Members of One Another
I have recently come across a little booklet with the title One Another. Its subtitle explains what it is all about and this is what it says: Some of the NT’s teaching on how Christians should relate to each other as members of the church. The author then goes on to look briefly at seven different areas of that teaching. He concludes by declaring that he has not attempted to cover all the "one another" commands but that to do so would be a good and worthwhile study. So for a few weeks we will seek to do just that.
In the Bible I personally use, the ESV, the phrase "one another" appears 100 times in the NT and most of them refer to Christians. They cover a wide range of subject matter though a number of subjects come to the fore again and again. So let’s start and see what there is for us to learn.
Our text speaks about membership. Now, when we say that a person is a ‘member’ of something we probably think of a sports club or something similar. When Paul used the word however he had something else in mind.
Paul used the word ‘member’ in a medical or anatomical sense. In that context a ‘member’ was a general word for a limb or organ of the body – it referred to an arm or a leg or an eye etc. This is the picture that lies behind the description of Christians being ‘members of Christ’ or of the ‘body of Christ’. Understanding this will enable us to get a proper grasp of what the Bible means when it talks about fellowship for the word fellowship means "shared life". Just as the different organs of the body share and participate in the life of the body, so Christians, in the fellowship of a church, are to share their lives with one another.
Every Christian is, through faith, ‘in Christ’ for this is the way in which we are saved. Being in Christ he covers all our sins and his righteousness is counted as our own:
Rom.8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
It is this "being in Christ" that both explains and provides the basis of our fellowship with one another as believers. As believers we are all in him and we are all seen as members or parts of the same body. This means that we share the same life which is the life of the Spirit:
This spiritual reality is worked out practically in the life of the local church. Remember that when you read Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:
1Cor.12:27 "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."
Our being "in Christ" in this way means that our membership of the church is not to be conceived of in the same way as the membership of some other kind of club or society though of course there are some similarities. We can contrast membership of a church with membership of a club in the following ways:
Our bond in the church is our common life in the Holy Spirit while the bond holding club members together is a common interest.
In church our belonging is to Christ and to each other whereas in a club we simply belong to the club.
The church focuses upon relationships and the club has its focus set upon certain activities.
The church’s purpose is service but the club exists to provide enjoyment
Nor are we meant to think of our membership of the body of Christ, the church, as an interesting picture and nothing more – there is a profound reality involved here too. The apostle Paul discovered this before he ever became a follower of Christ. Do you remember his meeting with the risen Christ on the Damascus road? In that encounter Jesus challenged him concerning his behaviour. Paul, then known still as Saul, had been going about persecuting the church but Jesus interpreted this differently:
Acts 9:4 "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
This made an evident impression upon Paul because on two further occasions in the Acts he referred to this exact same truth repeating Jesus’ words that had been spoken to him years earlier (Acts 22:7; 26:14).
Practical in its Effects
With such an understanding it is inevitable that this common life in the Spirit will express itself in mutual care and service. Just as the individual organs of the human body function together for the good of the whole so will the individual members of a church cooperate to promote the good of the church as a whole. Hands are used to wash the face; eyes are used so the foot doesn’t step into a puddle (or worse!) Similarly church members with different gifts and abilities will each help the other for the common good.
It is the Spirit of God who, giving us a new nature, equips us with the gifts and graces we have. It is he who enables us to produce fruit in our lives, fruit which will help us relate better towards others:
Every Christian is to bear this fruit for as you recognise a tree by the fruit it produces so the true follower of Jesus will be recognisable by this fruit that he produces.
If every Christian ought to bear similar fruit the same is not true concerning the gifts he has received. Christians possess different spiritual gifts:
Paul then went on to mention a variety of gifts: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving with generosity, leading with zeal, performing acts of mercy with cheerfulness.
All these gifts, and many others too, are designed to be used in the church, not for personal gratification or enjoyment, but for the building up and for the comfort of others
1Pet.4:10 "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:"
This is the background that we must understand if we are to comprehend the varied "one another" commands we are given in the NT and to which we shall return DV in the coming weeks.
"They said to one another"
We will continue this evening by looking at a number of verses that underscore this aspect of relationship that is to occupy such a prominent place in the life of the church.
If you were to take a concordance and look up all the references that contain the words "one another" you would, I think, be struck by how many of them describe the fact that Christians communicated with each other. Then once you had noticed how often they did that you would want to look a bit more closely to see the things they did talk about and how.
I did this during the week and this is what I discovered.
Sometimes their speaking to one another was the simple and natural expression of friendship
This sort of detail is easy to miss as it seems so ordinary we can just pass by without noticing it at all. Towards the end of Paul’s third missionary journey he stopped for a while at Tyre where he looked up the disciples who lived there. Soon it was time to travel on to Jerusalem and when it did come this is what happened:
What could be more normal than that? But it is clear evidence that Christians related socially to each other and communicated between themselves. The NT portrait of the Christian is not of a series of independent isolated believers but of people enjoyment warm human relationships with each other. This picture is confirmed by the events that took place at the next stop on Paul’s journey:
v.7 "When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day."
And so the journey continued.
Such brotherly relations were considered of such importance that we don’t only read about them but we also find commands being issued to churches to make sure they act in this warm and friendly way:
Rom.16:16 "Greet one another with a holy kiss."
This command is found more than once in the NT.
Sometimes their exchanges were unhelpful
The early Christians didn’t by any means always get things right. That fact itself should be an encouragement to us – we’re not the only ones who mess up! But then also the fact that the Lord didn’t give up on these imperfect believers is an indication that he won’t give up on us when we do get things wrong, even when we might do say in a spectacular fashion!
On one occasion the disciples had been relating to each other and they had had some degree of disagreement among themselves too. But when Jesus spoke to them they suddenly became aware that the subject that had absorbed them was not an honourable one. Although to talk amongst themselves was usually a good thing it hadn’t been this time:
Mk. 9:34 "But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest."
It is a sad truth too that Christians can be back-
Jas.4:11 "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge."
Well, maybe you don’t think that you would behave like that – I hope that would be true for all of us – but what about grumbling? How easy that is! But James with his concern for the way in which the Christian uses his tongue has yet more to say to us:
Jas.5:9 "Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door."
For the most part however when believers are said to speak to one another is it to engage in some form of spiritual discussion.
Sometimes this was done as a means to reflecting upon something they didn’t immediately understand and so they discussed with a view to finding answers to their questions.
Sometimes they talked together in order to share their problems with a view to finding a solution problems.
Sometimes they shared in order to encourage and to be encouraged.
They were not ashamed or embarrassed to own their ignorance or their weakness – I wonder are we? Or perhaps sometimes we are simply not motivated enough to want to move forward in our understanding and in our obedience.
They discussed among themselves concerning their Lord:
Jesus frequently surprised his followers and they were very ready to discuss their confusion among themselves:
His control over nature affected them and they talked about it.
When he subdued a violent storm:
Mk.4:41 "they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"
He spoke in vivid language that sometimes they didn’t immediately understand.
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod – he said but they didn’t know what to make of his words:
Mk.8:16 "And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread."
I have food to eat you know nothing about – he said:
Jn.4:33 "So the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought him something to eat?""
Sometimes his language was enigmatic and they were flummoxed:
Jn.16:17 "So some of his disciples said to one another, "What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?""
The ladies making their way to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid managed to forget everything he had said about being raised from the dead. They wanted to serve him but how?
Mk.16:3 "And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?"
How good it is to talk about the Lord together! But sometimes it seems that the last thing Christians will talk about together is the Lord himself! And yet what a joy it is to know that the Lord is speaking to a brother or dealing with a sister! If something has struck you in your daily Bible reading or in some Christian book you’ve been reading then don’t keep it to yourself alone – I for one would love to hear that he is thrilling you, or challenging you or correcting you. Don’t feel as though you have to come up with something new either. A simple, foundational truth that has come to you with perhaps a freshness and a renewed vigour is great to hear – after all we don’t need or want novelties we want reality and we want the old paths, and it is safe for us to hear those things over and over again!
And there are positive effects when wholesome debate takes place:
Mk.12:28 "And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?"
To speak about the Lord is always an encouragement to the believer but it is also possible for the believer to speak in such a way that he encourages another believer to do the right thing.
The shepherds in the Christmas narrative come into this category. After they had heard the good news the angel had brought them they spoke to each other mutually encouraging an appropriate response:
Lk.2:15 "When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."
It seems to me that this is what Joshua had intended centuries before when he had declared his intentions to the people of Israel. He didn’t speak simply to inform but he wanted others to follow his example:
Jos.24:15 "But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Finally we find a number of direct straightforward commands telling us to speak to one another – and you can’t do that without some form of personal contact/relationship. How important this common life is!
Being filled with the Spirit we are to:
Eph.5:19 "address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all our heart"
As the word of Christ dwell in us we are to:
Col.3:16 "teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, (by) singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in our hearts to God."
And we are to warn each other for sin is so treacherous and we might otherwise be caught out:
Heb.3:13 "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."
We are a friendly church but let us make sure that we seek God’s help to be a spiritual church too, that we might truly be members of Christ and members of one another.
And to God be the glory!