This post is link number 16 of a “chain blog” started by Alan Knox on the topic of “one another”. The other links are found at the end of this post along with instructions for how to participate in this chain blog if you would like to join in.
We all know that the “one another” verses in the New Testament are written to individuals and are to be put into practice among the members of the Body of Christ as the fabric of their life together in Christ. Something we also see modeled in the New Testament, however, is various churches or groups of believers putting some of these same “one another” exhortations into practice on a corporate level. For instance, we see churches greeting one another (1 Cor. 16:19, ; 2 Cor. 13:13; Heb. 3:24), bearing one anothers’ burdens (Acts 27:-30; Rom. 15:25-26; 2 Cor. 16:1-3), encouraging one another (Acts 11:22), instructing one another (Acts 15:22-35, Col. 4:16), showing hospitality to one another (3 Jn. 11:5-8), and loving one another (1 Thes. 4:9-10) It is this corporate dimension of “one-anothering” that I would like to focus on in this two-part post.
The initial seed of this matter of “corporate one-anothering” was planted in my heart some thirty years ago while watching a Christian television program. A pastor being interviewed said that while reading Philippians chapter two at one point, he felt that God spoke to his heart that the verses he was reading ought to be lived out between “churches” as well as individuals. In particular he mentioned verses three and four, which say, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (vs. 3-4) He shared how he began to take the corporate practice of these verses seriously and asked the Lord to show him how the church fellowship he was a part of could begin to look to the needs of other church bodies locally in order to serve them in humility and love. He also shared a number of testimonies of how God had worked through their acts of love and service to other assemblies in their city. What he shared resonated deeply within my spirit. I believe that he was touching on something very close to the heart and purpose of God as to the way in which the Church can and ought to live out the corporate unity that she has in Christ in a practical and visible way. Although he didn’t call it by this name, in essence he was talking about the Church’s call to “corporate one-anothering.”
In this two-part post, I’d like to look at this same portion of Scripture, Philippians 2:1-11, in this corporate sense and see how it relates to the “one another” exhortations in Scripture.
To begin with, it is significant to note that this epistle of Philippians was addressed: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons” (vs. 1:1) The interpretation and application of these verses, therefore, must be concerning the entire body of Christ in a given city or town, along with its leadership. In our day that involves multiple local assemblies, fellowships, associations, and organic gatherings. Its outworking will, therefore, involve not only “individual one-anothering”, but also a significant level of “corporate one-anothering.”
To get a greater sense of these verses in this regard, then, I’d like to offer the following interpretive paraphrase of Philippians 2:1-5 with this corporate focus. (We will look at vs. 6-11 in part 2.):
“1 Therefore if you, as an assembly of believers, have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete, as members of the larger body of Christ in your city or town, by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind with the other parts of the Body locally who likewise share in these blessings. 3 Do nothing out of independent, sectarian ambition or self-centered corporate conceit. Rather, in humility value the other gatherings of the church above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests as a body only, but to the interests of the others as well. 5 In your inter-corporate relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:”
If this is a valid application of these verses, we may ask, how would this practically work out? What would it look like if these verses were to be put into practice corporately in a given city or town?
Because this seems so foreign to the standard practice of the local “churches” in our day, we will have to use our sanctified imaginations a bit to begin to get a vision for it! I would like to invite you, therefore, to take a few minutes to imagine and dream with me, and see if we might be able to perceive something of what is actually God’s dream for His Church, even though it may seem to be just a pipe-dream to us.
To begin with, just imagine what the landscape of Christianity might look like in your city or town if the various assemblies of believers were to give themselves, in the spirit of Philippians 2:1-11, to living out with each other the “one another” injunctions of Scripture. Think of all of the various church bodies, fellowships and groups of believers giving themselves to receiving one another (Rom. 15:7), greeting one another (Rom. 16:16), offering hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9), fellowshipping with one another (1 Jn. 1:7), and serving one another in love (Gal. 5:13). How would that change things from the way that they are now?
Consider further what it would be like if the diverse gatherings of the Church in your locality were committed to being devoted to one another in brotherly love (Rom. 12:10), living in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16), agreeing with one another ( 1 Cor. 1:10), bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2), being kind and compassionate towards one another (Eph. 4:32), forgiving each other (Eph. 4:32); as well as encouraging one another (1 Thes. 5:11), building each other up (1 Thes. 5:11), and above all, loving each other deeply, from the heart. (1 Pet.1:22) How much more beautifully and compellingly would the love of God and the reality of the gospel of Christ be manifested in your home town than it presently is?
Now stretch your imagination even further and dream what it would be like if the various groups of believers in your locale were fully committed to clothing themselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5), honoring one another above themselves (Rom. 12:10), submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21); and even so far as to confessing their sins to one another (James 5:16), praying for one another (James 5:16), teaching and admonishing one another (Col. 3:16), and spurring one another on towards love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24). Is it possible to even conceive of such a thing?
The “one another” exhortations in Scripture are the practical expression of the heart and mind of God as to what genuine relationships in Him are comprised of. In fact, they convey the human expression of the nature and substance of the relationships that exist within the community of the Godhead itself.
“One another” is a phrase descriptive of Divine community wherever it is found, in heaven and on earth.
Since these “one another” exhortations in Scripture are specifically found in relation to inter-personal relationships between individual believers, we tend to think that they stop there. The reality of “one another”, however, is to be found wherever divine community is found, and at whatever level it is found. It is to permeate the Body of Christ all the way through, from the “micro” to the “macro”, since we are all called into the unity and community of the Godhead together as one corporate Body. The principle is intrinsic to the very nature of the Body of Christ, the community of God on earth, the Church.
So what would it look like if Philippians 2:1-11 were to be lived out corporately amongst the various gatherings of the Body of Christ?
I believe it would look like the kind of “one another” community that eternally exists in the Godhead itself. I believe it would look like the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17, for which He gave his life on the cross, and for which He poured out His Spirit on the Church after His resurrection. I believe it would look like the kind of love that would compel the world to believe that the Father has sent His Son into the world, and has loved them, even as He has loved His own Beloved Son. (John 17:23)
When we look out over the landscape of Christendom, however, we see a vastly different picture than this. We not only see relatively few pockets of individual Christians living out a lifestyle of “one-anothering” in genuine community, we also see mostly isolated, insulated, individualistic, sectarian, competing and often warring factions of corporate Christianity. What shadows of “corporate one-anothering” we do see are generally token, superficial, spurious, sectarian-based, short-lived, and oriented around secondary matters or objectives. There is very little “corporate one-anothering” that is substantially centered in and around the community of the Godhead, the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the unity of the Spirit and the fulfillment of the eternal purpose of God in and through the Church. There is little that is born of and sustained by a Philippians-two-type corporate humility and unconditional love. (As Swanny shared in link two of this chain blog, it is mostly governed by “us”-conditional love.)
So, what are we to make of the present situation? And what are we to do with this call to live out the “one another” injunctions collectively as the corporate Body of Christ? Is such a thing even possible in this day… or is this just a pipe-dream?
In part two of this post, I would like to address these questions more thoroughly by getting down to the root of what I will call, “corporate UN-anothering”, the non-practice, and even anti-practice of “corporate one-anothering”. I will also focus on its radical remedy from this same portion of Scripture, Philippians 2:1-11. If we can properly discern the malady, then possibly we can work to apply the remedy. “Corporate one-anothering” is possible, even as “individual one-anothering” is possible, when, as Paul says, in our “relationships with one another, [we]have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” (Philippians 2:5) We will explore that in the next post.
In the mean time, please take a little more time to dream… :-)
Your comments are most welcome, and if anyone would like to add a link to this chain blog before part two is posted, I encourage you to do so. I plan to post again in about a week. -David
Chain blog rules:
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“Links” in the “One Another” chain blog:
1. “Chain Blog: One Another” by Alan
2. “Linking One Another” by Swanny
3. “What Does It Mean to Love One Another? by Chuck
4. “The treasure of “One Another” by Jim
5. “This is how the world shall recognise you…” by Kathleen
6. “Accepting one another in love” by Chris
7. “One Another-ing: A meta-narrative for the church” – Part One and Part Two by Greg
8. “Individualism and ‘one another’” by Pieter
9. “All Alone with One Another” by Jeremy
10. “When it’s OK for Christians to compete” by Joshua
11. “Jesus Christ, the Corner Stone for One Another” by Peter
12. “Be Superficial with One Another” by Jon
13. “The Unmentionable One Anothers” by Alan
14. “Loving More Fully and Widely” by Chris
15. “The One Another Weapon” by Dan
16. “Corporate One-Anothering” (Part 1) and “Corporate UN-Anothering” (Part 2) by David
17. “The Last Revival” by Tobie
18. Who will write the 18th link post in the chain?