Following Jesus is not an adventure in solitude. The Bible pictures followers as a flock of many sheep, as the many parts of the body, and as the stones of a tabernacle. While some of the sweetest times we can experience with Jesus happen in isolation, we are not meant to stay there. There is a term sprinkled throughout the New Testament which emphasizes this idea of connectedness. In English versions, it is almost exclusively rendered as “one another.” We saw that phrase in a previous article where Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12, NASB95) One another contains the thought of mutuality and reciprocalness like the parts of an engine moving in harmony to produce power. While loving one another is the pinnacle there are other “one another” commands we must also participate in.
In Romans 14 Paul is encouraging his readers on how to manage differences of conscience among believers. The conflict in Paul’s time was about foods and observation of holy days. For instance, Paul wrote, “The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.” (Romans 14:3, NASB95) And, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5, NASB95) We may not think much about Paul’s encouragement because we seldom wrangle over what foods to eat or when we should worship. But there are other matters of conscience that believers can find themselves at odds about with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
I do want to make clear that some sin is plain and not reduced to differences of conscience. For example, it is plain that idolatry, murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting is sin (not an exhaustive list). Other things may not be so plain, they very well may be sin for one person and not for another. For instance, drinking alcohol, participating in Halloween, political opinion and affiliation, worship styles, and allowed forms of recreation may be disagreed on in good conscience. Paul provides two “one another” statements to address these differences of conscience.
Paul wrote, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” (Romans 14:10,13, NASB95) This is one of the few “one another” statements that is expressed as a negative. The word “judge” in these verses has the idea of condemning someone, determining if their actions or opinions make them ineligible to belong. This is different from seeing sin in someone else and lovingly warn them of the danger. One says “you’re not worthy” while the other says “let me help you up.” One declares “that’s not very Christian” while the other reminds themselves that we’re all sinners.
A few verses later Paul concludes, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 14:17–19, NASB95) This second “one another” encourages us to pursue building up one another, but what exactly does that mean?
Paul’s phrase “building up” can be taken literally in the sense of raising a structure. We do have to be careful though that we are not just looking to build someone’s self-esteem but are looking to build up their faith, hope, and love in Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he wrote, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29, NASB95) Edification is the same as “building up.”
Let’s put Paul’s “one another” statements together. As we worship, live, work, play, and do life are we building an obstacle course or opening the gate for those around us? Whenever we add prerequisites or extraneous standards, we are creating an obstacle course to growth in Jesus. Jesus does not need us to make the narrow way any narrower. On the other hand, we can lay down stepping stones to help folks walk the path with more confidence and security.
Here’re some practical ways we can build up one another. Speak honest words of encouragement. Notice the service of others and thank them. Find ways to “stir up one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). Seek to bring folks into your circles whether they fit your standards or not. Walk with folks as they are struggling to overcome an area of sin. Pray for folks and speak words of blessings.
Remember that the core of “one another” is mutuality and reciprocalness. We have to be receivers as well as givers in this. We all like to hear words of compliment and blessing. However, being encouraged is also hearing honest but loving words about our areas of growth and possibly even our sin. We need to be willing to be supported as we walk together. It’s not easy. It assaults our pride and self-sufficient façade. It’s important to remember that we can only give to others what we have received ourselves.
Let’s aim to build stepping stones for each other instead of adding to the obstacles for others to overcome. Let’s support one another and encourage what God is doing in their lives even if we can see all that is unfinished or is weak. Let’s humbly receive the encouragement and support of others even if the words or means are imperfectly offered. Let’s not condemn each other but build one another up in the faith, hope, peace, and love that is only found in Jesus.