This is an updated version of a Bible study I did in 2006 on the role of the social part of the human being in spiritual formation in Christ. It is inspired by Dallas Willard’s book, Renovation of the Heart. This article on our social connections is part of a series from my class for counselors on “How People Change.” (See my other articles on the heart, thoughts, feelings, body, and soul.)
In his Greatest Commandment Jesus teaches us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). Neighbor love refers to the social dimension of the human being. Other related words to social are bonding, attachment, connectedness and community.
Development into Personhood
We like to think of ourselves as individuals, independent and self-sufficient, but really there are no truly individual persons: we are part of each other. We belong to one another and we need one another. Our relatedness to others is actually a part of our person and so the soul, the largest dimension of our personality, encompasses our relatedness to others.
You and I are a person only in community and this nature of ours reflects the nature of God who is Three and One. “God is love” includes this aspect that God is a community of persons in perfect harmony.
We can’t develop into maturity physically, psychologically, or spiritually without being in relationship to others. We’re born from the union of our parents, we develop psychologically into a person (an “I”) by being cared for (as part of a “we”), and we come to life and grow spiritually only by being in loving relationship with God and other people. An infant who is not shown loving care will die. A person who does not trust in God’s love, not only directly, but also through other people, will never know “the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19).
Significant others — their attitudes, voices, and personal characteristics — get inside us, whether for better or worse. This is because as developing children we internalize aspects of our parents and others, mostly on an unconscious level. To a lesser extent this happens in our adult relationships with our spouse, close friends, and the people that we regularly work with or interact with. An example of this is that when we are in a room with other people, even if we are not in a close interaction with them, we can sense their “vibe” and it affects us.
Love One Another
In the Greatest Commandment Jesus is teaching that love for God and neighbor are indivisible (this is also a major them in the letter of 1 John). Furthermore, the he teaches that our most important relationships are with other believers in the body of Christ. For instance, he says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).
“Love one another” heads a list of 56 similar “One Anothers in Scripture” (all from the New Testament) in which we are taught to love each other in particular ways. Out of the strength of these Body of Christ relationships we’re to love all our neighbors, strangers, and even our enemies.
Key Bible Verses On Our Social Dimension
“God said, ‘It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion’” (Genesis 2:18, MSG).
“A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31).
“Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12).
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19 & 22:39).
“Go with the multitude… to the house of God” (Psalm 42:4).
“Love the Lord your God” (Matthew 22:37).
“As I [Jesus] have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
“Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
“He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28).
“Let us not give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25).
“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7).
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).
“Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).