A guest preacher at our church on Sunday explained the true meaning behind the well-known Hawaiian greeting, “Aloha.” He used the illustration of two brothers, arms clasped firmly on each other’s necks, leaning in until foreheads touch, literally breathing the same breath (alo=share, ha=breath), as their hearts beat as one. He likened this beautiful concept of aloha to the deep love and fellowship practiced by the church; that special relationship among Christians that I grew up hearing described as koinonia. Philippians 2:1 defines this church dynamic as “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
As my family discussed the concept of aloha/koinonia around the lunch table that day, the statement was made that this kind of fellowship is meaningful only if you don’t find yourself on the outside, excluded from a close-knit inner circle. Undoubtedly, this sentiment stemmed from the fact that we, as a military family, move every few years and seem to be constantly working to “break in” to a new group of friends, new sports teams, new clubs, and yes, sometimes even new church congregations. At times, it seems that these groups close the ranks, so to speak, making it difficult for new people to join in and truly play an integral role. However, if we as a family are honest, we have to admit that after living somewhere long enough to finally be part of that inner circle, we are guilty of the same inward focus: we tend to hold onto our “in” position tightly, striving to maintain the sense of security and normalcy it provides us for as long as possible.
It is so easy to settle into our comfort zone and be content to maintain the status quo, when, instead, we as Christians should be constantly reaching out to those around us who might be feeling excluded. Jesus, after all, came to “seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).” He ate meals with “tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10),” and allowed a woman of questionable character to anoint his feet during a meal at the house of Simon the Pharisee—surely not a usual or acceptable dinner guest for Simon (Luke 7:36-39)! In another instance, Jesus instructed His dinner host (another Pharisee): “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, for they cannot repay you (Luke 14:12-13).”
The koinonia of the early church, as described in Acts 2:44-47, positively impacted the local community: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common…and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (emphasis mine).” Instead of huddling up and hanging out only with familiar, comfortable people, God calls us to go out and search the “highways and byways and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled (Luke 14:23).”
Oh Lord, how thankful I am to be part of a church that not only practices the aloha spirit internally, but also extends that loving attitude to the community around us. No matter the context, help me to always actively seek opportunities to draw others into fellowship with You.