Fellowship with Jesus Christ: Part One – Introduction

Editor’s Note: This series on “Fellowship with Jesus” is not comprehensive. There is still much more to learn about this important subject, Jesus Christ. Even so, the reader may notice the interrelationship between the articles. Feel free to jump around as you desire and reread as necessary. 

Jesus is the center of the gospel. And yet, something so simple as saying “Jesus is Lord” or “Jesus is the center of the gospel” has many ramifications. How do Christians live “Jesus is Lord”? How do Christians experience Christ in their lives? How can Christians have fellowship with Jesus? These are questions that deserve to be asked and answered thoughtfully and carefully. Even though I have searched for answers for a long time and asked these questions many times, I do not have all of the answers. However, it is my prayer that the articles in this series will further your understanding of Jesus and his role in your lives today. And as always, I appreciate your feedback and insight—even if we begin that conversation in disagreement on particular issues.

In this first article, we will open by asking the seemingly simple question: how can Christians have fellowship with Jesus? To answer this question, we will look at usages of the word for “fellowship” in the New Testament and places in the Bible that identify us with Jesus Christ.[1] In particular, this series will be written from a Biblical Unitarian perspective. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Hebrew Messiah, the mediator between God and man, and many other things; however, Jesus is not equal to God the Father. And even though my opinion of Jesus may differ from other commentators that I will cite (almost exclusively Trinitarians), there will be common ground in interesting places.

I John 1:3

There are only two places that talk about fellowship directly in relationship to Jesus Christ. One of these is found in I John 1:3, so we will begin by looking at this verse in its context:

I John 1:1-4 (ESV)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–
the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–
that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

It must be possible to have fellowship with God the Father and with Jesus Christ. And having this fellowship is one aspect of having complete joy. This is an important subject to consider! It is vital to recognize that John (by revelation) wanted these Christians (and by extension, us, the modern readers) to have fellowship with: God the Father, Jesus Christ, and them (presumably John and his companions). Having fellowship with these three parties would help increase the joy for all involved. How can we have fellowship with God? How can we have fellowship with Jesus? How can we have fellowship with one another? These questions lead us to a word study on fellowship. What does the word “fellowship” mean? And how does it apply to these three relationships?

Fellowship – koinōnia

The word “fellowship” as translated in English comes from one Greek word: koinōnia. According to Thayer, this word has one overarching definition: “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse.”[2] From this main definition, there are three unique usages: “1. the share which one has in anything, participation; 2. intercourse, fellowship, intimacy; 3. a benefaction jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship.”[3] Let’s look at examples of each usage, as categorized by Thayer:

First usage: participation; sharing something

Philippians 2:1 (ESV)
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation [koinōnia] in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,

 

I Corinthians 1:9 (ESV)
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship [koinōnia] of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Second usage: intercourse, fellowship, intimacy

Galatians 2:9 (ESV)
And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship [koinōnia] to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

 

II Corinthians 6:14 (ESV)
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship [koinōnia] has light with darkness?

Third usage: a collection or contribution

II Corinthians 8:4 (ESV)
Begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part [koinōnia] in the relief of the saints—

 

Romans 15:26 (ESV)
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution [koinōnia] for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.

This word has a variety of meanings, but the common feature is a relationship. Sometimes, that relationship is shared through the spirit, through human signs (such as extending hands, literally or metaphorically), or through sending money. How did Thayer categorize the occurrence in I John 1? He said that I John 1:3 and 6 were usage 2, and he said the following about this specific passage: “which fellowship, according to John’s teaching, consists in the fact that Christians are partakers in common of the same mind as God and Christ, and of the blessings arising therefrom.”[4]

Thayer is not the only one who suggested this understanding of the word “fellowship” in this context. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testamentsays this about the specific usage of koinōniain I John 1: “koinōnia is a favorite term in I John for the living bond that unites Christians. It begins as fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:3, 6) by an abiding that commences here and is fulfilled hereafter (3:2, 24; 4:13). It issues in the family fellowship of believers (1:3, 7).”[5]

There are a few comments to make at this point. First, the type (if not the full extent) of fellowship that we can have with the Father and the Son must also be available with every Christian believer. Second, based on the context of I John 1, this fellowship is predicated upon us “walking in the light.”

I John 1:3-7 (ESV)
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

This leads us to the next question: what is the intimacy that we can experience with God the Father, Jesus, and other Christians?

What connects Christians with one another?

Since there are many biblical connections between Christians and Christ and between Christians and God the Father, it probably makes the most sense to start with the seemingly easiest of the connections: what connects Christians to one another?

II Corinthians 13:14 (ESV)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

I Corinthians 12:12-13 (ESV)
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

 

Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

Romans 8:13-17 (ESV)
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The unity that Christians have is through the spirit. I will never be able to meet every Christian living during my lifetime, but I am connected to every Christian through the spirit. I participate in your life and you in mine through the spirit. (As a side note, this seems to be one benefit of praying in tongues based on Romans 8:26ff, even though this could have more in view than praying in tongues). This is a spiritual reality now (we have the “unity of the spirit” now—we must maintain it!) but it will have a greater fulfillment in eternity when all Christians, living and dead, will be reunited (see Revelation 21 and 22 for a powerful description of what this will look like).

What connects us with Jesus?

As I mentioned before, the topic of “fellowship with Jesus” is a big topic—there’s a lot of biblical ground to cover! Christians are connected with Christ in a number of ways, some by decision and some by relationship. Let’s take a look at some of what the Bible has to say on this subject:

Romans 6:1-11 (ESV)
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 

Colossians 2:11-14 (ESV)
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

 

Ephesians 2:4-7 (ESV)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–
and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Christians were united in Jesus’ burial through baptism. We declared ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ. Christians are alive through Jesus’ resurrection. And Christians have been seated in heaven with Jesus through his ascension. We await the return of the King and the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation on this earth through and in the Messiah, Jesus. All of this is made available through accepting God’s offer of salvation in Christ. Paul preached that all humans were identified “in Adam” or “dead in trespasses and sins” (see I Corinthians 15:22; Romans 5; Ephesians 2:1ff). But now, those who are born again are identified with Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension. Christians are “in Christ” instead of being “in Adam,” are alive instead of dead, are righteous instead of condemned.

Our identification with Christ is a large part of our fellowship with him, but it is not the whole story. The spirit that Christians have been given is called a number of things in the New Testament; these names help us to understand the intimacy we have with Christ:

Colossians 1:27 (ESV)
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

 

Romans 8:9-11 (ESV)
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

 

Philippians 1:19 (ESV)
For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,

The spirit is alternately called “the spirit of God,” “the spirit of Christ,” “the spirit of Jesus Christ,” and “Christ in you.” What could possibly indicate fellowship with Christ and the Father more than saying that they dwell within the Christian through the spirit? The power of Christ and of the Father is resident insideof the Christian! I may have conversations with my wife and son, and I may attempt to show them my love in many ways, but I will never reside inside of my wife or my son. I will never experience the type of closeness that I can have with God and with Jesus Christ through the spirit. And I want to be careful here that this is not a literal fact: the fullness of all that God is does not literally dwell in me, and neither does the fullness of who Christ is (that is, his memories, his personality, etc.). But the power, authority, and potential of the Father and Son dwell in me. They have both come to make their abode in me (John 14:23).

We have seen that our identity with Christ and the indwelling of the spirit are two powerful ways that we have fellowship with Christ. Because of these two realities, we can experience the life of Christ in many ways as we develop ourselves spiritually. We can think as he thought, we can heal as he healed, we can obey as he obeyed, we can love as he loved. Let’s take a look at some examples of this as given in Scripture:

Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

 

I Corinthians 2:16 (ESV)
“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

 

II Corinthians 1:5 (ESV)
For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

 

II Corinthians 2:15 (ESV)
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,

 

II Corinthians 3:3 (ESV)
And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

 

II Corinthians 10:1 (ESV)
I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ–I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!–

 

II Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,

 

II Corinthians 11:10 (ESV)
As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia.

 

II Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

 

Galatians 1:6 (ESV)
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–

 

Ephesians 3:19 (ESV)
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

Philippians 1:8 (ESV)
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

 

Philippians 2:5 (ESV)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

 

Colossians 1:24 (ESV)
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

 

Hebrews 3:14 (ESV)
For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

 

I Peter 4:13-14 (ESV)
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Christians participate in every aspect of the life of Christ. Here are some specific attributes mentioned in the verses above: mind, sufferings, aroma, meekness, gentleness, obedience, truth, power, grace, love, afflictions, doctrine, and glory. It is amazing to know that we are joint-heirs with Christ, we can put on the mind of Christ, that we can develop the affection for others that Jesus had, that we can know the love of Christ, and that the power of Christ rests upon us. However, it is important to recognize that the world hates us, just as much as it hated Jesus (John 15:18-19). Therefore, we will experience afflictions and suffering for Christ’s sake. And yet the comfort of Christ will extend to us in our sufferings and afflictions. Furthermore, the glory of Christ will be extended to us, especially in the age to come (see also I Peter 5:1 and Romans 8:18).

In addition to what we have seen so far, there are more ways of understanding our connection with Jesus. Once we put on our identity in Christ and submit to the direction of the spirit, we begin to develop and mature as Christians. Here are some verses on Christian identity with Christ as we develop:

Romans 8:29 (ESV)
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

 

Galatians 4:19 (ESV)
My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

 

Ephesians 4:15 (ESV)
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

Christians have been called to be conformed to the image of Christ, to be formed into Christ, and to grow up into Christ. This is the true goal of Christianity, and it takes intentional effort on the part of the Christian as he or she develops.

Before we leave this topic, let’s briefly summarize what we have seen. Fellowship with Jesus is a multifaceted concept, and it involves identification with Christ, the indwelling of the spirit, and being conformed to Christ by choosing to live in light of the spiritual truth that we have been identified with Jesus and been given the spirit.

What connects us with God?

Just as we saw with our connection to Jesus, there are many aspects of the Christian’s connection to God. First, we are the children of God who have access to Him through the spirit of God (through and in Christ, as we will see).

Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

 

Ephesians 2:18 (ESV)
For through him [Christ Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

 

Ephesians 3:11-12 (ESV)
This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,
in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

 

Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Because of what Jesus the Messiah has done, we have access to God the Father. We are heirs of God just as Jesus is! The spirit within us cries out, “Father!” Through the spirit and in Christ, man’s basic need for an authentic relationship with his Creator is fulfilled absolutely. Because of the indwelling of the spirit, God no longer puts His presence into a building, like the Temple of the Old Testament times—He now puts His presence into individual Christians, building up a Temple collectively:

Ephesians 2:19-23 (ESV)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,
in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

 

I Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

 

II Corinthians 6:14-18 (ESV)
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

Christians are always in the presence of God and before His “eyes:”

II Corinthians 4:2 (ESV)
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

 

Ephesians 1:3-5 (ESV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him [literally: “in his sight”]. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

Because we have God’s Word and His spirit, we can be imitators of Him:

Ephesians 5:1 (ESV)
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

These are just some of the examples of our connection with God the Father through the spirit and in Christ.

Back to I John

Now, let’s return to I John to consider fellowship with God and with Jesus Christ again.

I John 1:1-7 (ESV)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–
the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–
that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Christians already have fellowship with God and with Jesus Christ—John was writing so that this fellowship that already existed could be extended to other Christians (“that you too may have fellowship with us”). John was not writing to these Christians to educate them on howto have fellowship with God and with Christ, other than to handle the question of “sin.” John wanted them to have the fullness of joy and to experience the deep reality of fellowship with God and Christ. As we have seen, from a Biblical perspective this fellowship with God and with Jesus Christ begins with the indwelling of the spirit and extends through our identity with Christ to our consecrated lives in service to God and Christ. And while this is a spiritual reality at the point of the new birth, this relationship must be maintained and developed spiritually through “walking in the light” as mentioned in the context of I John 1. As Christians “walk in the light,” manifesting that relationship with God and with Christ, they will naturally have fellowship with one another.[6]

Conclusion

In this beginning article, we have endeavored to discuss the basics of “fellowship with Jesus.” We took a brief look at the Greek word for fellowship and how it is used in the Bible. We saw that we have fellowship with every Christian through the spirit. We learned that fellowship with Jesus encompasses more than a traditional human relationship: we have the power of Christ, the indwelling of the spirit, identity with Christ, among many other things. And we saw that we have access to God through the spirit and in Christ. Let me assure you that this is just scratching the surface on this topic—there is much more to learn and apply. We will continue exploring this topic in many facets by discussing the following: talking and praying to Jesus, identifying with Christ, having the character of Christ, Christ as the Head, and Jesus as Lord.


[1]I will, at times, put references to opinions of those who fundamentally disagree with me on who Jesus is (and yet find commonalities in how we interpret certain Scriptures). Please feel free to follow along with those in the endnotes.

[2]See the entry here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2842&t=KJV

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]See pages 449-450 in the one volume edition edited by Bromley.

[6]Here are some Trinitarian views of fellowship with Jesus:

“Fellowship with Christ also [in addition to avoiding sin, cultivating faith, celebrating communion, the spirit, and fellowship with other Christians] means living, suffering, dying, inheriting, and reigning with him…” Quoted from Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, page 449. The text in the brackets [ ] were added by me to help clarify the context of that specific statement. Please see the whole entry to gain a complete perspective of this entry, which aligns closely to what was presented in this article.

 

“And we partake also of all those privileges Christ has purchased for his members, namely, pardon, reconciliation, the divine favour, adoption into God’s family, the Spirit of adoption sent into our hearts, regeneration, sanctification, a lively, joyful hope of the heavenly inheritance, and an earnest of that inheritance by his Spirit dwelling in us, whereby we sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.” Quoted from Benson’s Commentary, available here: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_john/1-3.htm

 

“And with his Son Jesus Christ – That is, in like manner there is much which we have in common with the Saviour – in character, in feeling, in desire, in spirit, in plan. There is a union with him in these things – and the consciousness of this gives peace and joy.” Quoted from Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, available here: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_john/1-3.htm

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  1. Pingback: Fellowship with Jesus: Part Two – Prayer – Study Driven Faith

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  3. Pingback: Fellowship with Jesus: Part Four – “Christ in” Ability – Study Driven Faith

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