Building Up One Another by Gene Getz
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10, NASB).
I had the privilege of being the firstborn child of wonderful parents. As years passed, I was followed by three brothers and two sisters (actually three girls, but my sister Joann died at age three).
Dad and Mom are salt of the earth people. They’ve been farmers all their lives (now retired). They never had much education (Dad finished the sixth grade; Mom the eighth), but they learned most of what they needed to know in the school of experience. They, like most people their age, weathered the Depression and were able to keep us fed and clothed. We never lacked the important things in life but neither did we have many luxuries.
We had the usual problems of growing up, of course. But we were basically a close knit family. Sure, as kids we had our knock down drag outs, and we all went through the usual selfish stages that all kids go through. But I distinctly remember, as the oldest, that “fighting with each other” was our privilege no one else’s. Let no one else lay a hand on my brothers and sisters! I was ready to defend them.
And Mom and Dad? They made mistakes; they were far from perfect. But they were our parents. They loved us and cared for us. They were devoted to us even when we were anything but appreciative and cooperative. And their greatest contribution to us was our spiritual heritage the knowledge that we could become a part of the family of God.
Today, all the children are grown. Dad and Mom are growing old. But we’re more devoted to each other now than ever before. Some of us don’t see each other very often because we’re miles apart. But when we get together, it’s a great time, especially as we reflect on childhood experiences and God’s grace in allowing us to be a family unit.
The Family of God
Being a part of a family is something with which most people can identify. This is why Paul wrote what he did in Romans 12:10. With the exhortation to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love,” he introduced the Roman Christians (and us) to another analogy to illustrate the functioning church. He was referring to the family unit.
The “body” concept graphically portrays that Christians are “members one of another.” Each believer (no matter what his or her status in life) is necessary and vitally important in God’s order of things. The “family” concept gives us an even greater appreciation of what a functioning church should be. The “human body” serves as a beautiful illustration, but as with all analogies, it can go only so far in describing reality. Its more significant contribution is to illustrate how the church functions.
The concept of the family adds a dimension of warmth, tenderness, concern, and loyalty in short, human emotion and devotion. Put another way, in using the “body” analogy, Paul drew upon the physical aspects in the illustration to emphasize the necessity of every member’s participation in the church. But when he used the “family” analogy, he was illustrating the psychological aspects of relational Christianity.
“Be Devoted to One Another in Brotherly Love”
The term “brotherly love” (philadelphia) refers to the love that should exist between brothers and sisters within family units. Applied to the functioning church, it refers to the love Christians should have for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are also a family the family of God! Paul acknowledged this when he prayed for the Ephesian Christians: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom the whole family of believers in heaven and on earth derives its name (Eph. 3:14; see also 1 Peter 4:17).
The term “brothers” (adelphos) is used to refer to the “Christian family” approximately 230 times, throughout the
New Testament, beginning in the Book of Acts. The term is not exclusively used by Paul, but also by the other New Testament writers. Luke, James, and John use the term on the average as many times as Paul.1
The word brothers literally means “from the same womb.” It is distinctly a “family term.” When it refers to Christians, it means “fellow believers,” “members of God’s family,” “brothers and sisters in Christ.” It means we have all been “born again” into God’s forever family. We are vitally related to each other through a common heritage. “In love He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5).
1 Following is the approximate number of times the term “brother” or “brothers” is used in the New Testament, beginning in the Book of Acts: Acts (43); Romans (19); 1 Corinthians (37); 2 Corinthians (12); Galatians (10); Ephesians (3); Philippians (9); Colossians (5); 1 Thessalonians (19); 2 Thessalonians (9); 1 Timothy (3); 2 Timothy (1); Philemon (4); Hebrews (10); James (18); 1 Peter (11); 2 Peter (2); 1 John (17); 3 John (3); Revelation (5).
“Be Devoted to One Another in Brotherly Love”
Paul’s use of the words, “be devoted to one another,” enhances and supports his emphasis on brotherly love and family relationships in the church. To “be devoted” litterlly refers to the mutual love of parents and children and husbands wives could be translated “show loving affection” or “love tenderly” Thus the King James Version reads: “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love.” And Beck translates: “Love one another tenderly as fellow Christians.”
Paul’s point is clear. Christians are to be just as devoted to each other as are the individual members of a close knit family unit. For we are a unique family unit. We are indeed “blood brothers,” for in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1: 7) .
We all remember the story of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These two young adventurers signed a pact with their own blood, committing themselves to one another. Blood brothers would do anything for one another even die for one another!
Christians begin as infants babes in Christ. We go through various stages of development. In our immaturity we can easily fall into patterns of self centered behavior. But as we mature, our lives should reflect the nature of Christ. This is why Paul exhorted the members of “the Philippian family” to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3 4).
Practical Steps for Developing Family Relationships in Your Church
Showing affection and love to other Christians and treating them as brothers and sisters in Christ does not happen automatically. If it were automatic, we would not have so many exhortations to do so. Our first step must be to take seriously what the Bible says about brotherly love. Study carefully the following additional exhortations. Ask God to help you take them seriously as being a necessary part of walking in His will:
• “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more” (1 Thes. 4:9 10).
• “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13 :1 3) .
• “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, with all your hearts. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Peter 1:22 23) .
• “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9)
• “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self control; and to self control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
Evaluate your attitudes and actions toward other members of your “Christian family.” To what extent do you experience emotion and affection toward each fellow Christian? Note that Paul, in the context in which he exhorted Christians to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love,” also exhorted that we “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12 :15) . This, of course, involves emotion: deep feelings of joy as well as deep feelings of sadness.
Some Christians find it difficult to identify with other believers at the “feeling” level. There are reasons for this. And every Christian who finds it difficult to express emotion toward others should examine his life carefully, seeking to break the “log jam” that holds him back.
Consider the following questions:
1. Do 1 fear rejection? Some individuals have been so deeply hurt by others they are afraid to express their feelings.
They are not willing to take a chance of being hurt again.
This, of course, is no excuse for not reaching out to others. We must work towards a mature perspective on human relationships. Christians must be vulnerable. And furthermore, most Christians to whom we reach out will not let us down. Don’t let a bad experience rob you of God’s best. Act on what you know to be the right thing to do.
Nancy had been rejected by her father. Nothing she did seemed to please him, especially when she couldn’t maintain a B average in high school. She withdrew from making further attempts to win his approval. This attitude carried over into her adult life. She seemed continually withdrawn. She couldn’t risk the chance of being rejected again, so she never attempted those creative activities which would win recognition.
2. Have 1 had a poor family background? Some people grow up in homes where physical affection and love toward other family members are seldom or perhaps never expressed. For example, Mary grew up in a home where there was little affection demonstrated among family members. This does not mean they didn’t love each other. They just didn’t demonstrate it outwardly or with emotion. Her husband Bill’s experience was just the opposite. Consequently, he has always found it easy to physically express affection to others. Mary, however, had to learn this process as an adult which was often difficult, but she has done well, But, of course, it time.
When people have been taught by example and practice to keep their feelings inside and to never express them, this attitude usually carries over in dealing with members of the family of God. It takes time to reverse such behavioral patters.
Note: Some Christians also have difficulty expressing emotions to God because of negative experiences in the home particularly with an earthly father. These emotions are very easily transferred to the “heavenly Father” as well as to other members of the body of Christ.
If this explanation represents your situation, seek help from a fellow Christian you trust someone who will not condemn you but will listen to you with sympathy and concern. Share your deepest and innermost feelings. Pray together.
A second note: Some people who have been severely repressed in childhood, and who have experienced unusual trauma, may need professional counsel. This kind of problem is not so much spiritual, but psychological in its roots.
3. Am 1 basically angry an resentful. Some Christians are controlled by deep feelings of anger and resentment toward other people. They are usually individuals who have repressed these feelings in early childhood. They find it very difficult to express positive emotions even toward fellow Christians.
4. Do 1 spend most of my time thinking about myself?
Some Christians are very selfish and self centered. They think only about themselves. They could care less about their brothers and sisters in Christ. Naturally, they find it difficult to express “brotherly love.”
This selfish attitude is often expressed in prayers. Larry discovered how often he pleaded with God to give him things. Almost every prayer centered in Larry’s desires for himself. Fortunately he noticed how others in the church spent considerable time praying for those with greater needs. He decided to put others on the top of his prayer list. Life soon took on new meaning.
If you identify with any of the above, seek help from a fellow member of the body of Christ who is mature, someone you trust. Whatever step you take, begin to act immediately on what you know to be God’s will. For example, if you have difficulty telling a fellow Christian you love him, force yourself to act on what you know is the right thing to do. Start by sharing with that person a gift. a note of appreciation, an invitation to dinner. Frequently feelings begin to follow actions particularly when you are emotionally rewarded and appreciated for your acts of kindness. Expressing love in a tangible way will help you to eventually develop feelings of love which you can share verbally.
Note: If you’ve been deeply hurt and frustrated or repressed, don’t allow yourself to withdraw. You’ll only become more disillusioned. Your problems will get worse. Most people interpret one with reserved behavior as someone who needs little love or attention. Worse yet, they look upon such a person as someone who really doesn’t want to be involved with other people. One quickly becomes isolated from those who could offer the greatest help.
THE FAMILY OF GOD CHORUS:
I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God;
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by the blood;
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family, the family of God.
You will notice we say brother and sister ’round here It’s because we’re a family and these folks are so dear. When one has a heartache we all share the tears And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear.
From the door of an orphanage to the house of the king, No longer an outcast, a new song I sing. From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong, I’m not worthy to be here, but praise God, I belong.