The Christian Virtues, Part 7: Brotherly Kindness.

October 11, 2014.

The last two virtues are somewhat similar in nature, and I admit that I have had to do some studying to tell the difference. Honestly, I haven’t really grasped the full difference between the two besides that which is intuitive. Brotherly affection and love. I think I have gotten somewhat of an idea of the difference, though it may be subtle, and I hope that I can convey the difference (and similarity) over the next couple of posts. I pray that this series is helping you as we try to apply the Christian virtues to our lives and build our moral character in such a way that reflects Christ to our fellow man. This is the goal, as we are ambassadors for Christ to the world. The last two virtues are perhaps two of the most powerful characteristics that we can display to aid us in sharing the good news. Let’s examine the first one.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(II Peter 1:5-8)

The term ‘brotherly kindness’ comes from the Greek term “Philadelphia” literally meaning the love of brothers. Now you can say you know from where the “city of brotherly love” derived its name. This term has been historically looked at in two different ways, from the standpoint of showing kindness or love to our fellow man and from the standpoint of the love that is exhibited amongst Christian brethren specifically. I honestly don’t know how Peter was understood the term fully because I don’t live in that time period, but I have a sneaking suspicion that both definitions would fit pretty well, especially when supplemented with the final virtue which we will look at tomorrow. That being said, I would like to examine both definitions.

Kindness Towards Mankind

I think this is the definition that really makes these last two virtues overlap, and we will actually talk about this aspect more when we discuss the last virtue, which is love. However, it is noteworthy to state here that this is one of the things that should set Christians apart in the world. This is how Christ gets recognized by those who don’t know Him. Why? Because it does not seem to be very intuitive that humans show much kindness towards one another. Sure, there are formalities that all cultures have, and there are generally nice people (which can be argued to have its basis from the word of God), but generally it is human nature to look out for number one first. We are typically selfish and greedy, not necessarily to the extreme, but in mild form. The thought of showing kindness to others, or going out of your way to help others, simply costs time and energy, two precious commodities that we hold dear to ourselves. Kindness is often only displayed in the presence of some mutualistic benefit, or at least at the perception of a benefit.

In contrast, when we go out of our way to show kindness to someone, the first question that is often asked is “Why?” Why did you do that for me? Why did you help them when you don’t even know them? Just… why? Honestly, I must say that I don’t experience this question as much in the south as I have heard I would in other regions of the country from the testimony of others (again, something I would attribute at it roots to the word of God). That’s the point, isn’t it? If we as Christians aren’t viewed differently, then what is the transforming power of Christ? If people don’t know that we are Christians, well, are we acting like Jesus? During Jesus’ ministry, people saw that something was different about Him. That’s not to say that they automatically accepted Him, as many didn’t, but they did see that He was different from the rest of the world. After His resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, people saw something different in the first century Christians. You didn’t have to ask if someone was a Christian. You knew, at least it seems for the most part. Was this all due to brotherly kindness? No, but a portion of it undoubtedly was. Suffice it to say for now that showing kindness to the world can show Christ to the world.

The Love of the Brethren

Some commentators lean much more heavily on this meaning of brotherly kindness, and it does make a more distinct difference between brotherly kindness and love. In this definition, we see that brotherly kindness is kindness and love shown between the brethren, those of faith. Peter makes this comment in his first epistle:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;”
(I Peter 1:22-23)

We see that Peter links purification, obedience and truth with brotherly love, and then encourages his audiences to earnestly love one another from a pure heart. With this in mind, it is easier to see why brotherly kindness comes in supplement to godliness. Brotherly love can grow out of godliness, or purity, and without brotherly love, godliness cannot be sustained for very long. Brotherly love is an extremely important concept in Christianity, as Christianity should be viewed in the communal feel an eastern mindset as opposed to the individualistic feel of the west. We must have love towards one another if we are going to live in community and have fellowship with one another. I believe that this is a hard concept to grasp in the west.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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 10:23-25)

Though this is often used as a proof text of making sure people “go to church,” the Hebrew writer is trying to convey something so much more than that. He is not saying “you must go to church,” but rather “you must be the church.” We are a family, a family that needs to stand strong together. No man is an island, as the quote goes. No Christian is an island. We must find a way to get along with one another. Is this easy? Not always. But really, which of the virtues so far has been easy? Which one does not require a diligent effort? Why would this virtue be different?

I was listening to a sermon once and the preacher made a good point in regards to getting along with our fellow brethren. He said something along the lines of “You probably should learn how to love each other here, because you are going to spend eternity with one another after this life is over.” He said it much more eloquently, but the point is this life is not a stage of just putting up with other Christians that annoy us and we won’t have to deal with it in the life to come. We are sons of God, and we will spend eternity with one another. Eternity is a long time.

The Christian family is such a wonderful blessing. I cannot tell you how important fellowship has become to me over the past four years. I used to be very shy and not like to talk to people, especially new people, and whereas I still have some of this within me, I go out of my way to try and make connections with the church. I am not perfect at this by any means, but I have learned what the Christian family is supposed to look like and how it is supposed to operate. I have learned how much joy is found in community and how much help it supplies. Brotherly love is vital to this community, for without brotherly love, the community does not operate in the way it was set up to operate.

Perhaps one of the most comprehensive verses that I have found in regards to both definitions mentioned above is one that Paul pens in his letter to the church at Galatia:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
(Galatians 6:9-10)

In a mere couple of verses, Paul silences any discussion about what the definition of brotherly love should be (though there really isn’t that much of an argument about it), by saying we need to possess both qualities. We are to do good to all men (showing kindness to mankind) and even more so to the household of faith (the love of the brethren). This, I have learned, is often a hard task. People make us mad. People annoy us. People frustrate us. There is no way around that, it’s going to happen. Yet our task is to step back and see the person as a soul instead of the object of our frustration. I believe this is one of the reasons that brotherly kindness and love are the final two virtues. You need a lot of character to be built before you can add these two. You need faith, diligence, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness and godliness to aid in your attempt to love others. I would venture to say that it would be hard to apply love without these other qualities, some more so than others.

Remember that we did not love first, yet it is Christ who loved us first. This is why we can love others first, even when they do not show this love back. We have the power of Christ.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
(I John 4:18-20)

I pray that we can all find brotherly kindness and display it amongst ourselves in the way Christ would have us do.

Suggested Daily Reading: Genesis 37, 39, 40-44.

Let us love one another.

-Walter

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