Genuine Love vs. Affection

1 John 3:16-18:  “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

True love between brethren is expressed in actions.  Our love is not to be in what we say but what we do.  Love only expressed in word is of little value.  How can we love in word only?  Is our only interaction with fellow Christians at the worship service?  Perhaps we say we love others because we know that we are supposed to but, if our hearts were truly examined, would we only find affection, not true love?  Love that is in word requires no sacrifice of self, time, or money, demands no action, has no risk of being hurt, and needs no deep involvement with others.

Love that is in deed and truth, true love for our brethren, is on a higher level.  It requires action on our part, a show of love.  Christ showed His love, not by shouting His love from heaven, but by dying on the cross.  We show our love by our willingness to die for our brethren.  We may say that we have this love but we must demonstrate it.  Consider John’s example:  If you say that you would lay your life down for your brethren but you will not give of your possessions to help your needy brother, how does the love of God abide in you?  What a profound question!  When we think we love our brethren as Christ loved us, we must immediately ask how the love of God abides in us.  We must prove it.

John pictures a brother in need and a fellow Christian locking up his possessions by first locking up his heart.  If his heart is not with his brother, the resources he has to fill his needs will not be given.  Let us not be narrow regarding the needs of the brother.  Perhaps the brother has emotional needs; do we lock up friendship, a word of comfort, or a sympathetic ear?  If our brother has spiritual needs, do we lock up a gentle rebuke, exhortation from Gods’ word, or a prayer?  Maybe the brother does need our worldly goods: a car ride to church or to the doctor, a meal in a time of sickness or bereavement, or financial help.  We must unlock our possessions, time, and even our selves and help our brethren.  According to Paul, that is why we work: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need,” Ephesians 4:28 (emphasis mine-rfd).

Respecting A Brother’s Conscience

When I love my brethren as Christ loved me, I will not do anything that might cause them to stumble and be lost.  To accomplish this we must have true love for our brethren, forbearance, longsuffering, and patience developed in our lives.  Though it is difficult, I may have to refrain from doing something that I know is not condemned in the presence of a brother who, because he does not have knowledge, would be offended.

Consider the issue of eating meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.  The issue was not whether it was right to eat meat offered to idols or not; eating meat was not condemned.  The real issue was that if I have a brother in Christ who does think it is wrong to eat meat offered to idols and I, knowing this, eat meat that is offered to idols (since I know that it is not condemned), that I may encourage my brother to eat in violation of his conscience.  I have used my liberty to cause my brother to stumble.

It is not wrong for me to eat meat that has been offered to idols, but my brother who does not have this knowledge, if he eats, will be condemned because he has violated what he believes to be commanded by God.  I must not put my brethren into that situation.  Note the strong language of Paul in verse 12:  “But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”  When doing something that is not wrong, but doing it in the wrong circumstance, I sin against my brethren and Christ.  My brother and I may be lost through my knowledge!

Paul’s solution to the problem is if an action will cause my weak brother to stumble, I will not do it.  My brother’s conscience is more important than food or anything else that would make him stumble.  This sacrifice is a practical application of bearing with one another.

Loving As Christ Loved

The love of Christ that Christians should have is well described in Colossians 3:12-17. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved” Therefore connects the previous verses: you have put on the new man and put off the old man, you were raised with Christ, and you are setting your mind on things above.  You are the chosen of God (elect) according to your response to His calling through the word of the gospel, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.  You are holy (sanctified) as God is holy, 1 Peter 1:15-16, and loved by the Father.

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”  The peace of God is to “umpire” our hearts and direct our lives.  When we have peace with God, it is easier to have peace with our brethren, especially those who require more longsuffering.  We are unified in one body when we all are ruled by the peace of God and seek the things which make for peace, Romans 14:19.

An example of seeking peace is in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11.  I should not take my brother who has wronged me to court, but rather accept the wrong rather than disgrace the name of the Savior and the church before the world.  Sometimes we have to “accept the wrong” to make for peace.  It is not wrong to confront a brother for an expense resulting from his negligence, but if he will not hear you, or the church, it is better to accept the wrong and let the great Judge, our God, administer justice.

Do I Have To Love Other Christians?

God commands us to love our brethren.  Loving my brother is not an option, nor is it a command that I can follow selectively.  Although we realize that some brethren’s personalities clash with ours, or they have habits or idiosyncrasies that bother us, we must work harder to overcome these minor things to be brethren.

Some have the attitude, “I have to love him but that doesn’t mean that I have to like him.”  Perhaps they wish to reconcile the command to love our brethren and the reality that some brethren can be obnoxious, overbearing, insensitive, and annoying.  How can we truly have love for our brethren if we do not make significant attempts to overcome the natural reaction to avoid these people?  Will we show true hospitality, help, love, and concern for someone we love but whom we make conscious efforts to avoid?  A better approach is to look past character traits to the soul within.  Perhaps the gentle rebuke made in sincere love could chisel away some undesirable characteristics to make the brother lovable to others.  Certainly, there are people who grate on our nerves but we probably grate on the nerves of others as well.

Paul addresses the need to make a special effort to love the unlovable in Colossians 3:13: “bear with one another.”  The word “bear” here is used elsewhere of God suffering or bearing with us (Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19).  In 2 Corinthians 11:1,19, the same word is used in a sense that we might translate as put up with.  There is a great need for us to suffer with, forbear, put up with, and bear with one another.  We come from different backgrounds, geographical areas, financial situations, educational levels, etc.  We are a dissimilar people unified into one body under one head.  It is essential that we bear with one another and not willfully withhold our full love for some brethren because we do not “like” them.  “What do you do more than others?  Even the tax collectors love those who love them,” Matthew 5:46 (paraphrased)

Encouraging Words

The Christian’s language must be godly and reflect a heart consecrated for God.  Paul commanded the Ephesians to let no corrupt communication proceed from their mouths but rather words of edification and grace, Ephesians 4:29.  He wrote the Colossians to walk wisely around worldly people and to speak gracefully and thoughtfully, Colossians 4:6.  He told Titus to encourage the young men to have sound speech that could not be condemned, Titus 2:8.

Our words must encourage and edify all men, especially our brethren.  Our speech must be graceful, or beautiful.  We must speak words of kindness.  When we must speak tough words, such as words of rebuke, we must still speak with grace and love, Ephesians 4:15.

Our words can comfort the downhearted, 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Too many brethren suffer without a word of exhortation from loving brethren. We pray for these individuals but we should also call or send a card to show our concern. Since we have been comforted by God, we should comfort others, 2 Corinthians 1:4. 

Christians must always be ready always to give a defense of our faith, with a meek and fearful spirit, 1 Peter 3:15.  Proverbs 15:28: “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.”  Christians must study the word to prepare a scriptural defense of his belief.  A foolish person, on the other hand, will answer “my church believes…,” or “my preacher says…,” or “I think…” We cannot answer the world in its folly.  We must know why we believe what we believe and be able to defend it with scripture.  When we do this, we will take our tongue, that unruly evil, and use it for good.