Did you know that in the New Testament alone, the phrase "one another" (alleœloœn) is used almost 100 times? It's the key to unified groups, healthy churches, and fruitful evangelism. You see, the "one anothers" form the foundation of how we are to be the body of Christ. When we apply these commands to our lives and our groups, we have a roadmap for imitating Christ and growing as the body of Christ. And when we behave this way toward one another, the world sees something different in our lives—something countercultural, compelling, and challenging.
In John 17:22-23, Jesus prayed that his disciples "may be one, as we (Jesus and the Father) are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." Unity through loving one another completely is important in itself, but we must never lose sight of its purpose: to show others the love of God. I can't think of a better way to debunk the myths of Christian hypocrisy, back-biting, and feuding than to behave in a way that surprises, appeals to, and attracts the unbelievers in our spheres of influence by living out the one anothers.
In many ways, the one anothers build on each other. Groups can see how they're growing as they identify how well they're living out the one anothers and where they're at in this progression.
Have Concern For One Another
First Corinthians 12:24-25 tells us, "God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another" (NET). One of our first goals as small-group leaders is to see our group members care for one another. But when we come from different walks of life and life experiences, caring for one another isn't always natural.
Paul uses the analogy of a physical body to represent how the body of Christ should work together. We need everyone to work together and see themselves as part of the body in order to function at our highest capacity. Everyone has an important role, and we need each other to complete the task God has given us.
But sometimes we consider some members less important. These judgments can be based on a lot of things, but let's face it: It's easy to categorize and pigeonhole people. I've done it. And I've usually been wrong. The person I thought would contribute the most is flaky. The person I expect to be trouble isn't. As leaders, we need to show equal concern for one another so that the body, our small group, will function well. We need to demonstrate that each member, regardless of worldly status, is equally important in God's economy. Take time to consider your heart toward your group members. How might you unintentionally be valuing some members over others?
Love One Another
As our groups begin to bond and grow in concern for one another, we develop a love for one another, which forms the foundation for the rest of the one anothers. This fulfills Jesus' command in John 13:34-35: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Jesus' disciples were familiar with the commands in the Law to love God and their neighbor (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18). But here Jesus upped the ante by telling them to love one another as he loved them. They would soon see that this was an agape love, a self-sacrificing love that gives life.
We must love our small-group members and encourage them to love one another in a variety of different ways. As they grow to love one another and show that love through tangible actions, we can celebrate and encourage more tangible expressions of love. This love will be inconvenient and costly. It will involve more than two hours on Thursday evening. But it will be transformational.
Encourage and Build One Another Up
The logical next step with people we love is to encourage and build them up. First Thessalonians 5:11 commands, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." The word translated as "build up" is a construction term for building houses or temples. Just as a contractor builds from the bottom up, we must begin right where each person is and help him or her grow into the edifice God intends each of us to be. We do this by enthusiastically encouraging and calling out God's best in each person—day after day, week after week. Small groups are especially adept at this because we grow to know one another in authentic ways, and we are able to call out God's best in one another.
Confess Your Sins to One Another
Much of the evangelical Christian community is repelled by the idea of confession, but James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other." Confession isn't easy or comfortable. It flies in the face of our desire to hide and to appear in control of our lives. To confess means saying the same thing about our sin that God says about it.
While we don't need to confess our sin to a priest to receive forgiveness, it helps to confess to another person and be reminded of God's forgiveness. It makes it more real, and it allows others into our struggles so they can encourage us. Don't be afraid to be open and vulnerable. Share your sin with another group member and allow him or her to speak God's forgiveness over you. We grow when we come out of hiding. As you model this as a leader, others will feel safe being vulnerable, too.
Pray for One Another
James 5:16 continues, "pray for each other so that you may be healed.". We talk a lot about prayer in our groups, but how often do we seriously pray for the needs of others, either during the meeting or after? We must be willing to appeal to our loving Father on behalf of one another on a regular basis, presenting specific requests, and persistently praying until we see an answer. When we do, our groups will see incredible growth and healing. Don't rush through your group prayer time. Encourage real sharing and earnest prayer by modeling it yourself and thanking people who open up. Continue that prayerful mindset throughout the week, making a point to pray for each of your group members.
Forgive One Another
Ephesians 4:32 says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." What a model of unity in the body of Christ! The reality is that if your group stays together for long, someone will hurt or offend someone else. How you handle the conflict will set the tone for openness and accountability for the rest of your time together. When you observe conflict in the group, encourage rapid forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn't excuse the harm, and you may still need to address the actions that caused the hurt. But rapid forgiveness is important to transfer the debt to God and take the first steps toward a restored relationship.
Bear One Another's Burdens
Galatians 6:2 says, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." I see this one another acted out in small groups all the time. We love to help one another, and it's a beautiful picture of community when we do. Our small groups should jump to help when serious needs arise like illness, death, job loss, emotional loss, and financial setbacks.
But then Galatians 6:5 says, "each one should carry their own load." Why do these verses seem to contradict one another? The word translated "burdens" in the first verse is baros, which means a heavy, crushing burden or weight pressing one down. It's a weight that makes an excessive demand on one's resources, whether material or spiritual. The word for "load" in verse five is phortion, which is simply something to be borne without reference to weight. It was often used in reference to cargo carried by a ship, a pack carried by a soldier, or a child in the womb—basically, a person's everyday assignment from God. The key is knowing the difference. We don't want to enable by hovering, doing more than is needed. But we also don't want to leave someone to carry a burden alone. We help most when we encourage group members in their everyday burdens and jump in to help when there is a crushing burden.
Submit to One Another
Submission is not a popular concept. Many of us cringe at the thought. But Ephesians 5:21 commands us to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." The Greek word for submission is a military term meaning "to line up under" or "to draw up in order of battle."
If we are to be good soldiers of Christ, we must be willing to come under authority, even the authority of a peer. Submission is the opposite of self-assertion or an autocratic, independent spirit. It requires humility. Submission is not a punishment of some persons and the elevation of others, but rather, is designed to maintain order and dignity among all mankind. And this dignity is based on the fact that we are all created in the image of God. Therefore, we must submit to one another.
Our small groups are a great place to grapple with this concept. We must learn to submit to one another in humility, honoring the good ideas, contributions, and needs of every member. As leaders, we can submit to the needs and wishes of our members, modeling this behavior for them. This might include what to study, how fast to study, when to meet, and when to add new members.
Serve One Another
As we learn to submit, we will develop a willingness, even a desire, to serve one another. Galatians 5:13 says, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." This was an incredibly countercultural command in Paul's day.
What does service look like? Consider Jesus, who took the form of a servant and washed the filthy feet of his disciples (John 13:1-17). We must graciously serve one another in equally humble ways. I'm always impressed by how small-group members serve one another. I've seen people go out of their way to serve another with childcare, moving, meals, home care, and financial needs. The ways we can serve one another are endless.
Think about your group. How well are group members modeling the one anothers? They're a great gauge for the health of your group. Developing the one anothers builds both unity and depth. And living out the one anothers serves as a great witness for the countercultural lives that God calls us to.
—Pat J. Sikora is an editorial advisor for SmallGroups.com and author of That the World May Know: A Study on Unity in the Body of Christ.