Growth in Grace 14 — Brotherly Kindness Must Be Supplied into Godliness

by | Oct 20, 2014 | Soteriology

One of the most important and practical questions that any Christian can face is: How can I know if I am a Christian?  There is a kind of spiritual instinct by which any one in earnest about his soul is intensely interested in such a question.  In our study of growth in grace, we come to consider a virtue that is of great help in answering the question: How can I know if I am a Christian?  2 Peter 1:7 commands, “and in your godliness, (supply) brotherly kindness.”  My outline is similar to that of previous posts on this passage.  We will consider:

I.       The Virtue Viewed
II.     The Connection Clarified
III.   The Distinction Displayed

I.                  The Virtue Viewed

A.      Its Focus

The NASB translates the Greek word for the virtue under discussion as brotherly kindness.  This is a fine translation, but it may disguise the fact that the Greek word is literally brotherly love.  We have a famous city in our country the name of which is an exact English transliteration of the Greek word used.  The birthplace of our nation is called the city of brotherly love.  It is called that because its name, Philadelphia, means that in the Greek language.  Philadelphia is the Greek word used in our text.

Now the brother in view here in 2 Peter 1:7 is our fellow Christian.  It is perfectly possible, of course, for this word, brotherly love, elsewhere in Greek literature and in the  Bible to be used of affection for our physical brothers—either our siblings or our countryman.  This is, however, clearly not how the word is used in the New Testament.  In the New Testament it is always used of love for our spiritual brothers, our fellow believers in Christ.  A simple reading of the other four texts will, I think, persuade you of this.

Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor

1 Thessalonians 4:9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another

Hebrews 13:1 Let love of the brethren continue.

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

Another thing that assures us that it is love for our fellow believers that is in view in this passage is that Peter distinguishes this brotherly love from love.   Brotherly affection or kindness, as we will see in future posts, is to be supplied with love.  Thus, Peter distinguishes the two.

Finally, love for our physical brothers is one of those things that the Bible describes as a natural affection.  In this passage, however, Peter is talking about Christian graces.  He is exhorting Christians to grow in grace.  In such a list it does not make sense for him to refer to something that is merely a natural affection and not a Christian grace.  Everything about this passage persuades us that the love in view is love for our spiritual brothers, our fellow believers in Christ.

The media-molders of our society may talk bravely about loving everybody, but I have noticed that they have a hard time practicing what they preach when it comes to born again Christians.  Every other minority finds a special place in their affections.  It is just born again Christians that they have a hard time saying a decent word about.

The distinctive virtue we are looking at today is just the opposite.  It has a special place in its heart exactly for born again Christians and the more consistently they act like born again Christians the more this special affection is kindled in their hearts.  The great question I am raising today has to do with whether this grace is in your heart and growing there, or whether any love you have is more like that of the world.

B.               Its Foundations

This love is grounded in the fact that God has given spiritual birth to both individuals—the one loving and the one loved—and they view each other as God’s sons and their Christian brothers.  The key passage is 1 Peter 1:22, 23:  “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, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.”

Here the love of the brethren is closely associated with being saved.  Strikingly, verse 22 speaks of conversion when it says that in obedience to the truth you purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren.  Brotherly love is the direct result of being converted.  Verse 23 goes on to explain why we should have a fervent love for our brethren by saying for you have been born again of imperishable seed.  One of the great marks or results of being born again is love for the brethren.

This same thing is implied in 1 Thessalonians 4:9: Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.  The language of taught by God refers to the work of God in drawing men to come to Christ (John 6:44, 45).  Thus, Paul is saying that one of the basic results of coming to Christ is learning to love the brethren.

Now an understanding that these are the foundations of Christian love is crucial for understanding that brotherly love is universal or catholic.  In other words a unique feature of this brotherly love is that it is extended to all Christian brothers simply because they are Christian brothers.

This is a deduction from the foundations of this love.  Men are loved in and because of their identity as born again Christians.  Thus, brotherly love is love for all and only those who are born again.  Mistakes may be made in two directions with regard to this matter.  There is the mistake of sectarianism and the mistake of ecumenism.

There is the sectarian mistake.  Here the problem is that no one is recognized as a Christian Brother except those of my own denomination or movement.  Here we must remind ourselves that our love is for those who are born again.  It is not simply for those who share my distinctive doctrinal or practical understanding of the Bible.

There is the ecumenical mistake.  Here the problem is that brotherly love is extended in an unprincipled way to all that profess Christ’s name.  Brotherly love is affection for the reality and not merely for the name.  It is a love of delight for those who bear Christ’s image and show the spiritual marks of the new birth.  Yet more, brotherly love is even love for those who are most like Christ in their living and their thinking.  Thus, there are clear doctrinal and practical limits and motives to brotherly love.

Sectarianism and ecumenism are not the brotherly love of our text.  They do, however, often masquerade as if they are.  We must beware of both extremes.

C.               Its Fervency

There is a tremendous emphasis in the passages where this word is used in the New Testament on the fervency or zeal or intensity by which this love for the brethren should be characterized (Romans 12:10, 1 Thess. 4:10, 1 Peter 1:22).

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

Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor

1 Thessalonians 4:10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more

In these three texts the fervency of this love is emphasized in three ways:  fervently, be devoted, excel still more are the emphasizing words.  The word fervently comes from a word that means to extend.  The word devoted comes from a word used of the loyalty and commitment we should feel to our own family.  The word excel comes from a word that means to abound or increase.   Our love for the brethren should be characterized by great extent, loyal commitment, and abounding increase.

D.               Its Fruit

The Bible teaches that brotherly love will have many and various fruits.  A number of passages impress us with the biblical emphasis on the many and various kinds of fruit that the tree of brotherly love will bear.

Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.

1 Peter 3:8 To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit

1 John 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Let me close this post with several applicatory questions:  What are the tangible expressions of this brotherly love for other believers in your life?  How can you abound still more in love for the brethren?  How can you practice the brotherly kindness which is the grace on which God will command a blessing in your church? (See Psalm 133.) 

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