Love for the Brethren: The Forgotten Apologetic

by Luke Wayne

Apologetics is not only good, it is necessary. It is a vital part of evangelism and also a means God uses to strengthen and secure the faith of His people. When we make our public case for truth or present our arguments against error, we are being obedient to the commands of the New Testament and following the example of the Apostles and other early believers, and of the prophets before them. Indeed, we are following the example of our Lord. The importance of this should never be diminished, and every believer must sanctify the Lord in his or her heart and always be ready to give a defense of the hope that is within us, (1 Peter 3:15).

Yet there is often something missing in our image of apologetics. There is a powerful proof of our identity in the Lord and of the truth of our message that we fail to utilize, and I think it is clear that our apologetics and, indeed, our evangelism suffers because of it. We have a command backed by a promise of our Lord Jesus that points us to one sure way that all men will know that we truly are His, but it is a case we cannot make simply with memorized verses and carefully thought out arguments. Our whole lives are turned upside-down by this truly biblical apologetic methodology, but it is commanded and promised by God, and it works. It works because, apart from His Spirit's work in our lives, none of us can do it. It works because it is all of Him and not of us. To give some context, at the last supper, shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus washed His disciple's feet. Explaining this, He said:

"Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them," (John 13:12-17)

It was in this conversation that Jesus went on to say the key point for our purposes here:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:34-35)

In the same way that Jesus loved His disciples, they are to love one another. It is a command, not an option, and if they are obedient to it then all men will know that they are indeed followers of Jesus. Even more, Jesus states twice in John 17:21-23 that it is by the love and unity between Christians that the world will know the He was sent from the Father. Notice, here, that the world is not persuaded by how we love the world. Sure, we certainly are to love our neighbor and even our enemies. Of course, we are to be good Samaritans to the stranger in need and even show compassion on our persecutors, but Jesus is not talking about any of that here. The world will know who we are and who He is by how we love one another. How do you love your fellow believer? What is the love and self-sacrifice for one another within your local congregation? Christian fellowship, brotherly love, church community, life as one body in Christ, this it what Jesus says will cause all men to know that we are indeed His disciples. This is our missing apologetic.

Paul articulates the same thing to the church in Rome. He writes:

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect," (Romans 12:1-2).

Notice something that is often missed. We are to present our bodies (plural) as a living sacrifice (singular). This is all of us offering our bodies together as one living sacrifice. We are no to be conformed to this world, but rather to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The world divides into Jew, Greek, Barbarian, wise, foolish, etc., but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ it is not so, (Romans 1:14-17). We magnify God and display His miraculous work in that enemies become brothers and strangers become friends. This is our acceptable worship of God, and only His Spirit and His gospel can do such a thing. By this, we "prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

That this is plainly what Paul has specifically in mind here is made clear by the rest of the passage. Romans 12:3 continues by urging us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should. Romans 12:4-5 reminds us that we are to function together as the many members of one body. Romans 12:6-8 tells us each to use the gifts we have for one another's benefit. Romans 12:9-16 go on to say:

"Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation."

The whole passages is clear and consistent. Our sacrifice of true worship to God is an offering of unified love for one another. Our proof of God's will is our low estimation of ourselves and our high esteem for one another; our service to one another in brotherly love, righteousness, and truth. This is what the gospel makes us, and it therefore proves the gospel to those looking on. We see this play out powerfully in the early church:

"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved," (Acts 2:42-47)

The primary focus here is on the self-sacrificial love for one another in love and gratitude to God. What is the result? God adds to their number daily those who are being saved. Is that a promise that, if we just love each other that people will always flock to join our churches in each and every circumstance? No. But it is a powerful testimony to the fact that our love says something. Our lives speak to the world. Not our individual lives, but our life together. That we can be in Christ something that the world and the flesh cannot, a humble and loving people who put one another before ourselves, is a part of our testimony, and in fact it motivates us to call on our unbelieving neighbor to turn from his sins and trust in Christ and be made part of such a peculiar work of God! This does not replace evangelism or apologetics, it is a part of evangelism and apologetics and it fuels them both! This is the hardest part of our apologetic because it is not merely an apologetic. And cannot be faked just to make our point, and it cannot be substituted by programs or strategies. It must be genuine, which means it must be an act of God, which means we must be relying wholly and completely on Him and His Spirit in the gracious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As one final note, it must always be said that this love is not the squishy, emotional "love" of the world. Jesus said to love one another as He loved us, (John 13:34). Paul said, "Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good," (Romans 12:9). Love is centered ultimately on the other person's holiness and eternal wellbeing, not on their immediate feelings. We certainly care deeply when they are hurting now, and are delighted when they are rejoicing now (Romans 12:15) but our goal is not personal happiness, but rather that we "Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer," (Romans 12:11-12). Note what is said in Leviticus 19:17-18, the famous "love your neighbor" passage:

"You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD."

So love includes rebuke and correction. Love is concerned with righteousness and truth. This must not be forgotten. But love is also giving up what we have so that our brothers and sisters have what they need. Love is giving of our time to meet their needs. Love is needing one another and serving one another rather than going it alone. Whether in rebuke, in prayer, in material gifts, or in acts of service, love is putting the other person before oneself. This slaying of pride and crucifying of the flesh to honor your brother first is only possible in Christ, and that is why it is vital to a healthy and biblical Christian apologetic.