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Philadelphia

It is evident from the Bible that God intended the first order of socialization to be within the family.  When God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, He created woman and ordained marriage as the bedrock institution for all of society (Gen. 2:18-24).  Within the confines of marriage, God commanded man and woman to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28).  The resulting family relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, and brothers and sisters constitute God’s primary design and provision for socialization.

The social skills learned by children within the family should become the basis for every other relationship they will have throughout life.  First and foremost, they should learn what it means to love and to be loved.  They should learn from a father’s love about discipline, authority, and provision of needs.  From a mother’s love, they should learn about compassion, comfort, and care.  From their relationships with their brothers and sisters, they should learn about brotherly love.

It is this last element of family socialization – brotherly love – that I want to emphasize to you here.  Brotherly love is a concept that readers of the Bible are expected to understand naturally and by family experience.  The Bible doesn’t define brotherly love, but rather it uses brotherly love as a definition to explain other relationships.  In the original language of the New Testament, "brotherly love” is the word philadelphia, and it means simply love and affection for brothers or sisters.  When this term is used in the Bible, it describes the spiritual relationships between fellow Christians (Rom. 12:10; 1Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13:1; 1Pet. 1:22; 3:8; 2Pet. 1:7).  Christians are expected to model their relationships with one another based on their understanding of love from their own natural brothers and sisters.

Sadly, the natural understanding of brotherly love is often lost today because brotherly love is missing in many families.  So often now, brothers and sisters show very little love for one another, but instead they argue and fight like bitter enemies.  This is especially true of school-age children when they learn in school to clique with children of their own age while despising those who are younger.  I have even seen children wearing T-shirts that advertise how stupid and annoying their brothers and sisters are.  Some parents may think this is cute, but I cannot understand why they would promote such things within their children.  Often these siblings antagonize one another to the point of tears, anger, and even violence.

I realize sibling rivalry is natural, but that cannot account for the absence of love that is too common among brothers and sisters.  Hostility and aggression are not the normal mode for sibling relationships.  The concept of brotherly love within the Bible proves that love and affection should be the natural characteristics of brotherhood, while animosity, jealousy, and resentment should be the rare exceptions.  One reason we are so appalled by the story of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery is because they lacked the bond of brotherly love (Gen. 37).  How could they be so cruel and heartless toward their own brother?  Yet many brothers and sisters are growing up today to have no regard for one another, and in some cases they downright hate one another.  How can this be?

If children do not learn brotherly love within their own families, then how will they grow up to practice brotherly love within the church?  Parents have the responsibility for fostering brotherly love within their children not only for the sake of family relationships but also for the sake of the church.  A truly loving brother or sister is likely to become a truly loving Christian.  However, if brothers and sisters can’t love one another, how will they love the children of God?

A God-centered family embraces God’s design for socialization and naturally cultivates brotherly love within the family.  By following the direction of the Bible, the family is taught by God to love one another (1Thess. 4:9).  Godly parents will teach their children to be devoted to one another and to give preference to one another in honor (Rom. 12:10).  As children tune their hearts to purity and obedience, they will learn to love their brothers and sisters fervently (1Pet. 1:22).  Then, as they grow up to become adults, this ingrained brotherly love will continue throughout life (Heb. 13:1).  These experiences in brotherly love within the family will translate naturally into the household of God, which is the church (1Tim. 3:15).  All the passages of Scripture that I just cited refer to relationships between Christians, but they are given meaning because of the experience of brotherly love within families.

I realize that some children have no brothers or sisters, but that does not mean that they can’t learn brotherly love.  If you have an "only child,” then he or she can still learn love from you that will translate to brotherly love for others. Brotherly love is family love, and your child will learn such love very well in your God-centered home. 

Therefore, "let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1).  Brothers and sisters will have squabbles from time to time, but let them learn brotherly love as the rule and not the exception.

Stacey E. Durham




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