One Anothering One Another
This weekend we begin a new series entitled Summer of Love, where we’ll examine the “one another” passages found in Romans 12-16.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters 1 through 11 explain the some of the fundamental foundations of the Christian faith. The great doctrine of the first eleven chapters is brought home in the closing quarter of the book through the use of seven “one another” statements. In response to the gospel, Paul encourages the Roman believers to one another one another. Relationships are the way we live lives worthy of the gospel we’ve come to believe.
The suspicion, mistrust, and hostility we see in our world reveals what happens when we don’t “one another, one another.” It was Andy Stanley who said, “It’s hard to one another in rows.” As our series will show, one anothering one another takes place in real life situations and is crucial to the growth of a Christ-follower and our ministry in the world.
“One another” is two words in English, but it’s only one word in Greek. This word is used one hundred times in ninety-four New Testament verses. Forty-seven of those verses give instructions to followers of Jesus. In our series we’ll look at the “one another” commands of the apostle Paul who is responsible for sixty percent of them!
Our goal in this series is to illustrate that the vertical relationship we enjoy with God has horizontal implications in the way we relation with one another. We want to encourage and inspire you to pursue your relationship with God with a commitment to make a habit of seven “one another” commands. This message, as simple as it sounds, runs counter not only to the individualism of our day but even to classic theology itself. So, Jones and Brown:
We were struck recently to see that such esteemed thinkers as Augustine, Aquinas and even John Calvin saw some kind of dichotomy between our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. They saw the former being far more important than the latter, so much so that each believed that fellowship with one another would play a minor role, if even that, in eternal life. Calvin somewhat stunningly put it this way: “To be in Paradise and live with God is not to speak to each other and be heard by each other, but is only to enjoy God, to feel his good will and to rest in him.” [John Calvin, Corpus Reformatorum 33.227]. Combine some of this classical teaching with Western individualism and you get a view of Christian practice that is far from the New Testament’s view. Did you ever see an old movie where deep sea divers were dropped into the depths in heavy suits with big round helmets? Each diver was given air through a tube that entered his helmet and was connected to the air supply at the surface. Many years ago I heard someone say that when you see Christians taking the Lord’s Supper today it is much like this deep sea scenario. It is as though each person is in his or her own isolated chamber with a line going up to God. In contrast to NT teaching (1 Corinthians 11:17–34), there is little sense of connection to one another. This comment made about the Lord’s Supper could be made about many people’s Christian experience in general. [Thomas A. Jones and Steve D Brown, One Another: Transformational Relationships in the Body of Christ, pages 10-11]
One can understand, of course, why the reformers, in that historical context, focused on the personal dimension of faith. Nonetheless, it is possible to take the personal dimension of faith so far that the responsibility we have to those around us gets overlooked. The individualism in our culture is self-evident. We live in a society enamored with expressive individualism and this expressive individualism poses a serious challenge to the New Testament’s claim that being true to Christ and the Gospel, witnessed through specific and tangible expressions of “one anothering one another,” is more important than being true to “me”. That’s why Jesus Himself said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). What makes this command so inspirational is that Jesus set the example for it. Verse 34, the previous verse, says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
We shouldn’t interpret Jesus’ words as an intention to suppress individual uniqueness so much as a challenge to bring our uniqueness to bear in the way we love others.
One more thing to note as we prepare to launch this series. The challenge is not necessarily that you do more than you are currently doing but that you add the one another qualities to the relationships you already enjoy and are yet to experience.
Richard Meyer adds this thought:
Loving takes time. As Dr. Alan Loy McGinnis stated, “Loving relationships are built up over the years, like a fine lacquer finish, with the accumulated layers of many acts of kindness.”
Unfortunately, there are not enough hours in the day to love everyone in this way. The disciples saw how Jesus gave them the time it took to build this kind of loving relationship, but also how he did not do this with everyone. They remembered that, at times, he left crying multitudes on the beach and struck off across the lake on a boat. Over the three years with him, the disciples witnessed Jesus’ love in all phases of his life, yet he reserved a special kind of love for them.
Pastor and author Louis Evans Jr. put it this way: “Try to respond to every call and be all things to all people and there will be one result — worn out!” This applied even to Jesus. We often forget this in stressing his divinity over his humanity. Yet, being fully human as well as fully divine, he was completely realistic about his earthly limitations. He knew there was no way he could love everyone in the same way. Knowing his limitations, he chose twelve individuals into whom he poured his love.
Stop to think what good news this is. What a much needed antidote for all of us who suffer from the guilties because we are not able to love everyone as we would like. The fact that Jesus loved realistically is a message to us saying, “Your time is finite. You do not have countless hours and energy to give to everyone. It is humanly impossible to give extravagantly of yourself to every person in your church, every person in your neighborhood, at your school, or at your office. Be realistic about how much you can give of yourself before becoming worn-out and ineffective.” [Richard C. Meyer, One Anothering: Biblical Building Blocks for Small Groups, Kindle Edition, loc.411]
I love these words of realism.
Yes, our Summer of Love series will challenge us to put flesh on our common relationship with Christ. We will certainly encourage you to find creative ways to put the seven one another commands of Romans 12-16 into practice. That said, we’ll do this realistically. It is impossible for us to give of ourselves beyond our ability to cope. However, let’s make a commitment to build these seven expressions of love into the relationships we currently enjoy–provided of course our worship goes beyond attendance of a Sunday service to engagement with others.
If we are connected to others, and if we do put the seven one another expressions into practice, something incredible will happen. The love-centric and Christ-motivated nature of our relationships will inspire others. I love what Gene Gets says on this:
Obviously, this whole process is a two-way street. Strong, mature families create strong, mature churches, and strong, mature churches create strong, mature families. However, when all is said and done, the “larger family” must take the lead—even if the church is made up of just a few strong families. This is what happened in the New Testament. It didn’t take a large group of households to create a strong family dynamic. Remember that where two or three are gathered, Jesus has promised to be present in a unique way (Matt. 18:20). Just so, when two or three families begin to function as God says they should, that church can have a powerful impact on people who need a good relational model. [Getz, Gene A.. Building Up One Another (One Another Series) (pp. 31-32)]
It doesn’t take a large group of households to create a strong family dynamic. All it takes is a commitment of two of three, such is the power of one anothering, one another.
Concluding their book, Jones and Brown write,
The kingdom is most certainly not shown to the world by some political maneuvering or grab for power. It is not even shown primarily through our long, personal times of prayer, our careful scholarship or our array of programs. It is shown supremely through the way we love – that is “are committed to” – one another (John 13:34-35). However, we decide to foster these relationships and create a culture where they will grow and abound, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we are going to live a “one-another life.” [IBID, page 147]
May the same be said of us. May there be no doubt that we are living a “one-another” life.
Looking forward to this series.