In This Series:
To want to relate to other people is God-like; it is imaging our Trinitarian God. A reason the Lord created Eve was so that Adam could more adequately reflect his Creator; it was not good for him not to have a companion (Genesis 2:18). Without an object to receive his love, Adam would not be able to know, experience, or emulate God entirely—God is love. It’s like talking about ice cream versus tasting ice cream. Adam could understand love from his heavenly Father but could not fully experience it until he tasted it (Psalm 34:8)—until he could do what God was doing: loving another person (1 John 4:8). As they say, “You cannot understand a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.”
Adam could not “walk a mile in the Lord’s shoes” because he had no person like him to walk in similar paths. Adam’s life would have a dead-end street feel without Eve. Our life would be the same if we were not communing within a community. One of the most extreme expressions of this is solitary confinement. The Lord saw this problem and deemed it as not suitable for Adam to be alone, so He gave Adam a friend, a partner, someone for him to give as God had given to him. For the first time in the history of the human race, Adam could live out a fuller reflection of his Creator by having an object for his affection.
Then we turn the page.
In Genesis chapter three, the author introduces sin through a walking, talking, stalking serpent. We know the story. Adam and Eve chose to sin, and from that point forward, every person born from them was selfish (Romans 5:12). The love Adam was supposed to give Eve turned onto himself. Eve reciprocated with a similar kind of self-centered love. Rather than seeing the other person as an opportunity to image God through others-centered soul care, our first two parents became self-serving. Adam and Eve replaced “esteeming others more than themselves” (Philippians 2:3–4) with esteeming themselves more than others or what we call self-esteem today.
Selfishness is how sin transforms us into inverted, insatiable love cups. The Father, knowing that selfish people could never save selfish people, sent His others-centered Son to reverse the curse (Ephesians 2:1–10). Now, the gospel—experienced through Christ—gives us an opportunity for a second birth (John 3:7), so we can be reequipped, re-envisioned, and rerouted for how things are supposed to be. Even though the God-centered community was interrupted by the fall of Adam and Eve, the possibility of enjoying an others-centered community is available to anyone who wants it after they are born a second time.
The purest iteration of this kind of reciprocating community is the Father, Son, and Spirit. They are perfect koinonia. Nothing is more refined, exquisite, and profound than Father, Son, and Spirit, coequal and commingling. If you want to enjoy the most perfect human relationship possible, the Trinity has to be part of that relationship. Any human relationship without God is less than what it could be or should be. That is why non-Christians cannot have true koinonia. The Spirit will not inhabit the natural person (1 Corinthians 2:14). Paul hinted at this in Philippians 2:1 when he talked about participation in the Spirit. The word participation is the word koinonia or the word community.
A husband and wife can relate to each other well and have many beautiful experiences together. Still, there will always be something missing in their relationship if they do not share their transparent and transcendent relationship with God—with each other. To have a real community with another human being, both persons must enter into a mutual, reciprocating, and effective participation (fellowship) in the Spirit. Suppose they are not participating together with the Spirit of God. In that case, even if they have enjoyed every possible human experience, they will never fully experience the koinonia the Lord generously provides to any two (or more) people who want to participate with Him in that kind of community.
Biblical fellowship—participation in the Spirit or community—means sharing your most profound and personal relationship with another individual, which is your relationship with God. Think about the most potent and deep relationship you can have; it is with God, of course. There is no other relationship better than what you have with the Lord. How could anything be better than the King of the universe, the Person who created and sustains you, communing with you? Suppose you want the most robust, profound, off-the-charts relationship with another human being. In that case, you must share your experience with your sovereign Creator, King—the Lord God Almighty—with that individual.
If you do, you will share your greatest treasure with another (Matthew 6:21). Letting another person in on your treasure is the most vulnerable, intimate, profound, rich, transcending, honest, transparent, and complimenting thing you could do for a relationship. The following infographic helps to unpack what it means to have biblical fellowship with another person. Of course, real community applies to any friendship, e.g., if your small group could do this, you would belong to one of the wealthiest groups in the world.
The person in the yellow could be anyone; I will call him Rick. The person in the green, we will call Lucia. You can see that Rick and Lucia have an individualized, independent, and personal relationship with God. Rick and Lucia enjoy the most profound relationship a person could ever want—God with them. They both are participating in the Spirit; the Lord has inhabited them. They are empowered, illuminated, encouraged, and motivated by God, and they are convicted and made to feel guilty when they sin against God (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6). Rick and Lucia have a whole relationship with the Lord, which includes all their good and bad habits, all their good and bad days. There are things they are doing well in their walk with God (Ephesians 4:1), and there are things they have not fully matured into yet (Hebrews 5:12–14).
Rick and Lucia are representatives of all Christians. You could say they have a light and a dark side (1 John 1:7–10) regarding their walk with the Lord. The right and wrong of their whole selves represent how they do community (koinonia) with the Lord. Though you must be a Christian to experience this kind of community, being a Christian does not automatically mean you have it. Being married and being a Christian does not automatically mean you will connect and relate to your spouse at the deepest part of your personal experience, which is your intimate knowledge of and experience with God. You could “go to church” for years and never enjoy biblical fellowship with your spouse or any other person. That community requires a more profound amount of trust to engage another person in the deepest part of the soul.
And you would not give your most cherished treasure to someone you do not trust. If the person you share your deepest treasure with cannot steward the high honor of receiving your best prize, you must disqualify them from entering that experience with you—even if you’re married to them. Regarding your relationship with the Lord, you may share part of your experience with Him with your spouse. You may let your spouse know some things you are learning or how you think about God and life. But if your spouse has a proven record of not being able to steward your deepest secrets, the more profound things will continue to be between you and the Lord. There is a level of koinonia you will not go to with your spouse or any other friend if they are not mature enough to handle the whole truth about you (John 16:12).
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
You and I appreciate many things about the Lord, but probably nothing ranks higher than He does not condemn us. There is no more condemnation toward those who our Redeemer has saved. All of our past, present, and future sins are under the blood of Christ, blotted out forever, and never held against us in any heavenly court of law. We have been justified, set free, and declared not guilty. As long as Christ lives, we will live in that freedom (Galatians 5:1). That truth has set us free (John 8:36). It sets us free to enter into His courts (Psalm 100:4), ready to share all of the thoughts and intentions of our hearts with Him, even though He already knows them (Hebrews 4:12–13). We do this because we are not afraid of Him. We are aware He is for us (Romans 8:31–39). We can be naked before God and not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). I am describing the kind of relationship every married couple should pursue with each other. That sort of koinonia will not happen in a year or a decade but in a lifetime of pressing into God and each other. Sharing the farthest depths of our experience with God should be the goal for every couple.
It is typical when people come to me for counseling to talk about how they are having communication problems. Communication comes from the Greek word koinonia. I do not think many (if any) understand that word’s basic contours. They would be more discouraged if they fully understood the depth of their communication problems—as I have defined and explained here. What they are typically talking about and asking for is talk tips and some practical advice to help them communicate well with each other. I understand. They are trying to get along with each other, but they do not know how they are a million miles from what the Bible talks about when it talks about getting along with someone.
Christ did not come to help us to get along with each other. He came to transform us into Himself (1 John 3:8). In heaven, there will be perfect koinonia because there will be no sin. On earth, we must fight for this communication experience in relationships. There is a high price to enjoy “communal participation” in the Spirit. The biggest hindrance to koinonia is that we do not trust each other to handle the absolute truth about our lives. So, what do we do? We do not go there with them. In the early part of our marriage, I remember how Lucia would share certain things with her friends—something she had not shared with me.
I would become angry each time she did this. It was an insult. I would ask myself, “Why does she share her more intimate and personal thoughts with others but not with me?” My first response was to become upset with her. It took a long time for me to realize how my jerk-ness was intimidating her from being intimate with me. It did not occur to me that she would not share with me because I was not mature enough to handle her truth. She knew she could share her more profound struggles with others, but she could not share those things with me because I was not trustworthy. Because of how I had responded to her in the past, she felt it would be wiser and safer not to let me into the deeper places of her heart. It takes a lot of courage to share struggles with someone else. It takes a lot of other-loving maturities to steward those more profound matters of the heart.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).