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In the New Testament, there are numerous instances of the phrase “one another” You’ve probably heard some a few times, such as when Jesus tells his disciples to “love one another” in John 13:34.
The phrase derives from the Greek word allélón (pronounced phonetically as al-lay’-lone). It means “one another” or “each other”. In the New Testament, there are 100 occurrences of the word in some form or other. For the form allēlōn, there are 20 occurrences, while for allēlois there are 13 occurrences, and 67 occurrences for allēlous.
Although these occur 100 times, not all of these are actual one another statements or sayings. When we refer to the phrase “one another statements”, we don’t simply mean occurrences of that word. Instead, they refer specifically refers to a set of exhortations or instructions on how one believer ought to behave in relation to another. Generally speaking, it usually comes in the Greek form allēlous.
Jesus spoke these statements a number of times, such as in the phrase “love one another”. However, the larger percentage comes from the writers of the Epistles such as Paul or Peter, such as in the phrase “bear one another’s burdens”. They provide instruction on how to act or not act towards each other.
One another statements – for the purpose of community
The one another statements are designed for the purpose of building up community and relationships. God created us in His image. God is a Trinitarian God who is three persons in one. This means that He created us to be in relationship with each other just as the three persons of the Trinity are in close relationship with each other.
The one another statements are there to address various situations and encourage better interpersonal relations between Christians. I’m not going to go into detail about each individual one another statement here at all. Each one could easily be a post in itself.
Instead, I want to highlight 4 main themes running through the one another statements. These are: “love“, “unity“, “servanthood/ humility” and “encouragement/edification.”
There is some overlap between the statements when you examine the context of the original passages in more detail. Some of the sayings would easily fit into the other categories.
4 themes in the “one another statements” of the New Testament
The exhortation to “love one another” occurs numerous times throughout the gospels or epistles.
Jesus Himself says in John 13:34-35
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In addition to the phrase “love one another”, we also find similar phrases such as “love each other deeply” (1 peter 4:8) or “be devoted to one another in love” (Romans 12:10).
There are 4 types of love expressed in the Bible. These are erōs, which refers to romantic or sexual love, storgē which refers to family love between a parent and child or brothers and sisters, philía, which refers to friendship love, and agápē, which refers to God’s love which is unconditional and sacrificial love.
When Jesus commands us to love one another as He loved us, He wants us to demonstrate an unconditional agape love towards each other.
“Love one another” could easily encompass the entire range of sayings as a general statement of how to act towards each other. After all, Jesus summarised the 10 commandments in the form “Love God and love your neighbour” (Mark 12:30-31). Loving our neighbour necessarily involves loving one another.
However, this statement might not address every situation. While it is broad enough to apply, sometimes we need a few more details for different kinds of situations. Fortunately for us, the New Testament does exactly this with the other themes found below.
If you’ve ever read Gary Chapman’s bestseller, The Five Love Languages, you may be familiar with the concept of five different ways to express or experience love, which he refers to as “love languages.” Briefly speaking, these are physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and giving gifts.
As we examine the one another statements below, we’ll see that there is also some overlap with these five love languages. Part of loving each other is being welcoming towards other Christian brothers and sisters and expressing our love or affection towards them. St Paul tells us to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (eg Romans 6:16).
The remaining one another statements can be seen as expressions of love, or the outward working of these love relationships in different situations. In fact, the other themes could really be subsets of the larger set titled “love”. If you think about it, they are all essentially expressions of love and how to love one another.
This is the largest section of one another statements. These focus on how to deal with certain relationships that have become fractured, how to take preventative measures to avoid disunity, or how to improve community in general. Unity is integral to the life of the church and harmonious relationships within the body of Christ.
Thus, within this category, you’ll find exhortations such as 1 Corinthians 1:10 which says:
10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
God calls us to be of one mind as members of the same body of Christ. We’re to have that singular purpose of bringing God’s Kingdom.
We can see an example of how not being of one mind had an effect on a group of people. In the summer of this year, football (or soccer) fever gripped the world for an entire month over June and July during the FIFA World Cup. England as a nation were particularly excited. It was the first time in over 20 years since they had reached a semi-final and over 50 years since they last won.
Over the month, various former England team players were interviewed about the nation’s prospects of winning. One of the recurring questions was why the current team was doing a lot better while the previous team failed. The theme that kept coming up was unity. The England team is picked from the best players of individual clubs around the country. These normally play against each other in the off season. When the previous England team came together for the World Cup, they still regarded each other as members of separate clubs instead of a unified team. Rather than seeing the bigger picture and working together for a common goal, they still had plenty of rivalry between them. By contrast, the current England team were much less experienced. However, they had a better sense of community, and this reflected in their overall performance.
You can hear this discussed in more detail in the interview above. You might not be into football yourself, but the discussion is a good analogy of what happens between Christians. The previous England team were not united in mind or thought but had divisions among them. It was their disunity that brought them down. Similarly as Christians, we can get so caught up with our own churches, different doctrines and how we do things. We fail to see the bigger picture or the common goal that we share in fulfilling the great commission. Our disunity can affect our effectiveness as Christians and our overall witness.
Now this doesn’t mean that we have to all be in perfect agreement with each other. Believers have different interpretations of doctrine and opinions on how to put these into practice within a church community. However, it does involve choosing to put aside these differences for the bigger picture, which is to love one another. We can still choose to treat each other well or forgive each other.
Thus, we find statements such as “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Rom 15:7), “forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another” (Col 3:13), or “don’t grumble against each other…” (Jas 5:9) among many others exhortations which tell us how to deal with these difficult situations. We also find verses like “let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Gal 5:26). For more on how envy can destroy relationships, check out my post here.
One of Gary Chapman’s five love languages is spending quality time with each other. We also find exhortations in the New Testament to do this by sharing a meal together. In 1 Cor 11:33 it says “When you gather together to eat the Lord’s Supper, wait for one another.”
As discussed in that video above, sharing a meal and spending quality time with each other was integral to the performance of the current England team. By contrast, the previous team formed separate cliques when it was dinner time. Sometimes wouldn’t even interact with each other. That led to a lack of team spirit.
Unity is such an important theme that it has a run-on detrimental effect on the rest of our community life. Without it, we find it difficult to love each other, to serve one another or to encourage or edify each other. However, by loving each other, that is how the world will know we are Jesus’ disciples.
3. Servanthood/ Humility
Jesus’ ministry and leadership was one of serving and humility. In John 13: 1-17, He washes his disciples’ feet, a task that a slave would normally perform for their masters.
The washing of His disciples feet foreshadowed Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Greek word tithenai used in the passage here in reference to Jesus laying aside His garments is the same word used in the context of Jesus laying down His life for others. The washing of the feet then was not simply an act of humility but also symbolic of bringing the disciples to share in his death and resurrection.
By taking this servant position, Jesus demonstrated that this is what he expected of his followers. In verse 14-15 he says
14 “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
This then is how we ought to act towards one another. Since we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection, He expects us to take up this role reversal of humble service as well. We’re not to seek to put ourselves above each other but to clothe ourselves with humility and seek other’s needs above our own.
In Philippians 2:5, Paul writes: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”
He goes on to describe how Jesus took on the very nature of a servant, humbling Himself even unto death on a cross. In doing so, God exalted Him to the highest place.
Servanthood and humility roughly corresponds with Gary Chapman’s love language “acts of service.” When we serve one another, we are put each other’s needs before our own. In that way, we demonstrate our love for each other.
This overlaps with the theme of unity. Paul writes
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
If everyone were to adopt the same attitude of choosing to honour others above ourselves (Romans 12:10) and serving other’s needs rather than exalting ourselves over others, this can help build greater unity among the body of Christ.
4. Encouragement/ Edification
The last theme relates to encouragement and edification. They’re not exactly the same thing. Edification is a broader term which means to build another person up. This can include encouraging each other (1 Thess 4:18), but also things such as instructing one another (Romans 15:!4), teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16), spurring each other on (Hebrews 10:4) and so on.
Lawrence J Crabb and Dan Allender, in their book Encouragement: The Key To Caring, discuss in detail what encouragement is and is not. It can involve difficult conversations, which may potentially include admonishing others if necessary. However, it comes from a place of speaking the truth in love and openness. That means not speaking from behind a layer or facade, nor speaking to another person’s layer.
True encouragement has to come from a genuine commitment to that other person. This is where you’re speaking from your heart of love to their heart. Their heart can mean a heart of fear, in which case you may be addressing those fears as you speaking words of encouragement to it. Or you can be affirming positive qualities in the other person you already see.
Encouragement can correspond with the love language “words of affirmation” as described by Gary Chapman. When we choose to speak life giving words to each other, this has the effect of building each other up.
But admonishing, instructing or correcting should also be for the purpose of deepening our relationship with God and not simply to tear each other down. When we don’t build each other up, this has the effect of creating disunity between believers. In a sense then, this section is the other side of the coin of unity. Both go hand in hand.
Which one another statement do you find easiest to put into practice? And which one do you find the most difficult?
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.