“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4
The Bible books written by the apostle John repeatedly talk about ‘zoe’ life and about ‘koinonia’ fellowship. In the writings of John, our English word ‘life’ is usually translated from the Greek word ‘zoe’. And the English word ‘fellowship’ is usually translated from the Greek word ‘koinonia’. A good understanding of these words makes a big difference to me in appreciating the writings of John – and the nature of God. Maybe it will make a difference to you, too, after I explain.
John the author was a close and intimate friend of Jesus. He was called the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and the “beloved disciple”. Jesus and John spent much time together – in happiness and in stress – during the life of Jesus. It would seem, as evidenced by John’s writings, that John picked up and subsequently mirrored Jesus – especially the emotions and convictions of Jesus. Jesus cared deeply for people – John cared deeply for people. Jesus desired protection and peace for people- John desired the same. Jesus waxed eloquent when describing the depth and reach of God’s love – John did the same. Jesus was a man of faith and loyalty – as was John. Jesus could empathize – John could empathize.
When reading the writings of John, we are seeing an image of Jesus – in word, deed, and thought. John is a special writer- his words come as from a witness, faithful disciple, and passionate lover of God and man. It does us well to listen to John. It is valuable to spend a few moments trying to understand the deeper meanings of what John had to say.
First, John uses the word ‘zoe’ to describe life far more than any other writer in the New Testament. What could he be meaning when he talks about life as being ‘zoe’ life?
John uses the word ‘zoe’ life in special and meaningful ways many times in Scripture. John writes that ‘zoe’ comes from God, it is God, and it is manifested through Jesus by God. (See John 6:57, John 5:26, John 1:4-5, and 1 John 1:1-2.) ‘Zoe’ is eternal, it is the essence of God, and it bears the very character and nature of God. It is what God is. It is all-encompassing and is the perfect, eternal essence of God-life.
Second, John likes to use the word ’koinonia’ when describing a relationship with Jesus. We often translate this word as ‘fellowship’. More literally, the word ‘koinonia’ can be translated ‘partnership’. When John talks about having ‘koinonia’ with Jesus and he with us, John is saying that we can be in partnership with Jesus. We support each other, we take care of each other, we share and share alike with each other, we walk through the good and the not so good, we care for each other – as partners in a partnership. In this arrangement, there is camaraderie and passion, but there is also responsibility and boundaries. In this partnership, there is equality but there is also humble servant-ship on the part of each.
As so, John writes often and beautifully about you and me having the opportunity to experience and know God’s ‘zoe’ when we have ‘koinonia’ with God. Said in another way, it is in ‘koinonia’ with God that we can be wrapped up in God’s ‘zoe’.
These two words are words that give us a glimpse of God – John uses these words as God-words. These words are also what are used when John talks about eternity – these are eternity-words. These words are bigger than me or you or anything we can ever comprehend with our human brains. These are massive, gigantic, huge, overwhelming, and amazingly wonderful words – because they describe just a tiny bit the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of God.
What would it have been like to have listened in on the many conversations between friends Jesus and John when they were talking about ‘zoe’ and ‘koinonia’? It would have been amazing, don’t you think?
So, I’m getting less and less concerned about what I need to be doing right and what I shouldn’t be doing. I’m less worried about getting things done better for God. I’m less inclined to keep guilt lists in order to figure out and calculate “am I saved?”.
Instead, I yearn for partnership with God. I desire the sense of ‘zoe’ in my ‘koinonia’ with God.
In these God-eternal words, I believe I will find peace.