The Expository Files


 Love The Brotherhood

1 Peter 2:17

Three words need our attention. These words are found in 1 Pet. 2:17. The words are: Love The Brotherhood.

What's Happening In First Peter?

The apostle Peter wrote this to Christians in the regions of Asia. They were living under intense abuse. These Christians, Peter calls "pilgrims," and he acknowledges the suffering that was their condition in life. Verse 6 in chapter 1 tells us they were being grieved by various trials. The next verse says they were being "tested by fire." Later in First Peter, the apostle says they were being reproached for the name of Christ (4:14).

Now when you are suffering persecution, because of the activity of your faith in Christ, what do you need? You need the comfort of hope. You need the assurance that your faith is well grounded. Something else you need is: admonitions to continue, with all the duties that faith demands! There is a common temptation to say to yourself: I'm suffering, this is hard, so I will just ease up a little in my obedience.

The apostle Peter, in First and Second Peter, never even comes close to saying that. To the contrary Peter tells these suffering Christians to keep doing what is right. Both his epistles might be studied around the structure of that theme: doing what is right, in spite of all the difficulty that attends doing right (see 1 Pet. 4:19).

He tells them in chapter one and two: Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and be holy. Lay aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy and strife. Abstain from flesh lusts which war against the soul.

The suffering Christians are to continue their obedience to Christ, in spite of their hard circumstances. In fact, the more you suffer, the more involved you should be in growth, in obedience, in worship and prayer (those are your tactics to defeat the enemy and stand in the evil day, see Eph. 6:10-18). Peter said, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed. And at the end of his Second Epistle, Peter says - "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," (2 Pet. 3:18).

So it remains true today that suffering is no excuse for disobedience. Whatever my circumstance - easy or hard - the activity of my faith in Christ ought to move on, upward and onward toward maturity.

In First Peter chapter two, there are all these imperatives, to be taken seriously by those persecuted Christians, and indeed - to be taken seriously by every Christian.

Part of that is 1 Pet. 2:11-17.

11Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
13Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men-16as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

Wherever I live, Asia or Texas, this needs my attention. Whenever I live, then or now, I ought to learn this and live it. And, whatever the condition of my life - easy or hard; peaceful or stressful - I need to give myself to this discipline. I need to apply everything in this passage, and everything the New Testament says about the conduct of God's people.

And part of this paragraph is the statement we're going to study: Love The Brotherhood.

What Is "The Brotherhood?"

The answer is simple, but I want to caution us here. We need to think in terms of people, not organizations. It is not THE CONGREGATION-HOOD or sisterhood of churches. It is THE BROTHERHOOD; people!

Now at first, it may sound like I'm just being fastidious or picky. Bear with me; this is not a trivial or merely semantic distinction. The unit implied in Peter's statement is not local congregations but individual people. They are your brothers. There is a difference between loving all local congregations that practice what you accept as sound doctrine, and loving individual people. The former is general, organizational, and can quickly become denominational. The later is specific, relational and scriptural.

So let's all agree that Christians need to be participants with other Christians collectively in local churches. Those local churches should seek submission to the teachings of the New Testament in every way. Yes, that's what the apostles taught. But when we think of "the brotherhood," we need to think of individual people, not an impossible-to-identify collection of local churches.

Here's the simplicity of this. If God is your father, you are related to every other individual who also has God as their father.

Brotherhood is based on childhood and childhood on common paternity. Our siblings in the faith are not local churches - but individual people, who have obeyed the same gospel we have obeyed.

This might well be translated: love the brethren. It is about individuals who belong to God. And this statement in 1 Peter is not limited to the brethren you know personally or locally. All who belong to God should be the object of our deepest, warmest affection. Love the brotherhood.

"Just as the Godhood is the three who are God, the brotherhood is all who are brothers. Jesus said to his disciples, 'you are all brethren,' (Matt. 23:9). 'For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,' (Gal. 3:26). Every individual in the world who has been baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27) is my brother or sister. To love the brotherhood is to love each such brother or sister, whether known or unknown," (Sewell Hall, Biblical Insights, March 2007).


This is that well-known Greek word: Agape, but I should add, this is the verb form and it is continuous: Keep loving your brethren. It is what the scholars call, "the durative present tense." You start this when you obey the gospel; then you keep doing this. It is affection for God's people, initially and then maintained for life.

This is active goodwill that is sacrificially dedicated to that which benefits the recipient(s). You have in your heart, emotionally and practically and actively, the good welfare of other Christians. You consider them as your relatives, and you treat them as family.

Now it may help to stop and consider what this doesn't say. It doesn't say, WATCH THE BROTHERHOOD. It doesn't say, CONTROL THE BROTHERHOOD. It says, love the brotherhood.

Have you ever considered, the only passage in the New Testament that uses this word "brotherhood," tells us one thing: LOVE the brotherhood. It is not my responsibility to monitor or watch the brotherhood; far be it of me or any man, to have any desire to control the brotherhood. One thing we are told - LOVE the brotherhood.

Three specifics

1. In order to love the brotherhood - I need to get beyond unjustified first impressions. Many of us have been guilty of this, maybe every one of us. You see somebody for the first time, or meet somebody for the first time and immediately - your mind goes to work making judgments. All kinds of things become a part of this impulse. Ugly or not ugly? Rich or poor? Smart or not? Even, faithful to the Lord or not. This is done with no objectivity; no time to know a person, and complete ignorance of the circumstances of their life. Most of us have done this; we have met a Christian and within minutes, we have put together an internal profile; an impulsive, subjective impression before we know the person.

So we are quickly building an obstacle, that makes it almost impossible to build a bridge (see this in Jas. 2:1-9). The problem is, a prejudiced, unjustified first impression that becomes an obstacle to just, genuine and loving treatment.

Give your brethren a chance; get to know the person who may be hidden behind the first impressions. I've met people I first thought were not smart, and they turned out to be wise. I've met people I thought were wise, and they turned out to be foolish. In each case, I didn't take the time to wait and get to know the person in reality. In both cases, it effected my treatment of the person. To love the brotherhood I must learn to get beyond the typical, unjustified first impressions.

2. Self-Sacrifice

The apostle John wants us to know this, as written in 1 Jno. 3:14-18.

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth."

There are some simple signs of affection, which - if genuine - are perfectly right and to be encouraged, but do not in themselves fulfill the full measure of brotherly love. To smile and greet your brethren with warmth, courtesy and hospitality. To shake someone's hand or give someone a hug. That kind of attention is certainly acceptable, and can be of service in our relationships with each other.

But let's not entertain the idea that these gestures somehow complete our obligation. The apostle John is telling us of the extent of brotherly love. Verse 16 requires no spin; it is not written in apocalyptic language. "But this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

This is love for the brethren that finds ultimate expression in an act of sacrifice that is exemplified by THE SACRIFICE of all sacrifices. The question needs a lot of thought. I shake hands with my brethren; I greet Christians; I may give someone a hug and to the extent of my ability, I may write a check to help a brother in need. All of that is fine - but I'm not yet to the matter at hand. Would I give my life for the good of my brother in Christ? Let's be clear, John says we ought to! This is not about dying for buildings or even an idea! NO, this is giving yourself, your life, for your brother. That's what it means to love the brotherhood.

3. Hebrews 13:1 - "Let brotherly love continue."

What happens sometimes is, we start doing something that is good and right, but we quit. We develop a right attitude, but do not maintain it. We start some right practice, but give it up. We fail to continue; we lack consistency in character, and perseverance in what is right. We may be guilty of becoming "weary while doing good," as described by Paul in Galatians 6:9.

I've seen this in people, have you? People get mad about one thing, and turn against the whole church the rest of their lives. Something happens (it could well be, something that should never have happened; an offense, or some evidence of hypocrisy), and the response of the immature is, to turn against all brethren; to give up on everybody, and just quit. That kind of response shows petty immaturity, that is rooted in selfish, vengeful thinking.

But something else it does is, that kind of response to a problem is directly disobedient to Heb. 13:1. Some brethren may mistreat you, but that's no reason to stop loving all of them or any of them!! "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart," (Gal. 6:9).

Let me say it this way: If you have good attitudes toward your brethren now, there will never be a reason in the future to change those good attitudes!! Even if somebody turns out to be crooked - God doesn't tell you to stop loving them!! And if a minority of brethren turn out to be apostates - still, there is no reason ever to hate anybody!! This says, Let brotherly love continue; not start and stop.

1 Pet. 1:22 teaches us about this: Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.

Three words, which are part of Peter's instruction for all Christians of all time: Love the brotherhood. Is your attitude toward others healthy, mature, godly? Is it true, that your fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, is fully expressed in your relationships with everybody in God's family?

John revealed the pattern, in 1 Jno. 3:18. My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

One day, there will no longer be any need for preachers to admonish us about this. One day, God's people will be together in a place where love will prevail, and hate will not emerge. Do you want to go to heaven?

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 14.4; April 2007