Brotherly Affection

In Audio, Sermons by Geoff Chapman

John 21:20-25

John finishes his Gospel with a demonstration of brotherly affection toward Peter.  Brotherly affection is more than tolerance, it is a heartfelt appreciation of other Christians, their gifts, calling, character and uniqueness.  It says “I love that about you!” and expresses those feelings through action.  We can describe brotherly affection as a movement in our feelings towards other Christians that progresses from division to tolerance, to acceptance, to delight, and finally to honour.  It is part of true unity.

Brotherly affection is important for several reasons.  Firstly, because it fights directly against the forces of pride and envy in us, this places it at the heart of the spiritual battle in the Christian life.   Conversely brotherly affection brings God’s grace, love and healing to bear in people’s lives.  Moreover, a church full of brotherly affection is beautiful to others and pleasant to be in.  Even more important brotherly affection is vital for unity, which leads to the manifest presence of God in his Church.   

In this passage John demonstrates the three things necessary for brotherly affection to grow in us:  

Firstly, Jesus tells Peter to mind his own business and to focus on following Him rather than comparing himself to John.  At the heart of brotherly affection is a recognition of our own duty to follow Christ according to the gifts, situation and vocation he has given us, rather than compare ourselves to others.  This leads to humility and helps us to increasingly understand and enjoy God’s grace to us: that despite our sin, inability and overall imperfection, if we follow Christ then we can glorify him uniquely and enjoy him fully.

Secondly, that humility turns outwards.  As we understand this grace for ourselves we can increasingly extend that grace to other Christians.  God delights in us and can be glorified in us, thus we can delight in others as he is glorified in them.  We begin see how others can follow Jesus too and how he can be glorified in them despite their differences to ourselves, their weaknesses, immaturity and sin.  John demonstrates this in the way that he celebrates Peter’s restoration as the first Pastor of the church.  It would have been easy for John, “the disciple that Jesus loved”, to have felt hard-done-by because of Peter’s status.  Instead he celebrates how different Peter is to himself and goes on to glorify Christ in a completely different way, chiefly by the writing of this Gospel.

Thirdly, that enables us to honour others; as we begin to see God glorified in people we see how precious they are in God’s sight.  John honours Peter, he celebrates him, in this chapter, as the first Pastor of the Church, highlighting his gifts, the good parts of his character and God’s call on his life.  Once we’ve understood God’s grace to us and others we can have genuine feelings of delight over who they are and how God’s glory is displayed in their life.  This leads us to show them honour.

We can grow in brotherly affection by showing honour in the following ways:

  1. Repenting to God when we find ourselves judging, envying or disliking others.  Confessing our sin to mature Christians who can advise us and pray for us.
  2. Acknowledging how corrupted our view of other people is through pride and envy. We should refrain from assigning bad motives to their actions wherever possible – we should think the best of people.
  3. Not indulging pride or envy in word or deed (e.g. through gossip)
  4. Practicing affirmation through speech; pointing out people’s gifts to others; complementing more than criticising (10:1!); saying thank you for people’s character or the way they serve; promoting others interests even at cost to our own status; socialising with people who are different from ourselves; allowing for the wounds caused by living in a fallen world by speaking and dealing gently with each other, avoiding harsh speech and jokes at people’s expense (even if they’re well-meant).
  5. Ensuring we practise these things at home first with Parents/Spouses/Children and with close friends.