Zebras, Fish, Ticks, & Dogs

Zebras, Fish, Ticks, & Dogs


Here is just a small sampling of the more than fifty “one another” statements which the Spirit addresses to the church in the New Testament: “love one another”, “welcome one another”, “pray for one another”, “bear one another’s burdens”, “forgiving one another”, “be kind to one another”, “bearing with one another”, “submitting to one another”, and “encourage one another”.

On the backs of many checks, one might find a message stating that this check should not be cashed unless one can see the watermark.  When one holds the check to the light, this faint watermark in the background shows up, and one then knows that the check is not “a fake” or “a fraud.”  It is instead authentic.  It is “the real deal.”

Jesus teaches, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).   Thus, if a person claims to be a “certified” disciple of Jesus Christ, then all people know that, when held to the light, one should then be able to see that “one another” watermark in that person’s life.

The Greek word translated “one another” in the New Testament is the word allēlōn.  Pierce writes in his Outline of Biblical Usage that allēlōn can also mean “reciprocally” or “mutually.”  Therefore, when the apostle Paul writes something like, “Be kind to one another,” he is envisioning a picture in which Abby is kind to Bonnie, and then Bonnie is also kind to Abby.  Notice that the kindness flows in both directions.  Both show kindness, and both receive kindness.

One probably sees this mutuality best when a couple is madly in love.  In The Song of Songs, Solomon tells his bride, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold you are beautiful.”  She then immediately replies likewise, “Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved” (Song 1:15-16).  This is what one expects in a thriving marriage.  When the wife expresses to her husband, “I love you,” there is not silence on the other end.  Instead, her sentiment is reciprocated when her husband says, “I love you too.”

In all of his missionary journeys, Paul has not yet been to the church in Rome.  Observe how he begins his thoughts about a possible visit there: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you“ (Romans 1:11).  Now, up to this moment, what is the picture that Paul is painting?  What will his potential visit look like?  It sounds like it will be all about Paul giving spiritual gifts to the Christians in Rome.  That doesn’t sound “mutually” beneficial, does it?  It actually sounds pretty one-sided, as if Paul is doing all of the “giving” and the Christians in Rome are doing all of the “getting.”

Then, it is almost as if Paul catches himself.  In the English Standard Version, Romans 1:11 ends with an out-of-the-ordinary dash (—).  He then begins Romans 1:12 with the words “that is.”  Paul is essentially “clearing his throat” and “starting over.”  He needs to erase that original picture from Verse 11 and now paint it differently.  Paul then continues, “…that is, that we may be mutually (allēlōn) encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1:12).  Paul does not want them to think that a potential visit to Rome will be only about him giving and them receiving.  Instead, there will be mutual encouragement – flowing in both directions.  Each one will give to the other, and each will be blessed by the other.

Consider for a moment the relationship between a bird known as an oxpecker and a zebra.  The oxpecker eats parasites off of the skin of the zebra.  Therefore, the oxpecker gets food, and the zebra gets something akin to “pest control.”  Since both organisms mutually benefit from this arrangement, the relationship in biology is called “mutualism” (observe how this word is like the word “mutually” above).

As one would probably guess, not all relationships are mutualistic.  For example, some arrangements only benefit one of the organisms.  Smaller fish catch a ride with a large shark.  They get protection and maybe a few scraps from the shark’s meal, but the shark gets nothing in return.  Even worse though, there are relationships like the one between a tick and a dog, where one organism (the tick) gets something out of it, while the dog is not only “not helped,” but is much worse harmed.

Therefore, by the overabundance of all of these “one anothers” throughout the New Testament, it is clear that God desires for His people – the church – to have mutually beneficial relationships.  If a “super apostle” like Paul believes that a group of random Christians in Rome can bless even somebody like him, then all Christians in the church today can bless one another.

However, is that how you feel about your congregation – that both you and others are greatly blessed in your relationships?  Or are you more like a smaller fish along for the ride?  Or, even worse, like the tick?  Or possibly even like the dog?