When Joseph sent his brethren away from Egypt, their asses laden with all good things, he gave them one striking word of instruction for their journey to Canaan- ‘See that ye fall not out by the way’ (Gen 45.24). Since Joseph is a type of Christ, and His people are ‘blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ’, it is hardly surprising that what Joseph said negatively in the old dispensation, Christ should say positively in the new dispensation – ‘Love one another’ (John 13.34).
(1) Brotherly love is a positive command of the Lord Jesus Christ to His people. ‘As I have loved you . . . love one another also.’ So there is an imperative in Christian relationships; love to each other is the hall mark of brethren. Can the Lord’s command be fulfilled where there is deep-rooted enmity in a Christian’s heart to any member of the household of faith? Can we bow at the throne of
grace and ask that our wills may be swallowed up in His most holy will, and yet live in open, or even secret rebellion against the Lord’s command, and against some member of His family? This would be a perfect contradiction. What proof can there be of real love to Christ in a man, when it is in no way to be seen between him and his fellow Christian? ‘He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how shall he love God whom he hath not seen?’ (1 John 4.20).
Our Lord enforced the point when he was here on earth. How incongruous with His ruling and example, then, is a bickering and contentious spirit in His family. When a Christian searches for the mote in his brother’s eye, ignoring (and stumbling because of) the beam in his own, he presents the leading symptom of spiritual poverty, if not worse (Matt. 7.3-5). A subtle pleasure over the falls of other Christians, but a secret condoning of one’s own, does not become those who are all fallen by nature, and saved only by grace. Such things ought not to be. Let each Christian reflect that while he is living in enmity against a Christian brother or sister, whatever may be the cause, he is actively disregarding the mandate and command of his Saviour in heaven. Sooner or later, such a man must hear his sentence – ‘Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?’ (Luke 6.46).
(2) Brotherly love is evidence of a change of heart. ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.’ (1 John 3.14). We may not love their failings, but their failings are not to excuse our love for their persons. ‘Tolerate no man’s sins, but touch no man’s person’ says an old puritan divine. To shut up ‘the bowels of compassion’ from a fellow Christian simply because he has stumbled, fallen, failed in some respect, is to withdraw mercy where mercy alone can meet the case, and so deny the Lord that bought each and every Christian from eternal perdition. ‘When they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both’ (Luke 7.42). Younger Christians often make confused or hasty judgements, and act accordingly. Older Christians passed the same way long since;
do they react with counter-judgements, or with forbearance and understanding? It is a. happy thing when the ‘man in Christ’ is pleased to hear and answer the puzzled questions of the ‘babe in Christ’, and to feed him with basic gospel principles. Brotherly love is built on patience and forbearance, not on legalism and disdain.
It is good for Christians to meet together for the purpose of strengthening each other in the good things of the Lord, binding up each other’s wounds, and sharing sources of strength in the Word of God and in prayer. If Christians would only spend one half the time they spend in common conversation with fellow Christians on common and material things, in conversation on the things of God, there would be a revolution for good in Christian relationships. It
would be costly to do this, in terms of self-discipline, in terms of the fear of being misunderstood, in terms of self-preparation for such an exercise; but just as idle talk is a bad habit, so godly conversation may become an excellent habit. ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6.2). And, ‘by this shall all men know that ye are mine, that ye love one another’ (John 15.12).
(3) Brotherly love is big with blessing for all who engage in it. Cultivate it, and you will have enjoyment in your conscience, and peace in your soul, and comfort in all your own troubles. Sorrows shared become supplications shared and, in the end, enjoyments shared; and mutual enjoyment in the things of God is infinitely better than isolated and self-centered contentment in religion. It ought not to take persecution to teach Christians these things; but it is observable that reports of Russian Christians today generally have much more to say of brotherly love than does the life of the western churches.
If you have any regard for the word of God – if you have any feelings of respect for your pastor – if you have any real desire for the church’s prosperity – if you have any concern to be found following the Lord in His way – and if you have any concern for your own soul’s prosperity; ‘See that ye fall not out by the way’, but ‘love one another’.
K. W. H. Howard