WALKING IN LOVE
Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another’.
We have been learning about brotherly love from the book of Romans. Last week, we studied about genuine brotherly love that abhors evil and clings to God’s goodness.
Today we are going to move onto two other aspects of the brotherly love that this passage in Romans talks about. Broadly, they can be classified as:-
1. Being kindly affectionate to one another
2. In honor, giving preference to one another.
KINDLY AFFECTIONATE TO ONE ANOTHER
Being kindly affectionate can be viewed as loving with warmth. That’s the kind of love that runs among family members. Our family unit often consists of parents and siblings. There is a special love among us. This love is not resultant of outside circumstances and it exists independent of any external factors. It exists simply because we belong to one family and are united by blood.
The word that Paul uses for this love means‘to command’us to show love to our fellow believers. It’s not a suggestion. It is a command that we need to obey. He instructs us to treat each other with that kind of love that we would treat our siblings with. He wants our love to not be superficial but genuine because we are all born again children of God and belong to one family.
IT’S NOT EASY
Having said the above, I must admit that it is not very easy to love like that. This is because often people differ from us in style, philosophy, behavior, personality and worldviews. So it becomes very difficult to muster up feelings of love or affection towards them. After all, feelings aren’t something that we can conjure. It is the product of understanding and deep thought. For example – when a salesman comes to our door peddling some product, often our first reaction is to turn them away. But they might ask for just a minute of our time and say something fantastic that captures our curiosity and makes us want to hear them out. Before long, we will be reaching into our wallet to buy the product! That’s the result of thought and understanding.
So then how can we obey this command? Romans 12:1 says, ‘I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God’. As we realize that we were sinners who were saved, washed, cleansed and justified by God and bought into His family, we recognize that we have a new nature. So is the case of the brother or sister that we find hard to love. He or she was also bought by the precious blood of Jesus and welcomed into God’s family. As members of this same family, we must love one another. In fact this brotherly love is a testimony of the fact that we are born again.
Let us look at some Bible references that emphasize the same point.
1. ONE FAMILY IN CHRIST
Mark 10:29-30 says, ‘So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wifeor children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life’.
Many people who have become Christians have had to leave their families and belongings because of their decision to follow Christ. It is not a one off incident. It happens in many homes. In fact, my grandmother faced this. So, here Jesus is saying that if we lose our loved ones and possessions and are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, then we can be certain that God will bless us hundred fold in this life and in the life to come. Do you know how that comes true? In the family of God. The Church of God is the family of God where we can receive 100 times the love of our parents and siblings that we might have to lose because of our love for Jesus.
In a small way, I experienced this during my time in the U.S. I was a young 20-year-old boy who was far away from home in a foreign country with a different culture and language. I didn’t know anybody there. But the Christian people there surrounded me with love and care. They ensured that I was looked after. I never had to spend any lonely holiday because they ensured that they invited me to their families. They were different from me in every way but they were my family.
2. DIFFERENT YET UNITED
Ephesians 2:19 says, ‘Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreignersbut fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God’.During the days of the early church, the political and social situation was such that there was a wide gap between the Jews and the Gentiles. They mutually hated each other. However when the Church was born, something amazing happened. Jews and Gentiles worshipped God together, fellowshipped together and treated one another as brothers and sisters. So Paul addresses them through the above verse saying that they are all members of God’s household. There needn’t be any room for issues like circumcision, observance of laws etc. They were brothers and sisters.
Sadly, our Church today is sometimes divided along lines of language, race etc. But we can be certain that we are not strangers or foreigners alienated from each other. We are of the same household. This realization will enable us to align our conduct in a godly manner. For example – when our children make mistakes, we cover it up and defend them. But when it comes to somebody else’s children, our mouth is wide open to talk very bad things. Now as Christians who are kindly affectionate towards one another, we will abstain from damagingour fellow brother or sister’s name and gossiping about their mistakes because they are our family. We want to honor them and ensure that we don’t tear their lives down with our words.
That’s what 1 Corinthians 12:26 means when it says, ‘when one member suffers, all members suffer’. When one member of the body is hurt it affects the whole body because all the members are inter-connected. Therefore, when our brother does well in life, we must rejoice instead of being envious. Because we are members of God’s family and they are our brethren.
Now, it may be difficult to like everybody in the family in the same way. That is alright. But we must be careful that we love everyone. At all times, we must be able to do everything possible to be good to them and not cause them any harm. That is what is meant by being kindly affectionate towards one another in love.
IN HONOR GIVING PREFERENCE TO ONE ANOTHER
Honor is a term that refers to the price that we fix on an object after we have evaluated its value. Many years ago, somebody gifted me a watch. I assumed it was just a regular watch and took care of it as I would do normally. But one day, somebody remarked to me about the cost of that watch. Since I wasn’t aware of it, I went to a watch store and evaluated it. To my amazement, I learned that it was a very expensive watch. From then on, I took special care of it. That is what honor is. We revere, give respect to someone or something based on what we understand their value to be.
Now what does preference mean? It comes from a Greek word that means to ‘go before’. Imagine that a special guest is visiting us. We would go all out to welcome them, receive them and make them comfortable. We are showing that they are more important than us. We go ahead and show love to the other person without waiting for them to make the move. That is genuine love.
Therefore when a couple has marital conflicts, it’s advisable not to wait for the other to come apologizing. Instead of the husband demanding that the wife comes to him, he must be willing to reach out to her and make amends. Even if she doesn’t respond immediately, she will come around soon.
God demonstrated hisunfailing, agape love that way. This love does not think of itself but is willing to make the first move. After all, our Savior didn’t sit in Heaven waiting for us to acknowledge our need for him. He left heavens and came down to die for us. He loved and died for the very people who crucified him. He asked His Father to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. What a model of love that went first!
HOW DOES THIS WORK PRACTICALLY?
Now giving honor and preference to the other person doesn’t mean that we go around saying that we are nobody. 1 Corinthians 4:14 onwards says, ‘I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me – or be followers of me’.
Here Paul is telling the Corinthians that they might have many teachers but he wanted them to follow him as their father. Now, many people might think that Paul is being very proud in making such a statement. It also is somewhat confusing because in some other places he puts himself down. For example –
a. In the book of Galatians he says ‘I went to Jerusalem. I didn’t learn anything from them. And I only went to confirm that I have been running not in vain, that I am doing the right thing and so on. And I found that I am not inferior to any of them, any of the apostles that came before me’.
b. In 1 Corinthians 4:9-10 he says, ‘I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death. For we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!’We need to understand the intent behind these passages. Paul is employing sarcasm here to iterate his point. There was a division among the believers with respect to gifts of prophesy, speaking in tongues, faith and about following Apollos or Paul. He is rebuking them sarcastically for their petty attitudes. He is not trying to be proud or use false modesty.
c. 1 Corinthians 15:8-9 says,‘Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God’.Here Paul puts himself down as the least of the apostles. What he says is right because he wasn’t part of the initial 12 disciples. In fact he was one of the biggest persecutors of the Church. But then he says, ‘by the grace of God I am what I am and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of Godwhich waswith me’. Now we see him boasting. But we must realize that he is boasting not in and of himself. He is boasting about the grace of God in him. As a result of that grace He was of value. Again, we see that Paul was not putting on any airs or pretending to be something that he was not.
d.Ephesians 3:8 says,‘To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ’. Here also we see Paul putting himself down but also clarifying that in Christ he is something.
e. 1 Timothy 1:11 onwards says, ‘according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust, And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, puttingme into the ministry. although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly inthe grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief’.However, for this reason I obtained mercyfor this reason, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life’. Paul is saying that even though he was the chief of all sinners and persecutors, God in His mercy called him and turned his life around. He made him a useful servant for Him much more than the other apostles. God showed such mercy to him so that he could be an example for other future believers of Jesus. He was meant to be a model of how God’s forgiveness can reach out to a wicked sinner like Paul and thereby allowing many Pauls to arise for God.
Let me give you an example. Suppose somebody in our midst faints. Ten of us gather around him and offer our advices on how to treat him. After all, giving advice is free. Imagine a real doctor walks in. Should he stand aside saying that he wants to honor the advice of the 10 of us and that he wants to give us preference? Of course not! He needs to do his duty.
So “in honor preferring one another” is not a reference to some kind of a false modesty. It’s talking about how there is no place for pride in Christian life. Jesus taught it in the Sermon of Mount when he said that ‘Blessed are the poor in Christ, for the kingdom of God belong to them. Blessed are the meek in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth’. Again in Luke 14:7-10, Jesus talks about how when we are invited to a wedding, we shouldn’t go and take the most important seat. It might have been reserved for somebody else and our host might have to ask us to vacate that seat. Wouldn’t that be embarrassing? Rather we must take an ordinary seat and then if our friend invites us to sit ahead, we will be honored among others.
In conclusion, let us look at one last aspect of self. 1 Corinthians 4:3-4 says, ‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord’. Paul addresses the issue of ‘self’ in this passage and says that people’s judgments and opinions about him does not matter to him. All that he cares about is God’s opinion about him. Then in verse 7 he says, ‘For who makes you differ from another?And what do you have that you did not receive?Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?’It is only the grace of God that differ us from others. And there is nothing that we have that has not been given to us. We have not produced anything by ourselves. Whatever has been given to us, we need to faithfully grow by trusting in God and not in ourselves. Once we begin to do that then we will stop getting offended by people’s opinions and comments because we are living only to please God and nobody else. Then we will be able to truly give preference to each other, treat them with honor and kindly affection.