(Editor’s note: CLC Missionary Matthew Ude was chaplain for the June 2013 CLC General Pastoral Conference at Immanuel Lutheran College, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and devotions such as this were shared with the pastors.)
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10, ESV)
What this Bible passage says is clearly something we need a little work on, so I would like everyone to stand at this time and hug the persons sitting next to you (pause).
Standing and hugging someone means almost nothing. It’s an easy thing. But if we aren’t willing to embrace one another superficially with our arms, what makes us believe we are ready to embrace one another with our hearts? What makes us think we are ready to speak, to work, and to act with brotherly love throughout the conference this week?
Whether hugging is done by command or spontaneously, it isn’t the outward show that is going to give us the brotherly love of Christ.
Twice in our Scripture text St. Paul uses a form of the Greek word phileo (which means brotherly love). He says we should “love one another” and do this “with brotherly affection.” Brotherly is an adjective used only in this verse; affection is a word you are all very familiar with. Both focus on a familial type of love—brother to brother. This is not the type of love you might have for the beautiful girl of your dreams, nor is it the all-enduring type of love which a parent has for his/her child. Rather, it refers to the type of love we feel for our siblings, for those we are stuck with, for those we did not choose, and yes, even for those who often bug us terribly but without whom there would be a big hole in our lives.
This is what Christ has made us—a family bound together by His very own blood—and He has given us life in the family of God.
It is this knowledge upon which this passage is based, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5). According to our sinful natures we are orphans in death, without the love of a father and without the love of a family, but now we have been given a family in life. This is one of the many blessings flowing from the cross of Christ—the forgiveness of sins won for us there. It is not a cheap blessing. Like all the blessings from that Cross, it is a deep and abiding blessing.
As I was preparing a sermon for a wedding, I was looking for Bible texts about marriage. It struck me that a list of passages for marriage is at the same time a great list of passages for Christian fellowship. God the Father has made us a family, and when He calls us into fellowship with His Son and with one another, He calls us into His family.
Yes, the whole concept of biblical marriage and a Christian family Paul models and bases on the body of Christ. As Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, so husbands ought to love their wives. As the Church submits to Christ, so wives ought to submit to their husbands. It is not that marriage is used to explain our fellowship with Christ; rather, our fellowship with Christ is used to explain what marriage and family ought to be.
When Christ forgave my iniquity and sent me forth despite my sins, it was His decision to bless you through me.
We do not choose our family, our brothers, our sisters, our parents, nor do we choose our family in Christ! Rather, Christ chooses us and brings us together—and what a wonderful thing that is for both of us. When Christ chose me and died for me and made me His son, your family grew. When Christ forgave my iniquity and sent me forth despite my sins, it was His decision to bless you through me. When Christ chose you and died for you and made you His son, He blessed me with brothers and sisters. When He forgave your sins, gave you spiritual gifts, and sent you forth as His spokesmen, He showered me with blessings through you!
I don’t know how it is in your nuclear family, but in mine we don’t do big group hugs. Were someone to even suggest such a thing, it would likely get a groan and an eye roll. Nevertheless, family gatherings often start with spontaneous hugs of those who have been long separated (the same thing I saw a lot of out there this morning!).
Whether hugging is done by command or spontaneously, it isn’t the outward show that is going to give us the brotherly love of Christ. It is the forgiveness of sins, the blood of Christ—and the communion of the Holy Spirit as He binds us together in faith—that creates among us the bonds of Christian fellowship within the family of Christ!