By Brianna Hines
I was raised in a storytelling family. Every holiday or family gathering my relatives would, and still do, settle into their seats and begin swapping stories. Each one of them, when given the “floor,” will recount a tale in such intentional detail that I feel like their memories are actually mine. They know just how to describe a scene, what seemingly insignificant facts to mention nonchalantly and then pivot the entire storyline upon. They are experts at describing, straightfaced, situations that have the rest of us simply roaring. I absolutely love these storytelling sessions and often wish I had pulled out my phone to record them. They are just so good! And I can’t figure out how they do it! I will admit, I am pretty jealous of their innate ability.
I am definitely an amateur when compared to all of my relatives, some of whom have been telling stories for generations now. They have had a lifetime of experience figuring out just what details to tease out of a seemingly ordinary scenario to turn it into a holiday-worthy whopper. The amazing thing is how real those stories seem to me. I feel like I was there. I could see what they saw and feel the emotions they felt in the situations they are describing. I am transported. And not only that, the more the same stories are told, the more they become fixed in all of our minds. We have a few favorites, and we all know the sequence of events. We remember the keystone elements, and we can all recite the punchlines word-perfect. Those initial experiences from decades ago became stories that have become memories, that we all now share as a family.
This is the power of storytelling. I don’t think we can fully comprehend how integral a role it played in spreading the gospel during the formation of the early church. Imagine if, instead of recounting hunting trips or farming mishaps, my grandpa was recounting stories of healings and miraculously multiplying fish sandwiches! His memories of those incredible moments would become part of my experience as well. That is exactly what “Grandpa John” did for the readers of his letters, First John being one of them. He was just an old man sharing the richness of his life’s experiences doing ministry alongside Christ Himself and then as a pillar in the formation of the early church. He had seen much and wanted to share it with others.
Much of the Bible was passed from generation to generation using oral traditions and storytelling. Moses is considered the first scribe, so all that came before him in the Old Testament was carefully preserved and passed down via word of mouth. In much of human history, that is how true events were remembered, and I believe it! If an experience is told over and over again, those key details get etched into the retelling of the story… forever… generation after generation.
Likewise, the listeners of those stories become a part of the story themselves. They can experience, secondhand, what it would have been like to, say, walk through a parted Red Sea or watch the sun go black as their dearest friend lay dying on a cross. The power of storytelling is a shared memory, a shared experience, what we could call ‘fellowship.”
The Greek word for fellowship, koinonia, means participation in something. A communion. It is coming together with others to share in some common experience. When John says in the opening verses of First John that he is writing this letter so his readers can have fellowship with him, what he is saying is these believers can actually share in his experience of Jesus. Just like with my grandpa’s storytelling, John’s memories can become their memories. John’s understanding can become their understanding. John wanted these believers to experience that kind of fellowship, that kind of communal interaction with his accounts of Jesus.
As current day believers with Bibles in our hands, we also get to have that kind of fellowship. We get to read the letters. We get to hear the stories. It has been nearly 2,000 years since the eyewitness, John, wrote his books, and yet we can have the shared experience, the fellowship, of knowing the same exact stories of Jesus as millions of others across the globe and across time. We may speak different languages, we may wear different clothes and eat different foods, and yet we can all share the same communal experience of Christ when He walked the earth. What a marvelous thing God made in His church. Global fellowship. One, planet-wide storytelling operation with a single, shared experience and understanding of Him. Wow. Kind of gives you shivers when you think about it, huh? You and I get to be a part of that when we read John’s letters for ourselves. Isn’t Bible study just the best thing ever?
Editor’s Note: Join UFC Women today at 9:30 a.m. at Barn (or on Zoom) or at 6:30 p.m. in the church offices for our study of First John. The cost for the study guide is $15. Childcare will be provided for the morning study. If you are interested in joining the Zoom group, please contact Jamie Harms at firstname.lastname@example.org.