In my previous posts in this series, I’ve introduced the topic of mutuality (“Considering Mutuality – Introduction“), contrasted mutuality with both individualism and collectivism (“Considering Mutuality – Individualism and Collectivism“), and demonstrated that the concept of mutuality is prevalent in the New Testament (“Considering Mutuality – Where in Scripture?“).
However, there is one more step that we need to take before we consider some implications for today. In my introduction, I suggested that mutuality – that is, interdependent relationships between followers of Jesus Christ – is necessary for maturity. In other words, my hypothesis is that Scripture teaches that in order for believers to grow in maturity toward Christ, those believers need mutually interdependent relationships.
One of the clearest scriptural presentations of the relationships between mutuality and maturity is found in Ephesians 4, especially verse 16:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV)
Notice that in this passage “growth” is both from Christ and into Christ. If we remove most of the modifying clauses, we get this: “We are to grow up into Christ from whom the body makes the body grow.”
Thus, the growth of the body is related to both the source of the growth (i.e. Christ) and the channel through which the growth occurs (i.e. the body). But, how does the “body make the body grow”?
Paul says this happens when the whole body (explicitly the “whole” body) is both joined together (again explicitly through two synonymous clauses) and each one (again explicit) does his or her part. Paul is pointing repeatedly toward mutually interdependent relationships – that is, relationships in which each part of the body depends on Christ and also depends on each other in such a way that if either Christ or one of the parts of the body were missing then growth would not occur.
But, what kind of growth is Paul talking about? In this passage, he only mentions “love,” but more than likely “love” stands as a placeholder for the fuller description that he gave earlier which included bothy unity of faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13). He explicitly calls this type of growth “mature manhood… the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
However, this is not the only passage in Scripture in which maturity is related to mutually interdependent relationships. In the book of Hebrews, the author often instructs his readers toward mutuality. Perhaps the most straightforwards passage is this one:
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13 ESV)
or this one:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
Notice that in each case above, the mutual exhortation is not for the purpose of mutuality. Instead, mutuality serves the further purpose of aiding maturity in Christ – either in a negative sense (“that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”) or in a positive sense (“to love and good works”).
Similarly, the author of Hebrews provides a very strong call to mutual relationships and demonstrates its relationship to maturity in chapter 12:
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled… (Hebrews 12:12-15 ESV)
While not as obvious in English translations, the commands in this passage are plural (“strengthen,” “make straight,” “strive”). Similarly, the participles (which carry imperatival force – i.e. they act like commands) are also plural (“See to it”). These plural commands are given so that the readers may grow in maturity, once again with both positive and negative implications of maturity (i.e. strengthening or lifting vs. no one fails to obtain).
While there are many more passages of Scripture that could be consulted, the passages above demonstrate that according to Scripture mutuality is not just a good thing, but instead mutually interdependent relationships are necessary for believers to mature in their faith, in their knowledge of Jesus Christ, and in the demonstration of love.