According to Princeton’s wordnet, “reciprocity” means “a relation of mutual dependence or action or influence.” Similarly, a “reciprocal pronoun” is “a pronoun or pronominal phrase (as ‘each other’) that expresses a mutual action or relationship between the individuals indicated in the plural.”
Did you know that reciprocal pronouns are common in the New Testament? They are. They are usually translated “one another” or “each other” or even “each one”. Reciprocal pronouns are very important for us to understand how we should relate to one another. Many times, this relationship is obvious and easy to understand.
For example, in 1 John 4:7, John writes that we should “love one another.” (ESV) Most believers recognize that our relationship with one another should be expressed with mutual love. If person A loves person B, but person B does not love person A, we recognize that they are not loving one another.
Similarly, in 1 Peter 5:14, Peter writes that we should “greet (or welcome) one another.” (ESV) Again, it is easy to recognize that if one believer greets someone, but the greeting or welcome is not returned, then they are not greeting one another.
In James 5:9, James writes, “Do not grumble against one another.” (ESV) Grumbling probably means complaining. So, believers should not complain about one another. So, if one sister refuses to complain, but another sister does complain, then the two are not following James’ command. They are grumbling against one another.
We find Paul using reciprocal pronouns often. For example, in Galatians 5:13, he tells us, “Through love serve one another.” (ESV) This is also a command that recognize as a reciprocal command. If a brother is serving someone, but that brother refuses to serve, then the two are not serving one another.
But, there are other reciprocal instructions that are difficult to understand. In fact, in some circles, the reciprocity is removed from these commands.
Consider Paul’s statement in Colossians 3:16. He says that when the word of Christ dwells in us richly, we will demonstrate that by “teaching and admonishing one another.” (ESV) How reciprocal are we with this instruction? If one person teaches, but another person does not teach, do we recognize that they are not teaching one another? What if one person is admonishing but another is not admonishing? Do we allow this instruction to only apply to some believers but not to other believers?
Paul makes a similar statement in Romans 15:14, where he says that he is convinced that the Romans are “able to instruct (admonish) one another.” (ESV) Does the reciprocity in this statement apply only to the Romans? Did they have something that believers today do not have? Or, could God still expect all believers to teach/instruct/admonish reciprocally?
Another interesting reciprocal statement is found in Romans 14:19. Again speaking to the believers in Rome, Paul says, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (the edification of one another).” (ESV) The reciprocal pronoun is harder to see in the ESV translation “mutual upbuilding.” But apparently Paul that it was important that all of the believers in Rome reciprocally pursue those things that led to peace and edification. Is this still something that we all pursue reciprocally.
Peter writes some of these difficult reciprocal commands also. In 1 Peter 4:10, he writes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (ESV) Do we recognize the importance – the necessity even – of all believers exercising their spiritual gifts in a manner that can serve other believers? Do we sees this as every believer’s responsibility?
There are many other “difficult” reciprocal commands. A couple would include “submit to one another” (Ephesians 5:21), “humble yourselves before one another” (1 Peter 5:5), or “count one another as more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). These, and many, many other commands in Scripture, are reciprocal commands. That means that the commands are give to a plural group to be carried out as “a mutual action”.
Why do you think its easy for us to recognize “love one another” and “serve one another” as mutual requirements, while we tend to not recognize “teach one another” or “edify one another” as mutual requirements?