“Of course, I love him. But, I don’t really like him.”
Have you ever heard that? Chances are, you may have said it. It’s a common phrase Christians sometimes use to excuse their negative feelings toward fellow Christians. We know we’re called to love people, but that doesn’t mean we like them, does it?
For the past few weeks, we’ve been studying a passage from 2 Peter, in which Peter teaches us what a robust faith looks like. Peter tells us to supplement our faith with a list of qualities, each supplementing the preceding quality. He writes,
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)
Last time, we discussed godliness, and how we can actually experience joy by pursuing holiness. Peter tells us to supplement our pursuit of godliness with brotherly love. If we’re not careful, we’ll read through this list of qualities without really thinking through what they are and what they supplement; this is especially true in the case of brotherly love. Not because the other qualities are less related to the qualities before and after, but because of how likely we are to miss this one.
Let’s start with a definition. What is brotherly love?
Pastor and author John Piper says this about the word Peter chose here:
“Brotherly affection” (philadelphia), is just what it says. It’s the affection of a family that comes with long familiarity and deep bonds. Of course you can have squabbles and get mad, but let some bully pick on your brother, and the family affection shows a powerful side. Or let one of the family members get a life-threatening sickness or even die, and there will be a kind of tears that do not come for others.
So, brotherly love is not restricted to brothers, obviously. It is an overly specific term that deals with a whole host of relationships. What’s interesting here, is that nowhere in the text does Peter limit his call to love to those within our immediate family. He simply tells us to supplement our pursuit of holiness with our love for our brothers.
Why is it, then, important that Peter calls us to supplement our pursuit of godliness with love for people?
Because we don’t. Often, in our pursuit of a holier lifestyle, we become so focused on doing the right thing - and many times for the wrong reasons – that we come down hard on ourselves when we fail to do the right thing. This, though we may keep it private, manifests itself in our treatment of others. They fall short of our standards – regardless of whether or not they’re good standards – and we get angry or frustrated with them.
It’s a little hypocritical, right?
Welcome to being human.
What’s really sad, is that in our pursuit of joy through godliness, we are taking away any real chance at joy by not loving our brothers. If we are serious about pursuing holiness, then the love of our brothers comes along with it. We cannot approach both with an either/or mentality. If at the end of our life, we can say we pursued holiness with a fire unmatchable, yet we struggled to love our brothers, we’d be liars. It’s like saying you aspire to be a good mechanic, but you struggle to change your oil on time. Holiness and love of God’s people go hand in hand and the marriage between the two is commanded by God (1 John 4:21, Philippians 2:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:9).
What happens when we don’t choose to love our brothers in Christ?
We show Christianity to be less attractive then it really is. The church should be the most loving and unified organization on the planet. Of course, there is room for denominational differences, and even differences on certain theological tenets, but there shouldn’t be any lack of love between those who are members of the church. Those outside the church should be looking in and wondering how we became so loving. Often, unfortunately, they see something totally different.
We damage our soul. God made us united in a relationship with not only himself but also other people (Gen. 2:18). When we decide to withhold love from our fellow humans, we hurt the chances of that person loving us as well. As self-serving as it seems, this is how God designed us. We were created to love others.
So, what do we do?
First, we have to ask God to help us in this matter. Our hearts, though regenerated by God, still are deceitful. We need to beg for God to help us to love our brothers. It is a supernatural thing for a human being to be so loving.
Second, we need to go out of our ways to serve people. Especially those whom we struggle to love.
It is good for us to remember what Jesus said about the greatest form of love: sacrifice: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
Sometimes, sacrifice might mean literally giving your life for your friends. Other time, it means not doing certain things you are well within your Christian rights to do for the sake of your brothers in Christ. Paul explains this in the fourteenth chapter of his letter to the church in Rome when he writes, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” (Romans 14:21) I myself enjoy a good craft beer. However, if I’m with a brother in Christ who struggles with alcoholism and could potentially stumble due to my actions, it would not only selfish of me to have a beer, but sinful. The love Christ calls us to is greater than our likes and dislikes. This isn’t simply for things as obvious as alcohol, either. It includes anything that might make my brother stumble. As Paul writes, in 1 Cor. 8:13, Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. I could be having dinner with a friend who finds eating meat offensive, and in that case, love would require me to abstain from eating meat in front of that friend (yes, in the Scriptural context, Paul is talking about something much different than veganism, but the principle still applies.)
We are to not only act this way for other people we like but those whom we dislike as well! What can be more healing to your soul than reducing the number of people you dislike? Not much.
Piper continues to speak about philadelphia and says,
This is what we are supposed to have for each other in the church. Don’t react by saying, ‘I can’t do that. There are too many weirdoes and goofballs and emotional misfits in the church.’ Since when are the commands of God supposed to be doable in our own strength? ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26).”
We can love people the way in which God intended us. We just need his help.
Here’s what we can do this week:
1. Pray that God would help you to love the people you struggle to love. Not just ignore them, forget them, or put up with them, but truly love them.
2. Go out of your way to love someone you struggle to love. Do something nice for them, truly compliment them, sit down and get to know them, etc.
Let’s not pursue holiness at the neglect of brotherly love, the two are a package deal and lead to more joy than we think possible.
Have you overcome a difficult relationship recently? How did you do it? Let us know in the comments below!