants them to have the same general spirit about them. This spirit is certainly representative of the mind that Christ displayed, being one of ultimate humility.

The fourth time the word appears is in 3:10, and is a noun translated in the ESV as “share.” The context leading up to verse 10 can be summed up as Paul’s admittance that his own works of the flesh are to be counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Paul is saying that rather than glorying in his fleshly works, he would rather share in the sufferings of Christ in order that he might be saved. As mentioned previously, Paul wants nothing more than for the Philippians to have the same mind – the mind of Christ Jesus. This sharing in the suffering of Christ points back to 2:5-8 where we see that Christ Himself (God in the flesh) didn’t even try and place Himself above men, but rather made Himself nothing. Christ suffered on behalf of all men. This type of attitude is what Paul wants the Philippians to share.

The fifth and sixth occurrences of the word are found in 4:14-15, and both are verbs translated in the ESV as “share”, and “partnership” respectively. The first use of the word in verse 14, synkoinoneo, deals with a sympathetic form of giving, as to say that the Philippians were truly compassionate of Paul’s situation (Danker 952). The second use of the word in verse 15, koinoneo, also deals with some form of giving or contribution to Paul, but it is in contrast to that of verse 14 because no other congregation had gone into partnership with him. While the Philippians were apparently of a sympathetic mindset towards Paul, other congregations had neglected him in that effort. The important thing to note here is that fellowship can’t happen without being in the presence of the one with whom you have fellowship. A congregation in Texas can be fully in fellowship with a church of South America, given that they are of the same mind.

This idea of fellowship is incredibly important in light of the fact that God has called us into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9). The early church exploded because of its devotion to fellowship. In Acts 2:42, Luke says that the early disciples were continually devoting themselves to the fellowship, and as a consequence, the Lord was adding to their number daily. Imagine how the church would have grown if there had been no sharing, no participation, no fellowship of the spirit, and a disjointed mindset. What can be accomplished without the oneness and unity of mind that Paul has mentioned so many times in his letter to the Philippians? It is of utmost importance that we are a people who would have completed Paul’s joy by being of the same mind and having that fellowship of the spirit. Is it not true that if we have the oneness of mind and fellowship of the spirit, we will be a people with the same mind as Christ? Paul’s writing to them indicates that in order to have fellowship with one another, we must have the same mind as Christ. That is, we share a unified theology, and we honor one another within it.


Work Cited

Danker, Frederick W., William Arndt, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000. Print.

Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Jerome. “The Letters of St. Jerome”. Trans. W. H. Fremantle, G. Lewis, and W. G. Martley. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume VI: St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works. Ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893.

Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey William. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965. Print.

Lange, John Peter, Philip Schaff, Karl Braune and Horatio B. Hackett. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Philippians. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Melick, Richard R. Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991.

Philo. “Every Good Man Is Free.” English Trans. F.H. Colson. Loeb Classical Library.

Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Daniel Mayfield
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"Daniel serves as a preacher and teacher at the Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. He does this work with the invaluable aid, wisdom, and encouragement of his wife, Miranda. They have two young sons, Judah and Zion, and one beautiful daughter, Eden. Daniel had served in Oklahoma for nearly five years, before which time he and Miranda served as missionaries in the Caribbean. Daniel is a graduate of both Bear Valley and Oklahoma Christian University. His greatest passion is to preach the gospel of Jesus to anyone who will listen."