What Is Brotherly Love?

The bond that exists between earthly siblings gives shape and form to the language of Scripture, where God commands believers to “love one another with brotherly affection” (Rom. 12:10).

The New Testament is full of references to “brotherly love.” In many places in which the Apostles expound on Christian living in the church, this paradigmatic phrase surfaces. The Apostle Paul explained the instinctive nature of brotherly love when he wrote to the members of the church in Thessalonica: “Concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9, emphasis added). The writer of Hebrews gave his readers the following admonition: “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1).

 

Parents of multiple children experience a heightened sense of frustration when they hear their children arguing or fighting with one another, because they rightly expect them to love each other. If you were a fly on the wall in our house, you would—on a somewhat frequent basis—hear me asking one of my three sons, “Were you loving your brother when you said or did such and such a thing?” God has commanded us to love our neighbor—even when our neighbor becomes our enemy. How much more, then, should brothers and sisters have deep and lasting love for one another? Though we live in a world full of men and women whom we will almost certainly never meet, brothers and sisters come from the same womb and are brought up by the same parents in the same house. The bond that exists between earthly siblings gives shape and form to the language of Scripture, where God commands believers to “love one another with brotherly affection” (Rom. 12:10).

The New Testament is full of references to “brotherly love.” In many places in which the Apostles expound on Christian living in the church, this paradigmatic phrase surfaces. The Apostle Paul explained the instinctive nature of brotherly love when he wrote to the members of the church in Thessalonica: “Concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9, emphasis added). The writer of Hebrews gave his readers the following admonition: “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). Simon Peter explained the significant place brotherly love holds in our Christian experience when he wrote, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22, emphasis added). He then gave the following charges to the members of the churches to which he wrote: “Have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8, emphasis added); and “Supplement your faith . . . with brotherly affection” (2 Peter 1:5–7, emphasis added).

The multiplicity of references to “brotherly love” in the New Testament teaches us a supremely important truth about our membership in the Christian community, namely, that believers have been adopted into God’s family by faith in God’s Son and live together in the house of God (Heb. 3). The Apostle John highlighted the privilege of adoption into God’s family by faith alone in Christ when he wrote, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). God adopted us through His eternal and only begotten Son to stand side by side with other sons and daughters in the church. The Son of God has become our elder brother by living, dying, and rising for our salvation.

Most of us tend to think about Jesus as our Prophet, Priest, King, Lord, Savior, Shepherd, Mediator, Advocate, and Judge; however, we sometimes (perhaps often) fail to think of Jesus as our Elder Brother. Citing Psalm 22:22, the writer of Hebrews took note of Christ’s declaration to His Father about His family tie to His people: “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (Heb. 2:12). The author of Hebrews moves from judicial abandonment—citing Psalm 22, which opens with Jesus’ cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”— to resurrection praise—with Jesus’ cry of Isaiah 8:18: “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” The sufferings of Christ on the cross secured our adoption into God’s family; the resurrection of Jesus resulted in His leading His people into the worship of God.

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