Brotherly Kindness
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"Let brotherly love continue" (Hebrews 13:1).

Ed Byrd

Peter’s second epistle was written very near the end of his life. In it, he says that we have a like precious faith with him, held in common with all the apostles, the "us" 2 Peter 1:1. Peter says that God’s divine power, through Christ, "hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness" and that God, has "called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3).

Through His divine power, God provides everything we need, to develop as followers of Christ. Our part is to "make every effort" to work with God (2 Peter 1: 5 NIV). Our faith that God is working within us, and that we have a part in that work, is the theme of Peter encouraging us to be cooperative and productive children (2 Peter 1:8,10 NIV). We should make every effort to build within ourselves the character traits of Christ on Peter’s list.

One such trait is brotherly kindness (2 Peter 1:7). "Brotherly kindness" is translated from the Greek word philadelphia, which literally means "love of the brethren." In Greek usage, philadelphia meant affection for family members — brothers, sisters or other close relatives. In the New Testament, this word exclusively describes love and affection for brethren in Christ. This clearly means love that is demonstrated by tender affection for the Lord’s people.

The word philadelphia appears in four other Biblical passages:

Romans 12:10, "(Be) kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love."

1 Thessalonians 4:9, "But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another."

Hebrews 13:1, "Let brotherly love continue."

1 Peter 1:22, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren"

One might assume that this warm affection comes naturally within the brotherhood. Peter suggests otherwise. He writes that we must exert ourselves to add all of the virtues, including brotherly love and affection. Perhaps it will not always require effort, but sometimes it will.

Peter’s assertion may have resulted from his own experiences as a follower of Jesus. He was one of the original twelve, an apostle and a leader in the early "brotherhood" (Greek adelphotes, as in 1 Peter 2:17). Peter was involved in early debates regarding Christianity, including a most difficult one regarding Jewish and Gentile Christians.

Early Jewish Christians felt there must be terms and conditions for accepting Gentiles into the brotherhood of believers in Jesus. Questions regarding this rose among leaders of the early Jerusalem Church, who were Jewish. Two especially critical questions were: (1) should Gentile Christians be required to follow Jewish dietary restrictions; and (2) should Gentiles become circumcised? Debate on these questions was apparently emotionally painful. Luke describes an atmosphere of "great dissention and debate" (Acts 15:2, 7, NASB).

Peter was prominent in these discussions (Acts 15:6). Despite possessing the holy Spirit and having known Jesus personally, these leaders were still human beings with inherited flaws. However, through love of the brotherhood, an accord was reached among them. It stipulated that Gentile members of the Church be fully accepted "but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood" (Acts 15:20 NASB).

Peter urged all — both his contemporaries and us readers centuries later — to possess such fervent affection for one another that it will overcome such obstacles. Despite these tests, brotherly love grew. The Church was strengthened by adding Gentiles to its number.

Peter and Paul

Peter’s commitment to brotherly love was tested more directly when Paul confronted him over hypocrisy. The occasion was Peter’s visit to Antioch. While in Antioch, Peter fellowshipped at meal with a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians. (Galatians 2:12, 13). However, later, fearing criticism from observant Jews arriving from Jerusalem, Peter drew away from the same Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11, 12). Others who looked to Peter as a leader began to follow his example, including Paul’s associate Barnabas.

Then Paul publicly confronted Peter. In Paul’s words, Peter stood "self-condemned" (Galatians 2:11, NASB, alternative reading). Paul did not comment further on this episode. However, we know that brotherly love prevailed between Peter and him. In his second epistle, Peter tenderly refers to Paul as "our beloved brother Paul" (2 Peter 3:15 NASB). If there had been any dispute or hard feelings, they had been reconciled. Peter’s humility and brotherly love toward his co-laborer Paul in this experience is a great example to all of us. "Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful [compassionate] ... be courteous" (1 Peter 3:8).

Let Brotherly Love Prevail

In our natural families, we do not pick our siblings. We are attached to them whether we like it or not. Family members are able to love one another in times of great stress and disagreement. In the family of Christ, in the church, our experience is similar. We do not pick our brethren, but we must love them through thick and thin. The path of love is sometimes fraught with obstacles. We must ensure that what we hold in common with the Lord’s people outweighs our differences as human beings.

As challenges and differences tested the love of brethren of the early church, so with us today. Differences of opinion on viewpoints, doctrine, and prophecy lead to dissension, bitterness and sometimes separation. Display of brotherly love is sometimes lacking. As Peter lists the virtues of a fully equipped disciple, Paul writes to Timothy, as a leader in the Church, to "pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace" and to avoid arguments that "produce quarrels" (2 Timothy 2:23 NIV). Then Paul admonishes Timothy that, "the Lord’s servant must not quarrel ... he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct" (verse 24), "patient when wronged."

In dialogue over differences, we should follow this advice. We should not forcefully or authoritatively bend one another to our own views. Rather, we are to develop genuine loving, family-like relationships and influence one another with brotherly love and kindness. Inevitably, among imperfect people, disagreements will occur.

Regardless of the perceived importance of the issue, before we speak or act we should pray for wisdom and determine whether to act or speak at all. As Gamaliel counseled the Sanhedrin about the Apostles preaching the Gospel, "take heed to yourselves ... Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it" (Acts 5:35-39).

We need to ask, "How important is this particular issue? Is there any scripture that says it is essential for the Christian to believe it and/or to do it?" It is people who feel insecure, or who find it hard to defend what they believe, who feel the need to dogmatize.

The church of Peter and Paul’s day was multifaceted. Perspectives differed according to background. Paul wrote to the Galatians that they had all put on Christ and that, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). In Paul’s mind there was much room in the body of Christ for diversity.

Whether that diversity comes through our differing views on certain points of doctrine, or from our social standing and income, cultural background, education, or any other difference, we who are members of the body Christ must have love and affection for one another. Peter and Paul admonish us as much as the first century Church to have compassion one to another, and to exhibit love for one another.

God provides everything we need to be successful. Our role, our work, is to make every effort "to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (2 Peter 1:10).