By Dawn Wilson, Crosswalk.com
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. – John 13:35
Jesus gives His disciples this measuring stick for discipleship. Stated simply, our love reveals His.
Our motivation for love is found in 1 John 4:11 and 19: we love one another because God first loved us. And John 13:34 tells us how to love: "As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus loved and gave Himself for us, and we are commanded to love others in the same way—sacrificially.
We’re to do this because we are “members of one another” in the body of Christ.
The Greek word for “one another,” allelon—translated “mutual, together, or reciprocal”—occurs more than 50 times as commands to help us relate biblically to one another. The love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, shows us how indispensable the way of love is as it is applied in an array of attitudes and actions that honor God and encourage healthy relationships. Even so, the many “one anothers” of scripture give us practical ways to express and model godly love.
Each of these “one anothers” has the potential to reveal Jesus and His love to those around us. Let’s examine seven of these commands.
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1. Honor One Another Above Yourselves
The people in this world exhibit many variations of selfishness, including self-centeredness, self-absorption, self-seeking, and self-serving. Someone who is selfish tends to care only about himself or herself and doesn’t consider others,
Honoring others above ourselves is foreign to most people; but Paul said, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Another version of that verse says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Respect for other believers should be a given. Philippians 2:3-4 says we should humbly “count others more significant” than ourselves. Instead of focusing on lifting ourselves up, we should look to the interests of other believers and consider how we might help them be faithful to God and a spiritual success. But even in the broader context of the culture, we need to “show respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7).
Another aspect of honoring others is to accept them. Paul says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). This goes beyond having a favorable opinion of another believer. It means welcoming and embracing them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
But also, regarding non-believers, Christians must remember that every person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We don’t have to like or agree with what a person says or does, but we need to approach and love them as Christ would. God is their judge, not us. As we respect others, the world may see a clearer picture of God’s love for the individual.
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2. Encourage One Another
Jesus offered encouragement when He said, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In a broken world, with trials of all kinds, Christian encouragement helps others feel loved, useful, and remembered. Encouraging words to fellow believers promote hope and point them to God’s providential care and promises.
Two tender ways to show encouragement is by comforting people in times of grief or despair, and by bearing their burdens (1 Thessalonians 4:18; Galatians 6:2). Biblical hospitality is another “one another” command (1 Peter 4:9) that offers opportunities to open our heart and home, and to come alongside to help in practical ways. We can learn to care for one another with creativity and concern.
Two other ways to encourage people involve motivating one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24); and sharing together in music to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). Our positive encouragement to live for the Lord, coupled with reminders of who God is through scripture-based music, can help others thrive spiritually.
When Christians— strong in the Spirit and the Word—encourage others to have hope, choose joy, and be strong, people will take notice. The life of the Spirit flowing through us helps the world see Jesus.
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3. Serve One Another
It’s not enough to talk about meeting others’ needs. We need to act. Paul commands the family of God to serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
Christians are called to be free in the Spirit, but we’re not to use our freedom to indulge in fleshly passions or self-interests. Instead, if we are wise, we will use our freedom to “serve one another humbly in love.” We will “wash one another’s feet” in humble service, as our Lord modeled for us (John 13:14).
Again, we look to others’ interests rather than getting wrapped up in ourselves (Philippians 2:4). We reach out with care together to meet actual needs in practical service. We might ask: What can I do to meet another’s immediate need? How can I serve someone in a practical way so he or she can take time to focus on what God has called them to do?
God has gifted each believer with spiritual gifts meant to be employed for the benefit of one another (1 Peter 4:10). As we practice using our spiritual gifts in daily living, the Lord may open our eyes to ways we can share out of those gifts with others. Spiritual gifts help to empower the “one another” commands. We reveal by our actions how much we are like our Master who came to serve.
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4. Teach One Another
While some have the spiritual gift of teaching, we are all commanded to teach one another (Colossians 3:16). Whether in the classroom, at home or in the community, teaching one another—especially in the body of Christ—brings strength and stability.
Older men and women in the church are instructed to teach the younger (Titus 2:2-5); but no matter our age, spiritually-mature Christians need to mentor and teach sound doctrine to new believers or those younger in the faith.
There are three “one anothers” related to teaching:
Build up: Paul says to pursue mutual upbuilding—to “build up” one another spiritually (1 Thessalonians 5:11). This is the process of edification that may look like instruction, coaching, mentoring, or even counseling.
Admonish: Paul says, “admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16). In its strongest definition, admonish means to warn or reprimand someone firmly with the truth. But it also can simply mean to advise or urge someone earnestly.
Exhort: To “exhort” one another (Hebrews 3:13; 10:25) is to make an appeal. We are told to exhort one another daily to live for the Lord so none of us will be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” We are to wisely and correctly handle the Word to build up, admonish, and exhort others.
Sadly, there is a dearth of strong teaching in many churches today, and a failure to address the reality of sin among God’s people. Perhaps this is why the world sometimes fails to see the power of Christ in the people who belong to Him.
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5. Live in Harmony with One Another
God’s people need to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16). Too often today, we see backbiting, gossip, judging, and numerous other attitudes and behaviors in the church that do not reflect godly unity or love.
What does harmony look like? Paul says, “Be likeminded towards one another” (Romans 15:5), and the way we do this is to have the mind of Christ. God desires we be united in peace and love in the Lord, not divisive and constantly striving with each other. The Lord’s parting prayer was a plea for our unity and peace. And Paul said, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit though the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
We live in harmony as we clothe ourselves with humility. We’re not wise in our own eyes, but we associate with, listen to, and learn from one another in meekness and love. God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble. Godly humility can lead to mutual submission “out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). The world can quickly identify pride and arrogance, but it stands amazed at a truly humble saint.
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6. Forgive One Another
One of the ways we learn to live in unity and harmony is by practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness is easier to apply when we are kind to and compassionate with one another, and when we show patience toward one another.
As we grow in our love for Jesus and others, we will want to get rid of bitterness and other negative attitudes. We will learn to give grace and make allowances for each other’s faults because of our love for God and them (Ephesians 4:2).
How are we to forgive? Colossians 3:13 says, “as the Lord has forgiven you.” When forgiveness comes hard, remember—there is simply no comparison between our difficulty to forgive those who offend or hurt us, and the choice Jesus made to forgive us on the cross. He can enable us to choose forgiveness, even when our feelings lag behind.
God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him (Daniel 9:9). He “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
What a merciful God! What a forgiving Savior! The Lord commands us to forgive others, and when we do, we illustrate to our culture the great mercies of the world’s Greatest Forgiver.
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7. Pray for One Another
For example, as we encourage others, we can pray they will be strengthened and comforted. As we teach others, we pray their minds will be enlightened and their hearts changed. As we serve others, we might pray their needs will be met in abundance and that they will glorify God.
James tells us to confess our faults to one another (James 5:16). When we do, we’ll begin to understand ways we can pray more constructively for each other. As we understand deeper heart needs and roots of sin, we can pray for spiritual change and healing. Our prayers, James says, will be “powerful and effective.”
Paul prayed some potent prayers for the church that we might want to pray for one another. (Read Ephesians 1:17-18; Ephesians 3:16-19; Philippians 1:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; and 2 Thessalonians 3:5.)
Some of the things we might pray for each other include spiritual growth, power in ministry, a greater knowledge of the Lord, and praise and glory to God. To better reveal the power of Jesus to the world, consider strengthening your “one another” prayers.
Six “One Anothers” to Avoid!
The positive “one anothers” build our relationships and bring glory to God; but the Bible also commands Christ-followers to avoid some ugly “one anothers.” When people see us living out these negative attitudes and behaviors, they have every reason to question whether we are following Jesus.
Paul says, do not lie to one another (Colossians 3:9), stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13; James 4:12), don’t bite or devour each other (Galatians 5:15), don’t provoke or envy one another (Galatians 5:26), don’t slander one another (James 4:11), and don’t grumble against each other (James 5:9).
Unfortunately, those are some blatantly sinful attitudes and behaviors in the body of Christ today. But if we truly love—obeying the “one another” commands—people will more likely see the reality of who Jesus is, and perhaps they will desire to be His disciples, too.
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