Parents of multiple children experience a heightened sense of frustration when they hear their children arguing or fighting with one another, because they rightly expect them to love each other. If you were a fly on the wall in our house, you would—on a somewhat frequent basis—hear me asking one of my three sons, “Were you loving your brother when you said or did such and such a thing?” God has commanded us to love our neighbor—even when our neighbor becomes our enemy. How much more, then, should brothers and sisters have deep and lasting love for one another? Though we live in a world full of men and women whom we will almost certainly never meet, brothers and sisters come from the same womb and are brought up by the same parents in the same house. The bond that exists between earthly siblings gives shape and form to the language of Scripture, where God commands believers to “love one another with brotherly affection” (Rom. 12:10).

The New Testament is full of references to “brotherly love.” In many places in which the Apostles expound on Christian living in the church, this paradigmatic phrase surfaces. The Apostle Paul explained the instinctive nature of brotherly love when he wrote to the members of the church in Thessalonica: “Concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9, emphasis added). The writer of Hebrews gave his readers the following admonition: “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). Simon Peter explained the significant place brotherly love holds in our Christian experience when he wrote, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22, emphasis added). He then gave the following charges to the members of the churches to which he wrote: “Have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8, emphasis added); and “Supplement your faith . . . with brotherly affection(2 Peter 1:5–7, emphasis added).

The multiplicity of references to “brotherly love” in the New Testament teaches us a supremely important truth about our membership in the Christian community, namely, that believers have been adopted into God’s family by faith in God’s Son and live together in the house of God (Heb. 3). The Apostle John highlighted the privilege of adoption into God’s family by faith alone in Christ when he wrote, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). God adopted us through His eternal and only begotten Son to stand side by side with other sons and daughters in the church. The Son of God has become our elder brother by living, dying, and rising for our salvation.

Most of us tend to think about Jesus as our Prophet, Priest, King, Lord, Savior, Shepherd, Mediator, Advocate, and Judge; however, we sometimes (perhaps often) fail to think of Jesus as our Elder Brother. Citing Psalm 22:22, the writer of Hebrews took note of Christ’s declaration to His Father about His family tie to His people: “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (Heb. 2:12). The author of Hebrews moves from judicial abandonment—citing Psalm 22, which opens with Jesus’ cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”— to resurrection praise—with Jesus’ cry of Isaiah 8:18: “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” The sufferings of Christ on the cross secured our adoption into God’s family; the resurrection of Jesus resulted in His leading His people into the worship of God.

What a difference it would make if we would learn to view one another through the lens of our union with our glorified Elder Brother, Jesus.

Seeing my three sons sing psalms and hymns to God in corporate worship is among the greatest joys that I have experienced as a parent. When my oldest son sings out loudly in worship, his brothers tend to follow his lead. If one of my sons sees his older brother singing God’s praises, he is encouraged to do so as well. This is precisely how things work in the divine family. Jesus leads His brethren in singing the praises of God, stirring them up to praise Him for His redemptive mercy and grace. Edmund Clowney captured the essence of Jesus leading us in worship when he wrote:

Jesus is the sweet singer of Israel, the choirmaster of heaven. He is not ashamed to call us brethren, but sings in the midst of His assembled saints in the heavenly Zion and on earth where two or three are gathered in His name. . . . What songs of agony Christ sings—the psalms of His suffering that sealed salvation! Listen, and learn of Him hymns that know the fellowship of His sufferings, hymns that can come from a cross, or rise from a prison cell at midnight. The singing Savior does not lead songs modeled on sugary commercials . . . sterner, stronger, deeper, His songs carry us through the valley of the shadow of death.

As our Elder Brother, Jesus stands as the head of a new, redeemed community of men and women, boys and girls who are united to Him by faith alone. Because of our inseparable union with Christ, we are now inseparably united to one another. What is true of our relationship with the Son has an unequaled bearing on our relationship with other believers. We live together with other believers in light of our mutual adoption. The way in which Christ leads us forward in spiritual worship structures the way in which we help one another worship. Our Elder Brother has loved us and has given Himself for us. This, in turn, animates the way in which we are to love one another as members of His body.

The key to our loving other believers with brotherly love is to train ourselves to think properly about the other members of the family of God. God calls us to view each and every believer as one “for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11). In Christ, God has laid down His life for the brethren. We, too, are to lay down our lives for one another. Jesus has patiently born with us. We, too, are to bear with one another in love. Jesus has died to forgive us of our sins. We, too, are to forgive one another. Jesus continues to build us up in the truth. We, too, are to build one another up in the truth. Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. We, too, are to intercede for one another. Jesus has given us every provision for our lives in this world and in the world to come. We, too, are to share our provisions and lives with one another both now and for all of eternity.

Sadly, this is not always witnessed in our relationships with other believers. All too often, we tend to treat other believers with everything from sinful partiality and favoritism to bitter coldness and censoriousness. Just as there is nothing so heartbreaking in this fallen world as brothers treating one another with disdain or indifference, there is nothing so unfitting as seeing brethren in the church treat one another with loveless indifference.

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis included a profound meditation on how we should view the weakest believers in the church on account of their adoption into God’s family. He wrote, “The dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.” Because of the resurrection glory of Jesus, there is a glory awaiting every son and daughter of God (Rom. 8:19). What we now see when we look at one another is far from what we will see when we behold each other in glory.

These truths ought to have the greatest impact on our interactions with other believers in this life. What a difference it would make if we would learn to view one another through the lens of our union with our glorified Elder Brother. How many arguments would we avoid if we acted in accord with these truths? How much sinful ambition would we put at bay if we trained ourselves to think this way about one another? How much love and care would we manifest among those in the body if we consistently sought to apply this principle to all of our interactions with all other believers? How much patience and deference would stronger brothers show to weaker brothers if we imbibed this principle? How much mutual prayer would we offer to God for one another if we adopted this mind-set? How often would we ask for and extend forgiveness to one another if we truly believed these things?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 4, 2019.

The Difference Is Love

Always on God’s Mind