Growing In Godliness Blog
Showing Brotherly Affection
By Tom Rose
It has always been that way. You dress up in your best to go to church. Even if you have personal problems, are depressed or simply undone with life, you go to church and look normal, say everything is okay, and try to hide the pain that won’t go away. Church is not the place to bare your soul and share your messy problems, because people will talk and people will judge – all the while saying they feel “so sorry” and “would do anything to help you.” Why is it that we think of church as a place to go after we have cleaned up our act, not before? “Church!” said the prostitute, “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
But the scriptures show a different picture. Think of Esau after Jacob tricked him out of his birthright and the anger he expressed as recorded in Gen 27:41 “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” Yet, with the passage of time and a few chapters later we read, “But Esau ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen 33:4). Almost the same scene of emotional healing is portrayed by Christ in His famous parable of a father greeting his prodigal son. “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” Lk 15:20. If you noticed, both passages contain an embrace or a hug – the most beautiful form of communication that allows the other person to know beyond a doubt that they matter.
Perhaps the apostle Paul knew better than anyone who has ever lived what it meant to be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him. Knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), he never recovered from the impact of God’s undeserved grace extended to him. Indeed, Paul knew what could happen if we believe we have earned God’s love. In dark times, if perhaps we badly fail God, or if for no good reason we simply fall short on keeping The Faith, we could fear that God might stop loving us when He discovered the real truth about us. However, Paul took pains to explain how God has made peace with human beings (see Titus 3:1-8) by giving up His own Son, rather than to give up on humanity – helping mankind know beyond any doubt that God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are!
Just as God has challenged us to know the unsearchable riches of Christ (see Eph. 3:16-21), He also asks us to show that same devotion for our brethren. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10). Two examples of Paul’s deep interpersonal relations with his brethren are found in Acts. Read Acts 20:36-38 and notice the verbal and non-verbal emotional interactions as Paul and the Ephesian elders part from each other for the final time. A second illustration is found in Acts 28:13-15 near the end of Paul’s perilous journey to Rome. When Paul reaches Puteoli, Italy, brethren invite Paul and his companions to stay seven days. However, other Christians in Rome get word of Paul’s arrival (a person whom they had heard about, but had never met), so they walk forty-three miles to the Market of Appius to greet him. Others, possibly getting a later start, meet Paul ten miles closer to Rome at the Three Inns. Deeply moved by their visible demonstration of love, Paul “thanked God and took courage.” In these greetings (and many others) were found open displays of affection probably including hugs and kisses.
Let’s suppose your car has a problem and is not working properly. Would you take it to a dealer’s showroom or a service department? Perhaps that is a question we need to ask about our meeting houses – do they resemble more a “showroom” or a “service department?” And why is that? One writer offers this observation:
“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. …Although we believe in God’s Word, the good news of the Gospel has not penetrated to the level of our emotions.”1
I believe the following statements, when pondered soberly, may help us look at the big picture – as God sees you and me along with all humanity. “Jesus gave up worship for a womb, majesty for a manger, splendor for a stable, and heaven for a hamlet. He went from being wrapped in glory to being wrapped in swaddling cloth. He left breathtaking for breath taking and the infinite became the infant. It was incredible to know that the baby Mary delivered had actually come to deliver her and everyone else. He was born so we could be born again. He lived on earth so we could live in heaven.”2
Sometimes we need to hear more than reassuring words of comfort. Sometimes we need a hug – a hug where someone wraps their arms around you so tight and assures that everything will be alright. That is in fact what Susan and Anna Warner did. Born into privilege on Long Island, NY, their mother died when they were young and their father lost his fortune in the Panic of 1837. Reduced family circumstances forced them to leave their New York City mansion for an old Revolutionary War-era farmhouse, both women began writing novels. In addition, they began holding Bible studies for the cadets at the US Military Academy. On Sunday after-noon, the West Point students rowed over to the island where the sisters had prepared lemonade and ginger cookies for their guests. At the close of their time together, the frail women would offer a tender hug to each of these physically conditioned young men – knowing someday they might lose their life in battle. After Susan died, in 1885, the Sunday classes became Anna’s “one thought in life.” She continued teaching until her death in 1915 and that year’s graduates included Dwight D. Eisenhower – one of her pupils. The sisters are buried in the cemetery at West Point, the only civilian women who earned this signal honor as Bible teachers to generations of cadets and their former home has become a museum on the grounds of the Academy.
Life is precious; may we hold it dear to us. For it is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14). Thus, while we have today, may we endeavor, as God’s elect, to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering toward our fellowman (Col. 3:12).
1David Seamands, “Perfectionism: Fraught with Fruits of Destruction,” in
Christianity Today, April 10, 1981, pp.24-25.
2Aaron Erhardt, Grace, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015, pp. 46-