How are We to Love the Brethren?
© 2023 C. O, Bishop
1st Thessalonians 4:9-12
9 But as touching brotherly love [philadelphias: (root is “philéo”)] ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love [agapan: (root is “agapao”] one another. 10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren [believers] which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;
11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; 12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
Here in verses 9-12, we see two forms of “love” commanded (in verse nine), and several general commands as to how that is to be carried out.
The first form of love mentioned here in verse nine is the “Love of the Brethren.” The Greek word is “philadeplhias.” The word comes from the root, “philéo,” and is usually translated “brotherly love.” It has to do with a “familial care for other believers:” seeing them as our family, and caring for one another in that way.
But the second word, in the latter portion of the same verse, is from the Greek root “agapao.” It is completely different than “philéo.” And this is the one Jesus commanded the disciples to have toward one another.
What is the Difference?
The “philéo” love has to do with how we feel, and how we function, toward family: It is how we are to feel and act toward a brother or sister. (Always assuming that the family has a bond of familial love and affection and concern for one another: some families fail in that regard.) Paul points out in verses nine and ten that they are already applying this love toward the brethren. He feels no need to exhort them regarding this love.
But the subject has shifted by the end of verse nine: he has switched to the subject of “agapé” love. He says they had already been taught that they were to “Love one another:” (He quotes Jesus on this note. See John 13:34, 35.) He says that they had already been demonstrating this agapé love to all the believers in their geographic area. But he exhorts them to increase and grow in that function.
So, How is that done? What does that “Look like?”
Keep in mind that agapé love has nothing to do with feelings. When we read the description of the agapé love, in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8, we notice that there is no reference to feelings, at all. Every single descriptor is demonstrated by actions. They all describe how agapé love behaves or does not behave.
So, let’s explore each of the descriptors and see how they might find application in our lives.
1st Corinthians 13:4-8
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Charity never faileth:
Please notice that because the Greek language has about five different words for love, four of which are used in scripture. The King James Translators attempted to set apart the agapé love by using the word “charity” to translate it. The “problem” for us is that the word “charity” has changed over the years, and now it virtually only means “giving to the poor.”
In a way, that makes sense, as the meaning of “agapao” means the pouring out of yourself for the benefit of someone else, without regard for how it affects you. Jesus demonstrated that Love at the Cross: He poured Himself out for us, not allowing His own feelings or comfort to interfere with His sacrifice for us.
So, What do we see as the Descriptors for Agapé love in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8?
- Agapé Love is patient (longsuffering.)
- Agapé Love is kind.
- Agapé Love is not envious.
- Agapé Love is not given to arrogance, boasting or pride.
- Agapé Love is not “puffed up”…not filled with self-importance.
- Agapé Love is not given to inappropriate behavior of any kind.
- Agapé Love is not focused on self, or the needs of self.
- Agapé Love is not easily stirred to anger.
- Agapé Love is not given to assuming bad motives in others, nor keeping a “score.”
- Agapé Love is not pleased with evil things, no matter to whom they happen.
- Agapé Love is happy when truth is honored, even if it is not to its own benefit.
- Agapé Love is able to bear up under every load, and withstand every trial.
- Agapé Love is able, despite circumstances, to hope for God’s blessing in all things.
- Agapé Love is able to outlast any trial, enduring it as part of love.
- Agapé Love is eternal, and it has eternal value.
Interestingly, verse eight goes on to point out that some of the things we may think are eternal are not! The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not eternal. They are for this life only. There will come a time when those gifts are no longer needed. But the Agapé Love has eternal value and will not cease to function. Choosing to love in this way is always an act of the will…not a response to feelings. It is not based on emotions, but rather, it is a voluntary choice.
What are some Other things we know about Agapé Love?
Romans 13:10 says “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore Love is the fulfilling of the Law.” Jesus confirmed this, in Mark 12:30-33, saying that the twin commands “thou shalt Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength,” and “thou shalt Love thy neighbor as thyself” were the “core value” of all of God’s commands. That, if you fulfill those two commands, you have fulfilled all the rest!
Galatians 5:13 says we are not to use our “Christian Liberty” as an opportunity for self-serving, (serving our flesh; our old sin nature,) but rather, by agapé love, we are called to serve one another. (Love Serves!) Jesus said (Mark 10:45) that “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many,” (Love Gives! Love serves, and Love gives!)
1st Peter 4:8 exhorts us, “And above all things have fervent charity [agapé love] among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”
Cover sins? “Cover…” how? Agapé Love motivates us to “throw a veil over” the faults of others. God says that in the same manner that He has forgiven us, He expects us to forgive others.
So, How has God forgiven us?
In Psalm 103:12, He says that he has removed our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. That is a pretty powerful statement! I have always appreciated that particular comparison because it is unlimited. If I fly North, I can only fly so far before I will suddenly be flying South! And the reverse is also true. But! I can fly East for the rest of my life, and I will never suddenly find myself flying West! And the same is true in the other direction. It is an unlimited separation.
Furthermore, (in Psalm 103:14) God says that “He knows our frame, that we are dust….” He understands our frailties and He accepts us as we are. (Will you be that considerate toward those around you? Will you accept them as they are, and choose to tolerate their idiosyncrasies? Will you tolerate their irritating mannerisms, and their flawed logic?) The word “forbearance” means to lovingly “put up with” one another.
How do you see other believers?
Romans 4:7, 8, quoting King David, says “Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
God the Father sees you in Christ…and only in Christ. He sees you as perfect, clean, and holy, in Christ! The Lord chooses to no longer see you as a guilty sinner. Can you choose to see other believers in that same light? That is what agapé love requires.
If you are loving others with the Agapé love, then you are not so likely to hold their faults against them. In your own mind, you will set aside those faults and you will overlook their shortcomings, and not take into account the wrongs you have suffered. Why? Because their soul is more precious to you than your own comfort. Their well-being is more important to you than “standing on your own rights.”
What are the Results?
The result of agapé love ruling your life will be a more consistent tranquility, as well as a deep concern for the welfare of other believers. You will find that you are no longer likely to be offended by others. You will genuinely care about what they care about, and look for opportunities to be a blessing to others without calling attention to yourself in the process.
Relationships will deepen, as others sense that you genuinely care for them, not just superficially, or “just when it looks good.”
Priorities will begin to change as you begin to see others through God’s eyes. Your focus will shift away from self, and you will increasingly find yourself asking God to show you His way to respond to life, and His path for you to follow. Your church-family will become increasingly precious to you, as you learn to see the brothers and sisters through God’s eyes.
The “Litmus Test”
The reality of whether we love God is revealed by whether we treat the brethren with His Love. 1st John 4:20 poses the question, “…he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?”
So, if someone claims to love God, but their actions show that they do not love other believers, then God says they are lying about loving God. That sounds harsh to us. But it is in the same verse we just read: It is the first half of that same verse. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar…” The reality is, we are fooling ourselves…deceiving ourselves.
And, in 1st Thessalonians 4:11, 12, he says another result is that we will be more likely to tend to our own business, and to live quiet lives. We will also be productive, looking for ways to maintain a clear conscience and good relationships with others, particularly unbelievers.
We will strive to earn an income through honest work, and use that income in a way to honor God, and not be dependent upon others, for testimony’s sake. These are good principles for today as well: today, there are various programs which may tempt us to milk “free money from the government,” not admitting that it ultimately comes from our fellow taxpayers. We don’t want to have a reputation for being “freeloaders,” of any kind.
Galatians 6:4, 5 agrees, saying “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.”
But if another brother or sister is under a crushing load that they cannot bear, we exercise the love of Christ and ease their burden.
Agapé love is practical. And it looks for the opportunity to bless others in practical ways.
Jesus showed the ultimate example of Agapé Love when He bore our sins at the Cross. He met our need, without respect to what it cost Him. We can either follow His example or fail to do so.
Lord Jesus, fill our hearts with a consciousness of Your presence and Your Love. Teach us to love as You love.