With Brotherly Affection

“Love One Another with Brotherly Affection…”

Romans 12:10

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.”

SDG

Pass the Chocolate

“Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”
(Isa 58:6 ESV)

This being Ash Wednesday, the beginning the Lenten season, everybody’s talking about what they’re going to give up as an act of discipline.  Some have turned off social media, some will try to quit smoking, others have promised, somewhat humorously, to stop shoveling snow.

If taken seriously, the practice of forsaking those vices that tempt and try your soul is a commendable thing, especially if it leads to a permanent victory over a besetting sin.  However, to merely give something up that is not inherently bad, depriving yourself of a God-given pleasure, to somehow feel “closer to God” for 40 days, only to take it back up again in the end seems… how do I say this… NUTS!

I don’t think this is a Biblical teaching.  It may be rooted in tradition, but at the heart of it, the notion of a Lenten Fast to demonstrate devotion and discipline smacks of works righteousness, declaring, “Hey God, I gave up caffeine for 40 days, just for you.  Aren’t you proud of me? I may have been a terrible grouch, but didn’t I prove to you my spiritual fortitude?”  Now where’s that jewel in my crown?  Have you ever stopped to ask how many people are actually drawn to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because you gave up wearing polyester pant suits for 7 weeks?  Did anyone even notice?

Now, if I haven’t totally offended you and you’re still reading, here’s my suggestion: Rather than give up some trivial pleasure this Lent, fast from something that doesn’t belong in the Christian life anyway, something that you, the Church, and your community would be better off without for good.  Here are a few suggestions:

Complaining – Nothing has ever really been gained by a grumbling and complaining spirit.  Yes, yes, the squeaky wheel  gets the oil, but it also eventually gets replaced.  Look through the history of Scripture, never once did God commend the complaining spirit.  Complaining about your lot in life, at its heart, is really telling God that you know better how your life should be going, that you have a better plan.  Complaining, if we take the Israelites in the wilderness as our example, is always looking back at what’s happened in the past, always looking down at what’s happening right now, but never looking forward to what God has promised, to what God is doing.  I will not say that God cannot use a complaining spirit, but when He does, it usually isn’t a good thing.  Stop complaining.  Remember, God is using the very things you are complaining about to work transformation in your life – it has a holy purpose.  Give up complaining for 40 days, you, and everyone else around you, will be better for it.

Comparing – Connected to the idea of complaining is that of comparing.  We like to compare ourselves to others all the time.  We compare ourselves to those who are less fortunate and say, “Well, at least I’m not that bad.” We compare ourselves to those who seem to have everything and say, “When is it going to be my turn?”  Constantly comparing yourself to others to demonstrate your righteousness will get you nowhere with God.  Constantly comparing yourself to others to make excuses for yourself doesn’t have any standing before God either.  Stop comparing yourself to others, and comfort yourself in the knowledge that God has put you where you are, given you the gifts that you have, and is working his grace within you now, that you might grow in the likeness of Christ.  If you must compare yourself to anyone, compare yourself with Him – then cry out to him for mercy and grace.

Bitterness – Nothing hinders the Gospel, nothing quenches the Spirit, nothing obscures the witness quite like a bitter and unforgiving Spirit.  “God is love,” we say.  “I’ve been forgiven,” we celebrate.  “But it will be a cold day in you-know-where before I forgive him…”  I love the phrase “nursing a grudge” because that’s exactly what it is; you are keeping that grudge, that bitterness, that hostility alive, feeding it and nurturing it so that it is always there.  Rather than fostering love, forgiveness, and peace, a bitter and hostile spirit leads to division, animosity, and tearing one another down.  If you have been forgiven, you will forgive.  If you are unwilling to forgive, have you really been forgiven?  This Lent, try fasting from bitterness, and feasting on forgiveness.

Despair – Now by this I don’t mean grief.  There are certainly occasions where grief is appropriate, especially when grieving over the death of a loved one.  By despair I mean that hopeless, pessimistic burden that comes when we forget the Gospel message.  When we look at our sin, our guilt, our shame, and we say, Well, I’ve certainly done it this time.  God surely can’t, won’t, forgive me now.  This despair comes when we turn our eyes from God, from His love for us in Christ, from the earth-shattering power of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, from the wonder-working power of His Spirit in us.  This despair comes when we stop listening to His promises, stop dwelling in His Word, stop fellowshipping with His Church.  We despair when we forget who He is, who He has called us to be, and who we truly are in Christ.  Give up this unhealthy, unfaithful, un-gospel despair, and rejoice in the fact that He has called you His child – and so you are!

So there you have it, just a few suggestions; feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below.  May this Lenten Season be a time when you can cast off every weight and sin which clings so closely, and run with perseverance the race set before you, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.