I grew up in the church and I’ve always heard the title “brother” as a prefix to almost every man in the church. As I became a teenager, I remember thinking that the prefix was merely an old fashioned way of addressing one another in the church. When I moved to seminary, I would hear the same title used for fellow church members in the churches that I visited. As I became a pastor of a church in Kentucky, I recall hearing the title of brother used to address one another. The first time I walked into the doors of the first church I served as pastor, the first man who greeted me said, “You must be Brother Josh.” I came to understand that the title was not merely an antiquated word thrown around in the community of the local church.
Your Brother May Not Be Your Brother
The title of brother actually means something. It’s a way of calling someone a fellow Christian – a brother in Christ. In Mark 3:12, it foretells of a time when “brother will deliver brother over to death.” It may be possible for a person to have a physical brother who isn’t their spiritual brother. Although you both share the same mother and father, you are worlds apart regarding the gospel. Cain and Abel were physical brothers, but they weren’t spiritual brothers. That same thing can be seen in the relationship between Jacob and Esau.
If you’ve been in the church for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone pray in what I refer to as KJV language. They start praying with thees and thous throughout their entire prayer. That’s a classic example of using antiquated language perhaps as a result of daily reading from the King James Bible. When we use the word brother it’s not the same thing as praying in KJV. When we use the word brother in the church, we’re actually calling another man a Christian. Consider Ananias who was given specific instructions by God to find Saul and pray over him to remove scales from his eyes. Ananias understood that this man was a terrorist, and he was fearful. However, he obeyed God. As he located Saul on the street called Straight, he called him “Brother Saul.” God had turned a God-hating, gospel-opposing, Christian-persecuting terrorist into a brother.
Your Brother May Be Closer Than Your Brother
The truth of Proverbs 18:24 is visible all through the New Testament. In the life of the church, we are consistently presented with brotherly language regarding fellow Christian men. The familial way of describing others who have been saved by the blood of Christ demonstrates the unique bond that we have with those who may not share our same mother and father. That’s why we see so much emphasis placed on unity in the local church. According to 1 John 4:20, we’re forbidden from hating our brother. In Matthew 18, we are given instructions about church discipline and how to accuse and restore a brother who is living in sin.
As we see Brother Paul affectionately referencing Epaphroditus as his brother in Philippians 2:25, it’s clear that there is a unique bond between those who have been saved by the blood of Christ and adopted into the family of God. According to John 1:12-13, we don’t enter the family of God by “blood” (a reference to physical birth and familial relationships). That’s why many of us have a closer relationship with brothers who aren’t actually showing up at our annual family reunion.
Don’t Abuse The Title
Just as we should refrain from calling an unbeliever a Christian, we should likewise refrain from referring to someone as a brother who isn’t a true brother. I realize that may sound trite and a bit picky, but it’s something to consider. Do we really want unbelievers to hear us refer to everyone as brother? If we use the title properly, they’ll hear it used within the church setting and it may cause them to pause and consider why it’s used. Perhaps they’ll ask why they weren’t referred to as a brother when others were frequently referenced in that manner. It may come across as an antiquated title at first, but it could also lead to a conversation between you and your unbelieving neighbor who attended your church recently. Perhaps as you chat in the yard one afternoon after work, you might say, “How did you enjoy the church service this past week?” He may say, “It was good, but tell me, why are men referred to as brother in your church?”
Be thankful for your spiritual brother that God has placed in your life. If you have a physical brother, be thankful for him too. If he isn’t a believer, pray that God would make your brother your brother.