“ALL YE ARE BRETHREN”
Among the many terms employed by God in the Scriptures to express the privileges of all His people—of all Christians—one of the most blessed is the term “brethren.” It is found in various associations in the different passages in which it is used. Let us briefly consider some of these.
“MY BRETHREN”—Spiritual Privilege and Relationship
The first to which we would call attention is in Hebrews 2, where we read, “He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praises unto Thee” (vv. 11-12). Here we find the exalted position of the believers. They are “sanctified,” they are “of one” with the risen Christ, and on that account Christ is not ashamed to call them “brethren.” He has sanctified them by His death, that is, He has delivered them from judgment by bearing it Himself and separated them from all that which could keep them from God, and He has also set them apart to God. They are “of one” with Himself—of one order—of one kind—of one kindred, and as such can be called “brethren.” Death has closed, for ever, their history as sinners, and now, as associated with Christ, they are sons of God, by God’s calling, and thus He can designate them “brethren,” “My brethren.”
Spiritual privilege and relationship with Christ are presented here. And His is the delight in being able thus to speak of “His own.” He speaks from the position of triumph in which He stands as come forth from the domain of death. The corn of wheat has brought forth many grains for God. He has secured priests for God and companions for Himself.
In John 20, where the expression, “My brethren,” is used, we learn how the first message from the risen Christ to His disciples was sent, very early on that resurrection morning, by means of the devoted woman who in love to the Lord clung to the spot where she had last known Him to be. That message was, “Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God” (v. 17). We rejoice with great joy in the privilege and relationship thus announced, but the exceeding joy was His in being able to tell out the fullness of blessing He had won for His own. Hitherto He had been straitened, pent up, unable to express all that was in His heart for them, but the “baptism” of His sufferings was accomplished now, and He hastens to make known to His loved ones what a portion He had secured for them—that henceforth they may have “part with” Himself in His joys before His Father and His God.
We might have thought that He would have said, “Go tell those poor sinners that I have blotted out their sins for ever, and that the judgment is passed for them.” That was true, but it was not the message. No! the Lord presents before them the truth of the relationship He had won for them, and which it was now His joy to lead them into, “My brethren . . . My Father . . . your Father . . . My God . . . your God.” Well may our souls bask in the blessedness of our place and as we revel in the sunshine of it pour out our souls in praise to Him. He has died for us that we might live together with Himself, that we might live in the love of His Father and His God, here on earth, in the power of the Holy Ghost given to us.
“MANY BRETHREN”—Glory with Christ
If we turn now to Romans 8 we shall find the expression “brethren” in another association, an association which speaks of glory with Christ. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. “Many brethren” are to be with Christ and like Christ in the day of His glory. God’s purpose to glorify Christ is disclosed, and part of that glory is to consist in His having co-heirs in the midst of whom He can stand. For the glory of Christ, for the joy of His heart, they are to be conformed to His image. They will rejoice in being like Him (how conscious we all must be of our unlikeness to Him now!), but His will be the surpassing joy that His loved ones are like Him and that He is the firstborn among “many brethren.”
From Jew and Gentile they have come, “called” by God’s grace, “justified” by Christ’s blood, and “glorified” with Himself He will stand triumphant among them as “many brethren.”
For that day He looks and for that day we should look, and while we look for it seek to be more and more in accordance with His own mind. True “non-conformists” here, “not conformed to the world.” True “transformists” too, “transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
In Acts 15:36 we read the words of Paul to Barnabas—“Let us go again and visit our brethren.” “Our brethren” brings before us the thought of “unity.” In the passages spoken of already we have found our association with Christ as sanctified before the Father in glory. Here we are on lower ground, it is our association with one another. Those who are His brethren are our brethren. And if His heart goes out in love to all His own, our hearts, under the control of the Holy Spirit, will go out in love to them too. We shall each regard them all as near and dear to us, seeing they and we are near and dear to Him. The fruit of the Spirit is “love.” And the Holy Spirit being given to those who believe, produces this fruit, in measure, in them all. In Jew and Gentile alike “the love of the Spirit” will flow out towards all who are thus linked together as in one family—“the brotherhood.” Many are the expressions in the various epistles showing the unity which subsists in the thought of God, and should subsist in our thoughts too, and produce practical results in our lives and in our ways one towards another while here on earth. “Love the brotherhood;” “Love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous,” says Peter (1 Pet. 2:17, 3:8). “We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren,” says John (1 John 3:16). These are in accordance with the words of the Lord Himself, who said “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” Thus Christians are exhorted to act in the light of this relationship one towards another.
It may be we do well to inquire who are our brethren in this blessedly real and spiritual sense. And the only true answer is, Not all men, but all real Christians, are our brethren. Wherever they are, whatever name they are called by, all who are Christ’s are our brethren. All those who are His brethren are our brethren. Our hearts and prayers should go out towards all, and we should sorrow that sin in one form or another has so sadly scattered and divided those who should walk together.
The Lord said to Peter, “When thou art converted strengthen thy brethren.” This was doubtless in Peter’s mind when he wrote his epistles, and also in all his service. This was evidently the thought in Paul’s mind when he suggested to Barnabas to go and visit the brethren again. And this should be in our mind, for we are by “love” to “serve one another,” and “a brother is born for adversity.” To the full extent of our powers we should lay ourselves out to be for the succour, spiritually and temporally, of all those whom God has linked with us in this blessed bond.
In this time of brokenness and confusion the word still holds good for each one of the brethren in Christ, “Strengthen thy brethren”; and may each of us have grace to seek to fulfil the Lord’s word to us.
“MY BROTHER”—Moral Affinity
In Mark 3:34, we find the expression “brethren” used in another connection still, “And He looked round about on them which sat about Him, and said, Behold My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and mother.” This speaks to us of moral affinity and suitability, and applies to us in our responsible life in this world.
The words were uttered by our Lord to those who told Him that His natural relations stood outside the crowd desiring to speak with Him. They had said, “Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren without seek for Thee,” and He, answering, said, “Who is My mother, or My brethren?” and continued in the words already quoted.
It may be we have overlooked this scripture and this use of the term “brethren.” Here it is applied to those who “do the will of God,” and to them alone. The Lord Jesus was here for the good pleasure of God. He had stepped into manhood, saying, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.” In His childhood this was before Him, as shown by His memorable words, “Wist ye not I must be about My Father’s business?” And in His blessed service of later years He could say, “I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of the Father which sent Me.” Then at the close of His pathway, when the shadows of the cross with its judgment, and the prospect of being forsaken by God as the Bearer of sin, gathered thickly about Him He cried, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.”
Now as He was sent into the world to do His Father’s will, so He sent His apostles, and so He has sent us. Thus Epaphras prayed for the Colossians that they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Paul prayed for them also that they might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, “that [in order that] they might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.” Praying for the Hebrews the Apostle says, “The God of peace . . . make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
These passages—and we might readily quote many others—show that as Christians we are left on earth to know and to do the will of God. This is our mission. This is our business. Alas! that we should ever live as if we were our own to please ourselves, as if we had not been bought with a price, as if we were not called to glorify God in our bodies. Surely if we thus live the Lord could not say of us “My brethren” in the sense it is used in Mark 3.
Those who sat about Him in that inner circle were those who had forsaken all to follow Him. Parents and boats, professions and trades, had all been left for His company, and that they might fulfil God’s good pleasure for them whatever that good pleasure might be. And were they really losers? By no means. Are we set for God’s will to be done? Can we take as our life motto “What Thou wilt,” echoing in some feeble way our Lord’s words in the garden? Then we too shall reap the joy of conscious present association with Him, and He will be able to say of us, “My brother” or “My sister and mother.”