His Brother Also
J. R. Miller, 1905
The beloved disciple makes it very clear that if we love God—we will love people, too. Among other things he says, "This commandment have we from Him, that he who loves God, should love his brother also." We may not separate the two loves; we must keep them together. They are inseparably united. The same writer says, also, "He who loves not his brother whom he has seen—cannot love God, whom he has not seen." So we need not profess to love God unless, at the same time, we love our brother, our neighbor. We love God just as much as we love people—just as much, and not a whit more.
John was the apostle of love. In tradition, it is told that when the great congregation at Ephesus was gathered on Sunday mornings, there would be a strange hush—they were waiting for someone. Then presently an old man would be carried in by younger men. His hair and beard were white as snow. His eyes shone with a soft, gentle light. After a moment's pause he would lift up his feeble hand and speak in low, tremulous words, "Little children—love one another!" This was John's one great message to the friends of his Master. No wonder we find so many echoes of this message in his letters. He had leaned upon Christ's breast and had absorbed Christ's spirit; hence he was always beseeching the Master's friends to love each other.
Really, there is no other lesson to learn. It is the lesson which takes in all others. We sometimes get the impression that loving God is the only essential tiling in religion. So it is—in a sense. If we do not love God, we are not Christians. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart," is the first and great commandment. Nothing comes before first, and nothing can get before this—nothing can take its place. The second commandment is, "You shall love your neighbor"; but you cannot get to the second until you have taken in the first. The essential thing in religion is loving God, loving God in Jesus Christ. Religion begins here. A gospel of love for men, with no antecedent love for God, is a gospel without life.
But the second commandment must always follow the first. Both are essential. As love for man counts for nothing—if there is not first love for God; so love for God, if there is subsequent no love for man, is not genuine. The fountain of religion is always the love of God in us. But if there is the fountain, the well of water springing up in us—there will be also streams of water pouring out, rivers flowing forth, to cheer, refresh, and bless the land.
Christian love is not a mere sentiment. It does not exhaust itself in mere self-pleasing. The first impulse of a heart into which the love of Christ has come—is a desire to do good or bear good to others. As soon as Andrew and John had found the Messiah, they hastened out to find their brothers, and brought them to Jesus. They did not stay all night with their new-found Friend, their hearts thrilling with the rapture of companionship with Him. That would have been a delight. But love is never selfish. It thinks always of others—before itself. So the two men hurried away from the joy of their new friendship, to bring others to share it.
That is always the result of finding Christ. It puts a new spirit within one. It changes the center of one's life. Self is forgotten, and everyone about us, even the most unlovable, becomes interesting to us. We see in every person—one to whom we owe something, to whom we are debtor. The person may be far below us as this world rates people—but to the lowliest, our love will go out, and the lowlier the person—the gentler will be the expression of the love.
A plain-spoken woman said to her daughter who had been rude to a servant, "My dear, if you haven't enough kindness in you to go around, you must save it up for those you consider beneath you. Your superiors can do very well without it—but I insist that you shall be kind to those who need it most."
The first thing the love of Christ does—is to sweeten all the life, the disposition, the spirit, the temper, the manners. There are such sweet Christians in every community—always gracious and gentle.
Love for our brother should make us interested in all that concerns him. Love makes us his keeper, the caretaker of his life. Also, the word brother is a large one. In a special sense it refers to all our fellow-Christians. All who love Christ are brethren. Every church should be a family. The members sit together at the communion. They worship together at the same throne of grace. They should live together in sweet affectionateness. If one has a burden—the other should share it. If one is suffering—the others should sympathize with him and stand close to him in fellow-feeling. If one is in need—the others should share their plenty with his lack. The members of a church should live together—as a larger household. They should be patient with each other, charitable each toward the faults and failings of the others, seeking always each other's good in all ways. They should live and work together in love, none seeking the pre-eminence or claiming his own way—but each in honor preferring the others.
One of the fine things said by King Lemuel of the godly woman is, "The law of kindness is on her tongue." Think how it would change the conversation of homes, churches, offices, and social circles—if the law of kindness were always on our tongues—no harsh words, no idle or malicious gossip, no criticisms, no bitter or censorious words!
Then not only in the speech, but in the conduct, should kindness be the law. One proposed a new rule of life, "always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary." That is what Jesus meant when He said, "Whoever shall compel you to go one mile, go with him two." The church that would fulfill its mission in the world—must get something of this largeness of love into the daily lives of its people. It must not always calculate the exact measure and give just what is due; it must pour out love abundantly without reserve. It must be ready to do more than is required, to give without measure, to go beyond the letter of the law in kindness, in obligingness, in thoughtfulness, in patience and forbearance, in all service and helpfulness.
But while Christian people compose the inner circle of a Christian's brotherhood, there is a wider circle which includes all men. "God has made of one blood, all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth." "You shall love your neighbor," and our neighbor is the man who needs us. We are not to narrow our thought down to ourselves and our little circle of our friends and family—and say that we have no responsibihty for any others beyond these; that another man's needs and troubles are not our affair, especially if he is not a Christian man.
A little girl was overheard finishing her evening prayer with these unusual words: "I saw a poor little girl on the street today—hungry, cold, and barefoot. But it's none of our business—is it, God?" Yes, it is our business! The people we know of who are suffering, in need, in danger, in the meshes of temptation, are our responsibility. We may not turn them away from us—when they are hungry or in need of relief of any kind. We should never forget the King's words in the judgment: "I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me. I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me!"
There are greater, sorer needs—than those which are physical. There are people around us, too, who ofttimes go hungry. We do not know what walls sometimes hide of physical need and suffering. Yet there are needs in which others around us suffer—which are far greater, deeper and sadder, than the needs of poverty, pain, distress, or sickness! While Jesus was touched by the people's hunger and suffering, it was their spiritual condition that stirred his compassion most profoundly!
All about us these days, are those whose condition appeals to the compassion of Christ. They are our responsibility, too. We say we love God—that His love thrills our hearts. Is the condition of those around us, who know not God—any of our business? If we love God, we must love our them also. And it is not enough to be kind, to do gentle things, to give bread to the hungry, to visit the sick, to show a brother's sympathy in trouble. These ministries, however beautiful they may be—do not reach the deepest need. Our love must give the best, and the best is Christ Himself!