"Let brotherly love continue: said the writer of the Hebrew letter. More than any other New Testament writer, John urges upon God's people the necessity of loving each other. Some of his statements follow:
"He that loveth his brother abideth in the light and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." I Jn. 2:10. "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." 1 Jn. 3:14. My little children let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." Verse 18. "But whoso hath this world's goods and seeth his brother have need and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him. Verse 17. "He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love." I Jn. 4:8. "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?" I Jn. 4:20.
Paul said, "Let love be without dissimulation (pretence), abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another." Rom. 12. "Owe no man anything but to love one another: for he that loveth another man hath fulfilled the law." Rom. 13:8.
Peter said, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently . . . I Pet. 1:22.
Jesus sums up the whole duty of man in these words: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Matt. 22:37-39.
This is not all the New Testament says about the subject, but it fairly represents the teaching, I think, and we would all do well to study this subject, intelligently, as well as emotionally. Several things should be noted: 1. It is a command. It is not an optional matter. The Bible is not a book of advice. The child of God who does not love his brother is disobeying God. He stands condemned just as though he were a liar, thief or murderer. This is a sobering thought.
2. Love is not how we "feel." Ponder this thought: "Love that is commanded is not a Passion." It is a principle of service. In Tit. 2:4 women are commanded to love their children. Normal mothers could not, if they wanted to, keep from loving their children with that natural love that flows from the mother to her offspring. But that natural love that mothers have for their offspring is not the kind of love that Paul has in mind here. He would not have needed to command that kind of love. He had in mind a recognition of her duties towards those to whom she has given life. Many parents who love their children passionately make a miserable farce of discharging their duties as Christian parents. Many a Christian person who was passionately in love with one of the opposite sex, upon being brushed off, jilted, has married someone else on the rebound and made a success of that marriage even without the romantic love that was felt for the other person. This was possible because both parties knew the ingredients of a successful marriage and brought with them into the contract a determination to "play by the rules." They came to respect each other and finally that respect grew into love-the kind of love that the inspired writers had in mind when they commanded husbands and wives to love each other. When Paul said "husbands love your wives" he was not speaking of romance, primarily.
A proper understanding of this principle might help some people to understand better what Jesus meant when he said "love your enemies." How on earth can one love an enemy? The rest of that verse explains: "bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." Matt. 5 :44. I am not obligated to run up and throw my arms around my enemy every time I see him. I am not even obligated to respect him, if he is the kind of man whose conduct is such that it does not merit the respect of his fellows. I am not even required to seek his association and place myself in a position to be constantly hurt by him. But I must stand ready to forgive him for everything he has done to me, everything, as soon as he shows a disposition to be forgiven. In the meantime I must bless him, do good to him and pray for him. I must love all my brethren-not just the ones that agree with me-to the extent that I will treat them as I myself would like to be treated.
3. It does not show a lack of love to rebuke someone. Among those who have not studied what the Bible teaches about brotherly love, or who have studied it carelessly, there is a maudlin sentiment that it is a violation of Christian ethics to rebuke a brother for his false teaching, especially if you call his name. I had a lecture recently by a brother about how bad he thought it was to be calling names and fighting among ourselves. I told hirn that some of the shabbiest treatment I have ever received came from people who were too nice to call names. I have seen this all through my preaching life. If you want to really get treated nastily just get one of these extra nice fellows stirred up. I readily admit that sometimes we fight the man instead of the issue. This is wrong, no matter who does it. We may also call names when our motive is to hurt the person rather than expose his false teaching. This, too, is wrong. But he who thinks that it is a breach of Christian ethics to rebuke a brother, publicly, and, if necessary, call his name, when he has taught contrary to truth, or when he has sinned in any other public way, has not learned some important things about Christian ethics and brotherly love. Paul said, "them that sin rebuke before all that others also may fear." And again, "Wherefore rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith." Paul called the names of several men in his letters, and that in an uncomplimentary way. Hymenaeus, Alexander, Philetus and Demas to name a few. John said, "Diotrephes who loveth to have the pre-eminence . . ." and John was the N. T.'s leading writer on love. Jesus rebuked the scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites in Matt. 23 in words that would get the average preacher "fired" in this day and time. You may say, "Yes, but he was the Lord and could read the minds of men; we cannot." No but we can see what they do. When I see what a fellow is doing I don't need to read his mind. We are forbidden to sit in judgment on a fellow's motives, but we are commanded to rebuke false doctrine, and, if the false teacher refuses to make correction of his teaching, then to expose him as publicly as his teaching influence is felt.
As long as we exercise our individual and congregational independence, we will have differences, individually and congregation ally. This should not discourage us if we would use a little common sense and forbearance. It is nothing but the inevitable fruit of our independence. Catholics, and others who are bound by human creeds, have no trouble along this line, because they have not the liberty to think and act for themselves, religiously. It has already been decided by the "higher ups" what they shall believe. If and when we reach the place where we no longer have disagreements among ourselves, you may be sure that one of two things has happened: either, (1) We are too dead to care what happens, or, (2) We have accepted the ipsidixit of some leading men and have adopted an unwritten creed. The church had its troubles even during the lives of the apostles. As long as the church is active and as long as congregational independence is exercised, there will arise difference. But nothing will arise that cannot be overcome by a sincere desire on the part of everyone to know the truth and to please the Lord. Of course, when we disagree on doctrinal matters, someone must be wrong. This should be the chief concern of everyone. I have always preached to my denominational neighbors, and now to my brethren, that we can walk united if we will but (1) keep open minds to accept any truth found in the Bible (2) recognize the Bible as our only rule, do what it teaches and refuse to go beyond what it says, (3) exercise forbearance with each other.
We are often asked why we don't refuse to fellowship our brethren who favor church support of human institutions, as we refuse to fellowship the Christian Church. I cannot answer for everyone, but here is my reason. History has proved that religious error, once organized, is seldom, if ever, reformed. But in churches of Christ today there is yet a great divergence of sentiment in regard to these things. There are, of course, some who cannot be reasoned with at all. They will not even read anything that is written by those who disagree with them. But I believe that there are thousands of sincere people who support things which I believe to be unscriptural, but who will study the matter without prejudice if given the chance. This is why I am contending that we may yet profitably study the matter. If we would write and speak on it as becometh children of God, I know that it will do good. And I can think of nothing that is needed more in this hour than some brotherly love, Bible style.
Truth Magazine IV:9, pp. 21-23