“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” 1 John 3:16
The blessings of a united brotherhood in Christ are immeasurable. They help ensure the stability of the ecclesias and the spiritual growth of individual members and their families. To enjoy fellowship with brethren and sisters of like precious faith can be a daily source of joy and thanksgiving yet, whilst it is of immense value, it is nonetheless a fragile commodity at risk of fracturing under stress. This article serves to remind us of the responsibilities every brother and sister in Christ has to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.

The calling of God is to individuals and each baptism is joyfully conducted by the brethren following an individual’s own confession of faith. By receiving the right hand of fellowship the newly baptised are welcomed into a membership of an association of believers worldwide embracing a common and unique set of beliefs. The distinc­tive faith and conscience of our former brethren in the times of Brother Thomas prompted them to be known as “The Royal Association of Believ­ers” (1853), an identification which later became known by the name “Christadelphian”. To mark their separation from Christendom, by deliberate choice they formed Christadelphian “ecclesias”. The very name and identification we have happily perpetuated today signifies the relationship of being “brethren in Christ”. So it has been in the wisdom and mercy of our God that in calling individuals He has provided in many generations an ecclesial environment. They are not members of a club or a society. They are members of the corporate body of Christ deeply concerned for the health and vitality of each member. As the apostle Paul illustrates, each brother and sister is to act as supporting “ligaments” to the members of the Christ body, “every joint” and “every part” making increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph 4:16). In service public or private, in word or in deed, in countless acts brethren see the cause of Christ as greater than their own and the edification of their brethren in love as overriding their own convenience.

As I Have Loved You

There are some wonderful examples of service “as unto the Lord”. Taking up the Lord’s own com­mandment, “that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another”, many have laid down their lives for the brethren (John 13:34). The apostle Paul and his son in the faith, Timothy, enjoyed a very special like mindedness, naturally caring for the state of the ecclesia when most others sought their own welfare (Phil 2:20,21; 2 Cor 11:28). Paul overcame many adversities for the encouragement of his brethren, enduring “all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10; 1 Cor 10:33; 2 Cor 1:6). Peo­ple like Priscilla and Aquila were so moved by the demands of the Gospel and by Paul’s own example that Paul could write of them that they “have for my life laid down their own necks” (Rom 16:3,4). In poignant terms the aged and imprisoned apostle could pray for the house of Onesiphorus who had oft refreshed Paul, not being ashamed of his chains, and who could well have lost his life in ministering to his beloved brother (2 Tim 1:16–18). He could also petition Philemon that he put aside his natural grievances and warmly welcome his former slave, Onesimus, as a brother in the Lord. Such are but a few examples of lives transformed and energies directed towards the furtherance of the Gospel and the well being of the brethren.

Fellowship with each other is derived firstly from our being called unto a fellowship with the Fa­ther and the Son (1 John 1:3,4,7). The human level of contact is secondary to the higher relationship of our fellowship with God, yet all too often we deal with each other in such an antagonistic spirit that we forget that it is to God that each must answer. As the apostle Paul says, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?” We should be conscious of the fact that God “owns” that servant (Rom 14:4). Again, we may cause a brother of troubled con­science to perish by our insensitivity, “for whom”, Paul says, “Christ died” (1 Cor 8:11). Human pride

can so easily blind us to the presence of the Lord in the field of controversy that we forget that He sees all and hears all. The apostle John reminds us that unless our fellowship with each other is real, our claim to fellowship with God and His Son is a hollow sham (1 John 4:20,21).

The Antidote to Controversy

In almost every generation the unity of the brethren so carefully nurtured by so many is placed under extreme stress by sowers of discord. We should be surprised if the peace and harmony of ecclesial life today were free from the threat of disruptive talk and action. Nor are such matters contained locally. By electronic means news of disputes are instantly transmitted globally and often the reputation of brethren of good standing called in question and their words misrepresented. Brethren, these things ought not to be so. It is almost impossible to counter the spate of such slanderous reporting. The antidote is to redouble our efforts to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace(Eph 4:3). This is not a peace at any price nor is it an avoidance of being watchmen earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints. But it is a contention in a brotherly manner, without rancour, bitterness or self aggrandisement. It is consciously resisting any circulation of inflammatory comments amongst us in word or in print. It is applying the time honoured practices of 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

We would all heartily endorse the apostolic plea for unity (1 Cor1:9–11). We all want the purity of the Truth preserved, yet the light of Gospel truth is carried in earthen vessels where human weakness will at times impose pressure, creating tension and impatience towards those who are overtaken in a fault. In a sense there is no pure fellowship, until that perfect state of oneness with the Father and Son in the Kingdom Age. Yet we are occasion­ally vexed over questions of the failings of our brethren. It is at this critical point that many of the Scriptural injunctions laid upon us are forgotten in the heat of the moment. It is wise for us to heed the advice of Brother Islip Collyer on this matter. He observed from many years of experience in ecclesial disputes that, “for every one passage of Scripture commanding withdrawal from workers of evil, there are scores of commands to love and to be forbearing and longsuffering; exhortations to be meek, temperate, kind, courteous, pitiful, to comfort the feeble, build up the weak, restore the faulty; to be rooted and grounded in love, to bear one another’s burdens, to esteem others better than ourselves; to do all things without murmuring and disputing, and to be at peace among yourselves” (Principles and Proverbs, p78).

It is therefore incumbent upon all brethren and sisters of like precious faith to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judg­ment”—as much as is humanly possible! That state of things requires us all to share a sense of respon­sibility in preserving the Truth and for us all to be contributors to a sound and enduring fellowship.

What can we do? We all need to be:

• Workmen that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth

• Lovers of Truth above personal relationships—family or friend

• Vigilant watchmen sounding a warning at any sign of danger

• Teachers of that which is good, wholesome and sound doctrine, with all patience, longsuffering and understanding

• Shepherds reassuring and leading the flock of God by personal example by the waters and green pastures of revealed truth.

In summary, it takes the unflagging efforts of brethren of all ecclesias with the same mind and the same judgment, to be builders together, to build living stones into a house of God, sure and strong on the Christ foundation.

Knit Together in Love

Let us be knit together in love. Let there be no loos­ening of the joints of the body of Christ (Eph 4:16; Col 2:19). To use another word picture, let there be no unravelling of the rich fabric of our fellowship. Let us reach out to one another and redouble our efforts to re-tie those threads that bind us together. To further the analogy, let us pick up the lost stitches where there are holes or loose ends in our relation­ships. We can picture a crew of fishermen in times gone by, all in a circle with their heads bent and busy practised fingers mending their nets with common purpose and good spirit. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul appeals to the brethren to be perfectly joined together”. The literal meaning is “to restore, mend or repair that which is rent or disordered” and is rendered “mending” (their nets) in Matthew 4:21 and Mark 1:19. Would to God we were all gathered together mending our ecclesial “nets”, that we may be all knit together in love!

This is the manifestation of agape love, of a self-sacrificing nature, the love that firstly knows the love of God and seeks to lift the hearts and minds of our brethren to comprehend the great­ness of Yahweh’s plan of reconciliation achieved in Christ. Might it be said of us as Paul said of the Colossian Ecclesia, “… yet am I with you in spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfast­ness of your faith in Christ” (Col 2:5). So let us all contribute to a steadfastness of faith ere our Lord come. His impeccable judgment will then bring to light our works and our motives. Our service to him will largely be measured by our treatment of his brethren.