Many years ago, a popular bumper sticker read, “Have you hugged your child today?” Although I am not a big fan of bumper stickers, the reminder of what is really important in our rushed society has some appeal. Now, I would like to translate that bumper sticker to a question for those of us who, as Christians, attend church. “Have we one anothered lately?”
I know. “One another” is not a verb. But if you look at its use in the New Testament, it is always closely associated with a verb. We are to love one another; encourage one another; exhort one another; forbear with one another; confront one another; and the list goes on.
At the heart of one anothering is relationship. Godly relationship is the reward when we follow the New Testament’s prescription to live our lives in, with, and among one another. This is what families do. As I write this, we are just a few weeks past the holidays, and for many of us, celebrating with our families and extended families has us feeling like we have had enough “family” relationships until next Thanksgiving.
When our adopted daughter was very young, she approached her dad one day and announced that she didn’t like her brothers. “I want to go back to India so I don’t have any brothers.” When he explained that she could have brothers in India, she changed her mind and decided to stay. Her objection to her siblings was repeated and reciprocated many times over as our children grew up. Our response was always the same: “Siblings are the best gift we can give you.” Our children sometimes had trouble seeing beyond the annoyance and conflict. We knew, though, that living together was God’s gift in teaching all of us to love as He loves.
It is only as we live together that we experience the joy of sharing our strengths and the pain of inflicting our weaknesses. It is these experiences that sanctify us, that enable us to become more who God created us to be. Indeed, I was told a while back that the Chinese government had invited Campus Crusade into their universities (!) to help deal with the relationship crisis that had developed as thousands of only children left home and came to school completely unequipped to live with their peers.
It is God’s desire that we share our lives with one another, because as we do, we become more like Him and more able to fulfill His purposes for us, both individually and corporately. This has a medicinal ring to it—we must do this because it is good for us! I would suggest, though, that it is sugar-coated medicine: engaging with one another heals and blesses us even as it sanctifies us. As an illustration, please consider with me a typical church fellowship event, a pot-luck dinner. What a wonderful way to celebrate the family of God! Families come together and food and fellowship are generously shared. But as we know from the gatherings of our non-church families, such an event is not without potential for rising tensions and hurt feelings.
I for one will confess that as I consider what meal to bring I worry that my lasagne won’t measure up to expectations. It is all too easy for cooks to come to a potluck dinner and feel possessive, defensive, controlling, or competitive about their contributions. And then there’s the etiquette of the line for food, the behavior of our children, and the “where do I sit” dilemma to magnify the potential for hurt feelings and conflict. Maybe it would be easier if we all just stayed home.
But if we all just stayed home, we would miss the opportunity to practice finding our identity and value in Christ rather than in how much people like our food or how well our children behave or how well we entertain those around us while we eat. We would miss the experience of being valued and loved even with our faults. We would miss the blessing of trying something new with no need to fear failure. We would miss learning to love and be loved.
So now I return to my original question: Have we one anothered lately? Please consider this an invitation to explore, develop, and use your gifts and share your lives with your brothers and sisters in Christ.