Alabama Governor Robert Bentley discovered quickly that the secular community neither understands nor seeks to understand Christian thought. In comments to a denominational gathering just after being sworn inaugurated into office Bentley declared that there was no brotherhood with people who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ. The remarks were sharp and to the point. A day later Governor Bentley assured that he meant no offense. I have no interest in the political machinations of Bentley or his critics, but his comments do raise worthy questions. Who is my brother? Is there a special fellowship in place for Christians that does not include non-Christians?
Jesus on Brotherhood
Let’s begin with a similar, startling comment by Jesus.
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50; c.f. Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21).
For Jesus, true brotherhood that runs deeper than blood relationship is based upon a desire to obey the Father. Jesus sharpened that idea with and even more controversial statement recorded by Luke.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26; c.f. Matthew 10:37).
The necessary relationship is with the divine. All earthly relationships must fade, relatively speaking, into near obscurity. We seek God’s kingdom first (Matthew 6:33).
In the beautiful High Priestly Prayer of Jesus we see contrasts drawn between those who follow Jesus and those who do not. Jesus prayed “I am praying for them…I am not praying for the world… (John 17:9). “The world has hated them because they are not of the world…” (John 17:14).
From these passages it seems clear that for Jesus there was a difference between those who follow him and those who do not. Those who do are of the family – they are brethren.
Apostles on Brotherhood
Jesus’ followers also promoted the idea of the brotherhood of believers. Over 180 times from Acts through Revelation inspired writers use the term “brothers (brethren)” to denote the special relationship among Christians. For the apostles there was a sense of family that existed among Christians that did not extend to non-believers.
Paul gives a unique view of the family of God when he speaks of heirs, joint heirs and inheritances:
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14-17).
First, we are children of God. Second, we are joint heirs with Christ if we are followers. Therefore we are heirs together or brothers. This promise does not extend to non-believers or the unrighteous. Christians are in a unique relationship with God, Jesus and with other like minded people. As with any organization or body a person is either in or out. Non-believers are out.
For Paul, the earthly issue was the body of Christ which is the church (Ephesians 5:23). Please read carefully 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. Christians are part of a grouping based upon God’s adding them to that number (Acts 2:47).
Conclusions on Brotherhood
There is a sense in which all men are brothers. We were all created by the power of God. However to stop at that point is to secularize the truth of the Gospel. There is another, more specific sense in which those who believe and obey Jesus are brothers. That grouping, the church, is exclusive but not limited. Potentially, all men everywhere and from every time could be a part. But in reality most will reject the truth (Matthew 7:13-14).
Christianity is exclusive. Hear Jesus: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Again, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me he will be saved…” (John 10:9). Peter says, “…there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). John says bluntly, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23).
All men may come to Christ. Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Pagans may come to the Lord. They may become part of the brotherhood of Christians. But they must come through Jesus and on his terms.
Robert Bentley offended some people with his remarks but from a Biblical perspective they were not inaccurate.