'One anothering' is a term I have heard since the early days of our church (which started in 2003). While it may seem slightly strange – even old-fashioned perhaps – it is still one that continues to challenge and motivate me today.
So why 'one anothering'?
There are 100 instances of the phrase 'one another' in the New Testament, with almost half of them being direct instructions to the church.
A third of those instances are about loving one another, while another third instruct us on unity. I really believe that God wants us to take these verses seriously and wake up to the fact that being a Christian isn't about being isolated, focusing on what we feel we want to do in order to express our faith. It is about being together, and learning to look out for one another.
We've already seen how caring for each other, yes even those we may find difficult, is actually a way that we grow into maturity as a Christian, but it's more than that. One anothering expresses God's heart for His community.
I'm going to unpack some of the 'one another' verses here, as well as include the references of many others so that you can look them up and reflect on them for yourself.
'A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.' (John 13:34-35).
(Other verses with 'love one another' include: Romans 13:8, 1 Peter 3:8, 1 John 3:11, 23, 4:11, 12, 2 John 5. 'Love each other' is found in John 15:12, 17, 1 Peter 4:8)
I don't think this could be any clearer could it? A direct 'command' from Jesus, but the way that we are able to do it is revealed too: 'As I have loved you'. It is as we accept Jesus' love that it can be poured out from us to love those around us. This isn't a stark command that He expects us to love in our own strength, but we are to look to His example and the Holy Spirit's help. There is a sobering part to this though: people will recognise we are His disciples if we love one another. If we don't? Well...
'Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.' (Romans 12:10).
This verse is about 'preferring' others over yourself. It can be quite a difficult discipline to master as our society wires us for selfishness doesn't it? Philippians 2:3 also says 'In humility value others above yourselves'. The idea of honouring one another seems almost counter-cultural and yet it can make such a difference to a church community that is seeking to care for one another. Indeed the culture of honour is one that Bethel Church in Redding, California strongly advocates (Danny Silk, in his book Culture of Honour, says that honouring one another has so changed their relationships and the way they 'do' church, that it has sustained the 'revival culture' and supernatural experiences they continue to enjoy.)
Whatever church context you are a part of, taking the simple step of thinking about how often you look to others' needs before your own can be very revealing.
'Be patient, bearing with one another in love.' (Ephesians 4:2)
Ouch. This is one verse that we could wish we didn't have to read in the Bible. We have to 'bear' not only with our friends but those that regularly wind us up the wrong way. Just think: how often are you impatient with your friends? Do you quickly apologise when it happens? And what about those you would say aren't your close friends – the ones least like you in your church? How do you show patience towards them?
'Serve one another humbly in love.' (Galatians 5:13)
Jesus really modelled this in His life with His disciples didn't He? He had to spell out to them that His was a kingdom that turned the order of things upside down when they were fighting over who might get to sit next to Jesus in His kingdom. He said: 'whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Matthew 20:26–28).
One of the most poignant moments of Jesus doing this was when He washed His disciples feet (see John 13:1–17). Just imagine the grime and smells He would have encountered as He did so. While we may not be called to wash our congregations' feet, what cultural equivalent do you think you could do to show you truly want to serve those around you?
Another great way to serve is to approach the church leadership team and ask if there is any area of ministry that is understaffed with volunteers. Offer to fill the space, regardless of whether it is an area you would naturally choose to serve in(if it isn't a good fit I'm sure you will all work that out – the idea behind this is cultivating that humble heart too).
'Spur one another on towards love and good deeds.' (Hebrews 10:24)
I think this is a great reminder as to why church community is so good for us. We need those in our lives who encourage us to be the best we can be – and do the same for our friends too. Indeed in 1 Thessalonians we are urged to 'Encourage one other' (4:18 and 5:11).
Life is tough – it's no good getting together and pretending otherwise. There will be plenty of periods in our lives when we will be tempted to give up. Having those around us cheering us on, sticking with us through the bad as well as good times, makes such a difference.
Do you have someone that you can truly be yourself with? That you can share your tears as well as your best moments with? Who will show you, gently but honestly, when you are choosing to believe lies about yourself and your situation? Who will pray for you and with you regularly, and encourage you to continually act out your faith in your everyday life? Someone that you do all of the above for too? If not, why not start praying who you could draw alongside and start to cultivate this type of relationship with.
I've only looked briefly at five verses here, but I do believe that the sheer number of 'one another' verses in the New Testament reveals to us that this concept is one God wants us to take seriously. Is there any one that I have mentioned above that has particularly challenged you? Why don't you try and do something about it today?