LOVE TO THE BRETHREN – A MARK OF YOUR ELECTION
Matthew Henry well pointed out, “the spirit of Christianity is a spirit of love.” The fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22). Faith worketh by love (Gal. 5:6). “Everyone that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1). Love to the brethren is both the first indication and fruit of the Christian life (Acts 16:33) and the final aim and result of Divine grace (2 Pet. 1:7).
It is to be noted that these Hebrew believers were not exhorted “let us have brotherly love,” but “let brotherly love continue.” Thus the apostle’s language clearly supposes that they already had love for each other, that he approvingly notices the same, and then calls upon them for a continuance of it. The apostle felt there was danger of their brotherly love decaying, for there were disputes among them concerning the ceremonies of the Mosaic law, and wrangling over religious differences bodes ill for the health of spiritual affection. He therefore puts them on their guard, and bids them live and love as “brethren.”
“A love hath its foundation in relation. Where there is relation, there is love, or there ought so to be; and where there is no relation, there can be no love, properly so called. Hence it is here mentioned with respect unto a brotherhood… This brotherhood is religious: all believers have one Father (Matthew 23:8,9), one elder Brother (Rom. 8:29), who is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb. 2:11); have one spirit, and are called in one hope of calling (Eph. 4:4), which being a spirit of adoption interesteth them all in the same family (Eph. 3:14, 15)”—John Owen. Brotherly love we would define as that gracious bond which knits together the hearts of God’s children; or more definitely, it is that spiritual and affectionate solicitude which Christians have toward each other, manifested by a desiring and endeavoring after their highest mutual interests.
This duty was enjoined upon His disciples by the Lord Jesus: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). That which was required by the Law (Lev. 19:18) is repeated by the Gospel (John 15:12), so that absolutely speaking it is not a new, but an old commandment. Yet relatively, it is “new,” because enforced by new motives (1 John 3:16) and a new Pattern (1 John 4:10, 11). Thus, “Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), because the latter have peculiar claims upon our affections, being created in the same image, professing the same faith, and having the same infirmities.
The maintenance of brotherly love tends in various ways to the spiritual blessing of the Church, the honor of the Gospel, and the comfort of believers. The exercise thereof is the best testimony to the world of the genuineness of our profession. The cultivation and manifestation of Christian affection between the people of God is a far more weighty argument with unbelievers than any apologetics. Believers should conduct themselves toward each other in such a way that no button or pin is needed to label them as brethren in Christ. “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). It should be made quite evident that their hearts are knit together by a bond more intimate, spiritual, and enduring than any which mere nature can produce. Their deportment unto each other should be such as not only to mark them as fellow disciples, but as Christ says, “My disciples”—reflecting His love!
The exercise of brotherly love in not only a testimony unto the world, but it is also an evidence to Christians themselves of their regeneration: “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). There should be a word of comfort here for those poor saints whose souls are cast down. At present they cannot “read their title clear to mansions in the sky,” and are afraid to cry “Abba, Father” lest they be guilty of presumption. But here is a door of hope opened to Christ’s little ones: you may, dear reader, be afraid to affirm that you love God, but do you not love His people? If you do, you must have been born again, and have in you the same spiritual nature which is in them. But do I love them? Well, do you relish their company, admire what you see of Christ in them, wish them well, pray for them, and seek their good? If so, you certainly love them.
But not only is the exercise of Christian love a testimony unto the world of our Christian discipleship, and a sure evidence of our own regeneration, but it is also that which delights God Himself. Of course it does! It is the product of His own grace: the immediate fruit of His Spirit. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1) is what the Lord Himself declares. This also comes out very sweetly in Revelation 3. There we find one of the epistles addressed to the seven churches which are in Asia, namely, the Philadelphian, the church of “brotherly love,” for that is the meaning of the word “Philadelphia,” and in that epistle there are no censures or rebukes: there was that there which refreshed the heart of the Lord!
But our text refers not so much to the existence and exercise of brotherly love, as it does to its maintenance: “Let brotherly love continue” or “abide constant” as some render it, for the word includes the idea of enduring in the face of difficulties and temptations. That which is enjoined is perseverance in a pure and unselfish affection toward fellow-Christians. Brotherly love is a tender plant which requires much attention: if it be not watched and watered, it quickly wilts. It is an exotic, for it is not a native of the soil of fallen human nature—”hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3) is a solemn description of what we were in our unregenerate state. Yes, brotherly love is a very tender plant and quickly affected by the cold air of unkindness, easily nipped by the frost of harsh words. If it is to thrive, it must needs be carefully protected and diligently cultivated.
Nor are things any better today. O how little is brotherly love in evidence, generally speaking, among professing Christians. Is not that tragic word of Christ receiving its prophetic fulfillment: “because iniquitiy shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12). But, my reader, Christ’s love has not changed, nor should ours: “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). Alas, have not all of us reason to hang our heads in shame! Such an exhortation as this is most needful today when there is such a wide tendency to value light more highly than love, to esteem an understanding of the mysteries of Faith above the drawing out our affections unto each other. Here is a searching question which each of us should honestly face: Is my love for the brethren keeping pace with my growing (intellectual) knowledge of the Truth?
“Let brotherly love continue.” But what a gracious word is this! Consider its implications: are they not similar to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Eph. 4:1, 2)? That means we are to conduct ourselves not according to the dictates of the flesh, but according to the requirements of grace.
If grace has been shown toward me, then surely I ought to be gracious to others. But that is not always easy: not only has the root of “hatred” been left in me, but the “flesh” still remains in my brethren! and there will be much in them to test and try my love, otherwise there would be no need for this exhortation “forbearing one another in love.” God has wisely so ordered this that our love might rise above the mere amiability of nature. We are not merely to govern our tempers, act courteously, be pleasant to one another, but bear with infirmities and be ready to forgive a slight: “Love suffereth long, and is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4).
“Let brotherly love continue.” What a Divine word is this. The love which is here enjoined is a holy and spiritual one, made possible “because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). For until then there is naught but hatred. Love for the brethren is a love for the image of God stamped upon their souls: “every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1). No man can love another for the grace that is in his heart, unless grace be in his own heart. It is natural to love those who are kind and generous to us; it is supernatural to love those who are faithful and holy in their dealings with us.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on LOVE, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:12-14).