The One Anothers of Christian Fellowship
[This is the first of several articles in the one another series.]
You may have heard of a lone-ranger Christian. Someone who doesn't go to church, or share life with other believers, but claims to follow Christ. There are many things wrong with being a lone-ranger Christian. It is spiritually dangerous, it is not good for the soul, it is unwise, it is a bad witness to the world, etc. But perhaps the most obvious thing that is wrong with the lone-ranger position is that you cut yourself off from obeying most of the New Testament. And that would seem like a pretty bad idea if you ask me. But someone might wonder aloud: "disobeying most of the New Testament, how so?"
And the answer is in a simple little word. Well it is one word in the Greek, but two in English. And that word(s) is – ἀλλήλων (allēlōn), or one another.
The New Testament is littered with this word. Jesus gives instructions regarding one another, Paul exhorts the believers to obey certain things regarding one another, Peter as well, same with James and same with John. This little phrase implies something in and of itself. And that is that Christians are not meant to be alone. The Scriptures assume that there will be a group of us, and that we are bumping into one another in various ways. And it is in the context of that relationship that we are told how it is we are to interact. We are given commands – at least 35 of them – to obey with regard to one another.
The one another commands are incredibly prominent in Scripture, and they are vitally important to a healthy Christian life and healthy churches. But, full disclosure here, they are not the main thing. The one anothers are not the core and content of our fellowship rather they are the character of it. They are the aroma and flavour of the meal, not the meal itself. They are the adverbs, not the main verbs. They are not the mission of the church but they are part of how we go about it.
What am I saying exactly? The mission of the church is to worship Christ and to go under the authority of Christ into the world to make disciples of all nations, so that they too would worship Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Our fellowship is centred around that. Our fellowship is our common share in Christ. We don't gather together for the main purpose of loving one another. No, we gather for the love and worship of our God. That is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:38). But it turns out that you can't keep the first without keeping the second. You can't love God without loving your brothers and sisters in Christ as well. Or as John states it, "If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." (1 John 4:20).
So how we treat one another in the body of Christ, though not the focus of everything itself, is itself vitally important to everything. To worship the Lord without obeying him in the one another commands is plain hypocrisy and frankly unacceptable. It would be better to leave our gift at the altar and go and be reconciled to our brothers, then to press on in our so-called "worship" (Matthew 5:23-24).
So what does God want us to do with one another? What are the "one anothers"?
Stuart Scott, one of my professors at seminary, identified at least 35 one anothers in the Scriptures. Here's his list:
- Be devoted to one another with brotherly love (Romans 12:10a)
- Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10b)
- Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
- Do not judge, but build up one another (Romans 14:13; 14:19)
- Welcome one another (Romans 15:7)
- Instruct one another (Romans 15:14)
- Do not sue one another (1 Corinthians 6:7)
- Care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25)
- Do not provoke and do not envy one another (Galatians 5:26)
- Bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Speak truthfully to one another (Ephesians 4:25)
- Be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13)
- Be in submission to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
- Bear with one another (Colossians 3:13)
- Teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
- Increase and abound in love for one another (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
- Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
- Encourage and build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Be at peace with one another (1 Thessalonians 5:13)
- Seek good for one another (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
- Pray for one another (1 Timothy 2:1)
- Stir up one another (Hebrews 10:24)
- Do not speak against one another (James 4:11)
- Do not grumble against one another (James 5:9)
- Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
- Be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
- Serve one another (1 Peter 4:10)
- Be humble toward one another (1 Peter 5:5)
- Greet one another (1 Peter 5:14)
- Have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)
- Don't deprive one another (in marriage) (1 Corinthians 7:5)
- Wait for one another (1 Corinthians 11:33)
- Consider one another (Philippians 2:3)
- Don't lie to one another (Colossians 3:9)
That is a lot of one anothers. And that is a tall order for all of us. As you look over that list you should ask yourself about how you are doing with these things. Are you serving your brothers and sisters? Are you living in harmony at church and at home? Is this the character of your fellowship with your fellow Christians?
Just take any one of the items on the list and ask yourself some diagnostic questions. Take the command to encourage one another for example. "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing" (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And ask yourself, am I an encourager? Would others call you an encouraging person? When is the last time you said some kind words to that brother or sister who you saw serving the Lord? Do you take your fellow Christians for granted? Or consider what is absent in this list. No commands to criticize one another, to complain about one another, or to gossip about one another. If you can't find ten things in that list that are convicting to you, then you are doing it wrong. If you were to really reflect on your interactions over the last week with other believers, what would your score be on these things?
But beyond the conviction of a list like this, I hope you can see the beauty of these one anothers. Wouldn't that be a wonderful church if everyone was living these out. I mean, just think about it, everyone preferring one another above themselves. "Please, go ahead of me." "No, you go first." "No after you, I insist." Well, perhaps that would be a bit much. But, the one anothers perfectly applied would truly be a piece of heaven on earth. Forgiveness full and free, bearing with one another, serving, caring, encouraging, praying, and the list goes on. These one anothers lived out would sweeten any congregation, any family, any marriage, any friendship.
My challenge to you all is to run the diagnostics on yourself. Go through the list. Really think about it. Pray through the verses, asking God for his help. Maybe if you are bold enough, ask your spouse or a friend to help you in this assessment. In all of this be humble and don't forget the grace of our God. As we read in Proverbs, "for the righteous falls seven times and rises again" (Proverbs 24:9). If you find yourself failing this test, don't fear! And don't look to yourself for the strength to do better. Look to Christ, come again to him with your sins and failings in hand, and ask for his help. And look to the future with the hope of the Redeemed. As Paul said to the Philippians, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
[Stay tuned for more in this series]
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