Brotherly Love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10)

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10 Paul encourages the church at Thessalonica to pursue “brotherly love.” What is brotherly love? The noun used here (φιλαδελφία) was only used for literal family relationships before the Christian community began to use it as a metaphor for members of their community (EDNT, 4:434). The only exception appears to be 2 Macc 15:14, the word appears to refer to a fraternal relationship of all Israel. In 4 Macc 13:23, 26, 14:1 the word refers to the mutual love between seven brothers who all suffer instead of reject their Jewish traditions.

The Greeks considered the relationship between brothers to be of primary importance, Plutarch used the term “brotherly love” to describe the proper relationship between brothers.

Plutarch, De fraterno amore 2 …where there is an unanimous accordance amongst brothers, the family thrives and flourishes, and friends and acquaintance, like a well furnished choir, in all their actions, words, and thoughts maintain a delightful harmony. “But jarring feuds advance the worst of men.”

Plutarch, De fraterno amore 15  Brothers should not be like the scales of a balance, the one rising upon the other’s sinking; but rather like numbers in arithmetic, the lesser and greater mutually helping and improving each other.

Plutarch, De fraterno amore 21   Again, it is highly commendable in him to have the highest esteem and honor for his brother’s wife, reputing and honoring her as the most sacred of all his brother’s sacred treasures, and thus to do honor to him

Based on the teaching of Jesus, the earliest believers referred to themselves as “brothers and sisters.” In Mark 3:3 Jesus indicates that his “brothers and sisters” are those who hear and obey his words.  If those who followed Jesus faced rejection from their families, it is possible that Jesus intended his followers to be a new “family.”

SpongeBob Family FirstOn the other hand, the family of Jesus may be an allusion to the larger theme of a New Israel among the followers of Jesus.  In Acts 2:29 Peter addresses a Jewish crowd as “brothers,” meaning “fellow Jews.”   So too Paul in Acts 22:1; 23:1.

Paul’s use of the term “brother” and “brotherly love” bears additional theological weight.  By accepting Christ, we are adopted into the family of God, God is our father.  This makes each person that has accepted Christ as their savior a brother or sister in Christ.

This new family in Christ is the foundation for many of Paul’s commands (cf., Rom 12:10; other Christian ethical instruction begins the same way (Heb 13:1; 1 Pet 1:22; 2 Pet 1:7; 1 Clem 48:1).  He urges his readers to please God by treating each other like brothers and sisters.

If the church lives in brotherly love, then the father is pleased and honored.  For the Greek world, nothing dishonors the parent more that children who do not display proper affection for one another and feud. If Plutarch could say “jarring feuds advance the worst of men,” how might he describe the sort of angry disputes which plague most modern churches?

7 thoughts on “Brotherly Love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10)

  1. It is clear that brotherly love is a desired attribute that we as Christians should seek after. I think that if Plutarch could see the modern sibling rivalry, he would be greatly appalled. Given the biblical idea that God is our Father, and that would make Jesus, the Son of God, our brother when we accept salvation into our lives, could we see ourselves bickering and fighting like we do with our earthly siblings in the same way with Jesus our savior? I think that the quote by Plutarch is a good example of what not to do, and what our relationships should look like as brothers and sisters in Christ, “Brothers should not be like the scales of a balance, the one rising upon the other’s sinking; but rather like numbers in arithmetic, the lesser and greater mutually helping and improving each other” (from above). In 1 Thes. 4:9-10, Paul commends the Church of Thessalonia on their brotherly love, but he still challenged them to continue doing so, because he didn’t want them to forget it’s importance. The disputes he have with each other these days in the church are rather embarrassing and do not make a good example for those outside of our faith. If we can’t get it together inside our own walls, how are we to make our faith look exciting, and welcoming enough to outsiders to reach them with the Gospel?

  2. I would agree with this idea of Plutarch that “jarring feuds advance the worst of men,” Paul seems concerned that this would be an issue. In his first letter Paul tells them that they are strong in the area of brotherly love (1 Thess 4:9). In the second letter Paul wanted to address problems in the church. One of the issues that Paul dealt with specifically was the area of laziness. Longenecker describes this group as a “fragile” and “close-knit” group (79). Paul expected this to be a family and addressed them as such. Whether or not there were feuds within the church regarding laziness, Paul seems to think that this could be a problem. This is why Paul gives them such strong warnings in how to deal with this group of people. Paul urges the church to make note of those people not abiding by his instruction and to “have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed”. Paul wants them to remember that even the one who is not abiding by those instructions is there brother (2 Thess 3:14-15). Paul seems to be encouraging them to push down those people creating problems. Perhaps he intends to diffuse potential “jarring feuds.” I think that the idea of brothers and sisters has become a sort of “Christianize” in the church today. It is a catch phrase that is not really thought of with the same sincerity with which Paul presented the idea. Our churches would benefit from seeing their church family as the family that it is. Siblings have disputes but at the end of the day they continue to be family and love each other. Church families do not appear to have this same loyalty. Just as Paul addressed the issue reminding them that at the end of the day the dissenter is still their brother, we need to remember that at the end of the argument or dispute we are still brothers and sisters.

  3. Brotherly and sisterly love is something that everyone wants, but is it the modern family brotherly love? I know from experience that today’s brothers and sisters argue and fight over the most meaningless things at time. When Paul commands us, in the various versus from Heb. 13:1 and 1 Pet. 1:22, to please God by treating each other like brothers and sisters. I don’t think he had in mind the way that we treat our brothers and sisters in today’s world. The idea that Plutarch gave “jarring feuds advance the worst of men” is something that could be agreed upon by a lot of people. There are many trivial thing things in churches that members get upset about, and cause issues among the congregation. These types of feuds make people act different ways than they would normally and everyone sees how that people is acting. This is not how we were instructed to be. We should be trying to stop feuds before they start, and put an end to ones that are taking place. Through all the rough patches that me and my sibling we have been through we come out with a stronger love for each other, and brothers and sisters in Christ should hopefully do the same thing. There love should always grow, and become more “close-nit” (TTP 79).

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