The Christian is A Brother
Last week we considered the Christian as a son or child of God now it’s time to take a look at a different yet related word, the word ‘brother’. It is related because family relationships are still very much to the fore. The word is commonly used in the NT to describe Christians in various parts of the then known world.
While this word is used of Christians in the Bible it is not however restricted to them.
Firstly the word is used in a very normal and usual way to describe those who trace their ancestry to common parents. In the gospels, for example, we read of Jesus’ siblings, his brothers and sisters, and the reference is to his flesh and blood relatives. Jews also used the term to describe close relatives such as cousins.
In the OT the word ‘brother/brothers’ is used by the Jews to refer to fellow Jews over against non-
The term ‘brother’ is not used in the Bible to signify universality as in our phrase the "brotherhood" of man, but when it is used we are meant to think of a restricted group of people who have something special in common with each other and which sets them apart from others.
This is how Jesus used the word when he spoke to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount:
So how is the word used in the NT when applied to Christians?
In the early chapters of the Acts the only Christians there were Jewish Christians and not unsurprisingly we find that they are described and addressed as "brothers".
Acts 6:3 "Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty."
Here the church is troubled – two different groups of Jewish believers are in the church and yet problems exist. The apostles propose the selection of deacons to resolve the difficulties.
Later on we read of Jewish believers who hear of the gospel being received by Gentiles – the Jewish believers are described as brothers – nothing very remarkable about that:
Acts 11:1 "Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God."
But what was to happen soon was remarkable! It wasn’t easy for Jewish believers to accept the idea of Gentiles benefiting from the gospel without becoming proselytes as well. Yet soon these Gentile believers were going to be called ‘brothers’ too!
The context is one of dispute which makes the usage all the more striking:
Acts 15:1 "But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.""
This led to an important discussion. The Council of Jerusalem was called to pronounce upon just how the church of Jesus Christ was to function and what criteria were necessary to be full members. And we have the lovely letter sent out from the Jewish Christians in the church in Jerusalem to the Gentile believers in Antioch:
THUS IN CHRIST THE ANCIENT DIVIDING WALL OF PARTITION WAS AND IS BROKEN DOWN!
Eph.2:14 "For (Christ) is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;"
Thereafter Christians are referred as brothers in all but two books of the NT.
What are some of the implications for us?
Christians enjoy the blessing of a belonging to a new family with its new set of Family ties:
End of isolation/loneliness – one of the biggest problems in our western world.
Ps.68:6 "God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land." AV reads "God setteth the solitary in families »
Because of God’s grace we don’t need to try hard to somehow become members of his family – in Christ we have been made members and therefore we belong!
Love – there is the warm and support of loving relationships in a properly functioning family:
1Jn.3:14 "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers."
1Jn.4:21 "And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."
I’m not left alone to carry all my burdens of my own:
Paul, in writing to the Christians at Philippi, refers to them as brothers and thanks them for their behaviour towards him:
Phil.4:14 "Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble."
And in v.16 he adds:
"Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again."
And of course he tells the Christians in Galatia that they must bear one another’s burdens:
Gal.6:2 "Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
With privileges go responsibilities too. As a member of God’s family I can no longer pretend that I am an island – I cannot pretend any longer that what I do and how I behave affects no-
David knew something of this already way back when he penned his psalms. There was a time when David was struggling with some serious questions – he didn’t know what to make of the apparent success that the wicked seemed to be enjoying in their lives. He was beginning to ask himself whether the efforts to live a godly life were worth it. But David knew that if he paraded such thoughts before others he as their leader would be a hindrance and not a help to them. He wrote about this experience in Psalm 73 where we read:
Ps.73:15 "If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed the generation of your children."
We too as members of God’s family should be thoughtful and considerate of other family members, for they are our brothers and sisters.
We should express love to one another:
This will include a genuine and real concern that the one who is struggling be helped and restored:
1Th.5:14 "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all."
We should avoid behaviour that we cause a brother to stumble or fall:
Rom.14:21 "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble."
1Cor.8:13 "Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble."
We should avoid division :
2Cor.13:11 "Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."
We should careful how we speak about one another:
Jas.4:11 "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers."
We should press on together:
1Cor.15:58 "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain."
"It don’t come easy"
While the vision of a close loving brotherhood of believers is full of encouragement and blessing it is not necessarily easy to achieve. It is indeed good and pleasant when brothers dwell in unity (Ps.133:1) there are plenty of obstacles that lie in the way.
Christians may well be saints but they are nevertheless saints who sin and sin causes friction. Sadly envy and mutual dislike can still mar the members of God’s family. All too easily we can retreat from the rigours and demands of such a high calling and with Cain complain:
"Am I my brother’s keeper?"
And yet the answer to that question must in some measure be "yes". We must watch out for each other and we must expect/allow others to watch out for us as well!
When the stakes are high we should expect obstacles along the way and the Bible makes it clear that relationships can and do break down – even among brothers.
Cain and Abel fell out big-
Esau and Jacob
Joseph and his brothers
David had tensions with his brothers
Then David’s sons had tensions among themselves first with Amnon and Absalom, then with Solomon and Adonijah.
Problems were not confined to the OT either – the brothers James and John with their aspirations set themselves on a collision course with the other apostles.
If we are to dwell in this loving unity we can expect it to be demanding at times. Sometimes it will be our brothers and sisters who are the difficult ones but we need to realise too that it will sometimes be us!
It is possible to say or to do the right thing but in entirely the wrong manner. We must be charitable when others get it wrong with us and we must take care that we do not become hypocrites ourselves as we deal with others.
While we are not to pretend that our brothers and sisters have no faults – indeed genuine love will move us to draw our brother’s attention to some of them at times – we must however not go too far and effectively write him off entirely. Expressing a proper concern for our brothers when we see them making wrong turnings and taking wrong decisions without coming across as harshly judgmental will not be easy. And how do we respond when we think others are being a touch too harsh with us?
A Concluding Warning
It is a tremendous privilege to be a member of God’s family and to have so many brothers and sisters. While at times they will make us cry most of the time they will be a tremendous help and encouragement to us – a healthy Christian will have no desire to isolate himself or cut himself off from his brothers and sisters. But that can lead some to rely more heavily than they ought upon their brothers and sisters: brothers are very important but we mustn’t place our ultimate trust in them!
Prov.18:24 "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."
Let’s make sure that our trust is firmly in our elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ.
To God be the glory!