We are to show brotherly love toward each other in the church and honor one another above ourselves (Romans 12:16). That means that we do not play favorites. We are to affirm everyone’s inherent worth and dignity in the church. We do this because God does not show favoritism, but loves each and every believer. God demonstrated it by the sending of the Son, Jesus, to handle once for all through the cross the divisions and pride of people who exalt themselves above others. The early church father, Origen, the bishop of Alexandria, said: “It happens that we hate things we ought not to, just as we love things we ought not to. We are ordered to love our brothers, not to hate them. If you think that someone is ungodly, remember that Christ died for the ungodly. And if you think that because your brother is a sinner you do not have to love him, remember that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. And if he is righteous, then he is to be loved because God loves the righteous.”
Showing familial love toward each other and honoring one another means that we treat each other as if we had been born of the same mother. To keep a devoted affectionate spirit means that we would neither purposely insult another nor be deeply hurt if someone insulted us. Sometimes we are too sensitive, and need not take things said and done so personally. When offended we are not to return insult and offense (Romans 12:17). Nor are we to hold it inside and nurse a grudge, only to withdraw then run away when things don’t go our way. We are, instead, to honor the other person by going out of our way to work out an issue.
In our society today, like no other society before us, we rely on paid professionals to take care of problems and issues that arise between us. In our country right now we have 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 105,000 mental health counselors, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, 30,000 life coaches—and hundreds of thousands of nonclinical social workers and substance abuse counselors as well. Ross Douthat, in his book Bad Religion points out that "Most of these professionals spend their days helping people cope with everyday life problems, not true mental illness." He concludes that "under our very noses a revolution has occurred in the personal dimension of life, such that millions of Americans must now pay professionals to listen to their everyday life problems."
This does not mean we should avoid therapists and counselors (I myself have been greatly benefited by such professionals and I think we ought to avail ourselves of their services). However, there are many situations and problems and issues that can be resolved by a healthy church dynamic of loving one another with a family love that listens to and cares for each other. We are to be real and honest enough with each other in the church to allow others to care for us. There is nothing to be ashamed about in sharing what is going on in our lives with each other.
Pastor Eugene Peterson has said that “being a church member is a vocation, a way of life. It means participation in an intricate web of hospitality, living at the intersection of human need and God's grace, inhabiting a community where men and women who don't fit are welcomed, where neglected children are noticed, where the stories of Jesus are told, and people who have no stories find that they do have stories, stories that are part of the Jesus story. Being a church member places us at a heavily trafficked intersection between heaven and earth.” In other words, we are to practice our given privilege and responsibility as the priesthood of believers, occupying a place between heaven and earth where others can come and find life.
Having affection for one another in brotherly love and honoring one another above ourselves means that we will be persistent in our service and patient in our efforts. It means we will share our lives and practice hospitality. One pastor had this story to tell about a couple in his church (not their real names): John and Julie were happily anticipating the birth of their first child, a son. They had already decided to name him Paul. But when Paul was born, there was a big problem: Paul was born without eyes. John and Julie would later discover that their son had other serious issues, including severe autism and a growth hormone deficiency. Two months after Paul's birth, as John was looking at his son hooked up to tubes and sensors and surrounded by medical professionals, he quietly told God, "God, you are strong, that's true, and you are wicked. You are mean. Do it to me—not to this boy. What did he ever do to you?" Shortly after that prayer, John and Julie quit going to church. But one couple from the church refused to give up on them. Karl and Kathy never pressured John and Julie about spiritual issues. Instead, they would often stop by and leave simple gifts, like a loaf of fresh bread or a basket of soap and shampoo for Julie. John said that it was like Karl and Kathy were saying, "I notice you. I see you. I know you're hurting and I love you." Eventually John and Julie accepted a dinner invitation from Karl and Kathy. During dinner John told Karl, "You can believe whatever you want. I don't care. I have evidence that God is cruel." Karl softly and simply replied, "I love you, John. I have regard for you, and I love your boy." Karl and Kathy's four children also displayed unconditional love for their son. John described it this way:
‘They'd throw [my son] up in the air and make him laugh and do funny bird sounds and—and that was confounding, because most people, most adults couldn't do that. And so I would have this extraordinary expression of love and affection at the dinner table here, and I would turn to my left—and there would be at least one of these children playing with my boy like he was a real boy. I wasn't even sure he was a real boy at times.’
Based on this family's quiet, persistent love, John and Julie finally returned to the Lord and to their local church. And when they returned Karl and Kathy stayed by their side, making sure their son made it into the nursery. John would later say, "They persisted. That was a big deal that they persisted with us."
A Christian congregation is a compassionate congregation, devoted and committed to one another. That means when someone shares something with you that is difficult and personal, you are to respond. No response (no affect) is just as damaging as saying the wrong thing. If we work at keeping our spiritual fervor and being joyful in hope, then we will have a compassionate response to people. You can never go wrong with these three caregiving basics: 1) listen well (don’t give unsolicited advice); 2) show respect by allowing others to share their grief and tell their story (rather than tell them how they should or shouldn’t feel); and, 3) pray for the person right then and there.
In addition to those three caregiving basics, you can add the following practical ways to show you are devoted to another in brotherly love: thoughtful gifts (i.e. grocery or restaurant coupons); words that help (i.e. “I truly care”, “I appreciate you”, “Count on me”, “It must hurt”); special services (i.e. offer to babysit or do some chores); and, outings together (i.e. go to a baseball game together).
So, may you express your devotion and commitment to Christ’s church through words and acts of compassion, kindness, and love that reflect the love of God.