"Community" is one of the current buzzwords in Christian circles today. And for good reason. The power of the gospel both creates and sustains a new community.
But what does biblical community actually look like? We get the answer from the many “one another” commands given in the New Testament. These commands, which have been called the “house rules for God’s family,” guide us in two ways. They highlight how relationships are central to healthy spiritual growth, and they show us in practical ways how to promote such growth.
I will summarize the “one another” commands in five broad categories that together offer a well-balanced prescription for healthy body life. Remember, these commands are reciprocal—we should all be on both the giving and receiving ends.
1. Get Together
At the most basic level, we must begin by getting together! This is implicit in the commands to greet one another (Rom 16:1-16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Pet. 5:14) and show hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9). You cannot get to know someone deeply if you don’t know them at all! The process begins with greeting. Saying hello. Having a conversation.
After conversation, the New Testament envisions something more meaningful: inviting other believers into your home and into your life. Of course, showing hospitality often requires self-denial and hard work, which may be one reason Peter says “show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). Most of us only welcome into our homes and lives people who are like us, those with whom we are naturally most comfortable. While it is fine for Christian hospitality to begin more or less inside our comfort zone, the idea is to push beyond it, welcoming fellow believers who may be very different from us.
We see this in Romans 14-15, where Paul exhorts the believers in Rome to extend the love of Christ to one another in spite of their different perspectives and practices in dietary matters.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Rom. 15:5-7).
Here, at the height of his argument for Christian unity, Paul points the Romans to the power, the model, and the reason for welcoming one another into their lives.
- The power for welcoming one another and living in harmony comes from God himself, “the God of endurance and encouragement” (v. 5), again acknowledging that hospitality and openness are not always easy.
- The model is Christ: “Live in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus . . . therefore welcome another as Christ has welcomed you” (v. 7).
- The reason is the glory of God: “live in harmony with one another in accord with Christ Jesus, that you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 6) and “Welcome one another . . . for the glory of God” (v. 7).
Greeting one another. Showing hospitality to one another. Welcoming one another. These are the first steps to community. To build transforming relationships with others, we have to get together.
2. Show Love
The most often repeated command regarding Christian relationships is simply, “love one another” (Jn. 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Jn. 3:11, 16, 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 Jn. 1:5). “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Jn. 13:34). Paul teaches that we fulfill the law through loving one another (Rom. 13:8). And Peter says that we are to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22).
But, of course, love is not just a sweet, sentimental feeling. Loving one another requires treating one another with the same grace and kindness, forgiveness and forbearance that Christ has extended to us. In other words, loving others is often costly and painful. But it is in the very costliness of loving others that we become more like Jesus. In fact, as the following passages of Scripture indicate, God intends our relationships to be the primary contexts for learning to follow Jesus in the path of costly love.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph. 4:31-5:2)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col. 3:12-13)
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
Have you recognized how impossible it would be to imitate Christ in his love without relationships? There is simply no way to become like Jesus without following him in the path of love. And that requires people to love. Without relationships we will not grow in Christlikeness. As John Wesley said, “There is nothing more unchristian than a solitary Christian.”
3. Share Truth
While “speaking the truth in love” need not always include the direct quotation of Scripture, when rightly practiced it will always orbit tightly around Scripture, bringing the truth of God’s Word to bear in one another’s lives. Indeed, Scripture itself commands us to instruct one another (Rom. 15:14), admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16), and edify (or build up) one another (1 Thess. 5:11). The clear implication is that 1) we must begin from Scripture, and 2) God has so arranged his church that we need others to help us better see, understand, and apply the truth of the gospel to our lives.
A similar point was made by C. S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves. In an allusion to his good friends Charles Williams (deceased at the time Lewis wrote this) and J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis wrote,
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth… we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven… for every soul, seeing Him in her own way, communicates that unique vision to all the rest . . . The more we share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.
The more we share . . . the more we shall all have. To put it as simply as possible, you and I should pursue relationships with others because our vision of Christ and his glory will be impoverished to whatever degree we are disengaged from relationships with others.
When we are in meaningful relationships with one another, we each bring a unique perspective and experience to our knowledge of Christ’s love. One person has been rescued from a menacing addiction. Another has been brought through deep suffering. Still another has been sustained by God’s grace in a difficult marriage. The list goes on. When we gather to share our stories, we see a different aspect of the diamond that is the love of Christ.
4. Confront Sin
Not only do I need the help of others to see more of Christ and his glory. I also need their help to see the sinfulness of my own heart more clearly.
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 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. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Heb. 3:12-14)
This is a serious warning that both diagnoses the problem of sin (the hardening of heart in unbelief) and prescribes the cure (exhorting one another every day). The writer warns us that an evil, unbelieving heart can lead us to fall away from the living God. This is the danger for those whose hearts are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. And the scary thing is that because sin is so insidiously deceitful, we may not even recognize the hardening process at work in our souls. But the passage also prescribes the cure: community. “Exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” We can’t see ourselves very well by ourselves! As Tripp writes,
Personal insight is the product of community. I need you in order to really see and know myself. Otherwise, I will listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own delusions. My self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror. If I am going to see myself clearly, I need you to hold the mirror of God’s Word in front of me.
The warning from Hebrews might feel unsettling to some. Does it imply that you could lose your salvation? Or, is this is passage actually addressed to false professors of faith, to unbelievers? The answer to both questions is No. The author is clearly addressing Christians, because he calls them “brothers” in verse 12 and in verse 14 confirms that “we share in Christ.” So, this is not a warning to unbelievers. But neither is he suggesting that a true believer can lose salvation.The warning is intended not to frighten us into thinking that we are unbelievers or can lose our salvation, but rather to keep us walking in faith, to keep us holding to Christ, to keep us using the means of grace God has provided for us – including community. As John Piper says, “Eternal security is a community project.”
5. Stir Up
Finally, we help one another become more like Jesus by considering one another in order to stir up love and good works. As the dying embers of a fire need to be stoked and stirred into flame again, so our hearts need to be stirred into action by the encouragement of others.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25, NKJV).
Notice that stirring up love and good works requires that we “consider one another.” I need people in my life who consider me, who study my soul, who look deeply into the patterns of my thinking, the ways of my heart. I need people who know me so well, that they know how to effectively motivate me into obedient action. So do you.
This passage also shows us that one of the motives for considering and exhorting one another is the approaching Day of the Lord. If we are tempted to give short shrift to the importance of relationships, it’s because we have adopted a mentality more characterized by this age than the age to come. This grounds our relationships in an eternal perspective, reminding us that we are all headed for an eternal destiny.
In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis clarifies what is at stake:
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
Relationships matter because you and I, to some degree, are helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. We will either help one another move toward increasing Christlikeness and everlasting glory, or we will further the progressive disintegration and corruption of our souls.
The stakes are high! The people in your life will last forever. Keep an eternal perspective and, under God’s grace, do everything in your power to use relationships for both your own and your friends’ progressive conformity to the character of Christ.
This post is a lightly edited excerpt from chapter 12 of Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change.
 John Loftness in C. J. Mahaney, ed., Why Small Groups? Together Toward Maturity (Gaithersburg, MD: Sovereign Grace Ministries, 1996) 26. A good book length study of the “one another” commands is Wayne Jacobsen and Clay Jacobsen, Authentic Relationships: Discover the Lost Art of “One Anothering” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001).
 Quoted in Whitney, 159.
 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1960, 1988) 61-62.
 Tripp and Lane, How People Change, 85
 Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002) 54.
 If this is neither a warning for unbelievers or implying that Christians can lose their salvation, you might still be wondering what the “if” is there for. “For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” In a sermon on a related passage, entitled “Final Perseverance,” Charles Spurgeon helpfully explained the role of these kinds of “if” statements. Spurgeon said,
What is the use of putting this “if” in, like a bugbear to frighten children, or like a ghost that can have no existence? My learned friend, “Who art thou that repliest against God?” If God has put it in, he has put it in for wise reasons and for excellent purposes. Let me show you why. First, O Christian, it is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves his children from falling away; but he keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In some old castle there is a deep cellar, where there is a vast amount of fixed air and gas, which would kill anybody who went down. What does the guide say? “If you go down you will never come up alive.” Who thinks of going down? The very fact of the guide telling us what the consequences would be, keeps us from it. Our friend puts away from us a cup of arsenic; he does not want us to drink it, but he says, “If you drink it, it will kill you.” Does he suppose for a moment that we should drink it. No; he tells us the consequences, and he is sure we will not do it. So God says, “My child, if you fall over this precipice you will be dashed to pieces.” What does the child do? He says, “Father, keep me; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy fear and caution, because he knows that if he were to fall away he could not be renewed, and he stands far away from that great gulf, because he know that if he were to fall into it there would be no salvation for him.” Charles H. Spurgeon, “Final Perseverance,” in The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1856, 1994 reprint) 169.
I discovered this passage from Spurgeon in Thomas R. Schreiner & Ardel B. Caneday, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), a thoughtful, yet accessible, exploration of the doctrines of perseverance and assurance and the role of the warning passages in Scripture.
 John Piper, “Eternal Security is a Community Project,” (Minneapolis, MN: Bethlehem Baptist Church, August 18, 1996), available online at: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/1996/964_Eternal_Security_Is_a_Community_Project/. Accessed March 15, 2010.
 I’m using the NKJV because it rightly shows that “one another” is the direct object of “consider.”
 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1949, 1976 revised) 45-46.