Feature Article

The Love That Sustains

The twin joys of phileó and koinonia

Jamie A. Hughes November 1, 2021

Many people trudge through their 40th birthday, refusing to acknowledge it. And if they do celebrate, it usually involves black decorations covered in gravestones and the phrase “Over the Hill.” But I wasn’t having any of that when I hit the big 4-0. Instead, my husband and best friend threw a literary-themed party at my house. We had an endless playlist of good music, a huge grazing table, a lemon cake decorated with my favorite book titles, and stations dedicated to my other passions (my family, cats, and baseball), where people could leave me notes of love and encouragement. The weather was perfect, and people spent time laughing and talking on our porches as well as around the house. Instead of gifts, I asked everyone to bring a copy of his or her favorite book, and we spent the evening reading and swapping them. It was beyond grand.

Illustration by Adam Cruft

That night, I felt such delight at being in holy community with wonderful people: coworkers past and present, church friends, neighbors, and even a few college buddies I’d kept in touch with. Each of them had made my life better—made me better, actually. Many had encouraged me spiritually over the years, pushing me to seek God and move forward in my Christian walk. Others had been in my corner professionally, supporting me as a writer and a critical thinker. As I looked around that night, I couldn’t help but be humbled that God had chosen to surround me with so many fine folks.  

In his sermon “Christian Friendship,” Dr. Stanley says, “God not only made us for Himself; He made us for each other. He made us to need one another. He made us to love one another. He made us to cooperate and to fellowship one with the other.” I love the fact that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew it was not good for humans to be alone. And so He leads us into various communities, where we can love and sustain one another as we go through our days. (See Gen. 2:18.)  

 In the same sermon, Dr. Stanley discusses the Greek terms phileó and koinónia, both of which are important to our understanding of togetherness. Phileó, which is used throughout the Gospels and several New Testament epistles, speaks of the “love and tender, intimate affection” shared between friends. (It can also describe a kiss, a physical gesture shared between those who are close to one another.) Likewise, the term koinónia shows up throughout Paul’s letters, as well as in the book of Acts and 1 John, and it references “spiritual fellowship” along with the idea of “sharing in communion” together.  

God, in His infinite wisdom, knew it was not good for humans to be alone. And so He leads us into various communities, where we can love and sustain one another as we go through our days. 

As believers, we desperately need both fellowship and communion as we move through life. We need the deep intimacy God provides through phileó. We need to know and be known by others, to share our truest selves with them through the beautiful gift that is koinónia. To try to live without either of these blessings is to live a half a life—one devoid of the colors, sensations, and joys that come only when we move beyond ourselves and come together with fellow travelers, men and women who can support and hearten us as God intended. 

The night of my party, when the guests began to trickle out in groups of two or three, I made sure to embrace everyone. I thanked them for their friendship, their patience, and their encouragement. I told them specific ways they had made my life better—no matter how great or small they might have seemed at the time. Why? Because I wanted them to know just how much goodness they were responsible for in my life and to know how deeply and truly they were loved. And though the house was physically empty after the last merrymaker was gone, it still felt full. So did I.  

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