2 Peter 1:7 “and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.”
There are a number of commands in the Bible about loving others. We must love our enemies, our neighbors, our husband or wife, our children or parents, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Each of these categories carries its own special level of difficulty; but of all these kinds of people whom we are commanded to love, the kind that gets the most “ink” in the New Testament is the love of brethren in the church. This emphasis may be partly because of the Jew/Gentile merger in the early church; but anyone who has been a Christian for even a little while also knows that love of the brethren can be one of the disciple’s biggest challenges.
Some of the many better known New Testament passages on this topic include…
- John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
- 1 Peter 1:22 “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 John 4:20 “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Clearly, this isn’t a suggestion, that we can take or leave as we might wish, nor is there a lot wiggle room for “interpretation” (what we humans like to do, when we don’t like what Scripture says). And this is why 2 Peter 1:7 draws our attention here to increasing our love for our brethren in Christ, to make certain about our calling and election (2 Pet. 1:10).
So, how do we do it?
First of all, brotherly love (Greek: philadelphia) requires some effort: (Ephesians 4:2, 3) “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Brotherly love, takes diligence (hard work and attention). We’d love for this (and other Christian virtues) to come naturally, but virtue comes only with deliberate and thoughtful exertion. Do you want to grow in brotherly love? Roll up your sleeves and give some focus and energy to it.
Second, practicing brotherly love means that we’ll need to be spending time together. And these days, that seems to be a greater and greater challenge! We may be engulfed in social media and virtual communities, but let’s not fool ourselves, that’s not where brotherly love is cultivated. Christian “philadelphia” is nurtured in face to face worship assembly, (Heb. 10:25), Bible classes (Acts 2:42), small groups (Acts 12:12), hospitality settings (Rom. 12:13), working together, and just “hanging out” with fellow disciples. It’s difficult to forge the bonds of brotherly love toward people you don’t associate with very much. If we want to obey God in this matter, we need to plan and make the effort to get together with one another.
Moreover, brotherly kindness, brotherly love, treats a brother or sister with proper respect. Here’s a verse that many may not be familiar with, but it’s full of meaning in this context: (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.” And by the way, this aspect of brotherly kindness also includes the respect of greeting one another (Rom. 16:16) and not just a few “buds” (Matt. 5:47). Respect may be “old hat” in modern times, but God commands it for Christians.
Brotherly love (philadelphia) also takes care with its liberty. Paul warned the Corinthian congregation that those who wanted to use Christian liberties (1 Cor. 8,9) must be careful to use it in such a way as to not cause a weaker brother to stumble. Loving brothers means deliberately limiting ourselves for the spiritual welfare of someone else. Christians care more about their brethren than their personal desires.
God’s family, when it is practicing brotherly love, takes care with their tongues, avoiding gossip, along with harsh, angry, and hyper-critical words and attitudes (Eph. 4:25—5:5). Words are often very cruel—sometimes, in the ear of the hearer, even crueler than we intended them to be. Disciples think carefully and will often even pray before they speak.
Brotherly love also means letting God, as our Father, settle our disagreements—and yes, disagreements are normal and to be occasionally expected. Folks in the world have a difficult time settling arguments, because they have no standard; but Christians do. When we have problems with our brother, we are expected to actively make up with them. Jesus taught in Matt. 5:21-26 and 18:15-18 that regardless of whether you are the offended party or the offender it is your responsibility to make up. And when matters are settled, our Father expects that we will forgive (Matt. 18:21ff). The fundamental problem in most worldly reconciliations is an unwillingness to forgive. But Christians must; the man or woman who does not, will not be forgiven by the Lord. And when we let the Lord settle our disagreements, peace prevails.
Don’t neglect this often overlooked and undervalued virtue of those whose calling and election is sure! Love your brother.