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Is the to Call Love one another a Call for Equality?

In thinking about the meaning of 'love one another', I realized that love is about serving and putting the other person’s concerns first. It also means the other person serving you first; loving one another and serving one another is mutual. It is the opposite of commanding, giving orders, or being authoritarian or patriarchal. The very call for us to love one another is a call for the equality of women and men.

Jesus compares himself to the rulers of the world, who exercise power and authority over others. He says this is not the way for his followers to behave. He calls each of us to serve others, for even Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life for others (Mark 10:42-45).

After Jesus humbled himself by washing his disciple's feet, he explained the meaning behind his actions. “Do you understand what I have just done for you?.....I have set an example for you so that you will do just what I have done for you.” (John 13:12-17). Jesus was setting an example to show his followers to love one another by humbly serving one another.

At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus said “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:24-35) We are commanded to love one another in John 15:12 and John 15:17. If we do not have love, we are not following Jesus, and our actions reflect badly on Christ. Lording over one another, using authority to make up rules, giving orders and commanding obedience is the opposite of loving one another.

In fact, the phrase “one another” means serving each other mutually. It means men and women giving and taking helping one another reciprocally. It goes completely against an authoritarian structure where one group or individual is consistently in the service role and the reciprocal partner is never in that role. The golden rule is to do to others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12) means treating others with the same care you would give to your own body, being respectful of women and men, of any race, religion or sexual orientation: loving them.

The phrase 'one another' occurs 100 times in the New Testament, including things like:

  • Accept one another (Romans 15:7)

  • Tolerate one another (Ephesians 4:2)

  • Be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving to one another (Ephesians 4:32)

  • Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13)

  • Be devoted to one another in love

  • Serve one another

  • Pray for one another

  • Teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)

These instructions are given to all believers, regardless of gender.

Given these examples of how to love one another, it would seem that the biblical call to love one another encourages equality among believers of all genders and excludes patriarchal domination.

Love is not dominating
Love is Not Equal to Dominating or hierarchal power
love equals serving
Love Equals Serving; serving is submitting to the needs of others

Paul tells all believers to submit to one another without reference to gender: women to men men to women, women to women and men to men. If you think Paul says women must be eternally submissive, and men not submissive to women, how do you reconcile it with Paul's instructions telling both men and women to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)?

Voluntarily submitting or yielding to one another is a form of loving one another. Love shows itself in honouring the other person. When Paul tells a husband to love, he is telling them to honour the needs and desires of his wife in the same way that a wife honours or yields to her husband.

Paul describes a husband's love as yielding to the needs or wants of his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33). When says a husband should love his wife, as a man loving his own body, washing her, feeding her, taking care of her as well as he takes care of himself, loving her as he loves himself. This relates to the golden rule: think about how would you want to be treated and treat your spouse that way. Do you want to ask questions, describe your experiences, share your feelings, discuss your thoughts, and make your own choices? Do you enjoy having freedom? Advocates for equality are simply asking for equal opportunities regardless of gender.

Do you want to know more about what Paul means when he tells a husband to love his wife? He lays it out for us:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres..... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7... 13 NIV)


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:


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