What is a brother?

James uses the phrase “my brethren” (or my brothers) to begin the body of his letter. Of course the nature of the sentence structure allows this phrase to go nearly anywhere inside verse 2, but I would prefer to cover the subject of brotherhood before going into other things. The Greek word used for brother is adelphos. It means, “to be from the same womb, nation, nature; of equal rank and dignity; associate.” It could be translated as either “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.”

The term “brother,” as used here, is not limited to the males only. I don’t think it literally means “the same womb,” either, although we know James did share the same womb with Jesus. James did not make his physical relationship with Jesus an issue and in fact was effectively nullifying his half-brother physical status in favor of his brotherhood with fellow believers. James knew Jesus wasn’t just a man, he was divine. He was God wrapped in flesh.

Ro 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Of course we are not equal to Jesus, but we are in a brotherhood sharing at least a bit of the nature of God by having the indwelling Spirit. We are of the same “nation” as God by having our home in the eternal. We are aliens here, as Abraham noted. Be cautious with this, though. Some would be tempted to say we are made in God’s image and that justifies our brotherhood. This is not so. We are the clay (Is 29:16). We can share brotherhood only to the degree the Spirit of God is put into our pot. It is a supernatural pot filled by its Creator. The pot is not a “brother” unless it is filled with the stuff making it so. Don’t fall for a lie here. If you are full of the world, there’s no room in your pot. Your deceive yourself if you try to fill it with anything but the Water of Life (Jesus). We will speak much more on the authentic vs. the inauthentic later.

Pr 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. This Proverb adds another interesting angle, one which I think is a wonderful comfort. Jesus referred to us as friends as well as brothers. Earlier we talked about being servants. This verse supports the one where Jesus says there’s no greater friend than the one who lays down his life for another (Jn 15:13). Jesus called us his friends (Jn 15:14). That’s better than being a servant, don’t you think? Now we have as part of our identity being brethren together, of the same Spirit of God and children together of God (1 Jn 3:2). We get more than a gold watch for our service, we get a piece of inheritance. Praise God! As for this Proverb, it says a brother is born for adversity. If you have a sibling, or know anyone who has a sibling, you know siblings tend to fight amongst themselves at times. You also know that’s okay until someone else picks on a brother then woe to the outsider. Jesus and the indwelling and outpouring of the Holy Spirit comfort us in adversity, help us in various ways, and lead us through difficulties to something better.

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About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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2 Responses to What is a brother?

  1. Todd Beal says:

    I like your explanation concerning Romans 8:14. Actually, it is the best I have ever heard or read. It is clear, complete, and simple enough for a non-theologian to understand. I have struggled in trying to separate those two issues for building a sound argument: made in the image of God (clay vessel); indwelling of the Spirit to fill up that vessel (spiritual brotherhood). Oprah Winfrey and her followers are good examples of where this would be very helpful. Anytime I need to explain this dilemma, I’ll have something real to give that person. Thank you.

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