"Love the Brotherhood"

“Love the Brotherhood”

By Paul R. Blake

            “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1Peter 2:17).

            How does one love the brotherhood? One view is that nothing more is required than a general feeling of goodwill to Christians in distant places. However, this kind of love is without works; it is dead, being alone (1John 3:16-18). In the previously cited examples, Paul and John actively, visibly demonstrated love for the brotherhood that Peter was inspired to command. Their brotherly affection was not passive.

            Another may choose to manifest his love for the brotherhood by attempting to control it. In his zeal to help disciples in all places to apprehend and apply his understanding of the faith, he may try to band together with a party of likeminded men to coerce congregations to fall in line with his vision of what the church universal must be.

            Fortunately, truth is not at the extremes of human opinions; it is in the word of God. Each disciple is required to study, understand, and practice the truth. However, one is not permitted a personal application of truth that does violence to the scriptures or interferes with another’s service to God. Neither of the above positions are truth.

            Loving the brotherhood is a command that can only be applied by individual Christians. Public recognition of the fact that the brotherhood exists does not create an organization larger than the church; it just acknowledges the state of being a member of the body of Christ and accepts the New Testament commands regarding the individual Christian’s responsibility toward it. No organization of individuals is authorized to coordinate and carry out these responsibilities. Any such attempt is as egregious a violation of authority as any other institutional practice. On the other hand, an attempt to inhibit an individual Christian’s efforts to keep his scriptural responsibility to love the brotherhood is as misguided as any other sectarian practice.

            What are the works, worship and organization of the brotherhood? None, none, and none. No inspired Bible writer speaks of a single duty for the brotherhood. Local churches are scripturally charged in all three of these matters, but the church universal is not. Yet while the brotherhood has no authorized task, the individual Christian has mandated duties to it beyond his responsibilities to the local church of which he is a member.

            Loving the brotherhood begins with “fraternal affection” or “brotherly love” (philadelphia – Strongs 5360). Such a love must be genuine, not just to provide sufficient motivation for a Christian to act in another’s best interests, but also to prevent him from willfully harming his brother and calling it love. Peter writes: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1Peter 1:22). There is nothing in this passage that limits its application to brethren within a local church. Therefore, Christians are obligated to honorably love all brethren in all places.

            Loving the brotherhood may find its expression in active concern for the physical wellbeing of other Christians. If a brother is hungry, feed him. If he is cold, clothe him. If he is homeless, house him. It matters not if he is member of one’s local congregation or from the church across town, or from an assembly of Christians in another nation. He is part of the brotherhood, the fraternity of disciples of Jesus Christ. He is fellow Christian, and when in need as such may be the recipient of the active good will and a sharer in the material blessings of all other Christians in all other places. Paul tested the sincerity of the Corinthians’ love for the brethren in famine-stricken Judea by measuring their brotherly affection against the generous works of the Macedonian disciples (2Cor. 8:1-15).

            Active concern for the wellbeing of all Christians in the brotherhood is not limited to physical needs. Timothy had a deep interest in the spiritual wellbeing of the Philippians, even though he was not a member of that congregation (Phil. 2:20). Epaphras had a zealous interest in the churches at Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis, even though he could not have been a member of all three congregations simultaneously (Col. 4:12-13). In both cases, the inspired apostle Paul spoke approvingly of their examples.

            Often, Paul, Peter and John were inspired to address the spiritual needs of congregations of which they were not members. By addressing the internal problems of local churches in such a public manner, they exposed the difficulties of those disciples to all Christians for all of time. Lest one suggest that inspiration gave them this right that does not confer to uninspired correspondence, consider the fact that Paul wrote the non-canonical (and possibly uninspired) letter to the Laodicean church and encouraged the Colossian disciples (who were not members of the Laodicean church) to read it (Col. 4:16).

            Clearly the inspired apostles and Bible writers considered active interest in the spiritual wellbeing of disciples in other congregations to be an authorized application of “loving the brotherhood.” It is also evident that they did not consider this activity to be a violation of local church autonomy.

            There is a brotherhood to which individual Christians have the obligation of love. The word of God regulates this love and requires that it be genuine and active, ready to assist in the spiritual and physical needs of all disciples in all places as opportunity may arise. Love the brotherhood!

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