One Another Texts: The Manner & the Means

Tony Arsenal

10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. – Romans 12:10 (ESV)

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. – 1 Peter 3:8

For though friends are at liberty to think differently, yet to do so is a cloud which obscures love; yea, from this seed easily arises hatred. – John Calvin

English is a rigid language, slavishly constrained to a strict subject-predicate structure. Although we sometimes observe occasional departures from this rubric, they strike us as odd and idiosyncratic. English translations of the Bible often must rework the word order of a Greek text in order to make it intelligible for an English-speaking audience. Although the New Yoda Translation might be a fun passion project, failing to maintain a standard English sentence structure would confuse most readers. For this reason, there is a potential to miss some of the nuances of Greek emphasis when we read the Scriptures. Romans 12:10 is an example of this potential brought to actuality. In both instances the manner of action (with brotherly affection and with honor) are placed at the end of the clause by translators, while in the original structure they are found at the beginning. This Greek convention is being used by Paul to emphasize for us that the way we execute the commanded action is foundational to the action itself. The way that we accomplish the command is the main point.

We are to love one another, not in a general sense but with brotherly love toward one another. We do not just love each other but invest deep familial love into our relationships with each other. Further, the command to be devoted to one another is a declaration of a state of being, not a verbal process. Rather than a general command to show love to others in discrete actions, we commanded are to exist in a continual state of devotion to each other. Paul here teaches us that the way that we obtain and maintain this state is by pouring brotherly love into the Christians to whom God has united. This is true in relation to all Christians everywhere, but especially true in reference to those whom God has placed in our most proximate circles.

Secondly, we are to show mutual esteem for one another. This is not accomplished by means of lip service or saccharine sentiment. Instead, it is fulfilled with honor. Paul here paints a picture of two Christians who are not only seeking to honor the other Christians in their lives, but who are actively competing to see who can show more honor to the others. This is not an act of self-abasement, as though we are to show this honor by the mechanism of self-deprecation. Rather, we are to identify that which is worthy of praise and respect and seek to genuinely manifest our esteem in response to those things.

It is always helpful to consider how other passages of Scripture speak on the same topic. Peter helps to give us some further insight in 1 Peter 3:8. In this verse he provides a series of five descriptors that should mark his entire audience, and by extension all Christians: Unity of mind with each other, sympathy, brotherly love, gentleness of heart, and humility.

This list adds flavor text to Paul’s commands to be devoted to each other and to highly esteem each other. Considering Peter’s list, we devote ourselves to each other by seeking to come to a shared perspective and doctrine grounded in the truth of Scripture. We esteem each other by sharing in the suffering of those around us (it is no coincidence that Paul also links sympathy with this command in 12:15 and harmony in 12:16). We seek to unite our minds and spirits with other Christians as brothers by taking a posture of gentleness and humility as we interact with them.

Beloved, this is the Christian life in the fellowship of believers and the unity of the Holy Spirit. Instead of one-upping each other in rhetorical jabs on Twitter or Facebook, we seek to gently give and humbly take correction, seeking the good of our brothers in honor and love. Instead of devoting ourselves to the increase of our own name and notoriety, we submit ourselves for the good of our Christian family by empathizing and sympathizing with their pain and suffering.

The Christian life is not one oriented toward ourselves. The Christian life is one oriented toward one another.

Tony Arsenal Tony Arsenal is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he obtained Master of Arts degrees in Church History and Systematic Theology. Tony is the co-host of the Reformed Brotherhood Podcast and one of the founders of the Society of Reformed Podcasters. He worships at New Hope Community Church in rural New Hampshire where he serves as Deacon and occasional pulpit supply. He is also the treasurer of the Northeast Region of the Evangelical Theological Society where he has presented multiple papers on the topics of Theology Proper, Christology, and Patristic Theology. 

Tony Arsenal