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Friday, September 02, 2011

Love One Another

I've been having a conversation with someone via email discussing the intent of the command, "Love one another." Now, he has contended that "one another" means "everyone". (Thus, when Eph 5:21 says, "submit one to another", it means "everyone has to submit to everyone." Since this is logically impossible, "submit" must mean something other than our standard English usage.) I have contended that "one another" references a select group. For instance, Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Was He saying, "... if you love everyone that exists" or was He saying, "... if you love My disciples"? My correspondent assures me that "one another" means "everyone to everyone". So I'm asking my readers.

Here is my reasoning. First, "one another" means "one another". That is, it does not mean "everyone", but a reciprocal relationship between two people. It can be one with that one and be done, or it can be one with that one and that one and that one (and so on). But "one another" simply requires "one" and "one other" to satisfy the phrase. As for "love one another", then, I would contend that the requirement is "all of those with whom you have some connection". It may be a close connection like family, friends, coworkers, roommates, church members, any of that. Or it may be a looser connection like strangers with whom you come in contact or that guy on the corner asking for a handout. Or it may be an even looser connection like "those in the 1040 window who need Christ" or some other burden for a distant but not personally acquainted group which God has laid on your heart. That's a connection, too. It is, then, a potentially far-reaching concept, this "connection", but I would contend that it is not all-inclusive.

Why would I say that it is limited in any sense? First, if it is unlimited, logically that would require that I love people who no longer live and people who don't yet live. "No, not them," some would say with that "what-a-goof" smirk. Well, okay, but now you've placed a limit. So we're back to negotiating limits to "everyone". But more of a biblical concern would be James's example in James 2. There he uses the picture of faith without actions and calls it "dead faith". His example of "dead faith" is "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" (James 2:15-16). In fact, the parallel looks like love without evidence. You say you love them and you indicate that you're concerned for them, but if you don't actually demonstrate that love, it's useless ... "dead love". So if "love one another" means "love everyone everywhere without limitations", I have a pretty broad task. I mean, I'm on the freeway with a host of people that I don't exactly know how to love, and that is at least some connection. (We're in the same geographical location.) How in the world am I supposed to demonstrate in any sense a love for people about whom I'm not even vaguely aware? And if I simply say, "Well, I'm praying for everybody in the world to come to Christ" (for instance), that's a good thing, but how is it different from "Be warmed and filled"?

I agree that we are commanded to love one another. I agree that this goes a lot farther than most of us imagine. It includes associates (quite obviously) and strangers (a la "the Good Samaritan") and even enemies. It is really, really big. I'm agreeing with all of that. It just seems to me that a command to love everyone everywhere with any meaningful use of the term "love" doesn't seem reasonable. Nor does it seem mandated in the language. And my email buddy disagrees. Of course, if we conclude that "love one another" doesn't necessarily mean "love everyone everywhere", then he's going to have to deal with "submit one to another" as possibly not meaning "submit to everyone", and that's an entirely different hurdle (because then "submit" might just mean "submit" or some other reasonable assumption). But at this point, all I'm asking is what you think. Does "one another" require "everyone everywhere"? Does "love one another" mean "love everyone everywhere"? Or are there limitations? If so, what? If not, what does it look like to "love everyone everywhere" when there is no reasonable means of actually demonstrating that love?


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Although we are taught to love our enemies, and to love our neighbors, the context of this specific passage was limited to the disciples He was communicating with at the time.

If I pull my family together in a meeting and say, "you must love one another," they would not see the instructions to mean anyone outside the family because of the context of the setting. In the same way, the context of that setting was only of each other.

Stan said...

Then, using your family meeting example, you would contend that "love one another" in that context would be limited solely to those in the room at the time? Was Jesus's command to His disciples to "love one another" limited solely to those in the room at the time?

It seems like it would not be, of course, but once it starts "leaking out of the room", so to speak, it starts to become unmanageable. "No, it's all disciples of Christ." Okay, so is that all disciples who have ever lived? Who will ever live? If not, why not? Oh, this just seems to get too complicated when it is made into an argument.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Well, as I said, I understand the immediate context to be those who he was speaking with. He is telling those immediately present to love each other. However, he does say it such that I believe he is commanding all of his followers to love all the other followers (disciples). However, this would not mean those who are not alive, because you cannot have a relationship with dead people. The analogy with family would be that all disciples of Christ are one family - the church. And we are to love fellow believers and that is how the world will know we are his disciples.

This does not neglect the other commands to love our neighbors and enemies, etc, but the context of that passage is really about his disciples. That's how I have always understood it.

Stan said...

Dan Trabue (the original email correspondent in question) has asked that the following clarification (with minor editing on my part) be included because I misrepresented his view:

Of course, if we conclude that "love one another" doesn't necessarily mean "love everyone everywhere", then he's going to have to deal with "submit one to another" as possibly not meaning "submit to everyone"

I was speaking of "love one another" in the context that it was written. Where Jesus said "love one another," he was speaking of EACH person loving EACH person in the group "another" of which he was speaking. THAT is the meaning of "one another."

We are to love everyone everywhere for OTHER reasons besides that passage. The reason that passage was referenced was to solidify the STANDARD ENGLISH definition of "one another" which is "EACH other"according to MW, and EACH OTHER is further defined, "each of two or more in reciprocal action or relation."


That is the standard English definition of the term. [Delete a pointless, circular personal reference here.]

We are to love everyone everywhere because...

1. God loves the WHOLE world and we are to walk in God's ways
2. We are called to love our neighbor and our enemies, including the ones we don't know (which you acknowledge)
3. IF we are to love our neighbors and our enemies (EVEN the ones we don't know, which you agree with), on what basis would we say, "But THIS group of strangers, we don't have to love..."?
4. There is no biblical justification for such a position, this is the purpose of the Good Samaritan story

As I said in our original conversations, IF you are merely saying that it is difficult to REALLY love someone in any MEANINGFUL way when we don't know them, then I agree. But that does not mean we aren't called to love even the stranger we don't know, or even some subset of strangers we don't know.

There you go, folks. Feel free to respond to Dan as you see fit ... or not.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Responding to Dan is throwing pearls.

David said...

I don't know, I think "love one another" and "submit to one another" are 2 separate things. I don't know the Greek behind either, but we do know that we will be known to be Christians by our love. We are certainly told to love our enemies. Does that mean we are to love our enemies in the same way we love our wives? Our parents? Our co-workers? I've always thought of it as the means by which we treat people. Again, I don't know which type of love is in the Greek in love your enemies and love one another. It would be ridiculous to believe that I am to love my neighbor in the same way I love my wife, or to love my pastor in the same way I love my enemy. Or to love Christ in the same way I love a satanist. We are clearly given different levels of love by example from God, Jacob I loved, Esau I hated, couldn't mean just that, since God loved the world. And He certainly doesn't love the world in the same way that He loves the Son, or those that are His children. Just as there are different levels of submission and directions of submission. We can't POSSIBLY submit everyone to everyone else. Its just not possible. We know that there is a hierarchy even in the Trinity, so how can we deny hierarchy in the the work? If you work under a Christian boss, would you expect him to submit to you? Are parents to submit to their children? To police submit to criminals? Where does it end if everyone submits to everyone? The concept is simply illogical and untenable. Same as everyone is to love everyone in the same way...illogical and untenable. So maybe the 2 aren't as separate as I first thought.

Stan said...

David, if you redefine "submit" to mean "respect, honor" (although neither the Greek original nor the English dictionary support such a definition), then it gets much easier. Bosses honor workers. Parents respect kids. Police respect criminals. And a wife who is commanded to "submit to your husband as to the Lord" would be simply honoring her husband as the Lord honors and respects us. See? Easy. It's just a simple matter of redefinition. You and your limited worldview.

David said...

It just follows the path of other arguments, if we don't like what it means, change the meaning. We've changed what it means to be a man and a woman, and their roles, the meaning of marriage, the meaning of love, the meaning of submit. If you don't like the implications of what it really means, change the meaning. There, now we can like what it says. We couldn't possibly define our worldview by what the Bible says. The Bible has to agree with our worldview. Silly orthodox Christians. Christianity needs to evolve with the culture, be a part of the world, be relevant to those that are hostile to God. Its our job to make them feel welcome, forget that there is a war raging, forget we're told to put on armor, to defend the truth. That's just not the way of the culture anymore. Peace and love and tolerance, of course tolerance doesn't mean the same thing anymore either. oops, now I'm rambling.

Unknown said...

The 'one another' here is defined in the immediate context and elsewhere. We each are required to submit: all of us to God, parishioners to elders, sons to fathers, wives to husbands, slaves to masters... the list goes on, and most of us, like the centurion, have both those above and below us. Even the smallest kid can kick the cat.

Unknown said...

John Gill puts it like this:
Eph 5:21 Submitting yourselves one to another,.... Which may be understood either in a political sense, of giving honour, obedience, and tribute, to civil magistrates, since they are set up by God for the good of men, and it is for the credit of religion for the saints to submit to them; or in an economical sense; thus the wife should be subject to the husband, children to their parents, and servants to their masters, which several things are afterwards insisted on, as explanative of this rule; or in an ecclesiastic sense, so the Ethiopic version renders it, "subject yourselves to your brethren": thus members of churches should be subject to their pastors, not in the same sense as they are to Christ, the head, nor are they obliged to believe or do everything they say, right or wrong; yet honour and esteem are due to them, and submission and obedience should be yielded to their doctrines, precepts, and exhortations, when they are agreeably to the word of God; since God has set them in the highest place in the church, called them to the highest service, and most honourable work, and bestowed on them the greatest gifts; the younger members should also submit to the elder, and the minority to the majority; one member should submit to another, to the superior judgment of another, and to the weakness of another, and to the admonitions of others, and so as to perform all offices of love: and the manner in which this duty is to be performed, is