Brotherly Love

Dr. Brian Allison

If you are a baseball fan, I am sure that you have mixed feelings right now as the Major League camps opened this past week with replacement players. Obviously the quality of baseball is going to be substandard, and yet considering the situation from the perspective of the replacement players, I am sure that you would be quite excited. Players from Double A and Triple A leagues will be having their first shot in the Major League. Now the Major League has witnessed a number of firsts. For instance in 1947, Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play in the Major League. While he was trying to overcome the colour barrier as the only black in the Major League, he was jeered and ridiculed in almost every stadium in which he played. One day, while he was playing in his home stadium in Brooklyn, he made an error and even his own home fans began to boo and ridicule him. Robinson dejectedly returned to his second base. Pee Wee Reese, the short-stop, walked over to Robinson at second base, put his arm around his shoulder, and faced the crowd. The noise of the crowd began to quiet down and they became silent. Later Jackie Robinson said that that arm around his shoulder saved his career. That is a beautiful picture of brotherly love.

Brotherly love is a special kind of love

Romans 12:10 reads, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honour." This particular verse teaches, first, the kind of special love a Christian should have toward his or her fellow believers; second, the manner in which this love is to be expressed; and third, a specific demonstration, or example, of this kind of love. First, then, the special kind of love that a Christian should have toward his or her fellow believer is that of brotherly love. Brotherly love is the demonstration of commitment and intimacy in the context of a family. It implies a special bonding which involves loyalty. This past week my ten year old daughter gave a speech to her class at school. To my surprise, her topic was her brother. She read it to me beforehand, and I was moved by it. I asked her if I could share parts of it. She said, "Yes." Her speech captures succinctly and simply the meaning of brotherly love. She wrote, "Hi, my name is Sarah Allison. I am doing my speech on my brother because I thought it would be fun to talk about him...I think that the reason God made brothers is that they help with work; they're good company...I'm glad God made brothers because without them the world would be half empty; but sometimes I wish my brother was extinct, but usually he is really nice. Sometimes he bugs me so much I feel like screaming, but other times he is an okay guy...Look, let me just get to my point. My brother can be a pain sometimes. Well, actually, a big pain, but he is my brother and I should like him. Actually, I should like him alot, but whether he is a good example or a bad example, good at models or not, I really like him and he is my best friend, so I guess I am glad that God made brothers."

Some key aspects of brotherly love

Brotherly love has a real concern for another. It involves seeking to protect the other. It is willing to suffer for the other. Brotherly love unites and creates peace and harmony, transcending disagreements and differences. The Scriptures refer to the phrase 'brotherly love' at least 4 times in the New Testament. According to the Scriptures, the first aspect of brotherly love is that it results from a spiritual purification or regeneration. So we read, "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart" (1 Pe. 1:22). We are able to love in a brotherly fashion when we have been spiritually regenerated through hearing and obeying the truth of God. Spiritual cleansing – being inwardly changed, transformed, and made anew – produces the kind of love which unites, transcending differences and disagreements. If you are born again by the Spirit of God, you have the power and ability to show brotherly love; and if you lack this kind of love, maybe such a lack indicates that you have not been born again.

The second aspect of brotherly love is that God Himself teaches Christians to love their fellow believers. Spiritual brotherly love is not self-generated. The source of this kind of love springs from the very character and being of God. So we read, "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another" (1 Th. 4:9). As a child of God, you have a divine instructor 'from the inside' – your heavenly Father teaches you to love. God spiritually informs, convicts, leads, and guides you so that you have no need for anyone to instruct you that you should love. Christians should love instinctively. Sometimes my children 'get on each other's nerves.' Sometimes they yell at each other. Sometimes they even call each other names; and I will say, "Sarah, do not talk to your brother like that," or "Benjamin, do not call your sister names." As their father I am endeavouring to instruct them; and, similarly, God, as our Father, instructs us.

Is God teaching you? When a Christian brother is in financial need, and God convicts you by His Spirit to help him out monetarily, do you respond? God may have spiritually said to you this past week to pick up the phone and encourage that discouraged, believing sister. Did you respond? Maybe God has said to you this past week, "Listen, you have sinned against your brother. You need to go and ask for his forgiveness." Did you respond?

The third aspect of brotherly love is that it flows from of a godly character. The apostle Peter lists a number of spiritual qualities or virtues that are indicative of one who has been born again, of one who is an elect of God, and he says that if these virtues are in him or her, and are increasing, he or she will never spiritually stumble and lose salvation's blessings, but will enter into God's eternal kingdom. In this list of spiritual virtues, each virtue flows out of the previously mentioned one. Accordingly, we read, "And in your godliness [supply] brotherly love [according to the original Greek]." Godliness is the spiritual soil out of which brotherly love grows. If there is an absence of godliness, then there will be an absence of brotherly love.

Brotherly love runs deeper than mere duty

Mutual devotion is the manner in which this love should be expressed – "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love." God calls His people to be affectionate to each other. The original Greek may be translated: "dearly loving or being tenderly affectionate." Love, to be sure, is an act of the will. You choose to love. Love is not primarily a feeling, but true love certainly entails a tender feeling. True love cannot be indifferent or cold to its object. To be tenderly affectionate means having a warm, caring feeling. It is possible to love begrudgingly. We may self-justifiably say something like this, "Well, love is a duty and I am fulfilling my duty, but I really do not feel well-disposed." Love should be a desire and a delight, rather than a mere duty. We are commanded not simply to love, but to love with heart-felt devotion, with affection. You have not completely fulfilled the requirement to love by simply doing good to another person. You are to do good, with good feelings. We are to love from the heart, which means that we should strive to like our brethren, as well as love them.

Our attitude is so crucial in this matter of brotherly love. We ought to view our brethren favourably. We ought to learn to think well of our brethren, and as we do that, we will like them. It is almost impossible to see your brethren favourably and to dislike them. You will never be affectionate towards someone unless you like them; that fact is elementary. You will never be affectionate towards someone if you despise them; that is a contradiction in experience.

An example of brotherly love

Perhaps a classic picture of this tender affection is found in Luke 7. This is the story of Simon, the Pharisee, and a prostitute woman. We read, "Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him [Jesus] to dine with him. And He entered the Pharisee's house, and reclined at the table. And behold, there was a [prostitute] woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet, and anointing them with perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner" (vss. 36-39). Jesus then compares the love of Simon and the love of this prostitute woman. We read, "And turning toward the woman, He [Jesus] said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little'" (vss. 44-47). Do you sense the woman's affection? Do you sense the tenderness? That is the expression of brotherly love.

Brotherly love shows respect to others

A specific demonstration or example of brotherly love is showing esteem for one's fellow believer – "give preference to one another in honour." The original Greek may also be translated, "Out do one another in giving honour." There is the idea of competition. You, as a Christian, are to endeavour to show more respect and give more esteem to your fellow believer than he or she may give to you. This is healthy competition.

We live in an age of cynicism. We live in an age of disrespect as a result of the prevailing anti-authoritarian mood. People say, "You cannot tell me what to do," or "I am just as good as the next guy. Who do you think you are to point the finger at me?" Though the social tide flows against this Biblical injunction, Christians are to try to out do one another in showing respect to each other, really considering one's fellow believer as worthy of being ministered to. Is that how you see your Christian brothers and sisters? Are you working hard at showing them respect and esteem? This is a concrete demonstration of brotherly love.

Though showing brotherly love may be difficult to do, it certainly is possible, and certainly required of God. How may we show this kind of love? First, we need to view people as Jesus would; we need to learn to do to people as Jesus would. We need to learn to see our brothers and sisters as Jesus sees them. We need to have spiritual eyes. Too often we are selfish; we have personal agendas; we have self-concerns; and the only way we can overcome these shortcomings is to see as Jesus sees, and to do as Jesus does. When we approach our Christian brother or our Christian sister, we are to approach them as we think Jesus would and minister to them as if we were ministering to Jesus. Jesus said, "To the extent that you did it [ministered] to one of the brothers [i.e., believers] of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (Mt. 25:40). So when you approach that fellow believer and minister to him or her, you are doing it to Jesus, and that attitude will make all the difference in the world.

Brotherly love requires humility

Second, to show brotherly love, we need to evidence a humble spirit. If we are really going to out do others in giving esteem, then we need to have a servant's attitude. O, that every Christian who seeks to advance in a holy life would remember this well. We need to spiritually wash the feet of one another. A number of years ago, before I came into the evangelical faith, I became of member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church (which, in some respects, is a cult). The Church has a practice that the members observe at least once a year – the washing of the feet of another. I engaged in that particular observance. At the time, I felt uneasy as I grabbed another brother's feet and put soap and water on them. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples as an example for us that we should follow in spirit. To truly love requires humility. We need to humble ourselves, being servants, and give preference to one another in honour. The missionary Bishop Thoburn served fifty years in India and in the Far East. Unknown to many, however, is the role Thoburn's brother had in making the missionary work even possible. His brother remained at home and worked in order to finance Thoburn's training and prepare him for service. What an unselfish deed.

Brotherly love is the cohesion for church unity and peace. It is the manifested reality and proof that Jesus came to save sinners – "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:35). May we indeed, as Christians, present a clear message to the world that Jesus has come.