Brotherly love in action

How easily conflict arises in our daily round of interactions with others. Disrespect, jealousy, malice, rivalry, road rage, hyper-partisanship, and so on flare up, making us sizzle. Recrimination, revenge, turning a cold shoulder, or venting with those sympathetic to us may be a tempting ego-salve. Or sometimes we zip our lip, only to steam silently. And what if the malicious behavior of others threatens our job security or well-being?

How can we learn to handle conflict more prayerfully and effectively? The Bible instructs us with many examples of brotherly love successfully eliminating friction and harmonizing families, friends, and foes. 

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When Abram (later Abraham) allowed his nephew Lot to choose first where he wanted to move after their men had bickered and fought over land, that was brotherly love in action (see Genesis, chap. 13). When Abigail forestalled a vengeful attack by David against her rich but selfish husband, Nabal—again, brotherly love in action (see I Samuel, chap. 25). And isn’t one of the overriding themes of the New Testament to love one another with Christly affection and sincerity, returning blessing for cursing?

The basis for brotherly love is the assurance of God’s loving control over all.

One definition for brotherly love could be “the unselfish consideration of foe and friend, having such deep trust in God’s limitless goodness and divine justice that we yield the situation entirely to God’s government and direction.” Because God is governing all, we can trust Him to bless all involved in any situation, to unfold a satisfying resolution. The basis for brotherly love is the assurance of God’s loving control over all and the recognition of man’s purely spiritual and good nature as the image of God.

It takes spiritual maturity to discipline thought to bypass a purely emotional response (indulging self) and go straight to one of compassion, forgiveness, and healing (loving unselfishly). The way to achieve this is by spiritualizing thought, lifting it above the lying suggestion of discord and divisiveness, embattled wills and egos, to Truth and the ever-presence of harmony and unity. 

We can correct the false appearance of a sinful mortal man and perceive instead the sinless spiritual man, created by God and therefore incapable of any ungodly trait. Man’s true nature is derived solely from divine Love, so any characteristic that isn’t in Love’s nature cannot be in man’s nature either.

This discipline of uplifting and spiritualizing our thought includes letting go of personal outlining, humbly yielding to Love’s control of every facet of our lives. Turning from the material sense evidence of conflict, and realizing that divine Love is All and all-acting, defuses discord, for only good has genuine activity and power. Only Love is governing us and everyone.

In God’s creation—the only creation there truly is—all is everlasting harmony, unity, order, peace, joy. All of His children are lovingly, peaceably, harmoniously related to Him and therefore to each other. We can claim our right to see the divine nature manifested in human relations, evidenced as patience, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, tenderness, gentleness, wit. We can expect to enjoy each other’s company, work together in harmony, generously share, patiently listen, kindly speak, joyously live. 

Do we “each esteem other better than [our]selves” (Philippians 2:3)? Or as the New International Version puts it, “In humility value others above yourselves”? In J. B. Phillips’s translation, we find this: “Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves.”

Isn’t the highest, purest form of love to cast out the counterfeit sense of man for the true, and sincerely see our fellow man as a child of God?

How can we love people who have hurt us deeply? In prayer we can rise above the material supposition that evil has presence and power in our lives, operating through so-called wicked people. 

Isn’t the highest, purest form of love to cast out the counterfeit sense of man for the true, and sincerely see our fellow man as a child of God?

The Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, delves deeply into the practical, ever-present healing power of Love, God. In a paragraph with the marginal heading “The human counterfeit,” Mrs. Eddy states that the material personality “is not man, the image and likeness of God, but man’s counterfeit, the inverted likeness, the unlikeness called sin, sickness, and death” (p. 285). By recognizing that we are dealing with a counterfeit sense of man, we can impersonalize the error, see its falsity (since it is unlike God), and consequently dissolve any sense of ego or human will. Then we can lovingly and intelligently affirm the actual spiritual verity of the real man’s selfhood, sinless and pure. Truly there is no other man.

Years ago, my manager invited me to lunch at an elegant restaurant near work. He confided that rarely had an employee so exceeded expectations on an annual review, so he felt like celebrating! 

After dessert, he opened his briefcase, pulled out my review, and showed me that he had awarded me the highest marks possible in each category. It was a significant improvement over my last review. With a flourish, he pointed out my salary increase. I was delighted. We both signed the documents and happily returned to work. I felt secure, having established a reputation of excellence and a sincere desire to progress at that firm.

Several months later, a misunderstanding arose between my manager’s boss and me. I had received permission from my manager to leave the company Christmas party early, explaining that I had to usher at our Wednesday evening church meetings that month. 

However, I was later told by my manager that his boss felt personally insulted that I’d left just as he’d begun telling vulgar jokes. Although my manager had assured him that he had preapproved my early departure, it hadn’t changed this man’s mind. After this, it seemed clear that he had a personal vendetta against me and was aiming to fire me.

In late summer, I finally called a Christian Science practitioner for help. I had been very happy with my work and position, but now it was a nightmare. The practitioner lovingly assured me: “Innocency is found in you, Dear! You are innocent!” Then she quoted from Daniel 6:22: “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.”

I clung to this truth, feeling bathed in spiritual purity, honesty, and innocence. I affirmed that divine Love’s nature was expressed in me, making me unassailable. I wasn’t an embattled mortal; I was Love’s own reflection, governed solely by Love.

The practitioner briefly recounted the story of Daniel in the lions’ den. Daniel’s peers had tried to find something to use against him because they were jealous of his remarkable abilities. All they could find was his love of God, which shielded him and could not be used against him. 

She assured me that my excellence and outstanding reputation could not be stained by anyone, and that as I continued to be a faithful witness to God, His all-good plan—His infinite unfoldment of good for me—would continue to unfold.

As I studied and prayed, I found this statement by Mrs. Eddy: “False views, however engendered, relative to the true and unswerving course of a Christian Scientist, will at length dissolve into thin air” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 291). 

As the days and weeks passed, I felt more dominion and less anxiety. Yielding to God’s control over the situation, I persistently adhered to a Christly standard of conduct, or brotherly love in action. No longer baffled or intimidated, I fearlessly expressed genuine warmth and affection toward all of my colleagues. 

Just before Thanksgiving, I was let go during a massive layoff. Although this was unexpected, I felt certain that it was a right and legitimate outcome. Great peace and relief enveloped me. 

My manager confided to me that his boss had been dismissed because of how he had treated me. Hearing this news gave me no pleasure, but it did illustrate Mrs. Eddy’s statement that “[Jesus] showed that every effect or amplification of wrong will revert to the wrong-doer; that sin punishes itself; …” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 288).

When I spoke with the practitioner, she encouraged me to be steadfast and stick to Truth. Soon I received a job offer that resulted in years of professional growth and expansive opportunities to continue to excel. In retrospect, it was a major steppingstone in my career.

God is in charge at all times, under all circumstances. When difficult situations arise, we can turn to Him for guidance, deliverance, peace of mind. We can rise above conflict and prove that only good is unfolding, only blessings are possible, because God is governing both us and our brother man.

Spiritual Lens
The wilderness and the solitary place
September 29, 2014

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