When we were still living in New Jersey, I read an article in our local newspaper that announced, “New York group struggles to add a little sweetness to the crabby Apple.” It was all about a “courtesy” advertising campaign that was being directed by a group called “New York Pride.” Their message was short and sweet. It was summarized by the slogan, “C’mon, New York. Ease up!”
According to that piece—in a city where its inhabitants “continue to hog payphones [obviously before the day when we all began to carry cellphones], fight over cabs, curse New Jersey drivers and bump, elbow, knee and shove each other”—that idea might be a mission impossible. In fact, Ron Burkhardt, whose advertising firm had been contracted to sell New Yorkers on civility, called it “the ultimate marketing challenge.”
However, if we would be honest, we would all have to agree that rudeness knows no boundaries. Wherever there are people, rudeness will be present. Sometimes even fellow Christians can be critical, cynical, spiteful and revengeful, or even downright cruel. I suspect that all of us have been sliced, diced, cubed, and crushed by some of the most vicious and malicious verbal attacks imaginable.
Now, it is one thing to be wounded by the world. That should not surprise us. After all, Jesus warned, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). However, it is quite another thing to be wounded by fellow members of God’s family, with their cutting comments and stinging statements. The Apostle Paul warned the believers in Galatia, “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Gal 5:15). As someone once said, “It is better to bite your tongue, than to have a biting tongue!”
How should we then live? Paul said, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal 5:14). He concludes one chapter later, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). In other words, you need to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. That is essentially the same thing Paul said in Rom 12:10, where we read these words, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (emphasis added).
That is also essentially what Peter meant when he wrote that one of the seven building blocks to be used in the framing and fashioning of Christians in and under construction is brotherly kindness (2 Pet 1:7). Taken together these seven qualities describe the very nature and character of our Lord. In this series of articles, we have been studying them one at a time, in order to learn as much as we possibly can about each and every one. Why? It is because they inform us how we need to live in order to receive “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom” (2 Pet 1:11, NIV). You see, our eternal rewards will be based on how, why, and what each one of us builds upon the foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ. It is imperative that the framing of your Christian character must include this building block of brotherly kindness.
For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins (2 Pet 1:8).
An Explanation of Brotherly Kindness
The Greek word that Peter used for brotherly kindness is one that should be very familiar to most Americans, especially those who live on the east coast of the United States. That is because the Greek term is the name of the city that served as our nation’s first capital during the years 1790–1800. It was the name adopted by William Penn and his Quaker associates for the new city which they founded as a haven of rest for the persecuted people of Europe: Philadelphia. It is referred to as “the city of brotherly love,” because that is what the word Philadelphia literally means.
In the original language it is actually a compound term consisting of the words philos and adelphos. The first term, is one of three Greek words that is translated “love.” It is used, for example, in our English words “philanthropy” (love of mankind) and “philosophy” (love of wisdom). The second term, adelphos, means “brother.”
Link them together and you have philadelphia, literally “the love of brother,” or “brotherly love.” It is a love that is:
• expressive and responsive,
• deeply affectionate and always considerate,
• tender as well as true,
• amiable and cordial,
• gentle and loyal.
It is a love that values another person highly and cherishes them dearly. It is also a people-loving attitude that understands and overcomes the occasional and incidental “hurt” we sometimes cause one another, because of the far-surpassing value, benefit and just plain fun of such loving relationships with one another.
Philadelphia is used at least a half dozen times in the NT. For example, in Rom 12:10 Paul said, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another. He used it a second time in 1 Thess 4:9, “But concerning brotherly love [philadelphia] you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love [agape] one another.” The next occurrence of the word is in Heb 13:1, “Let brotherly love continue” (emphasis added).
The Apostle Peter’s first use of the word is found in his first letter: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love [agapao] one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Pet 1:22, emphasis added). In other words, this brotherly love is not to be a sham or a charade. It is to be sincere. Peter does not want his readers to simply “play the part” and thus be hypocritical. He wants them to love one another deeply and sincerely. Then he adds in 1 Pet 3:8, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.”
Another Greek word that is almost synonymous with Philadelphia is the term chrestos and/or chrestotes. It is found in either one of its two forms some seventeen times throughout the NT, and the two forms are usually translated as “kind” and “kindness/goodness” respectively. So we read, for example, in Rom 2:4 (HCSB), “Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Other references where Paul uses the term are Rom 11:22, Eph 2:7, and Titus 3:4-5).
In Luke 6:35 Jesus said, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return…” Why? Our Lord goes on to explain in that same verse that the “Most High” Himself is “kind”—even towards those who are “unthankful and evil.” That is kindness at its best.
However, those words not only refer to God’s kindness toward us, but they are also used to describe the mutual and reciprocal loving interaction we are to have with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
For example, consider the following admonition from Paul to the believers at the church in Ephesus:
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (Eph 4:29–5:2).
By the way, the word that is translated “kind” in Eph 4:32 literally means serviceable. In fact, it originally denoted usefulness. It was often used to refer to something that was suitable to fit and meet a need. Therefore, to be kind, literally is to make yourself useful! Kindness is a demonstrable love in practical action. Indeed, in his very first remarks about the true meaning of love in 1 Cor 13:4ff, Paul begins by saying that love is, first of all, patient, and then he adds that love is kind.
This brotherly kindness is to be expressed in goodness and meekness. From the context in Ephesians 4 we learn that it is to be courteous and gracious in both word and deed. It is to be:
• thoughtful and respectful,
• humble and gentle,
• sweet-tempered and mild-mannered.
It is the flipside to the bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and all malice in Eph 4:31. By the way, there is one Hebrew word that could be considered a synonym for brotherly kindness, namely, chesed. In the NASB it is usually rendered “lovingkindness” and in the NIV it is almost always translated “love.” The NKJV translation of Ps 89:1 renders it this way: “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever…”
Most of the time it refers to the “loyal love” of the Lord God and to the eternal, Divine kindness behind that love. That is how it is used more than two dozen times in Psalm 136, in which the “refrain” or “response” to the first line of each of the twenty-six verses says, “For His mercy endures forever.”
In Job 6:14 the patriarch responds to the words of his friend, Eliphaz, “To him who is afflicted, kindness [chesed] should be shown by his friend.” In essence, Job is saying that hurting believers need loving brothers!
Insight into this building block of loyal love/lovingkindness/mercy is sprinkled throughout Proverbs as well. For example, “Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man” (Prov 3:3-4). “What is desired in a man is kindness…” (Prov 19:22). Ken Taylor’s paraphrase of that verse reads like this, “Kindness makes a man attractive.”
By the way, according to Prov 31:26, it is also very becoming on a virtuous woman as well: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.” And Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Is it any wonder that Peter would include the building block of brotherly kindness in his list of required “materials” in 2 Peter 1?
However, there is at least one more NT verse that I need to bring to your attention with respect to this matter of kindness. Paul wrote in Gal 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”
If kindness is indeed included in the Biblical grocery list of the “fruit” of the Spirit—and it obviously is—then it must be demonstrated in the words and deeds of everyone who is connected to the “root”—the Lord Jesus Christ.
I don’t think it is merely coincidental that the building block of kindness follows the building block of godliness in our primary text for this series of articles (2 Pet 1:7). If one would be godly, then one must act kindly.
The Application of Brotherly Kindness
Here are a couple of general and practical principles with respect to the application and demonstration of brotherly kindness in one’s life.
First, brotherly kindness can and should be practiced in word. Someone once said, “Kind words do not wear out the tongue.” There is an old Japanese proverb that goes something like this: “one kind word can warm more three winter months.” Another person has written, “Wise sayings often fall on barren ground; but a kind word is never thrown away.”
So, first of all, talk kindly. Such kind words can be expressed by a call, or through a note and/or card. They can be accompanied by a handshake, or a pat on the back, or perhaps even a “holy hug.” The first application is that brotherly kindness can and should be practiced in word. Mark Twain is quoted as having said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment!”
Second, brotherly kindness can and should be practiced in deed. In other words, do not just talk kindly, walk kindly. The 19th century French Quaker Stephen Grellet wrote, “I shall pass through this world but once. If therefore, there can be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
There is an apocryphal tale told of a small, crippled boy who was hurrying to catch a commuter train. However, because his arms were loaded down with packages, he was experiencing considerable difficulty maneuvering his crutches. As other hurried and harried commuters rushed by, someone accidentally bumped into him, sending both his packages and his crutches in all directions. The person who caused the mishap stopped long enough to scold the youngster for being clumsy and getting in the way. However, another older gentleman, seeing the boy’s distress, hurried to his aid. He picked him up and brushed him off. As he retrieved the boy’s packages and crutches, he slipped a dollar bill into the youngster’s pocket, and with a smile he turned and walked away. That was when the child, who seldom had been shown such kindness, called out after him, “Hey, Mister! Mister! Please, sir…are you Jesus?” To which the old man replied, “No, I am not Jesus. But, I am one of His followers!”
So, let me ask you a question: Do you think you will ever be mistaken for Jesus by anyone because of your kindness?
Talk kindly. Walk kindly. Demonstrate brotherly kindness in word and deed. In the words of Paul, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).