“Love One Another with Brotherly Affection…”
Romans 12:9-21 gives us a picture of what the Christian character, and the Christian community, ought to look like. As I’ve written here over the past few weeks, this Christian life begins with a genuine and sincere love for God and for one another. In loving God, we grow to hate that which is evil, and cling to that which is good and true. Today we see how we are to treat one another.
Paul writes that we are to love one another with brotherly affection. Now while I love the ESV translation of scripture, there are times when the Greek really has more to offer. This love to which we are called to have for one another in the Greek text is really a combination of two words, philos – meaning brotherly love – and stergo – which means “natural affection. Essentially the word, which is only found in this passage in Romans, calls for a devotion or loving-kindness that is naturally found in the family – in parents for their children, or the love that binds brothers. In other words, the Christian is reminded to love the brethren in the faith as though they were brethren in blood. Matthew Henry wrote, this “kind affection puts us on to express ourselves both in word and action with the greatest courtesy and obligingness that may be.”
But let’s be honest. I grew up with an older brother and younger sister, and I know we didn’t always get along. I am raising four kids of my own, and not a day goes by that there is not some skirmish or battle between the brothers. They wouldn’t fight like this with their friends, but their brothers are free game.
Sadly, I see this in the church, too. I came to realize, very early in ministry, that often Christians will treat their brothers and sisters in Christ far worse than they would a total stranger. It’s in the slander and gossip that flows under the guise of a “prayer chain” and the cold and unforgiving glare in the “fellowship” time after worship. It’s in the dismissive attitude that one elder has for another, and in the deacon’s refusal to care for that member who’s always asking for help. The community of faith, which ought to be a witness to the forgiveness and transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, frequently clouds that witness in the way they treat one another.
How do we, then, maintain our witness as we love one another with brotherly affection?
Remember You are Brethren, Purchased by Christ.
I realize when I give bullet points like this, I usually start out with a “remember” point. There’s good reason for that. So much of what we’re supposed to do flows out of what’s already been done. What we do as the Christian community comes from who we are in Christ. It is because of what He has done, having purchased us by His blood (1 Pet 1:18-19), having broken down the dividing wall of hostility between us and made us one body in Him (Eph 2:14). Through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, we are made the children of God, )with one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Eph 4:5-6).
We are then, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Let us “therefore, by the mercies of God” live with love toward our brethren. When we address one another, let us remember that we are addressing one for whom Christ died, one in whom the grace of God is working, one in whom the Spirit of God is sanctifying. When we speak to other Christians, we are addressing the child of the King of Heaven, a fellow heir and saint by grace through faith, a new creation through the Spirit and the Word.
Forgive as You Have Been Forgiven
If you live with someone long enough, you are bound to need forgiveness. Disagreements and arguments are normal in any family, and the family of faith is not immune. You will not find in Scripture any congregation that is above correction, for on this side of eternity the Church and it’s members is being made holy – we have not arrived.
And so we are “bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:13). This, of course, reminds us that each of us has been forgiven, and the grace we have been shown in Jesus Christ is the same grace we are to extend to one another. This means seeking out those whom we have harmed and asking for forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24), and eagerly seeking to be reconciled with those who have brought us harm.
Rejoice in the Lord Always
In all things, as we relate to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord our overriding theme should be joy in the Christ. While we may not always see eye to eyes as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can agree to let the joy of Christ be our theme.
What is this joy? It is the joy that Christ came to make complete in our lives (John 15:11). It is the joy of knowing that we are reconciled with God and at peace with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the joy of having full assurance of salvation in Christ alone. It is the joy of being one with kindred spirits as the body of Christ. It is the joy of belonging to a family whose foundations run deeper and truer than flesh and blood. It is the joy of being “blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). It is quite simply that as we are one with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as Calvin once wrote, “come what may, believers, having the Lord standing on their side, have sufficient ground of joy.”