By Harris Franklin Rall
The faith and life of Jesus had but one source, and that was God. From that same source there flows all his teaching. When he has told us that God is Father, he has given us his whole message; it remains only for us to see what that means for various questions of life and faith. Because God is Father, men dare to call themselves sons. Because he is Father, we venture to trust and to lift up hearts in prayer. Because he is Father, we must repent of unloving and disobedient lives and turn with entire surrender to him. We have been studying how men are to live with such a Father; now we are to consider how men who believe in such a Father are to live with their fellow men. This life with men will form the theme of the next five lessons.
The Supreme Rule Of Life
Summaries of the Law.—The search for a rule of life is one of the great human quests. We are all asking, "What must I do?" For the Jews of Jesus' day, the rule of life consisted of the commandments contained in the books of the law, together with the numberless rules that had been based on these by the scribes. In that day, as in this, men tried to sum up these demands in one single rule. On two different occasions Jesus thus summed up the teaching of the Old Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount he said, "All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew H. 12). Near the close of his ministry, answering a scribe, he said: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets" (Matthew 22. 35-40).
The Rule of Sonship.—In both these instances, however, Jesus is looking backward and summing up the law. When he gives his own rule of life, it goes beyond even these high maxims. He gives it at the close of the fifth chapter of Matthew, in which he has been setting forth the higher righteousness: "that ye may be sons of your Father." Nothing could be simpler than this: We are to be like our Father. Nothing could be more searching than this, for it goes to the inner spirit of a man's life. And nothing could be broader than this, for it takes in every part of life. Here is the highest standard that can be set for life; not God's commands, but God's own self. Jesus pictures the loving and pure spirit of God and then says to us, "That is to be the rule of your life."
The Unforgiving Brother.—In two striking passages Jesus set this forth. The first might be called the parable of the unforgiving brother (Luke 15. 25-32). It is a pendant to the story of the forgiving father, which we commonly call the parable of the prodigal son. In this latter parable Jesus had defended his own treatment of sinners by setting forth the spirit of God: God is like the forgiving father, not asking what his son has deserved at his hands, but only what he might do for him now that he was found. Within the house all had joined with the father in his rejoicing. But outside stands the older brother, just come from the field, angry and jealous. It was not fair, he protested. He had worked all these years, and his father had never given him so much as a kid that he might have a feast with his friends. And this tramp, this reprobate, was having a fatted calf.
The Unfilial Spirit.—The two parables are opposite sides of the same shield, and they point to the same lesson. In both of them Jesus is rebuking the unbrotherly spirit of the Pharisees. In the former he confutes them with the picture of the Father's mercy; in the latter he shames them by showing their own likeness in the elder brother. The elder brother makes plain what the sons of the Father should not be. The Father's rule is mercy, the elder brother talks of justice. The Father thinks only of the boy, the elder brother only of himself. All the hard, critical, self-centered spirit is here. He does not say, "My brother," but "Thy son." He drags out the details of his brother's shame, "who hath devoured thy living with harlots." He is as little filial in spirit as he is fraternal; he looks upon his father as a kind of taskmaster (verse 29). When he thinks of a possible good time it is "with my friends," not with his father.
The Spirit of the True Brother.—The other passage is in Matthew 5.43-48. These closing verses of the fifth chapter of Matthew deserve to stand beside the opening verses of the chapter, the Beatitudes. Here is the heart of Jesus' teaching about the true life of man. The spirit of openness toward God, of humility and devotion and desire, that is the picture of the Beatitudes. The spirit of utter good will toward men, that is the message of the closing verses. And these two are one, humility and unselfish good will. One of them is love turned toward God, the other is love turned toward men. In these last verses Jesus shows that this good will is the spirit of God. God sees a world in which many of his children are selfish, forgetful of his love, hard toward their brethren. But his good gifts go to the evil as to the good; the sun that gives life, the rain that waters the earth, are for all alike. And we are to be his children, we are to be like that. Here, then, is the rule of life: sonship, to be a brother to men in the spirit of the Father.
The Scope Of Brotherhood
Not a Relation of Give and Get.—What this rule of brotherhood means in detail we shall consider in the following chapters which treat of reverence and good will and service. We must ask next as to the scope of brotherhood. Jesus' hearers did not need to be told what brotherliness was; the trouble lay not in the fact, but in the extent. Men limited the practice of brotherhood then just about as they do now, and Jesus points out these limitations. We love, first of all, those that love us. We love our friends. We send gifts at Christmas to those who send gifts to us, and change the day of God's good will into an anxious season of buying and trading. That is not brotherhood; that is simply the old rule of give and take. Brotherhood means grace, it means giving where you do not get (Matthew 5. 38-42).
Beyond Class and Race.—In the second place, men limit brotherhood to their circle or society, their church or community, their race or nation. They "salute their brethren only." A downtown church moves out "because there are no people left." As a matter of fact, there are more people than before in the fine old houses that have been changed to tenements, only they are not "our kind." But there is only one kind according to Jesus' teaching, and that is the Father's children. The man who disowns any of the Father's children is really cutting himself off from the Father, and going out of the Father's house. Christian missions are a great proclamation of brotherhood. In no land has the Christian Church a better chance for "brothering" than here in America, where all the nations are gathered together. But such brothering must be more than vague sentiment. A good way to brother a man is to look out for the brother's children and count them as ours. Are we showing brotherhood to the children of our community? That means not merely the children of our Sunday school, but the little Russian, Jewish, and Italian children. Do we care how they are fed and housed, whether they have the chance at wholesome play, and whether their fathers, our brothers, are paid a living wage?
Fellowship In The Christian Church
The Community of Christ's Followers.—But brotherhood is not simply a spirit that we are to show toward others; it is a life of fellowship that we live together. We have already seen that while God is fatherly toward all, not all men live with him as sons. In the same way, though we are to be brotherly toward all men, not all men will live with us as brothers. Where men do live together in that way, we have a new and higher kind of brotherhood, a true fellowship. That is the final purpose of God, to bring all his children together in such a fellowship, or world-family. Ideally, that is what the church is to-day, a fellowship or community of all who are trying to live as God's children after the spirit of Christ.
If we ask for Jesus' teaching concerning this fellowship, we find we have scarcely anything bearing directly upon it. The Gospels give us nowhere any precept from Jesus as to the duty of organizing a church, or directions as to how this shall be done. Nor do the beginnings of the church at Jerusalem imply this. The disciples apparently still consider themselves a part of the Jewish Church, though they assemble themselves together, as would be expected, and look to the twelve for guidance and leadership.
The First Fellowship.—All this, however, need not surprise us. Here too Jesus came to give life and not rules, and it takes but little study of the life that Jesus came to bring to show that fellowship has been from the beginning an essential part of it. That appeared first of all in the fellowship of Jesus and his disciples. There never was a simpler fellowship than this, for there was no test of creed, no rules to which to subscribe, no long novitiate. There was only one test, the willingness to follow Jesus. But that fellowship had in it the essentials of a religious communion. Jesus had called these men, "that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth." Here was fellowship of life and fellowship of service, and that includes it all.
The Church Based on Spirit, Not Law.—What operated in that first instance has operated ever since. If every church building were razed to the ground to-morrow and every Christian communion disbanded, it would not be a week before groups of Christian people all over the world would come together for fellowship in worship and for common service. Jesus gave neither commandment nor direction as to organizing the church, but he did three things. He organized the first fellowship, a little group of men and women which came together again after his resurrection and formed the nucleus of the church. Second, he set forth an ideal of religion which could be practiced only in fellowship with men, for it demanded good will, forbearance, helpfulness, service. And, finally, he gave men a common spirit of love and devotion which has drawn his followers together with a pull as sure and strong as that which holds the stars above. Fellowship is at the very heart of Christianity. It rests on no uncertain commandment, but upon an abiding spirit. No danger or persecution has ever been able to break this bond.
The Fellowship of Christ and the Visible Church.— Jesus declared that the men who did God's will were his brothers and sisters (Mark 3. 35). In the great judgment he counts as his own all who have ministered to men in his spirit (Matthew 25. 34-40). We of to-day need to recognize this larger fellowship of Christlike spirit and service, though it leads beyond the bounds of the visible church of Christ. In this day when the love of righteousness and the service of men are so needed, we should do all we can to find out the men of this larger brotherhood, and to unite all that will thus join for a common service.
Directions For Study
The Scripture passages: Luke 15. 25-32; Matthew 5. 38-48.
Go back in brief review and ask what Jesus' idea of God's Fatherhood means for our thought of God, of ourselves, and of our life with God.
Now study how Fatherhood gives to us as sons a law of life in relation to our brothers. Read the first section of the discussion. Compare this rule of brotherhood, or sonship, with other rules like the Golden Rule.
Consider the principle of brotherhood as reflected in the Christian Church. Does this limit the application of Christ's principle, or is the church an instrument for carrying brotherhood into all the world's life? In what ways is this done by the church?
What conditions in our church life, local and general, make against brotherhood? How are these to be overcome? Apply these same questions to our social, political, and economic life.