Don’t “Other” One Another

The Bible is filled with ‘one another’ commands. As a Christian, there is an overwhelming life handbook of how we should treat one another. The Overview Bible has designed this amazing infographic of the commands:

They sort the commands into 3 main areas:

  • Unity – 13 areas of unity such as, “be at peace with one another”, “forgive one another”, “don’t complain against each other”
  • Love – 5 areas about love such as, “love one another”, “tolerate one another in love”, “be devoted to one another in love”
  • Humilty – 7 commands towards humility such as, “wash one another’s feet”, “serve one another”, “regard each other as more important than yourselves”

They have a 4th category of miscellaneous commands, such as: “don’t judge one another”, “pray for one another”, “bear one another’s burdens”

So, if the Bible gives clear teaching on how we are to treat one another, why don’t more Christians do a better job conducting themselves according to this biblical standard they say is true. After all, not only are these clear commands about how the church is to treat each other, when not practiced they also lead to the most despised trait of the church in the eyes of the world, hypocrisy. Many people outside the church are generally familiar with the claims of the Bible, and when they see the actions of the church towards each other, they find it lacking.

This is completely contrary of the intent of the teaching of Jesus. The Church started out with nothing, they didn’t have money, power or resources, but they had their faith and through faith in Christ, they could obey these difficult commands. They could look around in the room at their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and realize that even if they didn’t agree about everything, they were in it together. They could love one another in Christ in all the ways taught in the NT, but only through His power, not through their own capability. As they did this, the testimony of the church was powerful. They preached the truth of the Gospel, Christ crucified and raised from the dead, and salvation through faith in His triumph over sin and death, but they also demonstrated that their lives had been changed for the better by that Gospel, not just for eternity, but for their community.

Today, it seems like we are missing the impact of this in many of our local churches. Here are three key reasons I think this happens:

First, there is the tendency to other, “one anothers”. I’m using other as a verb to illustrate the idea of dividing someone into a group different than our own. Maybe it is just a loose definition of the term, one another. We divide people from us so we don’t have to count them as people who need to be treated in the way the Bible defines. We make them “others” not “one anothers”. In the Bible, the community of faith is a “we”. People exist together and they treat each other as a part of their own group. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul told the church, they were the body of Christ. They were all pieces of the same body. This was a powerful illustration of what it means to be a group of “one anothers” not others. People in your church aren’t a decoration for the body, like an article of clothing or jewelry, they are the body itself. A part of the body that serves a purpose and is connected to the whole. This is meant to change our perspective and help us see the importance of taking care of our whole body. When we see things like this, it becomes easier to carry out the one another commands.

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The second area of struggle is the overall lack of community in the modern church. It is much easier to other one another, when we don’t really know one another. The NT community that Paul and others were writing to were intimately involved in each other’s lives. They knew what was going on and practiced Biblical community by spending time together. In some cases, they may have had less available time than we do today when you consider hours worked and daylight hours, but it was a priority to make time for relationships. The transitory lifestyles that many people live these days make it difficult to build strong, lasting relationships where people are used to being in each other’s lives. But with effort, we can connect with people in our local church. Without community, it is very easy to other one another. 

The third reason we don’t practice it is our disobedience to a particular command, Galatians 6:2, “bear one another’s burdens.” We generally ignore this because we are very independent. In the modern world, especially in western culture, people don’t want to appear weak and needy. Instead they want to present themselves as the person who has it all together and is very successful. Part of this comes from living in great wealth compared to every non aristocratic class in every period of history before this one, but it is also seems to be an unhealthy dose of pride. It is much more common in churches for people to put on the Sunday morning facade of “everything is fine” than to transparently share our true burdens in life. Developing the habit of sharing our burdens with one another, encourages the church to see each other as a true body.

The irony is by disobeying the commands of Scripture in the one another’s, we all suffer. Our churches are weaker, our marriages are more likely to be a struggle, we lose access to the wisdom of the body and we become more likely to be disconnected from Christ. God has given us to each other as a wonderful gift in order to encourage one another, love one another, serve another, etc, and the greatest barrier to receiving this gift is the walls we put up when we “other” one another.

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