Let brotherly love continue. Hebrews 13.1
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3.13
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you… But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.
1 Thess. 4.9-10
This fall, we will be restarting small group studies. What is the goal of these groups? You could say that it is to address a need in the congregation. We as a church have a need to continue to love one another with brotherly love. Having just considered this idea in 1 Thessalonians, it is important to observe that all Christians are called to show brotherly love for others in their church. It stands out in 1 Thessalonians how Paul expects them to love those closest to them and then those further away (there seems to be 3 categories of people in 1 Thessalonians: those part of the local congregation, brothers and sisters outside of it, and those outside of the faith e.g. 3.13, 4.9-10, and 5.12-22 especially verse 15). So they are responsible within their individual congregation for one another, and they are also responsible to acknowledge those who govern and instruct the congregation (i.e. not just Paul but their appointed leaders).
So as we consider the book of 1 Thessalonians, it is helpful to assess the quality of our love for one another. I think that it is the case that we do in fact love each other, but we also can grow in this (‘more and more’). Paul observes something similar with the Thessalonians. Now we can’t specifically identify all the problems or deficiencies that the Thessalonians had in loving one another, but we can say that we have a separate set of difficulties. The Thessalonians seem to have at least been caught up in some eschatological excitement that made them neglect true brotherly love. As we assess our own situation, most of us are not really caught up in an eschatological excitement. But I do think that the life stage of many in our congregation makes loving each other especially hard because we are so busy with our own lives. Some of this can be explained because of the age of our children and the number of children we have. Other reasons are because of the stage we are at in our professions where our jobs take away an inordinate amount of energy so that we struggle to invest much time in anyone outside of our immediate family (if we are even able to do that). Others in our congregation might feel reluctant to develop deeper relationships with one another because of the length of time that we have known each other at a distance. Others may feel like they do not have much to offer anyone else in a relationship.
Given all these things, we must remember what scripture calls us to. We ought to make an effort to love one another. Friendships are often easily developed and maintained as a young adult in college, but post-college, friendships often take effort and take a much longer time to develop into a meaningful relationship where we would be able to love with brotherly affection. Natural relationships like siblings, if they are not broken, might be maintained fine, but those in the congregation that aren’t related to one another easily find themselves feeling on the outside. Because of these things, we are placing an emphasis on having small groups. As a church, we need to provide a structure to enable meaningful, loving relationships to develop. James 5.16 invites the congregation to confess their sins to one another. You could put it this way: James expects the church to have transparency in their relationships so that confessing sins to one another isn’t odd. I do hope that transparency is becoming more common in our congregation, and strongly encouraging involvement in a small group is another way that we can develop such a transparency.
This isn’t easy though. Such a transparency and love isn’t something that happens overnight. Gathering together only once might mean you have one awkward gathering with people you’re not used to being around in a place you don’t always go to. It takes a longer season to pursue a healthy culture of brotherly love. Our groups will be simple to allow some fluidity. We’ll gather for meals; we’ll gather around the word we’ve already heard preached or consider the passage we’re going to hear preached so that we can better meditate on it; we’ll gather to pray with one another meaningfully. As we gather around the table, around the word, and around prayer, we are expecting the Lord to aid us in growing toward maturity and toward loving one another. We are expecting fruit in one another’s lives whether it is growth in our personal response to the gospel, growth in the fruits of the Spirit, or even in fruit in others’ lives so that they come to respond to the gospel in repentance and faith.
So like the author of the author of Hebrews says, let brotherly love continue, and exhort one another every day as long it is called today that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. May we be a loving church, and may none of our members lack this brotherly love.