As we have been looking at New Testament teachings on being a healthy member of the body of Christ, we have looked at a number of things such as encouraging one another, serving in the body and serving one another, and giving. My hope has been that we all would realize how much we need each other and how much our health as a member of the body of Christ really depends on our involvement in each other’s lives. As we survey the New Testament, there are more than 50 verses that deal directly with our relationships with others, which we see in the English form of “one another.” While there are certainly a few of these that are cultural standards not currently practiced here in America (like greet one another with a holy kiss!), the majority of them apply directly to me and you.
It is interesting to note that around one-third of the one another’s deal directly with our maintaining unity with other believers in the church, such as “bearing with one another” (Ephesians 4:2), not “grumbling among one another” (John 6:43), being “at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50), not “provoking or envying one another” (Galatians 5:26), and “confessing” and “forgiving one another” (James 5:16; Ephesians 4:32). The next one-third of the one another’s deal directly with our loving one another (which is what we will look at in this final blog in this series), and then the remainder of the one another’s speak to our humility to one another…such as “submitting to one another” (Ephesians 5:21), giving “preference to one another” (Romans 12:10), and counting “others more significant” than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). There are also other commands, such as showing “hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9), stirring up “one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24), and not lying “to one another” (Colossians 3:9). So as you can see, the Lord’s design of the body of Christ was definitely designed so that we would be constantly interacting with one another.
In various places in the New Testament, we are commanded to “love one another,” “love one another earnestly,” “love one another with brotherly affection,” and “love one another as I have love you.” As we all know, loving one another is tough enough, but loving one another as Christ has loved us…now that is next to impossible. Think about the tensions that run just between family members, and one can easily see how it would be difficult to love others in the church the same way Christ loved us. However, I believe it is very much worth our time and effort to do so since Christ says it is by the love that we have for one another that all people will know that we are His disciples.
So, what should our love for one another look like?
The other day I was reading the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians where Paul is thanking God for all of those who were believers in Thessalonica, mentioning them in his prayers constantly. He writes this in verse 3, “Remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek word that is translated labor here is the word kopos, which in classic Greek means striking or beating. Tragic poets used this word to denote one striking the breast in lamentation; in other words, the poets were describing the weariness that the physical striking would produce as one did this over and over again. This word is used frequently in Paul’s writings to describe the weariness that is experienced when we labor or toil. And that’s the word Paul uses here to describe their love for one another – what a perfect way to describe putting our love into action.
Loving one another as Christ has loved is definitely a tall order (I believe all of us would agree with that). Think about what that means. First, we must unconditionally love one another – our love for one another must constantly spring from our new covenant heart to love God and others as ourselves instead of basing it on how others treat us. Secondly, we must put others before ourselves by following the example of Christ, who lowered himself to become a foot-washing servant. There is no job too dirty or too low for expressing our love for one another. Third, our love for one another must be sacrificial. Though Christ was God and the creator, he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of you and me, and humbling himself to die for our sins on the cross so that we could be saved from eternal punishment. Finally, we must constantly be dependent on God himself in order to love one another. Christ said on the night of his betrayal in Luke 22:42-43, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” Without receiving our strength from the Lord, we would never be able to express this Labor of Love for one another.
When I think about labor and toil, I think about the work we did in Mexico years ago where we built an entire house with our hands. I remember going back to our camp at night completely exhausted and thinking to myself that I would never make it another day…asking the Lord to strengthen me for the task at hand. And that’s how I am supposed to love you and everyone else in the body of Christ, working to exhaustion with the strength that comes from depending on Him. Remember, the world will know we are His disciples by our love for one another.
How about you? Are you ready to join me in this labor of love?