This month we continue the series on climbing Peter’s ladder of Christian perfection, gaining those attributes that are preparatory for the Lord’s return. 2 Peter 1:3–7 says,
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that [pertain] unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness . . . .”
Every rung in the ladder is important. The rung of brotherly kindness causes Christians to really stretch to grab hold, because it is not an easy achievement, even though we might think loving our brethren is one of the easier things to do. Most Christians have a tendency to divide their religious operations into two categories—their personal relationship with God and their personal relationship with their fellow man.
Rightfully so, because it is in the two tables of the law that these areas are divided. We like to convince ourselves that we are balanced in these two aspects of our lives. It is indeed God’s desire that we be balanced in these areas, but there is a tendency to become unbalanced. When that happens, there are always consequences.
Self or Others
One of the reasons the gospel has not gone any farther than it has is because the personal witness of the Christian is tied up within himself. There is the cultivation of personal piety, or what we call today having a personal relationship to God, to the neglect of other important factors, such as what we are doing to help those near us have a better, closer relationship with God.
Are we only interested in developing our own relationship, so we can become more holy, more acceptable to God, or are we interested in helping those around us become more God-like?
There has always been a danger of cultivating an inward religion to the neglect of working on behalf of others. Such cultivation is displayed in luxurious sanctuaries and in forgetting the desperate needs of the community at large. It seems there are those who donate large sums of money for projects of beauty and luxury so that their names might forever be associated with the structures, yet, at the same time, a call can go out for funds for mission projects and be met with silence.
Some time ago, while I was employed as a conference pastor, I attended a workers’ meeting where I had the opportunity to visit with the conference evangelist’s wife. She told me about the church where she grew up, in a large eastern city. She said that the church consisted of a split congregation.
It was not split in the theological sense, like we experience today in Adventism, but there was a split as far as brotherly kindness was concerned. All the well-to-do people sat on one side of the church. On the other side sat all the average and below average people, as far as money was concerned. I sensed a real brotherly kindness object lesson as the story unfolded.
One day, those on the well-to-do side of the church decided that they would dress up the sanctuary a little bit. So, because most of them were on the church board, they voted to put some stained-glass windows in the church—but only on their side. The poor people could look at plain glass, as far as they were concerned, but they wanted stained glass to look at. They felt that it would help their Christian experience, while worshipping in the sanctuary, if they could look at their stained glass and know that they had a part in putting it there.
I have often wondered how those folks felt who could not afford to have the stained-glass windows on their side of the church. Did they feel that they were close to those who sat on the other side? Could they go to them with a spiritual or physical need?
Did they feel they could approach the stained glass members and find a responsive heart, because brotherly kindness was being exercised within the body of the congregation? Did they feel that they could pray with these people and have good fellowship? This was a well-known Adventist church, but brotherly kindness was lost in such a project.
Brotherly kindness can be found operating at its finest when we are doing things for others who are members of the household of faith. Go to any dictionary and you will find that brotherly means an affectionate feeling for those of the same family.
The Greek word that is used for the word brotherly kindness is philadelphia. Brotherly love actually is the more accurate translation. It is a word that is usually reserved for members of the same family. It is a special bond, which only happens when children are raised with respect and appreciation and love for their brothers and sisters of the same blood. How much closer is that brotherly affection in the family of the household of faith!
Is there a reason why the apostle Peter uses the word philadelphia, brotherly love, brotherly kindness? Incidentally, 11 Peter 1:7 is the only place in the Bible where it is translated as brotherly kindness. It is translated as brotherly love everywhere else. It is the same Greek word for those of the same blood. Are you of the same blood as those who are seated on the opposite side of the church from you? If you are not, you have not yet grabbed hold of this rung of Peter’s ladder.
There are many instances where brothers and sisters have given their lives to save another member of the family. There is a closeness, which nothing can break. There is also the other side—where there is no bond and there is even denial that there is a family tree. Do you know of instances like that? This is especially sad when these people say they are Christians. Jesus knows nothing of this kind of attitude and certainly it is something that was strange to Peter also when he wrote about brotherly kindness, brotherly love.
There is only one way that you can even begin to reach the rung of the ladder of brotherly love, or brotherly kindness, and that is if you have successfully climbed the other rungs of the ladder. You cannot stand on the ground floor and reach up and grab hold of the rung of brotherly kindness. Brotherly kindness follows godliness in Peter’s list.
Continue to Climb
Do you remember the vision that Ellen White had about the group who were traveling to the holy city? Every little way, as the path became more difficult, they would stop and reassess their situation. With each stop they would leave something behind so they could continue to climb. At every change, some members of the company were also left behind; they turned back. (See Testimonies, vol. 2, 594–597.) When we are climbing Peter’s ladder, we see that there is somewhat of a fulfillment of this vision.
We are called to continue to climb to reach the goal that is before us. We are either to keep climbing, and reach the goal, or we turn back. We cannot stop. It is either up or it is down. But if we turn back or stop climbing, we never reach the goal of character perfection, which alone qualifies us for eternal life. This is the reason why I believe that Mrs. White says there is not one in twenty who are ready to close their probation. If their probation were to close, she says that many would be without salvation just as surely as would be the common sinner. What an awesome thought! (See Christian Service, 41.)
On Which Rung Are We?
The well-to-do Adventists, that I told you about earlier, are really a representation of ourselves to one degree or another. We take people to court that we do not like. We encourage people of different color or culture to worship by themselves, not with us. We have given preference to the rich and to the famous, and if you disagree with us, you are no longer our brother!
Is it possible that God permits us to create the situations in which we find ourselves to see just how we will react to them?
Have we climbed the ladder from faith to virtue? From virtue to knowledge? From knowledge to temperance? From temperance to patience, and from patience to godliness? But now are we grunting and grunting, trying to reach up and grab hold of the rung of brotherly kindness. Let us face it; let us be honest. There are people we do not like, people that we do not care to even be around. This is never appropriate in the grace that is so available to us to strengthen us, to pull us up to and over this rung.
Attitude of Jesus
Have you ever met a person whom you admire, who really has a handle on the character challenge of this rung? They are out there. Have you ever thought about what a tremendous thing it would be if every Seventh-day Adventist could be like those people who are no respecter of persons? That is to say, they love all people, regardless of race, religion, culture, education, economic level, or station in life?
In the Jewish church of Jesus’ day there was no such thing as brotherly kindness. The rich and the famous felt that God was blessing them and that all others were little better than dogs, the dogs being the Gentiles. They certainly could not love them. But those who were a little better than dogs were scorned to despair.
When Jesus came, He tried to tell the people that they must love one another, that they should hold up one another. As a reward for His words, they nailed Him to a cross! If we would take the attitude that Jesus had about brotherly kindness and apply it to the person with whom we are most at odds, what do you suppose would happen to our own experience with the Lord? What would it do for our family and for our church?
Ellen White says, “we need to take this step, to add this quality to our characters.” My Life Today, 98. Do you know why? What if the person whom you dislike the most made it to heaven with you, and the Lord had built his mansion right next to yours? How would you get along? Would you plant fast-growing trees that grow tall so you would not have to look over into his yard?
Jesus delays His return because of us. We have climbed; we have gotten rid of all offensive sins, but do we have brotherly kindness? Do we have brotherly love? Do we have the right attitude?
Have we placed more than just our hand on the rung? Are we standing on the rung with our feet? Have we really climbed up on to that rung and have now gained the victory of brotherly love and brotherly kindness?
A New Commandment
Some words from The Acts of the Apostles indirectly come to bear on this topic, although not written specifically about brotherly kindness. When Jesus was resurrected and went back to heaven, there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 tells us what this did for the church. Ellen White comments on the transition that took place after the descent of the Holy Spirit. “After the descent of the Holy Spirit, when the disciples went forth to proclaim a living Saviour, their one desire was the salvation of souls. They rejoiced in the sweetness of communion with saints.” The Acts of the Apostles, 547.
I do not think for one minute that there was one group on one side who said, “Let us put some stained-glass windows on our side, and let these guys over here just kind of look out through the old window glass.” It says that they rejoiced in the sweetness of communion with saints. “They were tender, thoughtful, self-denying, willing to make any sacrifice for the truth’s sake. In their daily association with one another, they revealed the love that Christ had enjoined upon them. By unselfish words and deeds they strove to kindle this love in other hearts.” Ibid.
You cannot give away what you do not have. “Such a love the believers were ever to cherish. They were to go forward in willing obedience to the new commandment.” Ibid. What was the new commandment? They were to love one another. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.” John 13:34. It was not really new; it was old! They just had not been practicing it for generations. They hated one another!
Jesus tried to bring something back that had been a part of the plan of redemption for centuries. “So closely were they to be united with Christ that they would be enabled to fulfill all His requirements.” The Acts of the Apostles, 547, 548. If you are collecting statements about what the power of God can do for you in your life, this is one you want to mark!
That means loving one another. “Their lives were to magnify the power of a Saviour who could justify them by His righteousness.” Ibid., 548. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon these people. They sold everything they had; they put the money in a common pot. This one has needs, let us supply that need. Another has this need, let us supply it. They displayed brotherly love, brotherly kindness. (See Acts 2:38–47.)
Walk in Darkness
But a change came. Have you ever wondered why the early rain of the Holy Spirit dried up? Why those miracles did not continue to go forward like they did under the original outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost? What was the change? What began to turn the whole tide from the sweetness of communion that the saints were having with one another?
How did this philadelphia attitude, that was pervading everywhere through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, change? What took place? “The believers began to look for defects in others. Dwelling upon mistakes, giving place to unkind criticism, they lost sight of the Saviour and His love. They became stricter in regard to outward ceremonies, more particular about the theory than the practice of the faith. In their zeal to condemn others, they overlooked their own errors. They lost the brotherly love that Christ had enjoined, and, saddest of all, they were unconscious of their loss.” Ibid. Do any bells go off for you, as far as a time-oriented message for us is concerned?
It is called Laodicea, is it not? The church did not know. “They were unconscious of their loss. They did not realize that happiness and joy were going out of their lives and that, having shut the love of God out of their hearts, they would soon walk in darkness.” Ibid.
Sometimes we have a tendency to think that the greatest fear we can have is the danger of the world. We think that somehow we have to build a fence around ourselves so that the world does not encroach upon us and we lose our way, our salvation. I do not want to minimize our need to stay clear of the world. I think we need to have a great consciousness of the dangers that are out there, but there is a greater danger. “It is not the opposition of the world that most endangers the church of Christ,” Ellen White wrote. “It is the evil cherished in the hearts of believers that works their most grievous disaster and most surely retards the progress of God’s cause. There is no surer way of weakening spirituality than by cherishing envy, suspicion, fault-finding, and evil surmising. On the other hand, the strongest witness that God has sent His Son into the world is the existence of harmony and union among men of varied dispositions who form His church.” Ibid., 549.
Let It Begin With Me
How sad it would be to have climbed the ladder of Peter, struggling to reach for the rung of brotherly kindness, but not quite being able to get our fingers around it, because we cannot stand the people who are around us. Where does brotherly kindness start? It really starts with each one of us. We each have to do everything that we can do to display brotherly kindness, brotherly love.
Do we have to see everything eye to eye? No! Can I respect you if you see things differently than I do? Absolutely! Somehow we must come to grips with our condition as a people and as a movement, or we are going nowhere. Our hair will grow grayer while we wait for the Reaper to come.
He is tarrying a little while, in mercy. He is waiting for us to get our act together, so the enemy cannot say “Behold how these people, standing under the banner of Christ, hate one another.” Ibid., 550.
I want the testimony of the church of which I am a part to be, Behold, look how much they love one another! “Of the special sense in which this love should be manifested by believers, the apostle writes: ‘A new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” Ibid., 548, 549.
Mrs. White goes on to say that when the believers, under the power of the Holy Spirit, sensed, in the fullest way, what Jesus actually did for them in dying on the cross, there was a conversion that took place that cannot be equaled by any other experience in the life. The deep conversion experience is needed to turn the life from self to others. But even when we have that deep conversion experience, there is a tendency after a while for it to wane, and we lose sight of what God has called us to do. In its place the exaction, the formalism and the ceremonies that she talks about begin to creep in and replace the conversion experience. There is a place for all of that, but not to the neglect of brotherly love. When Peter wrote the texts recorded in 11 Peter 1, I fully believe that he was able to see the unraveling that was taking place since the day of Pentecost. How sad it must have been for him.
Reaching the rung of brotherly kindness is preparation for the final rung, charity—love, Godly love, agape love. “That man [or woman] only who has unselfish love for his brother [or sister] has true love for God.” Ibid., 550. Have we done everything possible to climb up to the rung of brotherly kindness and to make it a reality in our lives, so that once our feet are firmly placed on that rung we are ready to reach over into that godly love to which God has called us?