What is 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 Maccabees 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.”  On 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?


11 thoughts on “What is Brotherly Love? (1 Thessalonians 4:9–10)

  1. By the term brotherly love I don’t see it as something that us Christians should do only if the other person loves Jesus. It is something we should live by no matter what the other person believes or if the other person loves Jesus. As Christians we are supposed to show people the love that Christ showed us. Jesus did not die for only those who believed in Him, He died for everyone and everyone’s sins past, present, and future. Yes, loving our family and fellow Christian’s is very important and we should show them all the love we have. But showing those who do not know God is even more important. As Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (ESV) we are to strengthen and bring people into the kingdom of God. Along with loving others we need not feud with our fellow Christians as this puts stress in the kingdom of God. How would it look to those out of Christ if all of us Christains are feuding and not loving one another? As you said in the blog, “For the Greek world, nothing dishonors the parent more that children who do not display proper affection for one another and feud” (Phil Long) it would not be pleasing to then believe in God if they saw the body of Christ feuding not loving one another as it is such an apparent thing in their culture.

  2. Erika, although I do completely agree with your statement expressing that it is important to show the love of Christ to everyone, I am not sure if it is more important to show the love of Christ to non-Christians than fellow brothers. Rather, love simply needs to be shown differently when it comes to fellow brothers and non-Christians. It seems as if we are called to live at peace with our own brothers in Christ while still creating relationships with non-Christians in hopes to someday see them in eternity. Both tasks are equally important and one without the other would not help advance the kingdom of God. It would be a shame for a church to spend all their time evangelising that they forget their very own relationships between church members–causing their brotherly love to fall to the ground. In the same way, it would be just as useless to a church where individuals are living at peace with one another, yet not going into the world to share the good news.

    In response to the initial post, Plutarch would most likely be sick to his stomach after seeing the modern day churches conflict. Internal disputes cannot be forgotten because typically, wounds from within cut deeper than any external conflict. Furthermore, right then is where Satan likes to work.

  3. When looking and deciding or thinking about what brotherly love is I would say it is the love of one another believers and nonbelievers. According to Jesus he addresses everyone as brothers and sisters and according to that then brotherly love would be the love of one another that we are called to do and that is talked about by Paul in Thessalonians and by Jesus before that. Brotherly love is showing love to others and showing love to fellow believers in the body of Christ. While it is still important to show love to nonbelievers I feel that showing brotherly love that is talked about here is very important within the body of Christ. We are meant to show love to all and this brotherly love is included in that.

    If Plutarch was to be a part of the modern church he would be disappointed in the modern church and what is going on there. He would be disappointed in the lack of brotherly love within the church as the body of Christ and the sad fact that there has been in recent years more internal conflict and focus upon tearing one another down instead of showing one another the brotherly love that we are meant to and is required of us as believers. We are meant to show brotherly love and that is severely lacking in the modern church as they are caught up with things that are not as important as the mission that Jesus set out for us.

  4. There are two main movements to 1 Thessalonians, in which Paul celebrated the Thessalonians’ faithfulness to Jesus and challenged them to continue to grow as Christians. Paul celebrated the Thessalonians’ because of their faith even through controversy and opposition (1 Timothy 1:9-10) and he told of his time in Thessalonica from Acts 17. Paul talked about how Christian leadership is about relationships and loving service. I believe this might also be a part of “brotherly love” because it relates to serving others with love. Paul told of his mission in Thessalonica and how they were “ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also of our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). There is common persecution amongst the different parties. Jesus was persecuted and killed by his own people, Paul was persecuted by his fellow Jews, and the Thessalonians faced hostility from their neighbors (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16). Paul wrote that the suffering is a way of participating in Jesus’ story. There is not a lack of love, but a sort of comradery explained in this that the people of Thessalonica are not alone in their suffering. Paul challenges the believers in chapter four of 1 Thessalonians to make a commitment to love and serve others. The Christians in the city of Thessalonica should be known as reliable people who work hard to provide for themselves and for others in need (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12). Paul urged the assembly to have brotherly love for both their congregation and for those who do not yet believe (TTP, 69).

  5. In terms of brotherly love, I think it is equally important to believers and non-believers. With other Christians, we should hold a higher moral standard that hopefully includes loving them..In the modern church, a lot of the time that is not the case. We want to sit in our own comfortable seat, drink our own coffee, sing the songs we want to sing, and then leave to go back to our comfortable homes. We are in community, but most Christians aren’t active in it. Most Christians are afraid to step out of their comfort zones and to talk to people because there is this sense that all Christians are perfect. I mean, it’s like the end of the world if we don’t answer with “I’m doing well” during the mingle time. But not all churches are that way. There are lots of “community centered” or mission minded churches” who take the time to be intentional with the people in the church. Showing brotherly love to unbelievers is just as important because if we’re spending time in the word, in prayer, and in community..then love should flow out of us naturally because of who God is and what he’s done for us. If not, then one should take a step back and ask themselves what is keeping them from showing love to the people around them who are broken and hurting?

  6. It is no question that modern churches would disgust Plutarch. Unfortunately, even in my home church I have seen countless feuds, sometimes in which families would leave the church for unimportant reasons such as who got the solo in the Christmas choir concert. I believe he would describe the disputes the same way and even add that they advance the destruction of men as well as brining out the worst in them. In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, Paul urges the congregation to continue to love even more than they have before. We can certainly learn a few things from this statement. It shows that even though the Thessalonians thought they were doing a pretty good job, there is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to how we treat one another and some times we forget this.

    Longennecker says, “ Life in Christ commences in faith, continues in love, and culminates in hope” (65). Faith, hope, and love are the three main pillars of Paul’s writings and as we know, love is the greatest of all (1 Corinthians 13:13), thus if we are not always trying to love even more than before, then we are really missing the point of the gospel. Unresolved and petty feuds bring about the opposite of love, and though we are a broken people and will therefore always struggle with this, we must do our best to follow Paul’s instructions on continually working out love or else we will certainly destroy ourselves and those around us.

  7. Rachel Smith

    “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?” (P. Long, blog-What is Brotherly Love?) Plutarch may have many things to say about the angry disputes that most modern churches deal with. In the hypothetical world that would allow Plutarch to live today and comment on the angry disputes, he may say that the children of God have dishonoured their heavenly father to such an extent that they have lost their salvation. I think that Plutarch might think that the angry disputes of the modern churches are advancing evil inside the church; based off his quote “jarring feuds advance the worst of men,” (P. Long, blog). Plutarch would be disappointed in the modern churches for their lack of brotherly love. He would not be happy with the modern churches’ seemingly inability to have ‘unanimous accordance’ with each other. Many modern churches today would not receive a similar response from Plutarch as the church in Thessalonica received from Paul. “With respect to the assembly’s commitment to and practice of philadelphia (lit., “brotherly love”), the apostle is pleased” (TTP, 70).

  8. Brotherly love is so important. I think it is really incredible that we get to look at the church as another family. I think that when the church has a strong form of, “brotherly love,” it reflects on and affects the community that they are in. “Life in Christ commences in faith, continues in love, and culminates in hope,” (TTP 65). When we live in Christ and have that brotherly love, we are going to have more hope. That is a wonderful feeling and that should be a motivator to go and spread the good news. “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe,” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Once we accept that the Bible is true and we absorb the words that are being said, we can apply it to our everyday life. If everyone applies having brotherly love, this world would be a brighter place.

  9. I agree with Tasha that love is different when approaching different people, Christian or non Christians. Brotherly love is important in our churches because sometimes we get caught up in the idea that we need to keep building up the church, when we need to start building into our relations with each other. We tend to get caught up in the idea of growing in numbers instead of relationships. I believe that brotherly love can be stronger because you come together with Christ to love each other. We have to use a different love to love those who are lost. That does not mean our love for anyone should be any less. According to 1 Thessalonians 4:9, “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.”

    I think Plutarch would be appalled by how some of our churches act as well. We tend to find ourselves arguing over useless matters instead of growing the brotherly love that we desperately need in our world today. I think we would be ashamed by what Plutarch would have to say.

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