How do you describe your church? At Faith Church, we often use the term, “family.” Some call the church a flock, a congregation, a parish, or one of many of other terms. None of those are wrong. In fact, there are loads of ways the biblical authors describe the church. There’s one, though, that comes up numerous times in connection with the “One Anothers.”
The teachings of Jesus and the early church are filled with what are called the “One Anothers.” As I mentioned in the previous post, this five-part blog series is another quarterly examination of current events, but instead of picking out one particular headline, we are looking at how the “One Another” statements in the New Testament (NT) help us Christians respond to all current events. What are the “One Anothers”? They are one of the most-used phrases of the NT writers. As you read the NT, you’ll come across that phrase, or variations of it, over fifty times.
The 50+ “One Another” statements, taken together, form for us an understanding of the church. We are to see ourselves not as distinct individuals, but as a group that relates to one another.
Christians, we are a relational co-operation. We are corporate. We are people working together. One of the metaphors for the church, and there are many metaphors, but this is perhaps the most well-known, is that the church is the body of Christ.
In the first “One Another” passage that we will be looking at, the Apostle Paul mentions the body metaphor: Romans 12:3-5 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Some English versions of the Bible correctly translate that last verse this way, “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
Think about that. If there is any society or culture out there that says humans should focus on their individuality, Jesus comes along and says, “Christians should focus on our togetherness.”
Christians are inherently relational. While it is true that we are individuals, and Paul would also teach that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6), we would do well to see our relationality as equally important as our individuality. Not only have humans of all colors been made in the image of God, equally valuable, equally capable, but also all Christians are born into a new family of God, and thus Paul would write in 1 Corinthians 12:25, “There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
That equal concern is called love. And love is the foundational quality and action of our one another expression. 11 times Jesus and earliest Christians are quoted in the New Testament as saying “love one another.” Let’s start with Jesus:
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says very clearly to his disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That’s trifecta of “love one anothers”!
In the same teaching, which occurred the night he was arrested, just a few verses later he repeats himself. John 15:12, 17 “Love each other, as I have loved you.” And “This is my command: love each other.”
In these “love one anothers,” Jesus uses the primary word for love in the New Testament, agape. Agape is godly love, sacrificial love, righteous love. It is the love that is described in 1 Corinthians 13, often called the love chapter of the Bible. What Paul writes here about love is so good that is it definitely worth our time to read it.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
Though 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is a great wedding passage, Paul is not talking about spousal love here. What he says surely applies to husbands and wives. But originally, Paul was writing about the love that the members of the body of Christ should have for one another. We would do well to dwell on that list describing love. Loving one another the 1st Corinthians 13 way is a tall order, isn’t it?
But the NT writers have even more ways to talk about loving one another. In Romans 12:10a Paul says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” This is an instance of the word philadelphia. And just like the City of Brotherly Love, when the writers of the NT use the word philadelphia, they are specifically talking about the love we have for one another in the church.
This phrase shows up again in Hebrews 13:1, “Keep on loving each other as brothers.”
And 1 Thess 4:9 “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.”
Then there is the another verse that mentions both agape and philadelphia love: 1 Peter 1:22 “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”
I know we’ve had a lot of “love one anothers” so far. But don’t tune it out. Instead think about the person(s) in your church that you have a hard time loving. Seriously. Picture them in your mind. And ask God to help you replace the negative feelings with “love one another.” Do that prayerfully now as you read the rest of the “love one another” verses.
Romans 13:8 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”
1 Thess. 3:12 “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”
2 Thess. 1:3 “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.”
Then in John’s epistles we hear the command over and over.
1 John 3:11 “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”:
1 John 3:23 “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”
1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
1 John 4:11-12 “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
2 John 5 “And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.”
Is it coming through clearly enough? We, church, are a people who love one another. But how do we love one another? In the next three posts in this five-part series on the “One Anothers,” we’ll look at the many ways the writers of the New Testament use the “One Anothers” to help us apply “love one another” in practical ways in our relationships in the church.
3 thoughts on “What is the most important way to describe the church?”
Heaven on earth!
That’s a great description! Thank you!