THE ONE-ANOTHER PRINCIPLE

People are precious to God on two counts:

Firstly because God created human beings in his image [Genesis 9:6].

Secondly, because God redeems human beings through the death of his Son [1John 4:10].

This human preciousness is a theme running right through the Bible. It is clearly expressed in God's question to Cain after he murdered his brother: 'Where is your brother Abel?' and in Cain's inappropriate response 'Am I my brother's keeper?' The truth is that, from God's perspective, we are each indeed our 'brother's keeper' [Genesis 4:9]. God holds us responsible for the way we treat one-another: our brother's blood, our brother's pain that we have caused by our selfishness or our sin, our brother's needs that we have not met with compassion and kindness - they all cry out to God from the ground. Not only this - the suffering of God's children is kept on record in 'heaven', evoking and storing up the wrath of God against those who caused it [read Revelation 5:8; 8:3-5].

The Ten Commandments [Exodus 20; Leviticus 19], after focusing on our relationship with God, then set boundaries around our treatment of others.

We are to honour our parents.
We are not to murder other people.
We are not to take another person's spouse.
We are not to steal another person's possessions.
We are not to tell lies about other people or to deceive one another.
We are not to covet anything another person has.

 

The two Great Commandments, first tell us to love God, then tell us to love our neighbour as ourselves.

As well as expressing the principle of love, this principle of other-centredness expresses the pervasive biblical principle of ‘submission’ – a principle in which we are commanded to put our own perceived ‘rights’ aside for the well-being of the other.

Zechariah 7:8-10 commands us to administer true justice. That is, to positively show mercy and compassion to one another. This mercy and compassion is then expressed as a negative: that we must not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. It also means that we will not think evil of one another in our hearts.

Philippians 2:4 commands us to consider 'the interests of others' rather than being focused entirely on our own interests. This other-centeredness is an expression of the fellowship, tenderness and compassion experienced by all who are united to Christ by faith.

1Corinthians 10:24 puts a boundary around all of our actions: 'Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.' This boundary cuts right across our personal and our cultural 'norm'. It denies the validity of choosing the attitudes, words and actions that will generate the best outcome for myself. It commands me to first think 'will this attitude of mine, these words I am about to speak, this action I am planning bring about the best outcome for the other?' In the context of 1Corinthians 10, it tells me that even if a certain action is not wrong in itself, I should not do it, I should not exercise my personal freedom to do it, if by my doing it another person is hurt or harmed in some way.

Romans 12:10 similarly commands us to be so devoted to each other that we put the other's well-being before our own personal agenda: 'Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves'.

In Ephesians 5:18-21 we find two more motivational foundations for this other-centeredness:

Submission to one another is an expression of a Spirit-filled life. This other-directed concern, consideration and compassion is the outward evidence of the inner transforming work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Submission to one another is 'out of reverence for Christ' [verse 21]. This 'out of reverence for Christ' has two points of significance: [1] It is grounded in his example of self-denial for our well-being [see verses 22-33; Philippians 2:1-8], and [2] it expresses his teaching that whatever good we do or refuse to do to the least of our fellow human beings we are doing or refusing to do to him [Matthew 25:31ff].

This 'one-another' principle is very demanding and very challenging. It exposes the selfishness our our hearts. It reveals how very far removed we are from what God created and saved us to be. It highlights the amazing love of God for us, demonstrated in Jesus Christ. It calls us out of the mindset of the world that sees the other only in terms of self-interest, self-promotion or self-preservation. It calls us into the mindset of Jesus Christ who, for our sake, put aside his rights and his glory, made himself nothing, bore our sin and its punishment - so that we may go free.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2016