No Man Is An Island
“God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)
As God’s children, we have access to God just as a child has access to their earthly father. We can come to Him and call Him Daddy (Abba conveys that kind of intimacy) and he will care about everything we bring to Him, problems or triumphs, big or small. As part of Gods family, He calls us to treat each other the same way as God the father treats His Son, which may seem impossible, but we have the Holy Spirit to empower us to do those things that God calls us to do.
Like Fathers and Brothers
“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
Firstly, we are to encourage older men in God's family as you would a father:
“A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence. Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:1-3)
This means not only respecting the older man, but listening to the advice he has to share, the experiences that He has had with God and the wisdom that comes from being part of the family of God for an extended period of time. There are gems of information to be gained from a person who is still walking close to God years after he has come to know Him. Many young men think that they know everything about a ministry or a situation, and it is good council to listen to those who have what God calls an earned crown from experience (Proverbs 16:31).
We are also encouraged to treat younger men as brothers. Some of us have good family relationships and other have very dysfunctional ones. Again we need to look at Gods idea of what a brother looks like.
One of the best pictures of this in the Old Testament is the close brotherly relationship between Jonathan and David. While revisionists wish to imply that their relationship was something other than that of brotherly love, they not only fail to make a plain reading of the text, but also ignore the historic and traditional understanding of the words. Samuel was the one recording the narrative and it is ignorant to expect him at first knowing the Mosaic laws, to approve and write about a relationship which was spoken against clearly in Leviticus (Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13). While I think it is helpful to take a look at a model of this kind of deep brotherly relationship, the New Testament echoes each of the ideas in the context of brothers in God’s family.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
At the center of what Scripture says about how we are to treat one another is the command to “love one another.” I have found in my experience of getting hurt, and also in attempting to get alongside other people in similar situations, that we all tend to focus on how someone else has not “loved me like the Bible says they should”. We seem to get this notion somehow that we then have the right to mistreat the person who is not treating us in a loving manner.
This is weirdly similar to the behaviour of the young primary school students who I deal with on a weekday. Their complaint usually sounds something like this (although not as verbose): “They hurt me so I’m not talking to them anymore!” or “Their academic or athletic achievements exceed my own, so I’m going to find ways to cut them down and say unkind things about them.” There is a reason for this similarity: they are children, they are not mature men and women and have not yet grown up.
This mindset that does not seem to go away by itself, not matter what physical age a person is. The Bible give advice completely to the contrary of this mentality, only possible if we have “the Spirit of Jesus in our hearts” (Galatians 5:22-23)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Jealousy, unkindness and unforgiveness often rule the playgrounds of most primary schools, but sadly, it also holds sway among many Christians. Unforgiveness and bitterness are the biggest problems in any church. The bible is very frank about these things and calls a spade a spade: unforgiveness and bitterness are demonic (Ephesians 4:17-5:2). That should trouble us deeply and profoundly, and cause us to endeavour with the power of the Holy Spirit, to remove any unforgiveness and bitterness that has taken root in us, so that we will not allow ourselves to become corrupted (Hebrews 12:15).
Bitterness Corrupts the Heart
We all too often forget that at the heart of loving one another as brothers is “forgiving one another.” You cannot have love for a fellow brother or sister in Christ without also having forgiveness toward them. Jesus is very blunt in what he says about this too:
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Jesus is Not saying that God’s love and forgiveness are conditional, but that it is a mark of the indwelling and outworking of the Holy Spirit, which not only makes you and me children of God (Galatians 4:6), but also allows us to love and forgive even those who set out to harm us.
So often when someone hurts us, offends us, disappoints us or lets us down, we begin to carry a grudge toward them…a tiny seed of bitterness creeps into our heart and if we are not careful, can spread pervasive poison throughout our soul.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Refusing to forgive a person that has hurt us ultimately harms us. We start with bitterness, and pretty soon we are angry with them about everything, we talk about them behind their back and talk ill of them and what they do, and this seen to its end results in malicious actions against that person.
To quote the often surprisingly erudite James Hetfield on the subject, bitterness is “…like a poison that I swallow, but I want the world to die”. It doesn’t make sense, and yet we still get bogged down in it.
“We should never come to [differences] with true Christians without regret and without tears. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Believe me, evangelicals often have not shown it. We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians. There is only one kind of man who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near a proper way, and that is the man who by nature is un-belligerent. A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent; at least it looks that way. The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.” (Francis Schaeffer - The Mark of the Christian)
Doing The Impossible As God’s Children
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing…. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-3, 13)
As we can see here, it is so vitally important to treat on another in God’s family as brothers, but what does that look like in practice? What kinds of things are we able to do now that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit? We can’t control whether other people act in a loving manner towards us, but we can control (and are responsible before God for) our own actions and attitudes towards others. God calls us to go against what feels natural and cultural when we see someone achieve, not to outdo them by beating them or cutting them down but to outdo them by honouring them.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
We are able to treat people as a way of showing them how to treat others, as an example, not because we are suddenly good people but because Jesus is working in and through us.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Part of loving our brothers, even when they are not being loving towards us, is a worship issue. We are allowing God to have his place as one who takes vengeance, as the epitome of justice. He promises that evil can be overcome with the good that leaks out of us when we are in His family, walking with Him as Father:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In fact, loving others is a proof that Jesus lives within us, because only Jesus can fulfil all the laws of God, and to love our neighbour fulfils that law:
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Brothers Look Out For One Another
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
We have a tendency as guys to hunt out the weakness in someone and use it to our advantage, to get one up on another guy and make ourselves feel big and them feel small. Just as the bible talks about honouring each other, we are called to support those in God’s family who struggle with particular things. We are not only to make peace with those who try to do the same to us, and encourage them and build them up (Romans 14:19), but also to help carry a brothers burdens; those struggles that are too hard to carry by themselves. In this way Jesus works through us to fulfil Gods law for the person we help as well as ourselves (Galatians 6:2). In fact if we know that we do not struggle in a particular area, we are responsible for helping brothers who do struggle:
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”
This is not a New Testament concept, as back in the days of David and Saul, its Gods idea of brotherly love. When David was being hotly pursued by Saul, Jonathan sought David out “to help him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16)
A Spoonful of Cement Is Sometimes Necessary
It sounds like the bible paints a picture of communal sharing serene mutual understanding, but we have to remember that as Christians, the church exists to be on a mission. Though we are God’s children, we are encouraged to be mature and responsible not just for ourselves, but others with a view to working together to be a witness for Christ as we have been called to do (Acts 1:8). I once read a book that spouted silly lines like “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” While it sounds all heroic and idealistic, this is not a biblical idea, but the stuff of schoolboy fantasy, and to put in bluntly a lie. One of the things that the bible talks about as the mark of a man is a love of Gods truth and a contempt for error. This is to be coupled with a passion for being used by God (not working for God on your own) in His work of “snatching people from the grip of the father of lies”. It is important to keep the ideas of the following texts in balance:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
(1 Corinthians 4:5)
On the one hand, we are encouraged to look into the deeper things, to become mature so that we can be useful, but at the same time be patient with those who are still spiritual children. Only God knows where someone is at with Him, and just because we don’t see the fruit of the Spirit, that doesn't mean we can decide that a man is not a child of God. We have to keep helping.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
Iron sharpening iron is an opportunity to fulfill the Law of Christ. As we walk with our brother, we are to carry and share the issues and burdens that we face daily, to express grief over personal sin, lovingly share with a brother on how best to repent of it, and celebrate with him when that sin is overthrown. This is the same “royal law” mentioned in James 2:8, where we are exhorted to love one another.
The Point of Brothers Is To Grow Up
Real manhood is about going together with your brothers in Christ to bear witness of Jesus work in a hostile environment. Brotherly love means being able to stand up for the truth together in some venue where it is under attack. Looking out for your brothers means getting a solid, manly grasp on the Bible together and standing up in unity (Psalm 133:1) to teach its hard truths in a way that helps make the truth clear to people who are struggling to get it. This is important because God’s name is at stake when His truth is involved (Malachi 3:16). Contend earnestly for the faith when some nice-sounding heretic wants you to sit down and have a friendly dialogue about it. Be the kind of man Paul describes here: someone who is steadfast and sure, with a solid grasp of classic biblical truths that have gone out of vogue. Stand against popular opinion when you know you should, and do it every time the opportunity arises.
“...until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:13-14)
Here is what we are encouraged to achieve by being brothers in Christ: mature manhood. We attempt to produce in each other, by the work of Jesus through us grown-up men who are firm and steadfast in the truth. A grown-up is disciplined, knowledgeable, anchored and understands the truth well and is devoted to it. A grown up man has his senses trained for discernment. This is why we need to band together as brothers in Christ. In fact, the bible tells us that God takes note of those who band together in His name. Not only is it good for men to learn from one another (Proverbs 13:20), but good company keeps you out of trouble (1 Corinthians 15:33). In everything we have one goal: To help each other be Christ like by encouraging those fruits of the spirit, that only come when our lives are clear of bitterness, and we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us unrestrained.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25)