Grace is about Relationship
There are a number of topics that we’ve covered so far about grace, but I want to focus today on one of the primary functions of grace: Relationship. In order to express this properly I want to bring to your attention a scripture that I believe is the most prefect example of the environment of grace that you will ever witness in the entire bible.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
This passage is the closing to the last letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. Some may see this as just a standard, if not noble, closing to a letter which at first glance would appear that way, yet Paul from all of the letters that he wrote only used this closing here. So I think that the term standard doesn’t truly fit the example. If you’ve just written an extensive letter to a body of people which commends them for their activities and faithfulness, wouldn’t you want it to end on a high note, something that would hold their attention or bring it to remembrance at a later date? This is what we find here.
In this verse we find a number of elements that describe the environment that fosters the presence of grace according to the Greek mind-set, yet we also see the fullness of the Godhead associated with those various aspects in this environment. While the term “environment” does portray the inner workings of a set area adequately, it is a rather harsh, stifling word devoid of any real “life” and would probably work if I was writing this material for the scientific and research community. Since I’m not doing that, the more appropriate term would be captured in the word “relationship” and it is from here that we will delve into the heart of the matter.
What makes for good relationships?
There are a number of well written authors out there that can expound of what makes for a good relationship among any type of people group. Yet it in this passage we uncover the three aspects that are vital to every relationship. They are grace, love and communion. In the Greek these are charis, agapē and koinōnia. The English rendition of these words belittles the synergy that they exhibit in the Greek culture and it is my hope here that I will be able to bring that nature to life here for you. Since this is a study on grace, or charis in Greek, I’ll leave this one for the last. So I’ll start with love or agapē in the Greek.
Love, as the song goes, is a many splendored thing. Paul associates love with God, the Father, and John brings this out in the following passage.
(7) Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. (8) He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (9) In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. (10) Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
1 John 4:7-11
In the Greek culture they have several words that describe love and many of their poets and philosophers wrote and expounded extensively on love shown to a brother or the love between a man and woman. Agapē never shared the limelight in these writings and it wasn’t until Paul, John, and the other New Testament writers began to incorporate it into their material that it began to receive any notoriety. Agapē came to represent the highest form of love that one could offer. Strong’s Concordance defines agapē as, “love, that is, affection or benevolence; specifically (plural) a love feast: – (feast of) charity ([-ably]), dear, love.” It is in this definition that we begin to uncover an element that represented the early church activities and shed some light on part of Paul’s first address to the Corinthians.
In Acts 2 we come across the origin of what would later be called “love feasts.”
(42) And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (46) And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, (47) Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
The daily breaking of bread from house to house is what we call today “the house church movement.” It was the early believer’s community structure that enabled them to pass along the apostle’s doctrine and meet the needs of all that came under their influence. In the Greek language and culture this feasting or eating together is what is known as agapē. Now I don’t want you to get the idea that these were elaborate dinners with multitudes of different foodstuffs because they often weren’t at the beginning. They simply came together at the end of a busy day, bringing simple ingredients together and partook of the food that had been prepared. Bread and wine were integral elements since they represented the last supper of Jesus with his disciples.
What I find so interesting about these gatherings is that Saul used them to determine where the “church” was meeting and then subsequently persecuted the followers of Jesus before the religious leaders of the day. It was Saul’s persecution of “love” that would force the church out of Jerusalem into the “world”. The irony of all this is that Saul, who after his conversion became known as Paul, would provide direction in his first letter to the church at Corinth about how to conduct themselves during these agapē meals. They were following the extravagant manner of their past customs in conducting these feasts that left many who were not able to bring food hungry upon their completion. The corrections that Paul gave them would ultimately allow all the believers to experience the fullness of agapē in their community.
A crucial note in the history of these feasts occurred around 363-364 AD, when the Council of Laodicea passed an edict that forbade any church from celebrating an agape feast. The feast during this time had become an evening supper of charity to the people attending where the sacraments would be offered to all as part of the meal. Even three hundred years latter it would be addressed by the Quinsext Council of 692 and its practice would eventually disappear in the churches. I find it amazing that “the church” would outlaw the very cornerstone to its creation, the very symbol that, according to our opening passage, associates love to God. Why any church would think that it can practice its creed without the author of it is beyond me.
Whenever people come together, whether it is at a meal or at a present-day church service, the one thing that you should be looking for is koinōnia or what we more commonly call fellowship. Another term that can be used here is “communion” and it possibly has the closest understanding to what koinōnia is trying to describe. Communion, or common union, indicates oneness in spirit, mind and communication. It is the essence of any lasting partnership. We have all had experiences where our communication with others has been “out of sorts” while at other times it may have been “in sync.” These instances demonstrate the effect that koinōnia has on our interaction with others.
The Holy Sprit is associated with koinōnia in Paul’s passage, meaning that the Holy Spirit is the overseer of our fellowship with the Father. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would be our comforter, counselor and teacher, and that He would not speak on His own authority but would tell us of those things to come. These functions are vital to maintaining fellowship with the Father. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit we are taught how to function correctly in God’s Kingdom as a son and heir. The Holy Sprit will show us how to properly communicate and follow the protocol which the kingdom operates under so that we can remain in common union with both other believers and the Father. Our example in this would be as Jesus declared where he only did those things that he saw the Father doing. There is an “oneness” that Jesus prayed for us to possess in John 17; that oneness is koinōnia.
You’re at an event that exudes love among the participants and there are obvious displays of affection and camaraderie. You are experiencing agapē and koinōnia in their fullest forms. As you experience this you will start to witness the manifestation of charis, or grace, between the participants. I’ve already explored the foundational characteristic of grace in its nature of reciprocal giving, as well as its ability to produce joy. In the presence of agapē and koinōnia, charis raises to a whole new level that can best be categorized as “life-giving.” If you’ve every been a member of a group that whenever you met there was something that inspired you to be and give all that you could for “the cause”, you have experienced the elevated effect of grace from a position of man. Take that to the level of the Kingdom of God and it becomes personified as Jesus, the ultimate life-giving gift of God.
Paul clearly designates Jesus’ work as the “grace-gift” in this relationship of the Godhead, a result of the love of the Father who seeks to bring communion with everyone through the Holy Spirit. If you take just one of these elements away, then the whole thing falls apart. Each of these three, charis, agapē and koinōnia are dependent upon and the result of there interaction with each other. Remove the elements of love and people have no reason to extend a gift to another; take away the fellowship and there is no one to give to; and take away the joy of giving and you end up with religion.
So in this one passage we see the ultimate depiction of the relationship of the Godhead and how we are to mirror that same relationship one with another as a model of the Kingdom of God working in our lives. If we can every get beyond the differences that we focus on and regain the sight of the purpose of the Father we just might witness the power that comes from living a life of grace, the same power that the first church lived daily.