I must confess to being a ‘word nerd’. When the preacher last Sunday at church referenced ‘philadelphios’ as a word describing brotherly love in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, the logical part of my brain immediately began a cross-search coming up with other cultural references.
The city of Philadelphia in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the first capital of what was then the new country of the United States of America. From the time of the First Continental Congress, there have in fact been nine capitals where Congress have met. Washington D.C. isn’t even sloppy seconds, but merely the final home of Congress.
Congress signing the Declaration of Independence is memorialised by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as depicted in the 2004 movie ‘National Treasure’.
Philadelphia’s less genteel side is depicted by one of her pugilist sons in the award-winning 1976 movie, ‘Rocky’.
Back to Thessalonica: Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians acknowledges that the Christian community there was taught by God how to love one another. Christ also specifically taught that Christians are recognized by their mutual love.
That’s supposed to be a mark of Christians in world full of darkness. That everyone will know that we are disciples by way of our love for one another.
I briefly squirmed when the preacher suggested that non-Christians are studying the lives of Christians to see whether they are any different.
Who might possibly be studying my life? What difference could it possibly make that I live the best I can for Him? At least as far as those who are not following God are concerned? I know they may shake their heads and tsk tsk when I stumble, but could the converse be true?
Perhaps it’s not even about me as I tend to be reductionist and bring things down to a personal level. Perhaps its about the Christian community as a whole; the relationships that we have with each other, that work, that are practical and sacrificial.
Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community like that? Perhaps, without trying to look like it, the non-Christians are studying us. Twirling their moustaches, squinting to see and studying us.
We are all part of intersecting communities. My particular ‘spider-web’ map includes my nuclear family, my extended family, my team back at corporate, Sharks supporters, Durbanites, my ministry family at Ambassadors, my home group on Monday nights.
And of supreme importance: part of a family of Believers, amongst whom we all are to function in brotherly love.
We should know how to love one another. I must confess that my nature is to be solitary, or at the least very limited and discriminating in the lengths that I go to in being part of gatherings of people. In being hesitant I may miss out on both giving and receiving encouragement. Check out this list that John Piper put together showing in what ways we are to love each other:
(A mere sampling)
We are to
- Love one another with brotherly affection
- Outdo one another in showing honor
- Instruct one another
- Bear one another’s burdens (this is a meaty one)
- Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ
- Encourage one another
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians acknowledges that they know how to love one another, but just to add that little bit extra in. Almost to make sure.
Brotherly love amongst Believers is like heat. You can measure an absolute zero (minus 273 Kelvin) but there is no such thing as a maximum amount of heat (that I’m aware of). It can always get a little bit hotter.
We can always go that extra degree in loving one another.
I’ve come to a realization that as Christians we can ‘phone it in’. In other words we can be remote and say all the right things and ‘do community’ without really engaging.
An example: in the 1986 movie Highlander, Sean Connery was asked to record the voiceover to the beginning of the movie and apparently recorded it in a bathroom. It sounded fine to the producers over the phone and they signed off on it. Connery only even spent seven days on set and the movie doesn’t suffer for it, I suppose because some classic Bond charm and a Scots accent can cover a multitude of production sins.
The church is a far more lasting and important endeavour than mere entertainment, so it’s good to take it seriously. What stands out to me is the idea of us bearing one another’s burdens, the type of things that only families are – or supposed – to do.