Brotherly Love and Relational Dysfunction in the Family of God
We turn next to what Peter says about “brotherly love.” Continue reading . . .
We turn next to what Peter says about “brotherly love.” This, of course, is the translation of the Greek word philadelphia. Be "brotherly" and “sisterly,” if there is such a word. That is, don't view each other as strangers, or as mere acquaintances, or as distant relatives. View each other as close family. A family can have some pretty serious squabbles and exchange some very harsh words, but only in the rarest cases does the family break up over it.
The point is that the key to all our relationships and interactions and dealings with one another, as well as our attitudes and words is the fact that we are all children of the same heavenly Father (see 1 Peter 1:22; 2:17).
The failure of the Church to love its own is an ugly blemish on the public face of Christianity. All of us have seen it, and many have felt its pain.
But the Bible does provide answers and solutions for us. One of the many strengths of Scripture is its refusal to sugar-coat the relational dysfunction among its more prominent characters. There’s no better example of this in the NT than what we see in Paul’s relationship to the Corinthians. It is a perfect example of brotherly love at work.
That there was a palpable tension between them is evident from Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. Paul writes:
“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also” (2 Cor. 6:11-13).
Most of us have, at one time or another, been on both sides of this sort of dispute. Like the Corinthians, you may have developed a lack of trust for leadership in the church. Fueled by gossip and misinformation, you may have grown to doubt their sincerity or their honesty. Perhaps you view them as power hungry and insensitive to the needs of others. One of your friends or family members may have been hurt by excessive authority or unjustly removed from a place of ministry. As a result, there is little room left for them in your heart.
On the other hand, you, like Paul, may have been the object of unwarranted criticism. Notwithstanding your best efforts and most sacrificial labors, people misinterpret your motives and impugn your character. You may wonder, “After all I’ve done and everything I’ve given, you’d think they’d give me the benefit of the doubt.”
Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, it hurts. You expect Christians to live by a higher standard. You’re shocked when their behavior differs little from what you encounter in the world at large. When your best efforts to put things right come up short, it seems only reasonable to withdraw, shut down your heart, elevate your guard, and wait for them to make the first move.
The fact that Paul’s frank speech is an accurate and utterly honest expression of his intentions and beliefs and desires is indicated by the second phrase, “our heart is wide open.” Jesus declared that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34), and Paul hopes the Corinthians will hear his words and thereby feel the pulse of his soul. He knows they are still suspicious of him. He knows they harbor ill will. He knows they doubt his sincerity. He knows they are afraid of entrusting themselves to him. Yet this is no hindrance to his complete openness.
The phrase, “we have spoken freely to you”, is literally “our mouth is open toward you,” a graphic and pointed way of describing utterly unrestrained, vulnerable, frank speech. Paul here is uninhibited and free in expressing his affections. You may think that for brotherly love to flourish in a church that we have to hide our true feelings and not express verbally the depths of our pain and hurt and pretend that all is well. Paul’s language in this verse says the opposite!
Paul knew they thought he loved them little (cf. 2 Cor. 11:11). Thus when he says “you are not restricted by us” he means, in effect, “you enjoy the fullest devotion possible,” or “we love you with unbridled affection,” or more literally, “I have not allowed you to be squeezed out of my heart.”
I’m encouraged by how forthright the apostle is with the people of this church. He refuses to skirt around the issue or pretend that it is less painful than it is. In this case, Paul is convinced that the problem is not that he lacks affection for them but that they have shut their hearts toward him. “You are restricted in your own affections,” he says. The word translated “affections” is a graphic one in Greek (splanchna), referring to the inward parts, the viscera or entrails, if you will. It is obviously a metaphor for the emotions or feelings or deep affections. It is a word very close in form to the one translated “tender hearted” here in 1 Peter 3:8.
Paul unashamedly declares that they have failed to reciprocate his love. His feelings for them are honest and sincere and passionate. He has not closed himself to their needs or their pain. But they in turn have not returned the favor. If he is open, they are closed.
Notice that true brotherly love entails an urgent and heartfelt appeal to them. In return for opening his heart to them he pleads that they will open theirs to him. “In medical terms,” notes Murray Harris, “an enlarged heart is a dangerous liability; in spiritual terms, an enlarged heart is a productive asset” (490).
Does it always work? Sadly, no. There will always be people in the church who, in a perverse sort of way, derive pleasure and sinful satisfaction from the alienation they have both caused and continue to perpetuate. Often their identity is wrapped up in the offense they carry. For others, to release it and reconcile requires a vulnerability they are not yet willing to embrace.
But their weakness is no excuse for our reluctance. Paul, it seems clear to me, was determined to obey his own command, painful though it be: “Repay no one evil for evil,” he wrote to the Roman church, “but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:17-18). That’s not easy to do, but the alternative is simply not an option for the one who says he “loves God” (1 John 4:21).
To be continued . . .