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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30am service, 2004-03-21

Text: 2 Peter 1:7

The New Testament Greek word for brotherly kindness used in this passage is 'philadelphia'. You may remember that 'Philadelphia; is also the name of one of the seven churches that was addressed in the book of Revelation, and today there is also a city on the eastern board of the U.S. by the same name. One might imagine how nice it would be to live in a city or church called 'brotherly kindness.' But it should not be surprising to find that those who live there have their share of conflicts, because of the depravity of the human heart!

Actually 2 Peter 1:7 is the only instance in the NT where this word (philadelphia) is translated as 'brotherly kindness' The word is found four other times in the NT and in all these four instances it is translated as 'brotherly love.' Romans 12:10 - 'Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;' 1 Thessalonians 4:9 - 'But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.' Hebrews 13:1 - 'Let brotherly love continue.' 1 Peter 1:22 - 'Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:'

Since the meaning of the word philadelphia is actually love for the brethren, and not just kindness, what makes this quality different from the the last one, charity (agape)? 

The key to understanding the difference and the specific meaning of the word philadelphia is found in the qualifier, 'brotherly' that is attached to it. This qualifier shows us that it is attitude of warm affectionate devotion that can be shared by brothers and sisters in a close-knit family. This was apparently something that characterised church life in the early Christian church. Each local congregation was just like a close-knit family, where the members treated one another lovingly and warmly as if they had very close blood ties with each other.

This explains why the biblical writers often addressed the Christians in the churches as 'brethren.' This term means 'brothers and sisters.' It is used in the Bible approximately 230 times, and it literally means 'from the same womb.' This implies that Christians are vitally related to each other. How? Through a shared Christian heritage and a common birth and more precisely, the common experience of being born again of the Holy Spirit. The word 'brethren' is also found in the Old Testament, e.g. in Psalm 133, where the psalmist describes 'how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.' It brings great joy to the heart of our Lord to see His dear children together as one. Another term is used in 1 Peter 2:17. Here the command is given to us to 'love the brotherhood.' The term 'brotherhood' refers once again to the church as a closely-knit family.

I trust that each of you have had your own unique experience of tender affection and mutual love with brothers and sisters in your own families. Being part of a family is something that most of us can identify with. This is why biblical writers like Peter chose to use the family term, 'brotherly kindness' when they wrote about the way that believers should relate to one another. We should not think of our church just as a group of people who just happen to believe in the same God, and who just happen to gather together in the same place once or twice a week to worship Him. We should think of one another as being members of the same family, and that there are family ties that bind us together. When we apply this concept, it will add to us a dimension of warmth, tenderness, care, concern and loyalty to our church life.

And so we have seen that the Bible teaches very clearly that the church is a family. But family life does not just happen automatically or effortlessly. In some families today (and sad to say, even Christian families) the members hardly talk with one another. Father, mother, sons and daughters all lead their own lives separately and do not even share mealtimes together because each comes home at a different time. Family life has to be cultivated. The same thing is true of the church family. We need to cultivate our family life.

We need to keep on functioning as a family and loving one another as a family. There must be a conscious effort to regard one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and grow in our love and devotion toward one another. This is why the Bible constantly repeats the specific commandment for Christians to love one another. Some of these commandments are even accompanied with a reason given for us to love one another. We have already seen the first reason - that brotherly love is what being in God's family is about. We will look at two other reasons that are found with other instances of the same command.

In John 13:34,35 Jesus Himself said, 'A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.' Then the reason is given: 'By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.' In this instance, the reason is evangelistic. When brotherly love is evident in our church, then those who are outside Christ who are able to see this love will identify us as Disciples of Christ. What they see happening here in our midst must not be the same as what they see happening in the world. We all know that the world is characterised by hatred, hostility, backstabbing, criticism, envy, competition, and exploitation. Church life should not be characterised by these things at all, but rather by mutual love, giving, serving, and generous expressions of sincere appreciation, thanksgiving and praise for one another. This will provide a visible testimony to the world that we truly belong to Christ.

Another instance of this commandment is found in 1 Peter 1:22 and here we find the third reason for brotherly love - 'Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.' This verse teaches us an important principle, the principle that if we have been genuinely saved, we now have the ability and power to love one another. We have no excuse for not showing brotherly lovee. Before we were saved, we had an excuse, because it was not possible for us to show sincere love for the brethren, since our lives were controlled by self and sin then. It is only through the Gospel of Christ, that we now have the power that comes from the Holy Spirit who indwells us, to love the brethren fervently.

And so dearly beloved, we have now seen three good reasons why we should cultivate brotherly love to one another: Firstly, because it is what it means to be in the family of God. And secondly, because having by this love for one another, the world may know that we are truly disciples of Jesus Christ. 

And thirdly, because we now possess the ability to love one another, by virtue of the salvation we have received in Jesus Christ. But now comes the hardest part of all - How do we put this into practice? It is easy just to give lip service and say, 'Yes, I fully agree with that. We ought to love and show brotherly kindness to one another.' But how do we carry out this commandment in actual terms? Let me outline some steps. The first step is to:

I. Take Seriously What God's Word Says about Loving One Another. 

Carefully consider all the verses where commandments of brotherly love are found. Let God speak to you about this, and let it develop into a personal conviction. Then commit yourself to do it. Make it your fervent prayer to God that you really want to have this quality of brotherly love for Christians around you. Ask Him to help you apply what you have learnt from His Word. When you have done this, proceed to the second step which is to:

II. Evaluate your present attitudes and actions toward brethren in Christ.

What are your present feelings toward Christian brethren? What are the barriers or hindrances that hold you back from demonstrating more brotherly love toward them? 

1. For some of us the greatest hindrance may be self-love.

A love for self makes it difficult and even impossible to have unselfish affection for others. In Philippians 2:3,4, Paul said, 'Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.' These verses make it quite clear that Christians should not be self-centred people, thinking only of themselves or loving themselves alone. There is one way that you can tell if you are self-centred or not. What do you usually pray for in your personal prayers each day? Do you find yourself only praying for yourself that God will give you the things that you want for yourself? Are your prayers always self-centred?

If you have made the diagnosis that self-love is the main cause for your lack of love for others, how do you deal with it? The cure for self-love is to see yourself only as a sinner who is saved by grace alone. If not for what God has done in your life, you would not be what you are right now. You must realize how graciously God has dealt with you to give you eternal life and a glorious home in heaven, when what you really deserved from Him is eternal death in hell. 

When you can understand how much you have been loved and saved by God, then you will become more willing to show that same love to those who are around you. 

2. Another hindrance to brotherly kindness the fear of being rejected. 

Some of you may have gone through the unpleasant experience of being misunderstood or deeply hurt by people. Then you may feel tempted to withdraw yourself from others and to be afraid to show any love toward others again. Such fear causes you to keep yourself at a safe distance from them. But doing this would cause you to go against God's commandment to you, to love one another. So, in order to be obedient to God's commandments, we need to overcome such fears. 

Now, listen carefully to this: It is true that there is a risk involved whenever you endeavour to show love to others: the risk that someone will let you down, or take advantage of your kindness. Whenever you show love, you are bound to make yourself vulnerable to being hurt either by someone who coldly refuses to receive your love, or worse still by someone who abuses your love.

But please remember that this will not happen very often. The majority of Christians will not let you down if you will take the initiative to reach out to them with Christian love and brotherly kindness. If we are not able to trust one another with our love, then something must be terribly wrong with us. All of us who are truly in Christ should be able to trust one another with our love and have no fear at all that the love we share will be refused or abused.

3. A third hindrance to brotherly kindness is having an inaccurate estimate of the worth of fellow Christians. 

If we do not regard one another as being precious, valuable and worthy of your love, it will be immensely difficult for us to love one another. How should you then see others? Exactly how valuable are the lives of people around you? The Word of God teaches us that each and every person has priceless value because each person is created in the image of God. Each and every person also receives life, health and sustenance from God and if God considers them as being worthy enough to receive all of these things from Him, you would be insulting God if you did not value them too. 

But Christian brethren should have even more value in your eyes than that. This is because God has considered them to be precious and valuable enough to send His only begotten Son to die for them. They have been bought with the precious blood of Christ. They are therefore very, very precious in God's sight. Are you able to see them as such? Let us learn to appreciate the infinite worth of every one who is a fellow brother or sister in Christ, and regard everyone as an important, special person who deserves our attention, interest, love and devotion.

When you have evaluated your present attitudes and actions toward others then you can go on to the third step in carrying our the commandment to love one another, which is to 

III. Act upon these things.

Do not stop at just resolving to be more loving, and identifying the hindrances in your life. Nothing more will come out of all that, if you do not begin to act upon them. You must get yourself to begin applying these things immediately. God's Word in 1 John 3:18 tells us, 'My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.' You can do practical things like distributing material help to brethren who are in need (Romans 12:13), showing care and hospitality (Romans 12:13), You can also rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (v.15 - e.g. visiting those who are sick or bereaved).

There are brethren in our church who are physically unwell. There are also brethren who are undergoing severe trials. The prayer bulletin mentions some of them. Please read this weekly bulletin to find out who needs help. The Christian life is not free from trials. Sometimes we have to bear heavy burdens which are unpleasant to endure. This may include emotional trauma, loss of security, loss of loved ones, sickness and injury or retrenchment. The failure to cope well with these experiences can lead a person into depression and even cause him to doubt God's goodness. It becomes the duty of other Christians to help such a brother. They need to take time to visit him or call him, comfort him, encourage him and pray for him. 

But sometimes excuses are found for not doing these. Someone might say, "I do not want to help because I already have enough burdens of my own to bear." Someone else might say, 'I do not want to help because I do not want to be nosy to pry or meddle in the affairs of others.' Have we sometimes used the same excuses too, when a brother in Christ we know is facing problems in life? If we allow excuses like these to keep us from helping to bear one another's burdens then we are not showing Christian love. 

Instead of love, we would be showing a self-centred, attitude, thinking that our own burdens are much heavier than what others have to bear. Let us rather be willing to consider the heavy burdens that others are bearing instead of focusing all the time on our own burdens. One dear brother in our church shared with me sometime ago that when he was faced with imminent retrenchment, he was tempted to feel very depressed about his situation. But when he began to minister to others he realised that many people were facing problems that were much worse than his own. That kept him from feeling greatly upset. 

In fact sometimes the Lord may choose to lay heavy burdens on us for the purpose of equipping us to help others to bear their own burdens. We are then able not only to sympathise, but also to empathize with them. Recently there was an email prayer request from a sister in our church who is due to give birth to her first child at the end of this month and she was feeling worried about going through childbirth. When the prayer request went out, another sister in our church responded immediately and offered to help her, because she had given birth about a month ago and said that she could empathise with the plight of this sister.

One who has suffered loss, can better understand the pain of others who are suffering loss. One who has gone through failure can understand better the disappointment of others who are going through failure. One who has been sick can better understand better the predicament of others who are sick. One who has been stressed with tremendous work pressures can better understand the feelings of others who were similarly stressed. When the words of comfort and assurance to a sufferer are given by a fellow-sufferer, they can mean so much more and are treasured much more than words given by anyone else!

And this can lead to mutual encouragement. The one who receives encouragement will be willing to return encouragement to the one who gave it to him, when he realises that he is a fellow-sufferer. And as they help to bear one another's burdens, they are themselves strengthened. In a hospital ward one day there were two patients on adjacent beds. Both were Christians and both happen to be suffering from the same illness. And they encouraged one another. When one was going through a particularly painful procedure, the other prayed for him fervently, because he knew exactly what he was going through. 

Dearly beloved, actually we are all fellow sufferers in our trials here on earth. So, instead of thinking only of your own troubles and trials, learn to love one another in the family of God and to bear one another's burdens. Take some time now to think about what you can do after this service is over, that will enable you to reach out more to others in church. Get into the habit of being more attentive, more alert, more sensitive to people around you. Get to know more church members. Enlarge your circle of friends here. 

In our Church one brother shared with me that at one time he had been attending worship services for years, and never knew anyone else! But one Sunday, the person sitting next to him introduced himself to him after the service. This led to his active involvement in a fellowship group. And eventually he even became the chairman of that fellowship group! 

So please show brotherly love and reach out especially to those whom you do not know. Who knows that through your little act of brotherly love to someone, you might bring someone into the mainstream of church life, who might someday become used mightily by God to bless the lives of others? Today we have studied what life in the family of God should be: it is about showing sincere brotherly love and concern for one another. May the Lord help every one of us to to contribute our part to make brotherly love abound here in Life Church.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11