"WE ARE BRETHREN"
The above passage is the record of how Abram settled a dispute between his herdsmen and Lot's herdsmen. The particular phrase we want to notice in this passage is "We are brethren." The problem between brethren was solved when Abram was willing to yield to Lot and let him chose which part of the land he wanted to live on. Of course, we know from subsequent history that Lot made the wrong choice, but that's another lesson.
The phrase "we are brethren," indicates a special relationship; a relationship of kinship; of things which are shared in common; a family relationship.
The point of the passage is this: there should be peace among brethren. The Psalmist expressed it like this: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1). Notice that not only did the Psalmist say it was good, but that it was pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity. Just as this was so in Abram's physical family, it is true of the household of God. The church is often referred to as a house or household:
All of these verses indicate that the church is a household, a family. Just as there should be unity among those who are brethren in a physical family, there should be unity among brethren in the spiritual family which is the church.
LOVE AND RESPECT AMONG BRETHREN
In Matthew 10:21-22, Jesus talks of unusual circumstances when He says, "Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:21-22). It is not natural for a brother to deliver up his brother to death. It is not natural for a father to deliver up his child to death or for children to rise up against their own parents. When this happens, something is wrong. Something is not natural. The family relationship has been perverted.
Jesus again speaks of unusual circumstances when he says, "And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another" (Matthew 24:10). How sad that something like this would take place. But it is more sad that it would take place between family members.
The natural thing is for family members to love and respect each other. To stand by and stand with each other. To provide support that each family member needs. That should also be the natural thing when it comes to the family of God, the church.
THE SPIRITUAL FAMILY OF GOD
When Jesus lived on this earth, His disciples had problems with each other. One time Jesus told His disciples, "Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another" (Mark 9:50). Jesus wanted, and still wants His disciples to have peace with each other. There is another occasion when the Bible says concerning Jesus' disciples, "Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest" (Luke 22:24). If anything will cause problems among the disciples of Christ, it is the desire to be considered greater than others. The desire for popularity and prestige causes much strife and turmoil in the church. The disciples in Jesus' day had this problem but He told them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves" (Luke 22:25-27). Jesus set the example for the disciples. He deserved greatness and popularity. He was the One who should be served, but He said that He was as "One who serves." He made Himself a servant. Most people think that the one who is served is the greatest because the less serves the greater, but the truly great one is the one who follows the example of Christ and becomes a servant. It is only when each Christian realizes the fact that he is a servant that peace can exist between Christians.
Paul wrote, "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another" (Romans 14:19). We must "pursue" those things which make for peace. It means that the things we do must be motivated by a desire to bring about peace between Christians. This does not mean, however, that we are to compromise with sin. Too many Christians think that to bring about peace they must remain silent when a brother or sister sins. That is a false peace. That is crying "peace, peace when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11). Peace between brethren must be based on what the Bible teaches. Sin causes division. It causes war between members of the Lord's church. That is why it is important for us to help each other overcome sin. That is why it is important to obey the Lord's teaching about church discipline (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5). Paul says that we must follow after those things that make for peace and the things that edify or build each other up. This means in matters of judgment there must be liberty. The way to keep peace in matters of judgment is to be willing to yield in those matters like Abram did. If each one is willing to yield in matters of judgment, there can be peace.
However, in matters of what the Bible teaches, there must be unity. Paul told young Titus, "But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1). All of us must speak those things which are proper for sound doctrine or healthy teaching. There must be unity in doctrine (what we teach; see 1 Corinthians 1:10). The only way there can be unity in what we teach is to "speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). The word "oracles" means the "word" of God. There is no room for tolerance, compromise, or yielding when it comes to doctrine or truth. Unity in doctrine is not agreeing to disagree, it is understanding what the Bible teaches and standing together on it (See The All-Sufficiency of the Bible and, The One Church, a Study of Matthew 16:13-19).
WE MUST LOVE ONE ANOTHER
To love one another is a command: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-34). It is interesting that Jesus said that our love for one another is how all men will know that we are His disciples. This indicates that love can be seen and recognized by others. This is so because it is the same love that Jesus has for us. His love was seen in the great sacrifice He made for us. His love was a self-sacrificial love. He always put what was best for us first and Himself second. Jesus said, "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:12-14). Love is a command! It is not an option. It is not something you can leave undone. There are no circumstances in which we can leave off Christian love. We must love each other as Christ loved us. And that love is shown in that He was willing to lay down His life for us. There is no greater love! And that is the kind of love He expects us to have for each other.
Jesus again said, "These things I command you, that you love one another" (John 15:17). Jesus is very clear that love is a command to be obeyed. Some folks have a problem with this. They ask, "how can Jesus command us to love someone when we can't stand the person? How can He command us to love a murderer or some terrible sinner like that?" People ask questions like this because they misunderstand what true Bible love is. They think it is affection for or physical attraction to a person. But the kind of love that we must have for one another is the kind of love Jesus had for us. This is the kind of love that caused Jesus to die for us even though we were "still sinners" (Romans 5:8). This is love that is produced in the mind rather than the emotions. It is making up our mind that we are going to do what is best for the person we love. This is something that everyone is capable of doing. God does not command us to do things that are impossible for us to do. We can each have this kind of love as a part of our lives.
In this connection we need to always remember that true love will always tell the truth. The apostle Paul said to the elders of the Ephesian church, "Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27). Paul loved the people he preached to. He loved his brethren. That's why he declared "the whole counsel of God." Paul not only preached the positive, but he preached the negative. He condemned sin in no uncertain terms. Why did he declare the whole counsel of God? Because of his love for the souls of men. Any preacher who does not declare the whole counsel of God (both negative and positive) shows that he does not love those he preaches to. Any Christian who does not teach and practice pure Christianity before his brethren and before unbelievers shows that he does not love them. If you are a Christian and you do not stand for the truth; if you will not condemn error; if you will not try to help others out of sin; if you will not warn the wicked of the consequences of their wicked ways; you show by neglect that you don't love those people. Any parent who does not correct his children when they need it shows that they do not truly love those children. The same is true of any congregation of God's people who will not practice discipline in the church. We cannot hide the truth and still love our brethren.
Paul wrote, "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another" (Romans 12:10). The words "kindly affectionate" is one word in the Greek. It has to do with "cherishing one's kindred; especially, parents or children, fond of natural relations" (Strong). The words "brotherly love" is the Greek word from which we get the name of the city of Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love). Paul is telling us that we must love our brothers and sisters in Christ as we would love our brothers and sisters in the flesh. There is a natural family tie between Christians just as there is a natural family tie between physical family members. We should love our brothers and sisters in Christ as we would love our brothers and sisters in the flesh.
Peter wrote, "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born [or, begotten] again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:22-23). Here were people who had purified their souls in obeying the truth. This resulted in sincere love of their brethren. They were to love one another "fervently" which means intently and with deep conviction. And this was to be with a pure heart. There was to be no ulterior motive. It was to be a pure, undefiled love, a love without hypocrisy.
The Hebrew writer said, "Let brotherly love continue" (Hebrews 13:1). This deep, pure, intent love for our brothers and sisters in Christ must continue. It must be a part of our every day lives. It must never stop. (See also, Behold What Manner of Love, A Study of 1 John 3).
WE MUST BE KIND, TENDERHEARTED AND FORGIVING
Paul wrote, "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32). All kinds of harshness and resentment, violent outbreaks of wrath and anger, brawling and slanderous, injurious speech, malice or wickedness and depravity, must be put out of our lives. In contrast, we must be kind to each other. Kindness exhibits itself in a benevolent attitude. We must be kind and gracious to each other. We must be tenderhearted which means to be compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others. We must be willing to forgive just as God has forgiven us.
Just think of what the church would be like if we would follow this teaching. No more suspicion, hypocrisy, insensitivity to the needs of others, bickering, or arguments over matters of judgment. No more brethren who err from the faith with no one caring enough about them to try to win them back. No more false teaching. No more division. We must love each other and if we do we will be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. (See also, "How To Treat Each Other" which is an in-depth study of Ephesians 4:31-5:2, and "The Golden Rule").
WE MUST RESTORE ERRING BRETHREN
If we truly love our brethren, we will seek to restore them when they go astray. Paul wrote, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:1-2). James wrote, "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 1:19-20). If we truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will be concerned about their spiritual health, just as we would be concerned about a brother or sister in our physical family that has become physically sick. Each member of God's spiritual family must be concerned about their brothers and sisters who turn from the faith. Just as we would do everything we could to help our physical brother or sister to get better if they were physically sick, so we will do everything we can to help our fellow Christians get better when they are spiritually sick.
It may be that in many places we have a long way to go to reach the point of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ as much as we may love our physical brothers and sisters. But actually, the tie that binds brothers and sisters in Christ is greater because it is eternal. Our physical relationships will soon cease, but our spiritual relationships will go on for eternity.
Let us all determine that we will do everything we can to "be brethren" in the Bible sense of the words.