1Jo 3:14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
In Luke chapter five Jesus was teaching on the great commandment when a lawyer “willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour”? At that point, Jesus set out to strip him of his conveniently narrow (albeit legal) definition, and to help this man understand the meaning of the Golden Rule.
Considering the passages above it seems I can hear the formation of a similar yet appropriate question for our consideration: “and who is my brother”? Since Jesus no longer walks this earth in physical form, let us apply the principles that He taught us while here, and let us see if we can formulate an answer to that question: “Who is my brother?”
First of all we must recognize that for the word “brother” there are two meanings used in Scripture. In the broadest sense, this word can be defined as “a fellow member of the human race.” Certainly this definition would apply in our text. If it is true that we should love even our enemies, we could also conclude that there would not be a human being on earth not included. Obviously there is a Christian love that should be extended to every member of the human race, and as such, everyone would qualify.
In Scripture, however, there is clearly a distinction between a spiritual brother and a brother in the broad sense of the word. According to the tenor of Scripture, there is a deeper love reserved for the more narrow definition of the word brother: the Christian brother. The question is how narrow is that definition, and “who is my brother”?
On the one side we see some who tend to approach the subject with such a wide definition that they accept almost anyone to be part of the family of God. Their love seems gushy and cheap, and it certainly is not biblical. God’s Word places some very definite limits upon those who would be considered part of the family of God, and those limits clearly exclude the mere profession of Christianity.
On the other side are those who have the feeling that their spiritual family extends little beyond the parameters of their own denomination. Believers outside that denomination are viewed with suspicion at best, or even as non-Christian or apostate at worst. “The church” has become synonymous with the denominational name, not the body of Christ. To these, the command to love the brethren has taken on a very narrow meaning–certainly more narrow than what biblical teaching would allow.
Others of us come from independent churches who are not loyal to a single denomination, nevertheless we sometimes have some distinct boundaries of fellowship which can be even more restrictive. Those boundaries might not extend much beyond a small circle of “believe-alikes.” By this term I mean just that. These not only believe alike on essential tenets of doctrine, but in almost every other way as well. Definite measures are taken to ensure that the circle will not be penetrated or expanded. True brotherly love is reserved mostly for that small circle of “believe-alikes.” This is all fine and well if this narrow definition of the word ‘brother’ is supported by Scripture. Let’s take a look!
It is certainly true that God’s Word is restrictive concerning those who should be taken into the fellowship of believers. There are at least eight New Testament passages that clearly teach the exclusion from fellowship of certain “brethren” whose lives do not match their profession. God is very jealous of His name. Some of those issues that disqualify a man from taking the name of Christian brother are: fornication, covetousness, idolatry, drunkenness, railing, or extortion. (I Cor. 11) He also is to be excluded if he is one to harp upon nonessentials or untestable controversial issues which cause envy, strife, railings, and evil surmisings. Ouch!! ( I Tim 6:3-5) Other causes for exclusion are disorderly conduct, causing division, and the promulgation of heresy.
On the other hand, there was a greater diversity of belief and opinion tolerated in the New Testament and early church than currently found in some circles. There were those of the new order and those of the old. Some were zealous of the law, others were not. For religious reasons some ate all meats, and others ate practically none. Some observed certain days as holy (other than the one out of seven) and others did not. Some believers held slaves, and while slavery was not condoned, neither were those who held them excluded either. Some were with Christ each day as he healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out devils, but others cast out devils who were not daily with Him or the twelve. Jesus specifically gave instructions for them to not be hindered, saying, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”
The Apostle Paul encouraged the leaving of some issues between the brother and his God, and discouraged an overly zealous narrowing of the ranks by saying on one occasion, “but why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
Then who is my brother? Scripturally, a spiritual brother is one who has passed from death unto life and from the power of Satan unto God, and is a new creature, old things having passed away and all things having been made new. He is that man who is led by the Spirit. (Ro 8:14) Though he may not walk in all the light that I have, he is one who walks in all that which has been made light unto him, enabling him to have fellowship with the brethren and to enjoy the cleansing of the atoning blood. ( I Jn 1:7)
To this unique group of people we have a Scriptural obligation–an obligation to love them on a deeper level than anyone else. We are charged to treat them with the love and respect due a fellow traveler who is as much a child of God as are we. It is a love so deep that we would be willing to lay down our lives for them. Ironically, according to our text, one evidence that we personally have passed from death unto life is that we grant acceptance of our brethren evidenced by that unique brotherly love.