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Who is our brother?
- Jacob Ninan
One day when someone told Jesus that His mother and brothers wanted to meet Him, He said that it was those who did His Father's will who were really His mother, brother or sister (Mt.12:48-50). Some have concluded from this that once they became children of God, they should only consider other born again people as their 'relatives.' Some even go to the extent of refusing all close contacts with anyone other than children of God, including family members.
That Jesus didn't mean annulling of earthly relationships in favour of heavenly relationships is clear from the fact that He took special care for His mother after His death (Jn.19:26,27). God also says that if anyone did not take care of his own family he would be worse than unbelievers (1Ti.5:8). But Jesus did indicate here that He valued the fellowship of those who did the will of God more than of anyone else. In His priority, Jesus considered doing the will of His Father as more important than anything else (Jn.4:34), and those who did the Father's will more than the others.
We are also to do good to all men, and especially to the disciples of Jesus (Ga.6:10). While this shows us the priority for the disciples over unbelievers, it points out that we are not to shut off our heart towards unbelievers by saying that they are not in our priority list! Otherwise we would be very narrow minded compared to God who does good even to the wicked (Mt.5:45)! If we loved only the lovable (other disciples) and kept out other needy ones, how would they ever see the gospel in action and turn to the Lord (Mt.5:16)?
Isn't it challenging for us to see that when a lawyer questioned Jesus about loving one's neighbour by raising the issue of who his neighbour was, Jesus mentioned a Samaritan, an outcast in the sight of the Jews, as the good man who showed mercy to His neighbour (Lk.10:33)? Jesus could have taught us the same lesson about showing mercy to those in need without bringing this additional factor. But He also wanted to break this Jewish prejudice, just as ours with regard to 'these unbelievers' (Lk.18:11).
Can we make a difference between 'brothers in Christ' and other human beings who have also been created in the image of God and are in that sense our 'brothers and sisters'? Of course we see a difference in terms of their relationship with God, and we need to deal differently with them in that respect. We should also avoid marriage and such close ties with unbelievers (2Co.6:14). But can we withhold mercy and goodness from unbelievers? Can we afford to be angry with unbelievers (Mt.5:22), or don't we need to care about their grievances against us (v.23)?
So who are our brothers? We see that in many respects we are all brothers in the world, and it may be our openness towards them that will ultimately win them for Christ. But at the same time if we don't recognise a difference between believers and unbelievers in terms of our fellowship, we may also defile ourselves.