So we, though many, are one body in Christ,
and individually members one of another.
– Romans 12:5 –
There are in the New Testament roughly 100 places where the word ἀλλήλων, usually translated “one another,” is used. Beginning with Jesus’ command in John 13:34–35, the apostles develop a vision of church life that presses people of different backgrounds to follow Christ with one another. Using dozens of metaphors, they describe the church as as a body, a bride, a priesthood, a temple, a household, and a family.
In these word pictures, the One Another’s function as the imperatives that call brothers and sisters to get along in the Lord. Elbows and earlobes are called to honor one another in the body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles are taught they who were once divided are now united in the one new man, Jesus Christ.
Still before giving attention to the manifold imperative of loving one another, we must first realize that we are one of another. As Paul puts it in Romans 12:5, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Before we can love one another, forgive one another, or bear up one another, we must realize the One Another’s are set in the context of the local church.
The One Anothers: Where Art Thou?
When Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another (John 13:34–35), he said the world would know you are my disciples by their love “for one another.” While Paul can pray “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thess 3:12), the locus of the One Anothers is in the church—the local assembly of God’s people.
As I will show in the coming weeks, “One Anothering” is not something we do with people with whom we are merely acquainted. We don’t One Another our waitress, although we should be kind and generous. We don’t One Another our insurance agent, our son’s soccer coach, or most of our Facebook “friends,” although we should seek to do good to them as we have opportunity.
We One Another those with whom we share our lives, or better those with whom we are in covenant. Marriage, family, and church are the predominant locations where we one another. Surely some friendships, working environments, neighborhoods, and ministries also call for and benefit from the concept of One Anothering.
But still, the One Anothering which we find in the New Testament is located in the local church. While the New Testament does speak of the church universal, One Anothering is practiced on the local level. Only where people live, move, and have their being together can One Anothering be practiced. And really, it is in those places where we live “in covenant” together is One Anothering is really needed.
In the local church, believers must learn to love, forgive, forebear, and bear up if they are going to be able to experience the kind of community Christ intended. Strike the One Anothers from the life of the church and all hell breaks loose—literally!
However, what the New Testament teaches us is that when we were born again, we were brought into the family of God. We have a Father in heaven, an elder brother at his right hand, and the Holy Spirit that unites us to brothers and sisters from every walk of life. It is to these fellow believers we commit ourselves in the local church and learn to walk in love together, one with another.
Members One of Another
Ephesians 2 says that in Christ, that the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been torn down. Romans 12 says that we are now “one of another.” The overwhelming reality of the born again believer is that we are not alone. We were once estranged to God and all others, but now in union with Christ we are also united to all those who are in Christ.
The One Another’s command us to consider not just our personal relationship with Jesus, but our relationship with Christ and all those in our local church. I fear that many Christians who earnestly seek the Lord have given scant attention to this practice. Or, if they are invested in the lives of others, they may be pursuing community in contexts other than the local church.
My hope is that in the coming weeks, we may walk through the New Testament together to see how the One Another passages press us to do life together in the local church. This after all is simply putting into practice the reality that we are “one of another.”
And if, by God’s grace, we do it rightly—loving one another in all of its manifold expressions—then the result is not cloistered churches distant from the world. Rather, as Jesus said the world would see and know that we are Christ’s disciples. And like in the book of Acts, we might see a great surge of conversions, if we in the church learn how to love one another.
May God be pleased to do that in my church and yours.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
PS – In the coming weeks, I will be preaching on the One Another’s at our church. If you are in Northern Virginia and don’t have a church, come join us. Or just listen online. I will also be blogging my way through the One Another’s. I’d love your input and feedback as we consider these passages together.
[photo credit: Neighborhood Church]