By Pastor Glenn Pease
D. L. Moody has related a tradition concerning the sight of Solomon's temple. It seems that the land was occupied by two brothers. One had a family and the other was unmarried. One evening after harvesting the wheat, as they sat in their separate dwellings, the elder brother said to his wife, "My younger brother is unable to bear the burden and heat of the day. I will arise and put my shocks with his." The younger brother said to himself, "My brother has a family with greater need than I. I will arise and put my shocks with his." They met in the night each with their arms filled with shocks, and it was on that ground hallowed by such brotherly love that the temple was erected. Brotherly love was a great value in the Old Testament, and many of the Old Testament saints would gladly pray with the poet:
If any lift of mine may ease
The burden of another,
God give me love and care and strength
To help my ailing brother.
There are great examples of brotherly love such as David and Jonathan, or Ruth and Naomi. Let us remember that though the word sounds very masculine it includes the female also. Philadelphia is the Greek word that Peter uses, but this virtue is so vital a part of New Testament Christianity that often the highest word for love, which is agape, is also used to described brotherly love. For example, Jesus in John 13:34 says, "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another: as I have loved you, that you also love one another." Jesus calls us to put brotherly love on the same level as His love for us, which is agape love, and agape is the Greek word used in that verse. Jesus also says that this is a new commandment. The Old Testament could be summed up in the two great commandments of loving God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves. Now Jesus says He is adding a third commandment of love, which is brotherly love, and distinct from love of neighbor.
Peter has given us these three great commandments as the last three in this series of essential weapons for Christian victory. Godliness is love and loyalty to God. Love at the end of the list is our love to all men; to our neighbor and even toward enemies. But here in the middle of these two which sum up the whole Old Testament is the new commandment of Christ to love one another. This love is exclusively directed toward those who, by faith in Christ, have become children of God and our brothers. We must love all who are our brothers before we can love all others. We are to do good to all men, says Paul, but especially to those who are of the household of faith. The New Testament makes a great deal of this brotherly love. So much so that the Apostle John says that if we do not have it we are not truly Christians. If we say we love God but hate some brother in Christ, we are liars and deceive ourselves. Love of God and love of one's fellow Christians are so bound together that they cannot exist separate from each other. Christians are to demonstrate to the world that love can unite people of every race, background, and personality.
The fact that it is made a commandment, and the fact that Peter and all the Apostles urged Christians to add it to their lives clearly indicates it is not just an automatic part of the Christian life. Christians are not automatically lovable to each other. People come to Christ out of every conceivable background and with every conceivable personality. They have much that is not in common, and so it is only as they concentrate on what they do have in common, namely Jesus Christ, that they can love one another. So many Christians have a hard time figuring out other Christians and their values, or beliefs, and they don't know what to do about them. The answer is as simple to state as the Department of Agriculture stated it to a man with great pride in his lawn. He was fighting to keep it free from dandelions, and after trying every known device to get rid of them, he wrote to the government agency and told them all he had done. He asked them, "What should I do now?" In due time they replied, "We suggest you learn to love them."
That is the New Testament demand, and you are to learn to love all who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior. Brotherly love is not a matter of affection, but of duty to Christ, and commitment to His purpose. The success or failure of the church depends upon the obedience of Christians to this commandment of Christ. When Christians obeyed it the world looked and said, "Behold how they love one another." This so impressed the pagans that it opened the door for the Gospel. Lucian, a Greek writer in the second century, wrote this of Christians: "It is incredible what pain and diligence they use by all means to aid one another. They have an extreme contempt of the things of the world. Their legislature made them believe that they are all brethren, and since they have renounced our religion, and worshiped their crucified leader, they live according to His laws and all their riches are common."
The pagans may have misunderstood much of the theology of Christianity, but they could not fail to be impressed with the love of Christians for one another. They pagans had no basis for such love and unity. The Christians had God as Father, the church as mother, and Christ as the elder brother. The Holy Spirit was the unifier of all, and so they were an unique family. Christianity alone provides a basis for a universal brotherhood. John Holland wrote, "Science can make a neighborhood of a nation, but only Christ can make the nations into a brotherhood. It is extremely important, therefore, that all Christians know why brotherly love is to characterize their lives, and what they can do to express it. Let's consider the question first:
I. WHY IS IT SO ESSENTIAL?
Jesus gave His reason for its importance in John 13:35: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." Jesus wants brotherly love to be the trademark of the Christian. It is to be the sign by which men know his followers. It is to be the key value in witnessing to the world. Lack of it could destroy the progress of the church. History has demonstrated this over and over.
Clement wrote in the second century, "When pagans hear from our lips the oracles of God, they marvel at their beauty and greatness; afterwards, when they discover that our actions are not worthy of our utterances, they betake themselves to blasphemy, declaring it is all myth and delusion. When they hear from us that God says, 'It is no credit to you if you love those who love you, but it is a merit to you if you love your enemies and those who hate you'-when they hear that, they marvel at such surpassing kindness; but when they see that we fail to love not only those who hate us but even those who love us, then they deride us, and God's name is blasphemed."
A failure on the part of Christians to practice brotherly love makes mockery of the whole Gospel, and it weakens the witness of the church more than any other single factor. Brothers in Christ must learn to agree to disagree on non-essentials, just like literal brothers do. If you wait until all Christians agree with you before you love them, your love will come too late to be of any use in time, for all Christians will never agree in time. We need this fruit of the spirit now, and not just in heaven.
John Wesley was one of the wisest men whoever lived, and though he had deep convictions that changed the world, he could get along with almost everyone. He said, "It is certain so long as we know but in part, that all men will not see all things alike." He loved men who differed with him because he was not so arrogant as to believe he was all wise. It is essential that every Christian possess this attitude, for love cannot thrive in the soil of pride and intolerance. On the other hand, when love is absent the weeds of pride and intolerance thrive, even in the Christian life. Lack of brotherly love has brought shame upon the church again and again.
Constantinople had been for many centuries the bulwark of Christendom and civilization, but the soldiers of the cross from the West, during the Crusades, attacked the city, burned it, desecrated its Cathedral, and conducted a blasphemous mockery of the Greek Orthodox service with a dancing girl on the high altar. The Greek church never forgave that outrage, and when they had to choose between Mohammedan rule, or that of the Catholics, they chose the Moslems, and thus, a foolish feud between Christians led to a great triumph for paganism. To make matters worse, they each claimed to be the one true church, and excluded each other. Then, as if two one true churches was not enough, the church of England claimed the only true Apostolic succession and said that they were the one true church.
In a Manual for Confirmation Candidates this is what they taught their children: "The Catholic church is the home of the Holy Ghost. It is His only earthly home. He does not make His home in any dissenting sect. Sometimes people quarrel with the church, and break away from her, and make little sham churches of their own. We call these people dissenters, and their sham churches sects. The Holy Ghost does not abide, does not dwell, with them." The absurdity does not stop with only three one true churches, however, for these so called sham churches decided to declare all of the others apostate, and take the title for themselves, and so the number of one true churches has multiplied through the years.
Robert Hall, the great Baptist preacher, wrote concerning this nonsense: "Nothing more abhorrent to the principles and maxims of the sacred oracles can be conceived than the idea of a plurality of true churches, neither in actual communion with each other, nor in the capacity for such communion. Through this rending of the seamless coat of our Savior, this schism in the members of His mystical body, is by far the greatest calamity which has befallen the Christian interest..." Jesus said a house divided against itself cannot stand, and this goes for the church as well as the house of Satan. One of the things that most impressed me about the Billy Graham team, and its policy and programs, is its foundation in love. Every conceivable kind of Christian unites together in the common cause of extending the kingdom of God.
Hundreds of ministers whose theology is in conflict, and whose views on church life, polity, membership, baptism, theology, etc., is widely different, and yet all in one accord on that which is essential. Billy Graham is doing more for the ecumenical movement than anyone, with the goal being, not organic unity, but unity in brotherly love. This is no doubt the reason for why he has been so successful. Alexander Campbell, the pioneer leader of the Church of the Disciples said, "This plan of building our own tents and of confining all goodness and grace to our noble selves and to the elect few who are like us, is the quintessence of sublimated Pharisaism." Lack of brotherly love means a weak and negative witness to the world, and a fruitless Christian life. There are other evil results also, but these are sufficient to answer the question why brotherly love is so essential. If you cannot love those in Christ who differ from you, don't expect the world to be impressed with you, for you are no different from them. Now lets consider the question-
II. HOW IS IT TO BE EXPRESSED?
The most obvious way is by means of tolerance. The Dutch has a custom to symbolize the need to live together in unity. They put tow earthen pots afloat and put this inscription on them, "If we knock together, we sink together." Every time one Christian knocks another both are brought lower in the eyes of the world, and the knocker in the eyes of God, for this is one of the things that He hates. We are not talking here about the valid rebuke for sin. Paul rebuked Peter to his face for his false views, and Peter became a better man for it. It is valid to rebuke another believer in order to get them to forsake a wrong path, but this is part of loving one another. Paul did this to help Peter. He did not go out and start an anti-Peter campaign. Tolerance does not mean that you let fellow Christians do as they please and go astray without rebuke or warning, but it means that you do not demand that they conform to you and your views for fellowship. Christians may disagree and even split up as did Paul and Barnabas, but love will bring them back together again, as it did them, for love will make them reconsider their differences, and recognize their unity in Christ is far more important than their differences in viewpoint.
No man is an island, except the one who will not have fellowship with anyone who differs from him on things non-essential. He is a lonely man indeed. Robert Hall said, "The man who is good enough for Christ is good enough for me." Does Jesus love people who are radically different in viewpoint? Look at the 12 He chose for His disciples and you have the answer. The poet wrote,
One Master's peace the strife shall end,
One life our lives combine,
And he that is my Master's friend
Shall be a friend of mine.
This is brotherly love, and this is the way to power in the church. This is not just saying live and let live, but live and help live. A company of soldiers who cannot work together, but who disagree and fight among themselves, rather than against the common enemy, is not going to be very effective tool in the hands of the Commander. That is why Jesus threatened to set aside some of the churches in the book of Revelation, for they had forsaken their first love and were more involved in other pursuits than the pursuit of love.
Intolerance is unchristian, unwise, unjust, and unkind, but unfortunately it is not uncommon. Many are like the Mary in this little poem.
Mary had a little slam
For everyone, and so-
The leaves of her engagement book
Were always white as snow.
Some professing Christians seem to thrive on the slamming of others. I hear Christians critical of other Christians without ever reading their works. They make claims of how they are not true believers, when the evidence is clear that they are. This lack of brotherly-love that will not even seek to understand others is shameful, and it is hateful to God. It is one of the most unwise things that Christians do when they judge other Christians without even knowing the people they condemn. It is folly on the highest level, and makes Christians look stupid. If you tend to be critical of other believers, there is a good chance that you are being an enemy of the cause of Christ, for likely you have not really studied to know the people you condemn. Brotherly love will make sure that any condemnation of another brother is for their good, and that it is based on first hand contact, and not based on second hand information about the person.
John Chrysostom, that golden mouthed preacher of many centuries ago, wrote, "Was it ever seen that a sheep did persecute the wolf? No, but contrairywise. So also Cain persecuted Abel, but not Abel Cain. So Ishmael persecuted Isaac, not Isaac Ishmael. So the Jews did Christ, not Christ the Jews. So the heretic Christians, not Christians heretics. Wherefore by their fruits we shall know them. He whom thou perceivest to take delight in persecution and bloodshed is a ravenous wolf." There are many who pretend to be defenders of the faith who are wolves in sheep's clothing. All through history the persecutor has been the anti-Christian, even if he is defending the orthodox viewpoint. It was in defense of orthodoxy that Jesus was crucified, and He is crucified afresh in every generation by those who defend the faith without brotherly love and tolerance of those who differ.
We usually think of John as the great apostle of love, and Paul likewise, for he wrote the great love chapter of I Cor. 13, but we cannot leave Peter out, for he makes it clear that without love the Christian is blind, inadequate, and unfruitful. If love is the greatest virtue, then brotherly love is a part of that supreme virtue, and we need to have it in all situations to make sure we are part of the answer, and not part of the problem in the body of Christ. Swift wrote,
And when with grief you see our brother stray,
Or in a night of error lose his way,
Direct his wandering and restore the day.
Leave to avenging Heaven his stubborn will,
For, O, remember, he's your brother still.
Am I my brothers keeper? Yes, says the New Testament. Dr. David Jones tells of 12 people he had in a training camp planning to go to the mission field. They did not like each other, and the tension grew until one exploded and said, "I can't stand any of you! I can't wait to get to Africa so I can love the natives." He wanted to get to agape love by bypassing Philadelphia love, but it just will not work. We need to recognize that we cannot be what God wants us to be without brotherly love. Paul backs up Peter on this issue, and he writes in Rom. 12:10, "Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor." In I Thess. 4:9-10 he writes, "But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do all love all the brethren throughout Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more." That is the key, for no matter how much we love one another, we must keep on growing more and more in brotherly love.