Do you love your brother? You do? Great! All the time? Hmmm…

And that’s the truth, isn’t it? For as much as we do love our brothers, we don’t love them all the time. There are sometimes we wish they weren’t there to bug us. So when we come to the verse which says,
“If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” 1 John 4:20

We start to feel a little guilty.

And that’s not the end, because many people have taken the term ‘brother’ to refer to the universal ‘all mankind’. For them, they demand that Christians love any and all, because our Bible says that if we say that we love God but hate our brother, we are liars. So that verse has been used to drive us into the corner, pile on the guilt and take advantage of the unsuspecting Christian.

But what does ‘love your brother’ really mean? Are we to love and accept every and all? Is there no room for our own preference? Do we really have no say in whom we like and dislike, befriend and keep away from? Well, let’s take a closer look at the verse in both its letter and its spirit, and find out just what it means to love our brother.

Love your brother – the letter of the law
Before we delve into interpretations and conjectures, let us first see what is written.

The English language is horribly limited. For as wide a vocabulary as it has, it cannot beat the original language spoken by John and the audience for which this letter is intended – Hebrew. So let’s see what the Orthodox Jewish Bible says.

“If anyone says I have ahavah for Hashem and the Ach b’Moshiach he hates, he is a shakran (liar). For the one not having ahavah for the Ach b’Moshiach of him whom he has seen, how can he have ahavah for the Elohim whom he has not seen?” 1 John 4:20 [OJB]

There are four terms that we need to understand from this translation.

Ahavah – Love; expressed in the feminine noun, which is used to describe the love of husband toward wife.

Ach b’Moshiach – Ach, meaning brother; and b’Moshiach, meaning in the Messiah; or simply put, brother in Christ.

Hashem – the informal reference for God, used primarily in casual conversation.

Elohim – one of the seven names of God in the Bible, one of His ‘Official Titles’.

So if you put it all together, you will realize that John was making reference to people who only claim to love God by word. These are the ones who while they would dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘T’s when it came to rituals and practices, things that others would see; in reality, they love God so much, they would only refer to Him in the colloquial, the conversational. For these people, their sincerity is already in question, regardless of their love for their brother.

And this is no surprise, for Jesus Himself warns us against becoming like one of them, for didn’t He say,

“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds….” Matthew 6:2-3 [MSG]

So this is for those who love God only in word, but not in the heart; the ones who think of Him as ‘Hashem’ and not ‘Elohim’.

Then we need to realize that we are not called to simply love all humanity. For the ones to this verse refers, are the ‘Ach b’Moshiach’, brothers in the Messiah, brothers in Christ, our Christian brothers.

Now does that mean that we have an excuse to hate all who are not Christians? No, of course not. Remember that this is where our Father’s heart is.

““Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?”” Ezekiel 18:23

“‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’” Ezekiel 33:11

And this was what Jesus came to do.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Mark 2:17

So if we truly love God, if our heart is after Elohim and Adonai, then we should also see those who are not Ach b’Moshiach the same way that They do; with love, and compassion; not wishing that they would die, but that they would turn and live.

Now, if we do look at those who are not Ach b’Moshiach’ and love them, how much more then should we love whose who are? For we are indeed all one in our Father’s family, one in Christ.

But can we get angry? Are we allowed to be upset with those around us?

You know, when we look at Jesus, there were times when both His Ach b’Moshiach’ and those who were not His Ach b’Moshiach’ upset Him. But He responded very differently to them.

To Peter, the one who, when push came to shove, denied knowing Him to save His own skin, Jesus said,

“And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”” Luke 22:31-32

He could have told Him off and disowned Him, but instead, Jesus prayed for Him, interceded for Him, and asked our Father to keep Him so that His faith will not fail.

But to the Pharisees, to those who, no matter what good thing Jesus did, still

“…plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.” Mark 3:6

To these people, Jesus called,

“Brood of vipers!...” Matthew 12:34

Why the difference? Well, that’s because He knows their heart. When Peter turned, Jesus knew that Peter did so out of fear, and nothing else. It was a reflex, almost akin to a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. But of the Pharisees, Jesus knew the stuff of which they were made, for this was what He said of them.

“…How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34

So when we consider ourselves, always remember that in the same way, Jesus knows our hearts. Whether or not we love those around us, whether or not we truly care for them and have compassion for them, it is not up to the world to decide; for the One whose opinion truly matters, knows your inner most thoughts.

So you get upset with your brother once in a while, what of it? So you pass a harsh word over him, what of it? Did that come from the heart? Was it pre-meditated? Did you do it intentionally to injure? Or was it a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction? Jesus knows. Our Father knows. And you owe no one else an explanation.

Love your brother – the spirit of the law
For why are we called to love our brother?

“We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 [AMP]

Loving others is merely a response to God’s love. When we are given the opportunity to love, we are reminded of just how much we ourselves were loved first. For how do we know the manner and method of love, unless we ourselves have first experienced it? So really, we are called to love, so that we ourselves may be reminded of the times and re-experience the instances of our Father’s love for us afresh.

And that’s really the point.

For what is love if not helping another come as close to being where you are and what you are? When someone is hungry, loving that person is sharing your food with him so that he may be as satiated as you are. When someone is in pain, loving that person is sharing comfort with him so that he may be as at peace as you are.

So when we remember that

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13

We realize that in so doing, Jesus has done exactly as He commanded – He loved. For He has indeed brought us to where He is. And I am not just referring to that whole ‘preparing a place in heaven’ thing either; because, when Jesus went to the cross,

“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.” 1 John 4:17

As He is, so have we become in this world.

As He is sinless, so are we in this world. As He is perfect in our Father’s eyes, so are we in this world. As He is deserving of favor from our Father, so are we in this world. Jesus has brought us to the place where He is, so that we may be as He is while we are in this world. Now, that’s love.

Beloved, the call to love one another is really not a call to put on a show, because we are not called to draw attention to ourselves when we love. Instead, when we love one another, when we help another be as we are in this world, we remind ourselves of just how much Jesus has done for us, just how much He has made us just like Him.

So treat love as a mirror and let each act of love be a reflection of just how much our Father has loved you.

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