In the pursuit of his Christian ministry, the Apostle Paul had a keen sense of teamwork, teamwork with God and with his brothers and sisters. This awareness he expresses by using compound Greek words that begin with the prepositional prefix, sun-. With an object in the dative case, sun means “together” or “with.” This same prepositional prefix has carried over into English, occurring in such words as “symbiotic,” “symphony,” “synergy” (the Greek sun-, represented by sym- or syn-). What follows is a brief survey of the words Paul employed to express this sharing of ministry. You will discover that such sharing continues among 21st-century Christians.
Paul calls us “co-citizens” and “joint heirs” and says we will “co-reign.” Because we are bound up with Christ, we share in His city, His inheritance, and His rule. But we also share the expectation of these future blessings with each other. Because of this, we “co-rejoice.”
Meanwhile, the struggle continues, and we “suffer together.” To endure such suffering, we “co-console” each other, and we live and die together.
But through it all, we are “co-workers.” Paul says that he and his associates are “God’s coworkers,” an amazing testimony both to the condescension of God–willing to stoop so low to work with the likes of us–and the corresponding elevation of Christians.
Paul’s letters yield for us an amazing number of men and women that Paul calls his “co-workers”: Timothy, “everyone,” the Corinthian Christians, Titus, Priscilla and Aquila, Urbanus, Epaphroditus, Clement and others, Mark and Aristarchus, Jesus Justus, Philemon, Demas and Luke. One brother Paul calls “my yoke-fellow,” a term synonymous with coworker (though it could be the man’s name).
Others Paul describes as if they are team members with him in an athletic competition–contending, striving, or struggling together. Two brothers Paul calls his “co-slaves.” Two he names as his “co-soldiers.” Because Paul considers himself a worker, a slave, a soldier, and an athlete for Christ, those who share the load with him also share these descriptions. This includes those of us who are laboring in the kingdom in modern times.
As a frequent prisoner for Christ, Paul appreciated those who ministered to him in prison, even if they themselves were free to come and go. Four he describes as “co-prisoners.” It could be that at least some of these voluntarily served Paul so constantly that their imprisonment was self-imposed.
All of these first-century Christians, as well as Christians alive today, are “partakers” or “partners” in the work of the kingdom. We share, have fellowship with, participate with, and keep company with other believers. Paul uses several compound terms to describe Christian unity. He says we must be united, of one accord, literally, “co-souls.” We are “conformed together” and “fitted together.” We cooperate and assist one another. We are “built together” and made “co-members of the same body.”
All of this togetherness, we must remember, is not a natural state–far from it! If left to ourselves, we human beings split apart at every seam, whether it is race, ethnicity, gender, or class. It is only Christ that binds us together. Only in Him can it be possible to say that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, neither barbarian or Scythian, male or female; all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11).
Paul expresses the Christian’s union with Christ using the prepositional phrase, together with Christ. He reinforces this by employing compound verbs in which sun- is added to the beginning of the verb. This occurs in several of the key passages in Paul’s writings.
In Gal. 2:20, Paul uses “co-crucified” to describe how becoming united with Christ’s death changes the believer. Compare Matt. 27:44, Mark 15:32, and John 19:32, where the same verb describes the literal crucifixion of the thieves who died with Jesus. Paul says that as a result of his union with Christ’s death, he has died to the law, in order to live to God (v. 19). In the next verse he adds that he is no longer the one living, but Christ is living in him. True, he still lives “in flesh,” but it is a life of trusting in the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself up in his behalf. Note that this happens for the individual, not just for believers as a group. Christ died, not for humanity, but for you and me and everyone else as individuals, and only as individuals can we respond to Him.
This concept of “co-crucified” recurs in Rom. 6:6. Paul says, “Having known this, that the old man was co-crucified.” Although Christ goes unmentioned, the connection is definitely between the believer and Christ–He was the one crucified.
The consequence of this death of the old man is a burial, for Paul earlier says, we were buried together with Him” through baptism into death (v. 4). As a result of this union with Christ’s crucifixion and his burial, we also share in the new life of His resurrection: “we believe that also we will live with him” (suzēsomen, v. 8). Paul uses these same verbs in the parallel passage in Colossians (co-buried and co-raised, 2:12; co-made alive, 2:13; see also 3:1).
Because we belong to Christ, we belong to each other. Our union with Him unites us with every other person who is also united with Him in a grand and eternal fellowship.
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