In the life of the believer, there can be tendency to make a spiritual to-do list of the “one-another” commands—the fifty-nine or so phrases sprinkled throughout the New Testament that characterize our Christian responsibility of love toward one another, literally signified by the words “one another.” Given both the sheer number of them and their varying difficulty to apply, remembering all of these responsibilities we have for others in the church—let alone living them out faithfully—seems a task impossible for even the most mature believer. Thus, the one-anothers become a to-do list of recurring responsibilities, with some consistently lived out, some pursued when convenient, and yet others neglected.
The one-anothers form a crucial category of instruction for the life of the church that reflects the Christlike love we are to have for each other, enumerating elements of care for one another in the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:25), bearing the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the church (Gal 5:22–23), and ultimately forming a testimony of the Gospel to the world (John 13:34–35). In and of themselves, the one-anothers are filled with action: we are to love, care for, serve, bear with, bear the burdens of, teach, comfort, encourage, pray for, confess to, be kind to, stir up, and exhort one another—to name a few. That’s a lot to do.
Amidst this plethora of church life to-dos, there are a few underlying actions that are constantly running in the background—simple actions that are integral to the one-anothers as a whole. What goes on in our hearts and minds when the church is living out the one-anothers like it should? How exactly should we embark on this intimidating endeavor of devoting ourselves to the one-anothers? Here are 4 actions that set a foundation for a life committed to the one-anothers:
1. The one-anothers give.
As responsibilities of love that are centered on others in the body of Christ, the one-anothers are inherently a giving endeavor. When you live out the one-anothers, you give of yourself: your time, your attention, your rights, your preferences, or your resources. You make a conscious decision to let go of whatever it might take in order to best love, serve, or care for someone else. The idea that because you are a follower of Jesus, you would divest of yourself to benefit others (and not just as a tax-deductible good deed for the day), is a radical concept in a world that measures in net worth, uplifts self-worth, and revolves around you. But that’s exactly what we are called to in the one-anothers—a lifestyle of giving, that others would be benefitted, encouraged, and helped, and the body of Christ built up.
The basis for this kind of selfless giving is our Savior’s own giving of Himself, even unto death (Phil 2:3–8). In His example, we see a mindset of service toward one another such that you “consider others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). Beyond being the ultimate example for the kind of humility that is fixed on serving and loving others, the truth is that this redeemed mindset is also “yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
Thus, enabled by the Spirit and given the mind of Christ, we can give like He gave and die to ourselves like He died, all for the benefit of others around us.
Whether it’s giving up your rights to hold something over someone when we forgive one another (Eph 4:32), giving up your entitlement to your opinions and preferences as you pursue living in harmony with one another (Rom 15:5), or giving of yourself in terms of emotion, effort, or resources as you seek to love others earnestly from a pure heart (1 Pet 1:22)—the one-anothers give.
2. The one-anothers listen.
How can we most helpfully care for one another, bear one another’s burdens, comfort one another, or pray for one another? We must listen. We must be keenly aware of others’ actual struggles, sorrows, burdens, and needs. We must therefore, with our ears, seek to understand others in order to appropriately and selflessly carry out our responsibility of love for one another. The kind of listening integral to the one-anothers is admittedly different from the kind of listening we first think of in Scripture (that of listening to God and His Word), but all species of listening share the common posture of humble receptiveness.
When we choose to listen to the Word of God, we exercise humility before the God whose word it is; when we choose to listen to someone else as they share their heart, we exercise humility with a fellow image-bearer.
By listening, we acknowledge that we do not yet fully know someone else’s situation and combat the instinct to instantaneously assess their heart or their needs without their input. We must first listen in order to understand their heart and their needs, and then seek to fulfill those needs in the one-anothers.
Scripture is loaded with instances of God’s listening presence for His people, which is a powerful paradigm for the connection between listening and love for others. One poignant example is at the end of Exodus 2, when God heard the groaning of His people, remembered His covenant, and simply “knew” (Exod 2:21–23). A similar concept is seen all over the Psalms, as the psalmists cry out to God for Him to “give ear to my word” (Ps 5), “hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer (Ps 61), and “hear my prayer, O Lord (Ps 102; 143). The Psalms also display the worshipful response of the psalmist to God’s listening presence, epitomized in Psalm 116:
“I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.”
With God, to be heard in prayer is to experience His steadfast love and care. That is exactly why listening must be at the very heart of our pursuit of the one-anothers. To listen is to receive, storing up consideration and context for our care, so as not to jump to conclusions or rush to hasty judgment. To listen is to begin the process of care, concern, and love in other’s lives, gathering and observing important information to then be able to love and serve others in appropriate ways, to forgive one another and not offend in the process, and pray for one another with specificity and empathy. When we listen well in our pursuit of the one-anothers, we begin to manifest the same listening and comforting presence for one another as God does for us. It is when we listen that we then have an opportunity to practice the one-anothers that much more helpfully.
3. The one-anothers speak.
Alongside the importance of listening, we must also understand the importance of speaking as we seek to live out the one-anothers. When we think of what Scripture has to say about the use of our words, we mainly (and rightfully) think of the need to tame the fire that is the tongue (James 3:1–12). But our speech must be much more than just something to control. In fact, the one-anothers reflect the value of words used well, found in our encouraging, comforting, stirring up, and exhorting one another. If in the one-anothers we are seeking to give of ourselves generously, our words are perhaps the most valuable currency we can give. Many of the one-anothers require that we use our words in a way that is “good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). In that seasoned-with-salt style, Hebrews 3:13 captures well the overall intent of speaking in the one-anothers: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
What if, as we thought about how we use our words, we considered the positive effect they could have in the one-anothers just as much as we considered the damaging effects of the tongue? What if, out of a desire to earnestly love one another from the heart, we began to think about how we could speak more warmly and humbly, or how we could ask more thoughtful and helpful questions of others to draw out what was on their hearts? What if we encouraged more, followed up on our last conversations better, challenged one another more, warned each other of the deceitfulness of sin more faithfully, and affirmed others more generously—all with our words? In pursuit of the one-anothers, we ought to develop new channels of communication in our words to others—expanded vocabulary and tone, so to speak, and a new willingness to use our words in ways the benefit others. Through our speech, we have the opportunity to deepen our relationships, stirring up more spiritual fodder for growth, sharpening, and challenging.
4. The one-anothers pray.
Perhaps most significantly, a faithful pursuit of the one-anothers requires devotion to prayer, in ways that are both preparatory and powerful.
On a deep level and on a daily level, we must prepare our hearts in prayer, submitting our will to God’s and therefore cultivating a willingness to be an instrument in God’s work in others’ lives.
If we are going to forgive, care for, love, bear with, comfort, and confess to one another like we should, we must first do the preparatory heart work of conforming our will to the Father’s. This heart of submission to God’s will is demonstrated in the “Your will be done” posture of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9–13), and exemplified vividly by Christ Himself in His submission to the Father in Gethsemane (Matt 26:39). As we devote ourselves to carrying out God’s will in the one-anothers after the pattern of our Savior, it is only fitting that we engage in the overt act of submission that is prayer.
We must also pray because it is in prayer that we turn our hearts to acknowledge and ask God to work in and through us. We must, in prayer, recognize and request great things of the awesome power of God in our pursuit of love for others in the church. Everything we do in the one-anothers, whether via giving, listening, or speaking, must be undergirded constantly by prayer. Anything we hope to accomplish in our stirring one another up to love and good deeds, our bearing one another’s burdens, our hospitality to one another, our exhortation of one another, or our serving one another—can only flourish by the power of God. So, we must pray. As we live out the one-anothers, the Ephesians 4 building up of the body of Christ will occur because God is at work, so we must faithfully ask Him to work.
As we give, listen, speak, and pray in living out the one-another’s, would Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9–12 be the tenor of our prayers as we seek to present others mature in Christ through the one-anothers:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”