Proverbs 18: 24
Amos 1: 9
Philippians 2: 19-21
I would like to say a word, if I can, as to the matter of the brother. Of course the thought of the brother does not exclude the sisters; we use that term, one of affection and one of relationship, to cover both brothers and sisters. The second Scripture we read refers to the brotherly covenant and that underlies what is on my heart as to this matter of the brother. What a precious matter it is. It is not something to be taken for granted; you may be at work all day and amongst those who may have rejected the Lord Jesus, and it is a wonderful thing when you come to the meeting and you sit down and the saints come in; and there is something that marks them. You see the Lord’s people coming in and you can tell that they are people who love the Lord Jesus. How blessed that is. They are people who are different. Well, what a precious, precious matter it is to have an appreciation of one another. We are favoured with brothers and sisters; we are just brethren: that too can be said. We are not claiming anything. Mr Raven makes the remark that every Christian denomination is sectarian, vol 8 p104. I suppose the very thought of a denomination suggests that, and we must not claim to be anything. We do not claim to be ‘the Brethren’ with a large “B”. We are just brethren; brethren of Christ and - let us also be - brethren of one another. How precious that is.
We were reminded recently of the song of the bow. How brotherly David was. Think of him: what an example! He was one who was saturated with the Spirit of Christ.
How are the mighty fallen in the
midst of the battle!
Jonathan is slain upon thy high places.
I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan:
very pleasant wast thou unto me;
Thy love to me was wonderful,
passing women’s love.
How are the mighty fallen,
and the instruments of war perished!
2 Sam 1: 25-27.
What a brother David was! He was a king, he a victor; what a valiant man he was - think of the battles of David - but he was a brother.
Paul was an apostle; what a great apostle he was, but he was also a brother. He also had his own song of the bow. In referring to the Jew, he says in Romans 9, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great grief and uninterrupted pain in my heart, for I have wished, I myself, to be a curse from the Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to flesh; who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the law-giving, and the service, and the promises; whose are the fathers; and of whom, as according to flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever”, v 1-5. You might say there is Paul’s song of the bow. And what feelings mark him, he says; “I have great grief and uninterrupted pain in my heart.” That is the feelings that belong to a brother. It says in Proverbs, “a brother is born for adversity”, Prov 17: 17. Born for adversity does not mean that a brother is born to cause trouble - far be the thought - but a brother is a resource when there is trouble. In times of trouble we should be able to turn towards one another as those who are available. Timothy has been described as a brother born for adversity. “The friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” You think of Timothy going to Corinth where they were reigning as kings. You may say, ‘Well, Timothy, you are going to be eaten alive’. But Paul sends Timothy.
Where we started to read it says, “A man of many friends will come to ruin”. It is interesting that this should have been written so many years before social media and all these things, but it says, “A man of many friends will come to ruin, but there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” That refers, does it not, to the Lord? It refers, as we might say, to divine Persons, especially to the Lord. It is not that we would refer to the Lord as ‘our brother’, of course. Nobody would seek to use familiar language when addressing the Lord, but that same Person sticketh closer than a brother. What a Person He is! We sang in our hymn, 160,
To gaze upon Thyself
So faithful known,
Long proved in secret help
With Thee alone.
Think of that, the Lord sticking closer than a brother. And I would just say for the encouragement of the young, that divine Persons desire to be close to us. What a thing that is! We perhaps spend a lot of our lives in exercise to be close to divine Persons because we find our self-will gets in the way, but divine Persons want to be close to us. Divine Persons want you, dear young child, dear young brother or sister, to know in your heart what their love for you is. Is that not wonderful? In 1 John it says, “I write to you, little children, because ye have known the Father”, chap 2: 13 “Little children” there has reference to growth. It stands in contrast to “young men” and “fathers”, but as children, actually as children, I do not think there is anything that the Father would not want you to speak to Him about. Even we as parents, alas, may overlook an opportunity that the children have to speak to us at times, but dear young one, the Father always wants to hear what you have to say. Is that not a wonderful thing? We sometimes sing:
A Holy Father’s constant care
Keeps watch, with an unwearying eye,
Think of that. The Psalmist says,
I will instruct thee and teach thee
the way in which thou shalt go;
I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee,
Psalms 32: 8.
Well, you cannot be guided by someone’s eye if you are far away from them. That means that the Father wants to come right into our lives. We are all children, of course, no matter what age we are. “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God”, Rom 8: 16. Is there ever going to be a time in our lives when we do not draw upon our heavenly Father? Is there ever a time in your life when you might say simply you do not need the Father? Our Father is the One who knows our needs.
But there is also the Father’s hand.
Our times are in Thy hand;
Father, we wish them there;
The Father’s hand involves His touch. It affects our lives, and the Father can do that too. He acts in love and He acts to bring us closer to Him. The Father is supreme in the economy, but the name “Father” suggests to us all that could be known of God in grace. Is that not wonderful? That is the Father. David says in Psalm 31,
Into thy hand I commit my spirit (v 5)
and later on he says,
My times are in thy hand, (v 15)
What confidence we can have in the Father’s hand. What an example we have in the Lord Jesus in the way, we might say reverently, that He trusted in His Father’s hand. Think of Matthew 26 when the Lord comes to Gethsemane: “And going forward a little he fell upon his face, praying and saying, My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; but not as I will, but as thou wilt”, v 39. And then later on: “Again going away a second time he prayed saying, My Father, if this cannot pass from me unless I drink it, thy will be done”, v 42. The Lord refused to take the cup from the hand of man; He refused to take it from the hand of Satan: but He took it from the hand of the Father. Speaking reverently, He trusted the hand that held the cup. The perfection of His manhood caused Him to say what He did: “Let this cup pass from me”. But the perfection, too, of His manhood caused Him to take it from His Father’s hand. It says, “but gave himself over into the hands of him who judges righteously”, 1 Pet 2: 23. Perhaps this is a slight digression from the scripture we read but I think it all lies behind what is being conveyed in the scripture in Proverbs, that “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother”. That is the Lord Jesus. “Sticketh” shows something of the commitment, the commitment that divine Persons have made to us. I think the Lord sticking closer than a brother must involve divine sympathy. This is not just, I say carefully, divine remedy. There are certain things the Lord allows to continue in His ways, but then there is His sympathy to be proved.
So we read in Amos, and it says there, in relation to the transgressions of Tyre, “I will not revoke its sentence; because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant”. It appears to be a very serious thing not to remember the brotherly covenant. If we can use that word, we are given the terms, of the brotherly covenant in 2 Timothy 2, which has also been described as our charter, JT vol 39 p457. It is not a position, because then our state would become unexercised, but it is a path, and it says in verse 22, “But youthful lusts flee, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”. That is the covenant that we have been called to, that we should each in faithfulness flee certain things and then “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”. John also touches upon the terms of the covenant in his second epistle when he says, “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not I only but also all who have known the truth” (v1), and the footnote says, ‘the apostle teaches us here, there can be no truly loving but in the truth’. This is no ordinary love that we have for one another; it is established in Christ. We have ever to remember that the truth is the truth as it is in Jesus. We are not speaking about what is cold and devoid of feelings and affection. It is the truth as it is made known in Jesus. But our links are in Christ and they are in the truth. It has been said that love of the truth is morally greater than loving the brethren, although they go together, but love of the truth comes first in order, JT vol 48 p320. But it is also expected and normal that as we love the truth we love one another. Our love for one another is in the truth. It is brought about because of our affection and devotion to Christ, because we have that one Object, and He alone, you may say, can cause the company to merge. We are now no longer thinking of children: we are really thinking of men. We are thinking of what is mature and responsible, and that responsibility is to keep the covenant. The covenant is established in 2 Timothy. The covenant is also alluded to in the second epistle of John. Keeping the covenant would involve respect for assembly judgments because we are jealous to preserve the brotherly covenant. Nothing should ever come in to undermine the brotherly covenant. There will be exercises, and there are exercises amongst us which need to be worked out, but as soon as we revert to our own way of thinking, and perhaps churlish actions, we are going against the brotherly covenant and the principles that belong to it and the dignity that belongs to it and what God is jealous about. He says, where we read, “I will not revoke its sentence”. What a matter it is to trifle with the brotherly covenant, what has been established in Christ and established in the truth. Matthew 18 provides guidance as to how to proceed in relation to such matters, where a brother has failed to listen and the matter comes before the assembly. The section from verse 15 to verse 20 continues, “Then Peter came to him and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus says to him, I say not to thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven”, v 21, 22. The Lord in Luke brings in the matter of repentance, Luke 17: 4. Repentance is not just saying you are sorry that you may have caused some grief. Repentance is towards God. It is a moral act, a moral action that takes place in the heart and is towards God. But then as repentance is known there is an obligation laid upon the brother to forgive. Peter says, “seven times”? He probably thought that was quite good. But “Jesus says to him, I say not to thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven”. Where there is repentance there is also an abundance of forgiveness and all this is operating to maintain the brotherly covenant.
So we read in Philippians as to Timothy. A brother is there as a resource, as one that we can trust, as one that we can turn to. In Romans, there is the practical working out of what we are speaking of. In Romans 14, Paul says, “So then let us pursue the things which tend to peace, and things whereby one shall build up another. For the sake of meat do not destroy the work of God”, v 19, 20. In 1 Corinthians 8: 12, Paul says, “Now, thus sinning against the brethren, and wounding their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ”. Think of that. It is the brother for whom Christ died. He says, “Wherefore if meat be a fall-trap to my brother, I will eat no flesh for ever, that I may not be a fall-trap to my brother”, v 13. If anybody could have dictated what was right or what was wrong, it was the apostle Paul. Clearly he writes that we should know that what he says is the Lord’s commandment when referring to the principles of the truth which are being attacked; but in referring to how we work out the brotherly link Paul did not just dismiss a weak brother. He says, “I will eat no flesh for ever”. There was Paul’s committal to maintaining the brotherly covenant.
And so we come to Timothy who was sent to Corinth. It says in 1 Corinthians 4. “For this reason I have sent to you Timotheus, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who shall put you in mind of my ways as they are in Christ, according as I teach everywhere in every assembly”, v 17. There is another reference to the covenant; it is one standard; it is consistent. So by sending Timothy, his beloved and faithful child in the Lord, Paul would put them in mind of his ways as they are in Christ, and then it says, “according as I teach everywhere in every assembly”. So what a person Timothy was; what a brother he was. It says where we read in Philippians, “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus to you shortly, that I also may be refreshed, knowing how ye get on. For I have no one like-minded who will care with genuine feeling how ye get on”. We often think about the genuine feeling part, and that is very wonderful. Timothy would have learned genuine feeling as he saw it in Paul himself, who, when bringing in correction, associates the brother with himself. So in the first epistle to the Corinthians he introduces Sosthenes the brother, v 1. When he writes the second epistle he introduces Timothy, v 1. That is that, alongside the authority of his word, he wanted to also convey the feelings and affection that he had, the love that he had; so the covenant is a brotherly covenant. It involves feelings and affections and love for one another. Paul passed things on to his true child in faith, Timothy. The genuine feelings belong to being brotherly and the like-mindedness is the covenant. It is the brotherly covenant that marks Timothy. We have spoken of how divine Persons desire to be close to us, and we have also thought of the terms of the covenant and how it works out practically, and the example in Timothy. But if we are going to become a resource, if we are going to become those who quit themselves like men, who maintain the brotherly covenant, there has to be personal exercise. Timothy was not described as caring with genuine feeling simply because he was a nice person. It was much more substantial than that. In the first epistle to Timothy, the word to him was, “give thyself to reading”, chap 4: 13. And that is one of the things that marked him. What an expression that is. It does not just say, ‘Timothy, you should think about reading a little’. It says, “give thyself to reading”. It was a commitment: “give thyself”. It was a sacrifice he was asked to make, a committal to what belongs to divine Persons. Of course, it was not simply that he was going to just regurgitate what he had read; he was reading it with exercise. He was making way for the Spirit. The second epistle begins that way: “For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion”, 2 Tim 1: 7. One other feature I would draw attention to, that must have lain behind Timothy being someone like-minded who cared with genuine feeling, is in the second epistle, where Paul says to him, “Think of what I say, for the Lord will give thee understanding in all things”, chap 2: 7. There were two matters, two prime matters, that lay behind Timothy being one who was like-minded and cared with genuine feeling: he had given himself to reading and he had given himself to thinking of what Paul had said: “For the Lord will give thee understanding in all things”.
We could have read - and perhaps should have read - from Philemon. Paul says in relation to Onesimus, “not any longer as a bondman, but above a bondman, a beloved brother”, v 16. Is that not wonderful? To look upon such a one who is described as a bondman. He had gone away and now he is coming back. Perhaps he had known the Lord’s hand coming into the situation. Perhaps he had known the Father’s hand that we have spoken of. And now Paul says of him, “not any longer as a bondman, but above a bondman, a beloved brother”. Think of that. How precious, how valuable: “a beloved brother, specially to me, and how much rather to thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord?”, v 16. And later on Paul says to Philemon, “but if he have wronged thee anything or owe anything to thee, put this to my account. I Paul have written it with mine own hand; I will repay it: that I say not to thee that thou owest even thine own self also to me”, v 18-19. Think of the resources that belong to the brother; that was seen in Paul. He says, “if even in abundantly loving you, I should be less loved”, 2 Cor 12: 15. What resources mark the brother! There is a brother born for adversity. Think of all that he took on. We have seen it in Mr Darby too, and many others, but what marks a brother born for adversity is that they have resources.
May we be encouraged in this matter of maintaining the brotherly covenant for His Name’s sake.
13th September 2014