So if our shared life in the king brings you any comfort; if love still has the power to make you cheerful; if we really do have a partnership in the spirit; if your hearts are at all moved with affection and sympathy – then make my joy complete! Bring your thinking into line with one another. Here’s how to do it. Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object. Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. [Philippians 2:1-4 (NTE)]
Yesterday, I wrote about koinonia or what I called the art of Christian community. Writing about Christian fellowship, however, can be easier than actually living in it. Just as a family has a vast array of different personalities, temperaments, and gifts, so does the church. In fact, with our sheltering in place, social distancing, working from home, having children home all day, and parks, playgrounds, gyms, and beaches all closed, some of us might be having more difficulty maintaining a spirit of fellowship with one another in our own homes than in our churches!
The Greek word used for “one another” was allelon, meaning reciprocally or mutually. Often translated as “one another,” “themselves,” “mutually,” “yourselves together,” or “each other,” allelon is used 101 times in the New Testament. 59 of those occurrences are found in specific commands teaching us how we are to relate (or not to relate) to one another. It is in those 59 commands that we learn how to have true koinonia in both church and home.
Sixteen of those allelon commands are to love one another which, at times, can be easier said than done. The other forty-three allelon commands show us what that Christian love looks like. Many have to do with empathy, compassion, and understanding. While rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep isn’t technically a “one another” command, it is followed by one that tells us to be like minded with one another. Often translated as “live in harmony,” Paul isn’t saying we all have to agree on everything; he’s telling us to adjust to one another. While we don’t have to sing the same note everyone else is singing, our song should harmonize with theirs! Along this same line, we’re told to care for and encourage one another, be kind and tender-hearted, and bear one another’s burdens.
Several allelon commands have to do with controlling our emotions. We’re told to be patient with one another, bind ourselves together in peace, warned not to grumble about one another, and cautioned to beware of destroying one another. Of course, to do that we need to overlook what we don’t like and focus on what we do. Cautioning us not to pass judgment, we’re told to bear with one another, which means treating one another with kindness and grace. Rather than demanding perfection, we are to endure the quirks and peculiarities of others. Along with the many commands about forgiving, we are told to be humble, serve one another, take delight in honoring each other, and clothe ourselves with humility. While most of us find it easy to pray for one another, confessing to one another is a bit harder; none of us want to admit being wrong and yet we often are!
“We are not strictly bound to ‘like’ one another,” wrote Thomas Merton, but he prefaced that statement with the words, “We are obliged to love one another.” Whether it’s getting along with our church family or our own family, we may not like everyone, but we can love them and seek the best for them. Rather than a warm fuzzy feeling, the love we have for one another is a lifestyle and a choice. It comes down to what Jesus said was the essence of the Law and the Prophets: loving God and loving one another. Try as we may, we can’t do it on our own strength—only through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is when we are secure in God’s love that we can share it with one another. In the spirit of true Christian fellowship, let us love one another!
What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together because they have all been loved by Jesus himself. They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. [D.A. Carson]