Thus far in our study we have looked at two of the most common titles which are applied to God’s people. I think it is interesting how widely divergent all of these titles are, even though they are applied to the same group of people. Obviously, they are designed to highlight different traits and characteristics. Last week’s lesson dealt with the very common title – “saints.” It is found throughout the Old Testament, but only once in the Gospels. While on earth, the Lord Jesus never applied this word to His followers, but Paul did in the Epistles. And never in the Bible is “saint.” used individually; never is anyone called “Saint John” or “Saint Paul.” Correctly, or incorrectly, to my way of thinking, “saint” is a term which ties God’s people to Heaven. We read of the “saints” around the throne of God. “Saint” is a word which links the believer with God the Father. The Bible says that these people have been “set apart” unto Jehovah. We have been “called to be saints” – “beloved of God” and “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” And as such, we should strive under the grace of the Lord, to live as separated, sanctified people. Paul said, “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” Do we have any right to think we should be received by God, if we are touching any unclean thing? Only by the grace of God are we “saints of God.”
Our first message, two weeks ago, dealt with the title “disciple.” And once again, rarely is the word used singly – 27 times compared to 230 times in the plural. Never is anyone in the Bible called “disciple so-and-so.” Although a couple times John is referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This is a word which more closely ties us with the Lord Jesus than with God the Father. It is a word which means “a learner” – a disciple of Christ is a student of the Lord. But in addition to that – a true disciple is a devoted follower, a zealous defender and proponent of Christ. We see different degrees of discipleship in the Bible. We see some disciples who would give their lives for the Master. And we see others coming and going, depending on the degree or persecution or the depth of the doctrine they were being taught. I fear that most modern “disciples” are not as dedicated and diligent as Christ would like us to be. I fear that most Christians have very little right to apply the word “disciple” to themselves.
Our title for consideration this afternoon is another common designation – “brother” or “brethren.” I admit to struggling to come up with an adequate outline to follow this afternoon. So, as poor as it is, let’s consider the title Etymologically; Soteriologically; and Ecclesiastically.
First, what is the etymology of the word – what is its root and what does it mean?
I know that “brother” is a masculine word, but its principles apply to Christian ladies as much as to the men. I would like everyone to think that I am speaking to them, even if they are ladies or young girls. ISBE, my Bible encyclopedia lists 14 different uses of the word “brother,” but I will not bore you with them. They extend from twin boys, to male cousins, to citizens of tribes and nations. The word is used metaphorically – “I am a brother to jackals.” And, of course, it is used to describe God‘s saints, Christ’s disciples.
At its basic root a “brother” is one of several children of a single pair of parents. “Chamber’s Etymological Dictionary” defines a brother as “a male born of the same parents; any one closely united with ore resembling another; a fellow-creature.” Then, as a surprise to me, the definition concluded by saying, “hence brother originally meant one who supports the family after the father’s death.” Even when used nationally, or when describing members of a club, the original thought remains. “Brethren” linked together because of a common heritage.
There are over a dozen different kinds of “brothers” or “brethren” in the Bible, but we are primarily interested in the common New Testament designation. Christian “brethren” may come from every nation, language and ethnic heritage in the world. They may have any skin tone humans possess. Some of them are quite young while many of them are quite old. And in one sense of the word, they may be male or female. How are these very different people united – how do they become brothers and sisters?
That comes about through their salvation in Christ – Soteriology has made them brethren.
But first, how did you, personally, come into THIS world? I hope that in your case your mother and father chose to live their lives together united in marriage. Eventually they talked about having a family – several children. And you, along with your brothers and sisters, were born, becoming a part of your parent’s family. Where you had not existed before, you were conceived and born into a specific family, perhaps joining several other brothers and sisters.
Similarly, if you are a child of God, you were BORN into the family of the Lord. There are several other terms which the Bible uses to talk about various aspects of salvation, but “birth” and “adoption” are among them. Whereas in a sense you did not exist, sometime before creation, you were conceived in the heart of God. Then at the hour appointed by the Lord you were born – born again – regenerated. You were also officially adopted – born and adopted by the Lord. At that point you became a member of the family of God. The term “family of God” is not found in the Bible, but there are plenty of references to being spiritually “born” and “adopted” giving us the right – and desire – to call Jehovah “Father.” “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” The Lord has redeemed us “that we might receive the adoption of sons.” “As many as received (Christ) to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” When Steve, Kathy, Bill, Erik, Judy, Tami and James were born into the family of God, they became brothers and sisters in Christ.
And with this in mind we go back to the etymology of the word – the root and meaning. Every Christian is a child of the same heavenly Father. Every Christian is a brother or a sister of every other child of God. And there is a sense in which we are brethren of Christ, the very special Son of God.
Was it the Lord Jesus who coined this term? Was it Christ who originated this line of thought? Matthew 12 – “While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” It was the Lord Jesus who called the disciples “His family” – they were his brothers and sisters.
I’m not going to belabor this point, but I would like you to consider Philemon before we move on. Philemon was converted to Christ while Paul was in Ephesus. We next find the man and his family in nearby Colossae with a church meeting in their house. We are told that his wife was named “Apphia” and his son was “Archippus.” Tucked between Titus and Hebrews is a letter written by Paul from Rome to his old friend Philemon. It seems that a former servant of the man had stolen some of his master’s property and fled to the metropolis of Rome. The man’s name was “Onesimus.” There in Rome, the Lord brought him under conviction, and he was regenerated – born into the family of God. Paul’s letter is only 25 verses long, but the word “brother” jumps off the page several times. “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, “We have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother. “Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.” The purpose of the letter was to ask Philemon to receive once again his former servant. Don’t prosecute him or execute him. The man had become a child of God – a believer in Christ. The former thief had become a Christian and a brother in Christ. Paul wrote, “Perhaps he departed for season, that you should receive him for ever. Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?”
In salvation, people of highly different backgrounds are united in the family of God, becoming brothers and sisters in a relationship which will last forever. Are you a brother in Christ? Are you a Christian sister? Don’t abuse the word applying any of the denominational, Roman Catholic definitions to the term. If you have been born again, then you are brother or sister in Christ.
And with that, we come to brethren in an Ecclesiastical sense.
As I said earlier, it appears to me that to be a “saint” links us in a special way to Heaven – to God the Father. And to be a “disciple” should be our relationship to Christ our Master. Certainly there are other relationships, and we can’t completely separate the Father from the Son. To be a “child of God” is another very special relationship which we have with our Heavenly Father. But most of time, when we find the term “brother” in the New Testament, the relationship is between the brethren – between the saints.
Of course, I believe that all of God’s saints should be members of God’s churches. I know that such is not the case, but ideally all of the brethren ought to be church members. And sometimes it is clear that when the Bible speaks of “the brethren” it is speaking of a church. For example, as persecution arose in Thessalonica, “the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea.” And when the persecution spread to Berea, “then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea.” In many of Paul’s letters to the churches, he addressed the entire assembly as “brethren.”
One of the things which sets this title apart from “saints” and “disciples” is its personal application. Whereas no one is called “Saint John” or “Saint Peter,” dozens of people are called “Brother so-and-so.” For example, after the Lord had convinced Ananias that Saul of Tarsus, had become a child of God… “Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” The hated persecutor, Saul, had instantly become “brother Saul.” And this became the language of the Bible. Paul called “Quartus a brother,” and “Sosthenes our brother.” He wrote of “brother Apollos,” and “Timothy our brother,” and “Titus my brother.” There are at least a dozen other believers specifically called Paul’s “brethren.” James the pastor in Jerusalem referred to Paul as “brother,” and Peter spoke of “our beloved brother Paul.” Each of these speak of a special bond between believers. But the word in itself doesn’t identify any particulars.
I mentioned at the outset this afternoon, that my dictionary surprised me by saying, “hence brother originally meant one who supports the family after the father’s death.” Without implying that the original meaning of the old English word applies to the Greek New Testament word, there are still various responsibilities that come with the word “brother.” For example, both Paul and Peter exhort us all to love our brothers in Christ. I Peter 2 – “As the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.” Are we as Christians obedient to Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12 – “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another”? Are we worthy of the title “brothers in Christ?”
Which of the twelve disciples was known as “the Apostle of love”? Why was that idea laid upon John? Because he was closest to Christ? Probably not just that. Isn’t it because of the theme of his first epistle? Please turn to I John 2:17 – “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” I know that we are all prone to hunt for excuses, and means of limiting the obvious words. “But that brother has sinned against me.” “That professed believer doesn’t believe in the imminent return of Christ, or the sovereignty of God.” “That man is living in sin, so I don’t have to love him.” Is that so? Is the Lord pleased with our sophistry – “he that loveth his brother abideth in the light.” “He that hateth his brother is in darkness.”
How about the message of John’s next chapter – verse 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. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” I would very much like to say that this is talking about members within a single church. But I don’t have that right – it also applies to members of other Baptist churches. But in addition to these it also applies to disobedient Christians who are not members of any of the Lord’s churches.
John goes on in chapter 4 – “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Verse 20 – “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”
I believe that if John was preaching the message this afternoon instead of me, he would say that to be someone’s brother is more than a simple blood relationship – even if it is divine blood. He would say that we are obligated to learn to love that person, despite his warts, dandruff and halitosis. He would say that to be someone’s brother requires concern, care and even self-sacrifice for that person. A person who loves, hurts when his brother hurts, and rejoices when he is blessed. It is a great privilege to be a brother, and it is a great responsibility to be a brother to another Christian.