The Art of One-Anothering
We live in a world with its own set of one-anothers: one-another brokenness, one-another enmity, one-another manipulation, one-another selfishness. And local churches exist to show a different way of life—a different Lord of life. This Lord reconciles us not only to himself, but to each other, creating one-another love out of one-another pain.
I sometimes think I could be very holy if, after doing my morning devotions, I just stayed in my room all day long. I find that patience, for example, comes easier by myself. Peace, too. I feel a general kindness and goodwill when I’m alone. I imagine myself ready to bear others’ burdens.
But then I leave my room and begin interacting with some of those “others” face to face. And before long, I wonder where my holiness went. Patience now feels fragile; peace goes on the retreat. My theoretical kindness finds itself unprepared for real annoyances, and my shoulders seem too weak for real burdens. People, it turns out, have an irritating way of poking the spiritual fruit on my table, only to reveal just how many of those apples and pears are plastic.
I might prefer holiness to be a more private affair, a halo that hangs over my solitary head. But “holiness,” John Stott helpfully reminds me, “is not a mystical condition experienced in relation to God but in isolation from human beings. You cannot be good in a vacuum, but only in the real world of people” (Message of Ephesians, 184). True holiness may begin between God and the soul, but it finds full expression in community with other people—other wonderful, glorious, frustrating, and sometimes offensive people.
Which explains why, again and again, the New Testament describes the authentically holy life using two simple words: “one another.”
Around fifty times in the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles tell us to feel, say, or do something to “one another.” We are to care for one another and bear with one another, honor one another and sing to one another, do good to one another and forgive one another. And then there is the grand, overarching, most-repeated one-another, the command that “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14): “Love one another.”
The one-anothers do not exhaust our obligations to other Christians (many communal imperatives do not include the phrase “one another”), but together they offer a brilliant picture of life together under the lordship of Christ—and not only under the lordship of Christ, but also in the pattern of Christ. For, rightly grasped, the one-anothers are nothing less than the life of Christ at work in the people of Christ to glory of Christ.
Consider, for example, how even in a community-oriented passage like Colossians 3:12–17 (which includes three one-anothers), Paul can’t stop talking about Jesus. Our new character—compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient (verse 12)—reflects “the image of its creator,” Christ (verse 10). We forgive “as the Lord has forgiven [us]” (verse 13). Our unity reflects “the peace of Christ” (verse 15); our words flow from “the word of Christ” (verse 16). In fact, whatever we do in community, we do “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (verse 17). For here, “Christ is all, and in all” (verse 11).
The one-anothers, then, are earthly dramas of heavenly realities; they are the love of Christ played out on ten thousand stages. So, with this pattern in mind, we might fruitfully consider the one-anothers in five categories: have his mind, offer his welcome, speak his words, show his love, and give his grace.
1. Have His Mind
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count [one another] more significant than yourselves.
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.
(1 Peter 5:5)
We might easily launch into the one-anothers wondering about all we should do for our brothers and sisters in Christ—and indeed, the one-anothers call us to do much. But before we say or do anything for one another, God calls us to feel something toward one another. “Have this mind among yourselves,” he says, “which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). And this mind, or attitude, can be captured in one word: humility.
It is possible—frighteningly possible, I’ve discovered—to externally “obey” the one-anothers with a mind utterly at odds with Christ. It’s possible to greet one another with a smile that hides bitterness; and encourage one another with a grasping, flattering heart; and bear one another’s burdens with a messiah complex. In other words, it is possible to turn the one-anothers into subtle servants of Master Self.
Humility, however, clothes us with the others-oriented attitude of Christ. Humility puts a pair of eyeglasses on the soul, allowing us to see others without the blurring of selfishness. And humility, in its own miniature way, follows the same descent Christ took when he “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8). It goes low to lift others high—and doesn’t scheme for how it might lift self too.
In a Spirit-filled community, we all (no matter how tall) look up at each other, not down; we jostle to kneel and hold the towel; we choose the seat of the last and the least—because we remember how Jesus did the same for us.