By Aaron Earls
The New Testament is full of commands—from the lips of Jesus to the pen of Paul—that explain how Christians should seek to treat our fellow believers.
But how are we supposed to obey the dozens of “one another” Scriptures when we are and have been away from “one another.”
In one sense, our separation has been in obedience to those commands.
Churches have ceased physical gatherings out of love for each other and our neighbors, as we seek to follow medical guidelines and government restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In another sense, though, we struggle with what this new reality means for how we function as a church body that is split in various locations.
Even this should give us a better idea of the global and universal church that connects all believers as the Bride of Christ even though we do not share the same physical locale or the same time of existence.
Our separation from others in our local congregation and desire to again be with them should also kindle in us a longing to be with the entire church one day.
The recognition that we cannot fully be as we should be until we gather together physically again as a local church should grant us a better perspective on how we need all the voices of the global church to be as we should be.
But practically speaking, as we think about “one another” commandments in Scripture, church leaders should get creative in how to continue practicing them in our current context.
This crisis should also challenge us to better understand the principles at work in the biblical commands instead of merely thinking of them in terms of how we’ve always done them previously.
As an example, few U.S. churches were regularly greeting each other “with a holy kiss,” per Romans 16:16.
A pandemic is not likely to restart this practice, but it may cause us to think more deeply about how we can greet one another and be a welcoming place if we’re forced to do away with, at least temporarily, our normal conventions like shaking hands.
We may possibly begin to consider how we can actually “welcome one another, just as Christ also welcomed you” (Romans 15:7).
Here are nine other “one another” commands and how we should be thinking about them in our current circumstances.
1. Pray for one another (James 5:16).
Often times churches hand out prayer lists which can be helpful reminders, but they can also blind us to needs outside of those and discourage us from reaching out to ask others what they need.
Ask others how you can pray for them and take the time to actually take their request to Christ. Take the initiative to seek out ways to pray for others.
2. Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16).
For starters, this may help us better recognize those in our own home as part of our “one another” and seek to live in harmony with our spouses and children.
But there are still ways to promote harmony (or, conversely, sow discord) while we are physically separated.
Are you using your time away from others to develop a harmonious heart that will joyfully come together with others when the time arrives?
Or, instead, are you cultivating division through limited means now (gossiping and slandering via texts and tweets) until you can do so even more in person?
3. Serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
As you’ve proactively gathered ways to pray for those in your church, what if God is using you as a means to answer that request.
How can you help those who are struggling economically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, physically? What can you do to serve those in your congregation?
4. Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32).
Obviously, we don’t need to be in physical proximity of someone to forgive them, but this crisis may reveal unforgiveness in our hearts.
Take time to seek God and ask Him if you are holding on to grudges. Ask Him to help you drop those weights and forgive others.
It may also require a phone call to someone else to restore a relationship and set things right.
5. Singing with one another (Ephesians 5:19)
In writing to those at Colossae (Colossians 3:16), Paul instructs them to admonish one another through the words they sing.
This was not intended as a directive for the worship leader or music director, but rather an instruction for all Christians.
Perhaps, the time apart can remind us of our collective calling to share our faith with each other musically.
Some of us lack talent in this area, but it could be sharing an old favorite hymn in a text to a friend or playing a new worship song you discovered for your family while you prepare a meal.
6. Instruct one another (Romans 15:14)
The author of Hebrews tells Christians to “consider one another in order to provoke love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).
The Great Commission’s call to make disciples is not paused during social distancing. How then can we teach one another now?
Numerous small groups are meeting online. Parents are taking a more active role in the spiritual development of their children.
What other ways can you proactively seek to teach and be taught during this time?
7. Submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
Many of the biblical “one another” commands are surrounded by calls for humility. A true “one another” attitude can only happen in a humble heart.
Church leaders and members are learning how to lean into this idea of submission as they’ve been dealing with the decisions to end physical gatherings and will need to embrace this again as churches make difficult decisions about gathering again.
8. Build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
In his first letter to them, Paul also tells the Thessalonians to “pursue what is good for another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
To the Romans, Paul writes “pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another” (Romans 14:19).
How much of a difference in this world do you think a group of people could make by pursuing what is good for another and for all?
How much would those who promote peace and seek to build up one another stand out in a divided culture?
9. Love another (John 13:34)
Jesus said He gave us a new command to love one another, but that’s not the new part. The Old Testament told God’s people to love their neighbor.
What makes Jesus’ command new is the description of how we are to love. We are to love another as Jesus has loved us, which means sacrificially.
Paul echoes this command in Romans 12:10: “Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another.”
So much of the other commands can be summarized by “love one another.”
It’s why churches made the decision to end physical gatherings. It should guide how we function during this time and how we move forward.
In what ways can you show love to others in your church, even while physically separated?
As with all of the other “one another” commands, fulfilling it during a time of quarantine may require deeper thinking and creativity, but we are called to be faithful in our context, knowing that God has placed us all in this moment together.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.