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The Imperative of Brotherly Kindness

From the Writings of Dave Breese

Every newborn child is a unique individual. He will grow to become a distinct person, and, as he grows, his uniqueness will become more apparent. To have any understanding of the nature of people we must remember that, first of all, each one is an individual.

Each child also takes on a unique set of relationships. He is, first, a member of a family. As his world grows, his relationships will become more varied and meaningful. In fact, a growing realization of the importance of relationships is a mark of maturity. No man lives unto himself, and no man dies unto himself.

One of our goals in life is to foster and develop relationships with others. Each of us has a family of some sort—mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, or child. Each of us has—or should have—friendships in various stages of development. The person who is happiest is the one with the ability to make the relationships of life happy ones. The wise person determines to get along with those people with whom he must live, work, or interact.

That is true for everyone. However, it is crucial for the Christian. He is a member of the most important family in the universe; the family of God. He must not ignore that relationship, for to do so will leave him a weak, unproductive Christian. What is the ingredient that makes relationships fulfilling? In Scripture it is called “brotherly kindness.” So it is that Peter calls us to add brotherly kindness to our list of imperatives.

In Scripture this is the familiar word philadelphia. It literally means “to have tender affection toward your brother.” It means to cherish, to highly regard, to think well of fellow believers.

We should note that this call to brotherly kindness comes after the call to godliness. Is it possible that the Lord is reminding us that some within the Body of Christ may be long on godliness but short on brotherly kindness? To concentrate on spirituality is commendable, but to forget to be kind to others in the process is unforgivable. We may recognize this imbalance in those around us. Sister Smith takes on a look of transcendence when the hymns are sung but has only harsh words for her energetic children at the end of the service. Brother Jones is quick with a word of testimony in prayer meeting but has only complaints for the customers at his grocery business the rest of the week. Deacon McGafferty smiles at everyone as he shakes hands at the church door on Sunday morning. But we soon learn that his real goal is to sell us something the next time he sees us.

We have each met those believers (sometimes even in places of leadership) who had commendable spiritual qualities but who were lacking in brotherly kindness. More important, though, we need to recognize this tendency in ourselves. We are called to develop genuine kindness as we relate to others.

Not so long ago, most of us lived in a world characterized by what the Bible calls “natural affection.” In the days when Christian thinking was reflected in much of the Western world, we took for granted a commodity called “common grace.” Grace existed in the Church to the extent that it spilled over and bubbled out into the world. In those days of common grace, people tended to be honest, generous, and helpful to others. No more than a generation ago, one could reasonably expect help if he had an overheated car, a flat tire, or needed change for a telephone call. People generally believed one another and expressed a willingness to help one another. Common grace produced a certain civility that made it possible for communities to maintain reasonable expectations of safety.

In our present world, this remarkable quality seems to be disappearing. The woman whose automobile stalls by the roadside cannot be confident that the man who stops to help does not have assault or even murder on his mind. In few cities does the occupant of a home dare to open a front door to the ring of a bell. He suspects—sometimes correctly—that the one who waits at the front door may pose a danger to his life.

Around the world we find the same hostilities and fears. The airplane that carried us from Rome to Athens may be the object of a terrorist bombing. The airport, the bank, the shopping center, or the public street could in an instant be shaken with the clatter of machinegun fire as the terrorist performs his deadly ideological duty.

And on another level, the same attitudes exist. In the conduct of business, materialism or the exploitation of ruthless advantage becomes the order of the day. Presumption and exploitation at every level—government, financial life, religious life, education, and neighborhood—appear to be the order of the day.

What an opportunity for the Church to provide a contrast. What a difference the lives of Christians should be to the emotional, moral tenor of our world. In such times, the call to brotherly kindness becomes even more important. We who believe the Gospel must take the first steps to re-introduce kindness in these times. But how?

First of all, we must remember that we belong to one another. The Bible clearly teaches that we are members of one body. That means I am necessary to you and you are necessary to me. I belong to you, and you belong to me. We are members of “the church, Which is His body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). We are admonished to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). We are together to work “for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). We are called upon to “grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). No Christian should ever be without a sense of belonging. We belong to one another.

We should seek to express that sense of belonging. Scripture admonishes, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I’m encouraged to see a recent tendency in church architecture calculated to foster interaction. In most older churches, the worshiper who reaches the back of the church finds himself out in the street and on the way home. Now, as church auditoriums grow, so also do the lobbies. These provide an atmosphere for greetings, conversations, comments on the service, the meeting of new people, and other interactions. The church that fosters the acquaintance and affection of Christians for one another is building something lasting. Indeed, this affection—when genuine—will continue to grow as Christians continue to love and cherish one another.

In my travels I have had the opportunity to preach in churches across the world, and I’ve seen all types. There is the church that at the end of the benediction is instantly empty. Within five minutes the congregation has scattered to the four winds with hardly a lingering smile or handshake for one another. One cannot help but conclude that these Christians do not care for one another.

The contrasting church is wonderful to see. It is beautiful to be in a service where the benediction is merely the beginning of the fellowship time. Clusters of people—young and old—joining in animated, radiant conversation. These occasions of fellowship extend on to the local coffee shop or someone’s home. It seems that these Christians genuinely appreciate one another and find it difficult to say good-bye. This is one of the genuine blessings this side of heaven. It is called Christian fellowship.

The fellowship of the saints is commended by Peter. He calls us to make it the diligent pursuit of our lives. To be obedient to this call, we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We should diligently work to find ways to help one another. That is exactly what Scripture teaches in saying, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). As opportunity presents itself, we are to do good to all people. but especially to fellow believers.

We are to assemble even more so “as you see the day approaching.” What day? Certainly, this day to which the Scriptures refer is the day of deterioration in our troubled world. It is the day of the Great Tribulation; the day of the rise of the Antichrist; the day of the final judgment of God. Ultimately, we are reminded of the day when we shall stand before Christ and give an answer for our lives. This will include not only our individual accomplishments but an account of how we have worked together to accomplish the will of Christ.

Let us also remember that one aspect of brotherly kindness is to refrain from the opposite—brotherly animosity. Regarding this, Paul told us, “For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve on another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another” (Galatians 5:13-15).

Could Christians be involved in biting and devouring one another? God forbid! How will we ever muster the strength to oppose the work of the world or assault the ramparts of the devil if there is dissent in our ranks?

We note that it is not uncommon for Christians to disagree. Within the legitimate province of Christianity, there are Calvinists and Arminians; pietists and activists; and scores of denominations, churches, and individuals—all with deeply held convictions. Such differences are not bad. In fact, if characterized by self-control, discussions of our differences could be marvelously instructive and enlightening. Intelligent Christian debate would certainly be more profitable than the mindless assent that characterizes many assemblies today.

I am frequently involved in debates at evangelical conventions, peace conferences, colleges, and the like. At such time, I have occasionally had the opportunity to become friends with the person whom I oppose. After one such debate, I had the opportunity to eat dinner with my opposition—an evangelical scholar of decidedly leftist persuasion. We had an animated—but friendly—discussion. We reminded ourselves that we each had a wife, children, spiritual opportunity, and many related, similar involvements. Because of that dinner, I understand this Christian leader somewhat better. We have even exchanged cordial correspondence since. Despite our differences, we were able to exercise brotherly kindness.

Over the years of public ministry I have received many letters that express less than complete agreement with the positions I have taken on radio, television, or in print. I appreciate these because they are generally thoughtful and intelligent. I value the suggestions made, and occasionally—though not often—my opinion has been changed.

There is also a practical way to build a relationship with someone with whom we otherwise disagree. It is to perform an act of kindness for that person entirely apart from our spiritual views. I carry a pair of jumper cables in the trunk of my automobile with exactly that purpose in mind. It is my hope that I may have the opportunity to give a jump-start to (or to receive one from) some believer whose theology I may dislike. Even a pair of jumper cables becomes a bridge to friendship. We are responsible to maintain a unity of spirit and a bond of peace with fellow believers.

Whenever possible, lovingkindness should also characterize our relationship with the world. Millions of people in today’s world know only hatred, vindictiveness, mistrust, and disappointment. Some have never known kindness. The kindness of a Christian can be the key that allows us to touch, indeed to win, the sin-darkened life. We do well to wake up every morning and ask, “What act of kindness could I bring this day to a person who needs me?”

How different the world would be with a dash of kindness. How transformed the Church would be if brotherly kindness was a major ingredient in every conversation. May that wonderful store of common grace once again fill the Church and spill out to the world. May it yet come to pass because we have heeded the call to pursue brotherly kindness.

And what are the results of brotherly kindness? Scripture tells us that they are characterized by abundant return. We read, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you [measure] it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38). Surely this is speaking of more than just giving money.

The performance of acts of kindness and generosity brings the potential of multiplied returns. Acts of brotherly kindness tap into a hidden wellspring in the hearts of others and stimulate them to respond in similar fashion.

Kindness has a marvelous way of propagating itself. The hearts of the unregenerate are often won through acts of kindness. What wonderful things we could accomplish for the Lord if brotherly kindness flowed from the heart of every believer.

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