1 John 3:11-18
I would like to say something this evening about the value of a brother – a brother in Christ. However, nothing I want to say about a brother in Christ is intended to detract from the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Clearly, the most important thing in anyone’s life is to establish a living link with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Man in the glory, the Man Who came here, Who died here and Who, having accomplished redemption, went to the right hand of God. In fact, the psalmist says, “None can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him” (Psalm 49:7). But, thank God, the Lord Jesus Christ has come and has given Himself a ransom for all, and it is an enormous privilege to be redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus. Indeed, this verse we read says, “The friend loveth at all times.” What a wonderful Friend we have in the Lord Jesus! He sticks by us, as another proverb says, “There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). If we know Him as our Saviour, we prove that He is an ‘all the way home’ Saviour Who looks after us day by day, and nothing can separate us from His love. Even if a brother or sister lets us down, the Lord Jesus Christ will never let us down. No one can pluck us out of His hand (John 10:28), and He ever lives to intercede for His own (Hebrews 7:25).
So, as we think about the value of a brother, it is important to recognise first the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the love of a brother is intended to take character from the love of Jesus, as we had in our passage in 1 John – “Hereby we have known love, because He has laid down His life for us” (v16). His sacrifice therefore becomes the motivation for believers to value and serve others who belong to Him.
Although I am speaking about the value of a brother, in the context of which I speak, a brother includes a sister as well. In fact, when I think of this Scripture in Proverbs 17, I remember what a sister once told me about an incident that happened sixty years ago. At that time a well-known brother was wrongly removed from fellowship. This sister and her husband extended hospitality to him, and as he left one evening, he quoted this verse, “A brother is born for adversity,” and he added, ‘And a sister too.’ So, although I shall be referring to various Scriptures that speak of brothers, they apply equally to sisters as well.
In 1 John, there is a reference to Cain (v12). The first reference in the Bible to brothers is in relation to Cain and Abel. It is very striking that in Genesis 4 the word “brother” is mentioned seven times. Abel is referred to as Cain’s brother – seven times! Perhaps the most important instance is the challenge that God raised with Cain when He said, “Where is Abel thy brother?” (v9). God said it to Cain after he had murdered his brother. Cain’s reply was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” That describes what a brother in Christ should be – he should be his brother’s keeper. Therefore I have a responsibility towards others who love the Lord Jesus Christ, just as they have a responsibility towards me.
In John’s Epistle there is a great deal said about brotherly love. 1 John 3 also speaks much about righteousness. One evidence of a person being a genuine Christian, or being born of God, is that he seeks to do what is right – to practise righteousness. The other great feature of someone born of God is that he loves his brother. As the verse says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (v14). “Brethren” means those who are begotten of God, those who have accepted Christ as their Saviour and Redeemer. So love for one another, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, is very important.
When I am doing a little open-air gospel work, I find it a great joy to meet believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. I met one yesterday for the first time. I do not know too much about him, but we conversed together and there was an immediate bond. Why? Because he loves Jesus and I love Jesus. It is a wonderful thing to have a link in Christ that will last for all eternity.
The apostle John indicates here how practical love is. He says we ought for the brethren to lay down our lives. That means that love is sacrificial; it means you have to sacrifice. I too have to sacrifice to demonstrate love for my brothers and sisters in Christ. So John says, “Whoso may have the world’s substance, and see his brother having need, and shut up his bowels from him, how abides the love of God in him? Children, let us not love with word, nor with tongue, but in deed and in truth” (vv17-18). In other words, it is not just a theory for brothers to have love for one another, but it is practical. Paul also says in one of his letters that “ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). Brotherly love is not something artificial, not something put on, but it flows out of love for Christ, and it is practical.
I would like to illustrate this concept of brotherly love using three incidents in the life of the apostle Paul: the first just after he was converted; the second during his journeys of Christian service; and the third at the end of his life.
I expect nearly everybody knows about the apostle Paul and his dramatic conversion while he was persecuting Christians (Acts 9:1-21). After Jesus spoke to Paul (Saul of Tarsus, as he was then), he accepted the authority of Christ over his life; he accepted Him as his Saviour; but he was temporarily blinded. He was led by the hand into Damascus, and he did not eat or drink for three days. He certainly was then in adversity! But the Scripture says, “A brother is born for adversity”! The Lord Jesus directed a brother called Ananias, who lived in Damascus, to visit Saul, whose world had been turned upside down. Ananias came and laid his hands on him. He addressed him as “Brother Saul” (Acts 22:13), and through the services of Ananias, Paul was set forward on the Christian way. “A brother is born for adversity.”
Two things marked the apostle Paul after his conversion. After his baptism and receiving the gift of the Spirit, “he was with the disciples who were in Damascus certain days” (Acts 9:19). He learned to fit in among others who belonged to Jesus: he did not lord it over them, but he fitted in with them. He was made at home among them, and when trouble came and he was about to be murdered by people who hated Jesus, the disciples let him escape from Damascus by lowering him through the wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). They looked after him. “A brother is born for adversity.” The other thing about Paul was that “straightway in the synagogues he preached Jesus that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). Ananias, a true brother in Christ, who looked after him, helped him to fit in among Christians in Damascus, but left him free to begin his service for the Lord.
In the ways of God, in the last few months, I have been in touch with several recent converts: one came from a criminal background; another had been involved in a cult with the darkness that marks that group. I have been very challenged as to the right things to say to those persons. I think that when people come to faith in Christ, they have to fulfil their own particular service under the Lord’s hand, but they also have to learn to fit in among the people of God – how necessary that is at the start of our Christian experience! I can thank God, as I look back, for brothers and sisters who have helped me to fit in among the people of God. It is a great service to set people forward who have come to faith in Christ, both those brought up in Christian homes and also those from non-Christian backgrounds.
So, two things marked the apostle Paul when he was converted: he was first of all helped to fit in among the Christians by Ananias, a brother in Christ, but also he was not restricted in his service for the Lord Jesus. When we believe in Jesus, it is a great help to find such a brother who is born for adversity.
I would like to draw attention to another incident in the life of Paul, when he was in Philippi engaged in his wonderful service for the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:16-34). He and Silas were badly treated, and people turned against them in Philippi. They were scourged and cast into jail, and their feet put in the stocks. The jailer was charged to keep them securely. There they were, beaten; they had many stripes on them; no doubt their backs would be bleeding. But when they were singing praises to God in the inner prison, they would doubtless have proved the wonderful love of Jesus – a Friend Who sticketh closer than a brother. They were buoyant, and they were more than conquerors through Him that loved them (Romans 8:37). Then there was an earthquake; the jailer was about to commit suicide, and Paul stopped him. He then had an opportunity to say with divine authority, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16:31). Paul and Silas were still hurt, still wounded, but then there was a brother born for adversity. New birth had happened in the soul of that jailer: he had changed, he had passed from death to life, and one proof of it was that he loved his brothers, Paul and Silas.
What did he do? He started to care for them. I know he and his family also listened to the word of God, and he and his household were baptised. There was evidence of his personal link with the Lord in responding to the gospel message, but he began to care for his brothers who were wounded when “he took them the same hour of the night and washed them from their stripes” and then provided food for them. That jailer saw that his brothers in Christ had need. He did not just love them in word and tongue, but in deed and truth, when he took them the same hour of the night and washed them from their stripes and provided hospitality for them.
I think there is a word there for us today: there are many of God’s people that are wounded. Some are actually wounded: some are actually suffering as I speak now. I receive messages every week about people who are imprisoned for Christ. Some are martyred for Christ. Others are widows and orphans and displaced people as a result of believing in the Lord Jesus. We should consider what we can do to help such: pray for them; help them when we can. I think there is a service that can be done to help such brothers and sisters in Christ.
Others are wounded in other ways: there are many people who have wounds from things that have happened in their lives, whether through family or business troubles or, alas, sorrows that have happened among God’s people – and the scars are there! It is a service of brotherly love to seek to help such people and do something to relieve them of burdens and cares resulting from past problems. I think that is something that each one of us should be concerned about, particularly where we live, but universally too. That brotherly love of the jailer at Philippi rendered a good service to Paul and Silas, and as we see from the Epistle to the Philippians, it worked out for the glory of God.
I move on towards the end of Paul’s life, and I am thinking particularly of what happened when he was in prison according to 2 Timothy. Paul had proved the love of his Christian brothers a number of times in his life, including the time when, on his way to Rome as a prisoner, some dear believers made a journey of about 40 miles to meet him. Luke says of Paul that when he saw them, “he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:15). I heard a dear believer quote that very Scripture this week. Thank God, even in these strange days in which we believers are unable to be with one another in person, it is a privilege to converse with and see the faces of one and another who love the Lord.
Paul probably was in prison in Rome more than once, and when he wrote his second letter to Timothy, he was no longer in a place where he was easy to find. When he was first in prison in Rome, probably under house arrest, he received all who came to him (Acts 28:30). He was easy to find. But when he wrote 2 Timothy, his last recorded letter, Paul was not really expecting to be released in this life and was probably in a dungeon. (Indeed, when he talked about his release, 2 Tim 4:6, he meant his release in going to be with Christ.) But Onesiphorus came to see him in prison, and Paul says of him, “He has often refreshed me, and has not been ashamed of my chain; but being in Rome sought me out very diligently, and found me” (2 Tim 1:16‑17). Paul felt being neglected by others. Indeed, he says that “all who are in Asia . . . have turned away from me” (2 Tim 1:15). Then he mentioned Onesiphorus, who sought diligently to find him. It would have been hard to find Paul in that prison, but Onesiphorus took the trouble to find him. He searched for him, and he found him, and he refreshed him. Wonderful thing! Here was a brother born for adversity, who searched out Paul in that jail in Rome, and who then encouraged Paul. Possibly Onesiphorus had come to Rome on business, but he certainly made it his business to search for Paul, to provide help for him and refresh him.
Many of us speak of being in 2 Timothy days. We are at the end of the Christian era and many untoward things have happened in the course of the testimony. Yet I think it is of God to search out brothers and sisters in Christ, and, as far as we can, to refresh them. And I would commend that suggestion to each one of us here.
I move on to Matthew, a very interesting Gospel in many ways. Matthew’s Gospel uses the words “brother” and “brethren” more than the other three Gospels. Matthew is also the Gospel that speaks much of righteousness. When Jesus began His public ministry, He said, “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). Matthew’s Gospel sets out a lot of detail about the kingdom of the heavens and the laws of the kingdom. It is also the only Gospel that refers to the assembly, the Church. Jesus said, “On this rock” (that is, the confession of Peter) “I will build My assembly, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Matthew also refers to a local assembly, when in Matthew 18:17 Jesus said, “Tell it to the assembly.” Matthew speaks about these wonderful things relating to righteousness, the kingdom and the assembly.
But Matthew also speaks much about the brother. If you look through all the various references in Matthew to the brother, many of them are actually negative references when things go wrong between brothers. When we think about the value of a brother, we have to remember that we are still here in mixed conditions. That means I have the flesh in me, and I shall have it till I die or the Lord returns. Each one of you on this call also has the flesh still in him or her. That means that you and I are liable to upset somebody else, and to sin against a brother.
In Matthew’s Gospel the first reference to “brother” is in the first chapter. To be honest with you, the reason you are having this subject tonight is that a few months ago I started reading through Matthew from the beginning, and it hit me between the eyes that when you come to verse 2, it mentions “Juda and his brethren.” The writer, Matthew, is setting out a genealogy to demonstrate that Jesus is really the Son of David, but after mentioning Judah he adds, “And his brethren.”
Judah was one of the brothers of Joseph, and I am sure most, if not all, of us know the story about Joseph. When he was a lad aged 17, his father sent him out to seek his brothers, and when they saw him coming, they said, “Behold, there comes that dreamer! And . . . let us kill him” (Genesis 37:19-20). They put him in a pit, and then Judah saw a caravan of the Ishmaelites coming along, and he proposed something different – to sell brother Joseph as a slave. Judah was responsible for Joseph’s being sold as a slave.
Over twenty years later, we read of Judah again, and this time after much heart-searching Judah accepts responsibility for his younger brother. He had not been a true brother to Joseph, but he desired to be a true brother to his brother Benjamin. Judah became surety for him, and acted in such a way that Joseph eventually made himself known to his brothers. Scripture says, “Judah prevailed among his brethren” (1 Chronicles 5:2). How? By taking the blame, by taking responsibility! In the world in which we live, people like to ‘pass the buck’ from one to another. Judah accepted responsibility for failure, and God blessed him for doing that. Judah is an important model for us!
So in Matthew’s Gospel there are many references to the brother. In chapter 5, Jesus warned each of His listeners about saying nasty things about his brother (v22). He also instructed him what to do if he brought a gift for God to the altar and remembered that his brother had something against him (vv23‑24). Jesus also uttered that telling comment in His teaching about the mote and the beam (Matt 7:3‑5). He speaks about my seeing the little speck in my brother’s eye and forgetting about the big plank in my own eye. The longer I go on in life, the more I see the wisdom in what Jesus said. My natural tendency is to want to put somebody else right and forget about things that might be wrong with myself. In the maintenance of brotherly relationships, it is most important that I begin by judging myself. Jesus did not say, ‘Do not take the mote out of your brother’s eye,’ but, ‘Start with yourself.’
In the passage we read in Matthew, the apostle Peter had been listening to Jesus explaining how to act if one brother sin against another brother. Jesus set out an orderly procedure for dealing with such a sin, yet seeking all the time to gain or win the brother who had sinned. Peter then asked, “How often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” Notice he did not say, ‘How often will I sin against my brother and he should forgive me?’ No, he says, “How often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” Peter thought it might be generous to forgive as far as seven times, and Jesus explained to him, “Not . . . until seven times, but until seventy times seven.” In other words, the intention was that a brother would act towards an erring brother in Christ in the spirit of the dispensation of grace. Jesus then gives an example, a parable really, that shows the importance of acting towards others as God has acted towards us. How necessary it is for me to remember that I am a great sinner, that I deserve hell, but that Christ died for my sins and I, therefore, in my attitude to others, should be marked by the spirit of the dispensation! This is so important, because we have to work out our Christian activities with real people who are in flesh-and-blood conditions and still have the propensity to sin. Therefore, each of us should learn to act towards his brother in Christ as God has acted towards us. Paul says, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any should have a complaint against any” (Colossians 3:13). May we be helped to understand how to act towards brothers and sisters in Christ in the spirit that marks this dispensation, recognising that we are still in mixed conditions!
I close with Romans 8. I always like to know how things will end up. One of the wonderful things about the Bible is that it shows us how things end up. Romans 8 speaks about God’s plan for every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are “predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He should be the Firstborn among many brethren.” When the gifts of evangelism and prophecy and teaching are no longer needed, the relationships of brothers in Christ remain. After Jesus rose from the dead, He gave that wonderful message to Mary of Magdala: “Go to My brethren and say to them, I ascend to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (John 20:17). Paul, in Romans 8, explains how things are going to end up when Christ will have many brethren – many persons who belong to Him – and He will be the Firstborn, He will be supreme among them. He will then be surrounded with people who are like Himself, of His own order, and there He will shine in all His matchless glory.
So, as we finish and think about the day tomorrow, we shall be thinking about the Lord Jesus as out of death. He has been into death and He is the Firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18). He is going to be supreme, and will have the first place in all things. By all means let us give Him that first place in our worship, but let us also remember that God’s plan is that Christ will have His own like Him, like Him morally, and physically too, because we shall then have bodies of glory like His own body of glory (Philippians 3:21). Let us be concerned even now to provide a suitable environment where brotherly love pervades and where Christ is supreme. As we remember that He is the Firstborn from among the dead, let us also remember that through His death He has secured others of His own order, and He will shine in His glory as the Firstborn among many brethren.
May we value being brothers and sisters in Christ, and seek to work things out with one another for the glory of God while we are awaiting Christ’s return! May each one of us realise that a brother is born for adversity! May the Lord bless us all, for His name’s sake!
17 October 2020