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Reformed Spirituality

Add To Your Faith (4): Brotherly Kindness and Charity

By Simon PadburySeptember 05, 2019
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The sixth1, of the apostle Peter’s seven marks of grace is brotherly kindness2 (even brotherly love and love of the brethren3). We must love our brothers and sisters in our adopted covenant-family of God, namely the Christian Church.

This brotherly kindness (philadelphia-love) ought to be a distinguishing mark of the Christian and of the Church as a community. Our Lord commanded us: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love4 one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35). After the greatest commandment in the law, our Lord said, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).

That should be enough to persuade us. But know this: where we manifest toward each other (and display before a watching world) anything less than this, it is a shame upon us, and it refects badly upon Christ himself.

Knowing that this philadelphia-love for fellow Christians is a true evidence of saving grace in the soul, Paul thanked God whenever he learned of brotherly love5 being manifested in the growing Christian church-families in his day (Ephesians 1:15-16; Colossians 1:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4; Philemon vv.4-7; see also Hebrews 6:10).

Do we see the same brotherly love practised in our churches? Do we manifest this ourselves? Do we show our faith by our works in this way (see James 2:8)?

As our Lord instructed us, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Can the world actually discern that you yourself are a disciple of Christ through noticing that you this love other Christians?—yes, even though you may have an ongoing disagreement with them about doctrines?

Of course, this implies that we must live our lives clearly in the sight of the watching world, and not away in some closed community which does not invite in, or welcome in non-Christian visitors, or which does no evangelistic outreach6.

Again, philadelphia-love is the fulfilment of our Lord’s second greatest commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (see Matthew 22:35-39).

And, above all, there is the greatest commandment in the law, with which the apostle is about to culminate his seven marks of grace.

Charity

Seventhly, and finally, Peter commands us to add charity7 (or, love) to our faith. This love is the fulfilment of the Lord Jesus Christ’s greatest commandment of all: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30, citing Deuteronomy 6:5).

We should love God with that fullest intensity of pure love which involves our whole being—all our heart, soul, mind and strength—so that, whatsoever we do, we do it all to the glory of God and we do it out of our own agape-love for God.

Real love is an attitude of mind, not a mere feeling. It is a holy determination to will and to do the best for someone (above all to God, and then to our neighbour).

Agape-love carries the idea of loving someone even when they are unworthy of that love (not that God is ever unworthy of such love!).

With that in mind, understand this: God’s own love, mentioned in John 3:16, is agape-love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.

The Christian agape-love, with which Peter commands us to crown his list of marks of grace which we must add to our faith, is a spiritual gift. We are incapable of agape-love (whether toward God or toward fellow Christians) in our fallen nature. So, we must pray to God for it, and with Paul we must thank God whenever we see it manifested—whether in ourselves or in anone else.

Now, please give this thought your undivided attention: love does things, and it holds back from doing some things. It is not agape-love, if it is only a feeling in the heart! And this superabounding Christian love of which the Bible speaks must fill your whole heart and soul and mind; and therefore it must motivate everything you do, think and say—first toward God and then toward your neighbours.

As with all that God gives us in his work of grace in our souls, we have the responsibility to exercise this agape-love and to fan it into flame, otherwise it tragically cools and dims—because we let it fade away, and this grieves God the Holy Spirit (compare Ephesians 4:25-328. We constantly need to stir ourselves up to love like this, and to stir up each other to love like this (see Hebrews 10:24).

I will here quote the above verse and those surrounding it, so that you can see what the author of Hebrews is really saying: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto [agape] love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

As the apostle John9 reminds us, this manifested agape-love, if genuine, is a definitive proof of our conversion and discipleship: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we [agape] love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death…My little children, let us not [agape] love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him [God]” (1 John 3:14, 18-19).

We Christians all mourn that we so often show little of this love. We all need more of this love. And we all need to manifest more of this love. So, we must be persistent in praying to God for more and more of it! And God shall pour into your heart that agape-love by his Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:5).

Let us be always adding more agape-love to these other marks of grace which Peter here commands us to bear.

These things must abound in us

The apostle continues, “For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).

Even if a person has an exact knowledge of Christian doctrine, yet his so-called faith in Christ will in fact be a dead, barren, unfruitful faith—not the saving faith of a true Christian—if he possesses none of these things in Peter’s great list of marks of grace (evidences of salvation).

But if a person possesses only the small beginnings of these things in his manner of life, then the apostle describes him as being “blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (v.9).

Chapter 44 of God’s Grace In Our Experience.

  1. We are continuing from the previous chapter.
  2. The word translated brotherly kindness is φιλαδελφια (philadelphia) (Strong’s Concordance).
  3. The phrases brotherly love (Hebrews 13:1) and love of the bretheren (1 Peter 1:22) also translate the same Greek word φιλαδελφια (philadelphia).
  4. The fact that Christ used the word ἀγαπάω (agapao) (also translated charity; see page [Charity]) and not φιλαδελφια does not contradict but rather add weight to this argument. If we are to agape-love fellow Christians, then of course we should show philadelphia-love to them.
  5. This holds true, even though in all these Scripture quotes that follow use the word ἀγάπη not φιλαδελφια.
  6. See footnote 4 in chapter 41, Add To Your Faith (1): Virtue.
  7. The word translated charity (ἀγάπη, agape) means love, affection, benevolence. The word is perhaps derived from the word ἄγαν (agan) which means very much, or abundance. And perhaps also, the Greek-speaking Jews transferred this word over to the Greek from the Hebrew אהב (ahab), which also means love (as used in Deuteronomy 6:5) (Strong’s Concordance). Charity is a deep and constant love that seeks the welfare of the one thus loved (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Older English Bibles, following the historic use of the Latin word caritas in the Vulgate (an early translation of the Bible into Latin by Saint Jerome), use the word charity to translate the Greek ἀγάπη (agape), where caritas was used perhaps to avoid the sexual suggestion in another Latin word for love: amour (Online Etymology Dictionary).
  8. You will not see charity (or, love) mentioned in Ephesians 4:25-32 but it does list a lot of things that you should and should not do toward fellow Christians. You know what should motivate all these things: agape-love, of course.)
  9. John is sometimes referred to as the apostle of agape-love, because he writes much about it in his Gospel and his epistles.
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