Bill McFarland

May 4, 2003 (PM)

I have something that I want for us to think together about tonight. Really, I think it has been something I wanted to look into for two or three reasons. One, in the gospel meeting we just were in this past week, we studied several lessons from the epistle of I Peter, and I was reminded of this theme from that letter. And then we enjoyed our family camp get-together Friday night and Saturday and was reminded again of the theme we are going to look at tonight. The other thing is that it is just something that has been on my mind that I think that we need to think about.

It is one phrase from I Peter 2:17. There are four phrases here. This is a passage in which Christians are being encouraged to show forth God's mercy in I Peter 2:10. As God's people, it is our task to show forth his excellencies in this world in which we live. One of the aspects of that is how we live within our communities, how we live in the everyday world which we are called on to face. We are not as Christians invited to skip out on the world and to just remove ourselves from interaction with other people, but we are instead to live in the world for the Lord. And especially is that true in our attitudes toward those who are in places of authority - civil rulers and people who have that kind of responsibility. Peter is talking about that here in I Peter 2, verses 13 and following. In verse 16 he writes that we are to live as people who are free. But instead of using our freedom as a cloak for evil, we are to be using it to serve the Lord. And then in verse 17, he offers four guidelines on how to do that. He says, "Honor all men, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the emperor."

Zero in on the second of those phrases - "love the brotherhood." That is a charge which Christians need to hear, and it is interesting that it is a charge that needs to be heard in the context of living in a community. One of the ways in which we show forth God's excellencies within our communities is in the attitude we have toward the brotherhood. That makes us need to stop and ask first, "what does he mean by the brotherhood?" This word occurs only twice in the entire New Testament - in this verse and then in I Peter 5:9. The brotherhood seems to be referring to those who are of God's family, to those who share a like precious faith as Peter refers to it in II Peter 1. And if you look back up through the previous verses in this same letter, you noticed, I hope, as we studied this morning, Peter's mention of people who have been born again (1:23) in their purifying of their souls in the obedience of the truth (1:22), those people are made a people who are holy to God, (2:9). Notice it says, "you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession." That people who share a common faith in Christ, a common character in which the children of God reflect his holiness in this present world (1:15-16), in which those people share a common mission, which is to show forth the excellencies of our great heavenly father that Luis mentioned in the prayer a while ago, those people are called here the brotherhood - in other words, a group of brothers, a family of brothers and sisters in Christ.

And Peter is calling for us then to show proper respect to all people, people everywhere, wherever they are, made in God's image and as such ought to be respected. But we are to have a special attitude toward our brothers and sisters in the Lord's family. The apostle Paul stresses this. Peter is not the only one to speak this way, even though he is the only one to use this particular word. Look back with me at Paul's letter to the Galatians. In Galatians 6:10, you will remember this great statement: "so then as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone and especially to those who are of the household of faith." The household of faith is the same as the brotherhood, isn't it? And if you look back up through Paul's letter to the Galatians, you will notice a more careful identity given to these people - the household of faith. What does he mean by that? Back up in chapter 3 of Galatians and verse 26 and 27, he says, "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God." The brotherhood, the household of faith then, is going to be those who are in Christ Jesus. Paul explains through faith, "for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." And he continues, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise." So, there is the identity of the brotherhood, the household of faith, people who have been born again into God's family, people who by faith have been baptized into Christ and thus become God's children. That is the brotherhood.

Our charge from the apostle Peter in living our lives every day is for us to love the brotherhood. I want for us to see this. A part of living for the Lord in the real world is for us to love the brotherhood. Why is that in this passage? I think it has to mean that one of the ways the world will judge our heavenly Father and one of the ways the world will evaluate the worth of the brotherhood is the attitude that we have toward the brotherhood. How can we think that the world will listen to us? Why don't you come and learn about our family in Christ? We would love to have you be eventually a part of our family in the Lord. But if our brotherhood, if our family in the Lord is something that we feel bad about, if we are afraid of it, if we disrespect it, if it seems that we can find nothing good about it, if we compare the brotherhood unfavorably with any other group that might be thought of to exist on the face of the earth, then it is going to reflect on the excellencies of the God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous life. People are going to evaluate the value of our faith partly based on our attitude toward it ourselves. So we are to love the brotherhood.

Now what does that mean? Well, obviously it is going to mean that we have a special place of affection in our hearts for our brothers and sisters in Christ wherever they are. If we are to respect everybody, then we are to have a special kind of affection for the family of God. If we are to do good to all men, then we are especially to do good to our brothers and sisters with us in the household of faith as Paul is talking about it.

That is going to mean that we will care about the condition of the brotherhood. It is not a situation where we think, "well, as long as it doesn't touch me and my concerns every day, then who cares what happens to the brotherhood." That can't be it at all. We have to have a good word for the brotherhood - that is to be able to offer a word of commendation to it. There is something wrong with our faith when we can find nothing about the brotherhood of God's children but something to speak disapprovingly of.

And if we do care about it, speak favorably of it, then we also obviously if we are going to love it, are going to be seeking to build it up. We want the Lord's household to do well, We want it to grow. We want it to flourish. We want it to show forth the excellencies of the God that we call our Father. In the model prayer of Jesus in Matthew 6, you may remember that Jesus taught his disciples to pray and to begin by calling on God as Father, and then the prayer that God's name might have the kind of honor and respect that it ought to have, and then he said, "they kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We have showed a proper caution toward that last phrase because we are afraid sometimes that people will not recognize that the Lord has established a kingdom which he rules over now. But the sentiment of that passage is that we ought to always be praying that God's rule, God's kingdom, his way in people's lives, might be ever growing and ever expanding and enlarging. It is always proper to be praying that way. So loving the brotherhood is going to mean caring about it, speaking favorably of it, working in efforts to build it up, praying for it, and filling our place in it as individuals, recognizing that we are a part of something that God has purchased at great cost to himself, His family is important to him.

And so, if I am his child, then I am naturally going to need to learn to be a brother. I will have to think of myself that way and not just a situation where I think that building up the brotherhood is always somebody else's job. I will just come and let them do for me, all the rest of your folks, you guys who are elders, you missionaries, you Bible class teachers, you youth workers, you build me up something so I can come and sit there and have everybody wait on me. Loving the brotherhood means I fill my place by doing some of those things myself. Loving the brotherhood is not easy because we are people with our own weaknesses. And the brotherhood is made up of people who not to heaven yet, which means that they still have growing and developing to do, too.

So, loving the brotherhood is a challenge. It is a challenge especially because of a certain sort of balance that has to be maintained while we try to love the brotherhood. I would like to lay before you and to ask you to think with me about three ways in which balance with regard to loving the brotherhood is not easy, three ways that we need to think about. It may be something that will challenge our thinking because of that.

First, loving the brotherhood is not easy because of the problems that sometimes the brotherhood has. There is a certain balance that has to be struck between those people who are at this extreme and those people who are at this extreme over here. Sometimes these things make us afraid of what is happening to the brotherhood. We talk about it as if it were in a past tense, as if the best days of the Lord's people were somewhere off in history. In the situation that we face in trying to love the brotherhood, there are some who will style themselves as progressives and there are some who will style themselves as being off on the other end, the only sound brethern there are. Loving the brotherhood means having to contend with sometimes the arrogance of the one off over here on this end who believes that anybody who raises a Bible question or a Bible issue or a concern about the scripturalness of something is a complainer and a troublemaker at worst, and at best an ignorant, uninformed, backward person who doesn't know how the world works anymore. And then on the other end, there is the self-righteousness of the individual who believes that he must be the measure of all soundness himself who will evaluate where someone stands in the brotherhood by what school he went to without knowing a thing about what he believes and teaches, or what lectureship he maybe has attended, or what paper that he may read. I don't know which is more difficult to bear - the arrogance of the one or the self-righteousness of the other. But what I am saying is that we cannot forget that we are to love the brotherhood. That balance has to be sought. It is worth it. And we still have to do what we can to strengthen and to build up the brotherhood by doing what we should ourselves.

A second way in which loving the brotherhood requires a certain kind of balance has to do with the difference in trying to live and work and function week in and week out on a daily basis in a local congregation with people that you know and you are familiar with, just as familiar as you are with the back of your hand. And you know the flaws and the weaknesses as well as you know the talents and the abilities and the admirable sacrifices that individuals have made. And appreciating these loved ones and trying to balance that versus an admiration for the work at large, an admiration for people that you hear about or see about once in a while, or the numbers that are produced in a campaign somewhere, trying to bring together balance is part of the work of loving the brotherhood.

I want to try to say it this way - friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, love the brotherhood but build up a local congregation. You are not going to strengthen the brotherhood in the long run without involvement in and effort to build up a local congregation. You can love the brotherhood and you can baptize people in Christ, but do you know what you are going to have to do? You are going to have to leave them with a local church to try to help them grow enough to make it to heaven. In I Peter 5, Peter writes to those who are elders, "I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ," he says in verse 1, and verse 2, "shepherd the flock of God that is among you." Somehow or other there will have to be a relationship where we are among each other. We used to talk in Arkansas about being out among 'em. Well, we are going to have to be among 'em somewhere. We are going to have to be with a group of fellow believers on a regular basis enough to know their names and their faces and their lives, enough to experience the joy of their doing well and the heartbreak and the need for patience when they are not doing so well. Love the brotherhood but build up a congregation.

In trying to keep the balance, I want to look at the other side of that. Build the congregation, but love the brotherhood. The denominationalism of our day is a situation where people seek for mega-churches which are a one-group denomination, where people can come from all quarters to that one big group and not have a care in the world about what goes on, what happens to anybody else, anywhere else. People will talk about their mega-churches at times as if there is no universe outside of that one meeting place at all. We want North National to grow and to flourish and to do well. We are thankful for every member and every family. But we must not let our concern for us cause us to ignore our brotherhood and to not care what happens just to us, this local congregation here. Keep the balance. Love the brotherhood but build a congregation - build a congregation but love the brotherhood.

And then the other way in which balance is called for here in this passage is for us to remember that loving the brotherhood does not give us a license to just spend all of our time with ourselves, getting close to each other, loving each other, enjoying each other's company - on a full time retreat from the world. I like retreats but love the brotherhood is found in a verse where there are three other obligations. First there is the obligation to honor everyone or to respect or to treat all people honorably. We have to be around real people every day who have not yet come to know the Lord or not yet been obedient to the gospel of Christ in order to do the work that God wants us to do in this world. The Lord wants us to go to our jobs, to our schools, to deal with our neighbors across the street, or across the back fence, or in the educational setting, or in the commercial world - however it is. We don't want our desire to be with each other to cut us off from those who are not Christians yet.

Secondly, we are taught here to reverence God, to respect God, to fear God, to regard God with reverence and awe. And so, church, if I can say it that way, has got to be about just more than how lively a service we can conduct for ourselves together. We have got to make sure that in our company with each other and in our high regard for each other, it happens in light of our deep respect and reverence for our heavenly father.

And then third, honor the King, honor the emperor. You know, the remarkable fact about that statement, as far as I can find, is that the emperor at the time was Nero Caesar. He would rank right up toward the top of the tyrants who have ever lived in history. It would be hard to find a man with a more despicable character than that man had. He was cruel and godless. And yet, here are Christians being taught to fear the king, respect him. That is the kind of a very real world that we are called to face. Our brotherhood is not an escape from that. We encourage each other to go out and to meet that responsibility and to overcome by facing it.

I hope that this gives us a chance to stop and think about something that needs to be thought over. There is the brotherhood, the brotherhood - love it Christians. And even when it is hard, let's keep our balance in the three ways that we have tried to mention here tonight.

Now, the wonderful thing about the brotherhood is that it is the family of God destined one day to be with him. Jesus' prayer in John 17 is that those the Father had given him and would give him might one day be with him and to see his glory. When we talk about being at home with the Lord, we are talking about that prayer one day being fulfilled. God has a family made up of brothers and sisters because they are his children. John said that that wonderful love that makes us his children will cause us to one day see him like he is and be like him. And that is why we want every man or woman that we ever meet to end up in the brotherhood - to end up as brother or sister in Christ. The gospel says that a person who believes that Jesus has died and been buried and been raised up again for us and repents of his sin and cast the weight of his destiny on the work that Christ has done by being buried with him and being raised up to work in newness of life. The gospel also says that somebody who has made that beginning needs to grow up to salvation. So, tonight if you are needing to make that beginning or if there is a turn back to the Lord and growing in him needs to take place, we want to encourage you to make that step this very evening.