Church is about relationships. How we relate to God (worship); how we relate to His Word (discipleship); how we relate to the needy (ministry); how we relate to the world (evangelism); and how we relate to one another (fellowship). Let’s focus on fellowship. The Scriptures are full of directives on how we are to relate to one another.
Paul teaches us that we are members of one another (Rom. 12:5, Eph. 4:25). This means that there is an organic unity of all believers in Christ. We are members of Him, members of His body, and thus members of one another. Understanding this is crucial to all of our relationships. It means that however we treat a member of the Body is actually how we treat Christ Himself.
The commands regarding “Body Life” are very specific. There are both positive and negative commands. We are told both what to do and what not to do. Positively we are commanded to: comfort one another (I Thess. 4:18), edify one another (I Thess. 5:11), forbear one another (Eph. 4:2), forgive one another (Col. 3:13), edify one another (Rom. 14:19), admonish one another (Rom. 15:14), admonish through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16), exhort one another (Heb. 3:13), serve one another (Gal. 5:13), bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), consider and provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24), greet one another (Rom 16:16, I Cor. 16:20, II Cor. 13:12, I Pet. 5:14), assemble together to exhort one another (Heb. 10:25), be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving towards one another (Eph. 4:32, Rom. 12:10), submit to one another (Eph. 5:21, I Pet. 5:5), receive one another as Christ received us (Rom. 15:7), care for one another (I Cor. 12:25), prefer one another (Rom. 12:10), be like-minded with one another (Rom. 12:16, 15:5), minister one to another (I Pet. 4:10), show hospitality to one another (I Pet. 4:9), confess faults one to another (Jas. 5:16), and pray for one another (Jas. 5:16).
The most often repeated command respecting Christian relationships is simply, “love one another” (Jn. 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; I Thess. 4:9; I Jn. 3:11, 16, 23; 4:7, 11-12; II 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” (John 13:34, ESV). 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).
There are also many negative commands in Scripture which teach us how not to treat one another. We are specifically forbidden to lie to another (Col. 3:9), bite, devour, and consume one another (Gal. 5:15), provoke one another (Gal. 5:26), envy one another (Gal. 5:26), take one another to court (I Cor. 6:7), be “puffed up in favor of one against another” (I Cor. 4:6), or judge one another (Rom. 14:13). Of course, every sin forbidden in Scripture applies to our relationships with one another.
Now, the question I want to ask is this: how can we nurture this kind of biblical love towards one another in practical ways? It’s one thing to see these commands on paper. It’s another thing to live them out. We need help. What can we do to help?
1. Saturate yourself in Scripture.
Paul commands: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16, ESV). Do you see the connection? As the word of Christ takes residence in your life, you will be equipped to teach and admonish others. How can you obey what you don’t remember? And how can you remember what is not etched in your mind? Familiarity with the Word is essential to Biblical relationships. Perhaps the main reason why people have difficulty getting along with others (whether in their families or in their churches) is because they do not know and obey Scripture. Why not start familiarizing your self with Scripture by looking up and studying these "one another" passages?
2. Live in covenant with your church.
Many churches today don’t have “church covenants.” Ours does. And the most God-centered churches that I know of do. What is a church covenant? It is simply a document that summarizes our Biblical responsibilities towards one another and declares our commitment to fulfill those responsibilities.
Here is the church covenant of our church (Fulkerson Park in Niles, Michigan):
As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and members of His body, we consider it our joy to live in covenant with one another. We promise to treasure the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ through passionately worshiping God, faithfully learning and living the Scriptures, regularly celebrating the Lord’s Supper, willingly participating in fellowship, joyfully submitting to our leaders, and cheerfully sharing our gifts, time, energy, and financial resources for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ in the world.
We promise to cultivate the spiritual formation of ourselves and our families through worship, meditation and prayer, to share the gospel with our fellow-man, to live like Jesus in the world, to be honest and just in our engagement with others, to avoid attitudes and actions which are destructive to the unity of the body, and to respect the Christian liberty of others, while also abstaining from practices which bring unwarranted harm to the body or jeopardize our own or another’s faith.
We promise to pursue the spiritual health and growth of this community by loving and serving one another, remembering one another in prayer, giving to one another in times of need, exhorting one another to continue in the faith, and forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. And we promise that if we should ever leave this local body, we will unite ourselves with another church of similar faith and practice.
3. Have deep friendships with other believers who will hold you accountable to walk with Jesus.
The importance of accountability cannot be over-emphasized. If you struggle in a particular area (gossip, bitterness, selfishness, lust, prayerlessness, etc.), then you should ask a brother or sister in Christ (men with men, women with women) to hold you accountable in that area. If you sin, commit yourself to confess it to them. How else can you obey the command of James 5:16?
4. Meet with other believers in small groups.
This is different from regularly assembling with the saints for worship on Sunday mornings. That is crucial. But it isn’t enough. This is joining with other believers in a more informal context for bible study, prayer, accountability, fellowship, and encouragement. The biblical basis for meeting in smaller groups is strong. Acts 2:46 indicates that believers in the early church met together regularly in their homes. Acts 12:12 describes a prayer meeting in the house of Mary. Paul taught not only publicly, but “from house to house” (Acts 20:20), indicating two kinds of gatherings: public and private. Passages like Romans 16:4-5, I Corinthians 16:19, and Philemon 2 mention assemblies in homes.
Another plank in the argument for meeting in small groups is the fact that the “one another” commands are reciprocal. They are mutual. I am to serve you. You are to serve me. I am to teach you. You are to teach me. The road runs both ways. But in most formal church settings, that doesn’t happen. When a pastor preaches on Sunday mornings, the road is running one way. From the pastor to the people. I’m not downplaying the value of that - in fact, my life and livelihood is centered around that awesome task. But that’s not all there is to Body Life. There is also to be the ministry of every member to one another. The best practical way to facilitate “every member ministry” is meeting in small groups.
When the writer of Hebrews said, “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” (Heb. 3:12-13, ESV), and “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25, ESV), he had more in mind than meeting together for worship services. Notice that he commands us to exhort one another daily. How can you exhort one another daily if you only engage one another once (or twice) a week? But if you see other believers on Sundays, and meet in a small group, and then talk on the phone, and send off e-mails, and meet for breakfast or lunch, then this daily one-anothering may begin to take place.
5. Discover and use your spiritual gift(s).
Every person in the Body of Christ has been given spiritual gifts through which to edify other believers. Ephesians 4:7 says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.” God intends for us to use these gifts of grace as means of ministering to others.
Peter describes us as “stewards” of the currency of God’s grace, saying: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace” (I Pet. 4:10, ESV). The next verse gives us a two-fold description of spiritual gifts: “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (There are more complete and complex lists in I Cor. 12:8-10, 28-30; Rom. 12:6-8; and Eph. 4:11.)
J. I. Packer describes these two categories of spiritual gifts as “gifts of speech and gifts of Samaritanship (loving helpful response to others’ physical and material needs.)” [J. I. Packer, Keep In Step With the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI.: Fleming H. Revell, 1984) 83]. The first assortment of gifts (which includes teaching, prophesying, and exhorting) are meant to edify through speaking truth to meet people’s spiritual needs. The second assortment (which includes giving, serving, and showing mercy) are intended to edify through meeting people’s physical needs. Both are to be done “by the strength that God supplies,” that God might be glorified. You see, when we minister to others through God’s strength supplied to us, the reality is that God is ministering to others through us. And so He gets the glory as the Supreme Giver.
“I don’t know my spiritual gift,” you might say. Well, it isn’t nearly as important that you identify your specific gift as it is to actively seek to build up the faith and meet the needs of other believers. In fact, I think the best way to discover your spiritual gift (or gifts) is to start looking for ways to build up others. If the Body of Christ responds positively to your efforts, then you have probably found your gift. So, focus on the purpose of all the gifts (building faith and meeting needs), and you will likely discover your specific gift.
In conclusion: we are members of the Body of Christ. Are we living like it? Are we living out the “one anothers” towards other believers in meaningful ways? Or are we living like amputated fingers or arms - cut off from the rest of the Body? Remember who you are - a member of Christ’s Body, saturate your soul with His Word, live in covenant with the church, keep yourself accountable to other believers, assemble with other believers in small groups, and develop (and use) your spiritual gifts. In so doing you will be obeying that great and awesome command: “love one another.”