The sixth of the apostle Peter’s seven marks of grace (2 Peter 1.5-7) is brotherly kindness1 (also translated brotherly love and love of the brethren).2 We must love our brothers and sisters in our adopted covenant-family of God, namely the Christian Church.
This philadelphia-love ought to be a distinguishing mark of the Christian and of the Church as a community. Our Lord commanded us: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love3 one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13.34-35). After the greatest commandment in the law, our Lord said, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22.39).
That should be enough to persuade us. But know this: where we manifest toward each other—and display before a watching world—anything less than this philadelphia-love, it is a shame upon us, and we shame our Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Knowing that this philadelphia-love for fellow Christians is a true evidence of saving grace in the soul, Paul thanked God whenever he learned of brotherly love4 being manifested in the growing Christian church-families in his day (Ephesians 1.15-16; Colossians 1.3-4; 1 Thessalonians 4.9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1.3-4; Philemon vv.4-7; see also Hebrews 6.10).
Do we see the same love for fellow Christians in action in our churches? Do we practice this this ourselves?
As our Lord instructed us, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13.35). Can the world see that you yourself are a disciple of Christ through noticing that you too have this love other Christians?—yes, even while you have an ongoing disagreement with some of them about doctrines?
Of course, this visibility implies that we must live our lives clearly in the sight of the watching world, and not away in some closed community that does not invite in, or welcome in non-Christian visitors, or that does no evangelistic outreach.
Even if the apostle Paul could commend you and your church for your philadelphia-love, you need to do more of it! As Paul encouraged the saints in Thessalonica, “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4.9-10).
This philadelphia-love is the fulfillment of our Lord’s second greatest commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (see Matthew 22.35-39). Do we keep the “royal law” of God in this way? “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well” (see James 2.8)?
And then we come to the greatest commandment in the law, with which the apostle is about to culminate his seven marks of grace, the fruit of the Spirit.
Seventhly, and finally, Peter commands us to add charity5 (or, love) to our faith. This love is the fulfilment of the Lord Jesus Christ’s greatest commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12.30, citing Deuteronomy 6.5).
We should love God with that fullest intensity of pure love which involves our whole being—all our heart, soul, mind and strength—so that, whatever we do, we do it all to the glory of God and we do it out of agape-love for God.
Real love is an attitude of mind, not a mere feeling. It is a holy determination to will and to do the best for someone (above all to God, and then to our neighbour).
Agape-love carries the idea of loving someone even when they are unworthy of that love—not that God is ever unworthy of such love!
With that in mind, understand this: God’s own love, spoken of by the Lord Jesus Christ himself in John 3.16, is agape-love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The Christian agape-love with which Peter commands us to add to our faith (or even, to crown our faith), is a spiritual gift. We are incapable of this mark of grace (whether love toward God or toward fellow Christians) in our fallen nature. So, we must pray to God for it and, as Paul does in many of his epistles, we must thank God whenever we see it manifested—whether in ourselves or in anone else.
Now, please give this next thought your undivided attention: love does many things, and it holds back from doing some things. It is not agape-love, if it is merely a feeling in the heart! This superabounding Christian love of which the Bible speaks must fill your whole heart and soul and mind; and therefore it must motivate everything you do, think and say—first toward God and then toward your neighbours.
As with all that God gives us in his work of grace in our souls, we have the responsibility to exercise this agape-love and to fan it into flame, otherwise it tragically cools and dims—because we let it fade away, and this grieves God the Holy Spirit (compare Ephesians 4.25-32).6
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love [agape] and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10.23-25).
As the apostle John7 reminds us, this manifested agape-love, if genuine, is a definitive proof of our conversion and discipleship: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love [agape] the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death…My little children, let us not love [agape] in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him [God]” (1 John 3.14,18-19).
We Christians all mourn that we so often show little of this love. We all need more of this love. And we all need to manifest more of this love. So, we must be persistent in praying to God for more and more of it! And God shall pour into your heart that agape-love by his Holy Spirit (see Romans 5.5).
Let us be always adding more agape-love to these other marks of grace which the apostle Peter here commands us to add to our faith. Peter concludes, “For if these things,” his seven marks of grace, “be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1.8).
The word translated brotherly kindness is φιλαδελφια (philadelphia) meaning friendship or companionship as with brothers (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 5680). ↩︎
The phrases brotherly love (Hebrews 13.1) and love of the bretheren (1 Peter 1.22) also translate The New Testament Greek word φιλαδελφια (philadelphia). ↩︎
The fact that Christ used the word ἀγαπάω (agapao) (see Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 25) and not φιλαδελφια, does not contradict but rather add weight to this argument. If we are to agape-love fellow Christians, then of course we should show philadelphia-love to them. ↩︎
This certainly holds true, even though in all these Scripture quotes that follow contain the word ἀγάπη, not φιλαδελφια, because all these verses have to do with our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. ↩︎
The word translated charity is ἀγάπη (agape), meaning love, affection, benevolence. The word is perhaps derived from the word ἄγαν (agan) which means very much, or abundance. And perhaps also, The Greek-speaking Jews transferred this word over to The Greek from the Hebrew אהב (ahab), which also means love (as used in Deuteronomy 6.5) (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, word #26). Charity is a deep and constant love that seeks the welfare of the one thus loved (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Older English Bibles, following the historic use of the Latin word caritas in the Vulgate (an early translation of the Bible into Latin by Saint Jerome), use the word charity to translate the New Testament Greek ἀγάπη (agape), where caritas was used perhaps to avoid the sexual suggestion in another Latin word for love: amour (Online Etymology Dictionary). ↩︎
You will not see charity (agape-love) mentioned in Ephesians 4.25-32 but it does list a lot of things that you should and should not do toward fellow Christians. ↩︎
John is sometimes referred to as the apostle of agape-love, because he writes much about it in his Gospel and his Epistles. ↩︎