A popular view is that brotherly love is the same as love, and is simply its most perfect form. This is a mistake, as 2 Pet. 1: 5, 7 shows: “have … in godliness brotherly love, in brotherly love love”. Different Greek words are used: philadelphia for brotherly love and agape for love. That brotherly love (or affection) is a most sweet and precious fruit of grace is true, but it is not identical to love. Peter tells us to have love in our brotherly affection. The reason is simple. If brotherly affection is exercised then brethren are the object, and although such fondness surely flows from grace when genuine and pure, it easily clothes itself with mere nature. Philadelphia is liable to rest in its object, and to be governed by its feeling towards it, and so avoid all that might be painful or mar the pleasantness of mutual affection between brethren. That is why when difficulties arise among God’s people the cry often goes up that the fellowship must be maintained at all costs. Unless philadelphia is qualified by agape, brethren become the motive and governing principle of our conduct, and our ways becomes as uncertain as the state of our brethren with whom we may be in contact. Hence after speaking about the need to put on “bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, long–suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any should have a complaint against any; even as the Christ has forgiven you, so also [do] ye” (Col. 3: 12, 13), Paul says, “And to all these [add] love, which is the bond of perfectness” (v14).
So won’t love seek to exercise brotherly affection? Undoubtedly it will, but it also brings in God, for “God is love” (1 John 4: 8) and “He that abides in love abides in God and God in him” (1 John 4: 16). Agape thus brings in a standard of what true love is which philadelphia by itself never can. Love is “the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3: 14) for God, and the heart of God expressed is its measure. By contrast, brotherly affection, unless it is accompanied by love, will form bonds that are to a greater or lesser degree, imperfect. Mere nature and not God will be its measure. Love is governed by the conscious presence of God and exists in virtue of it. Hence, anything that is not consistent with His presence, with Himself and with His glory, cannot be borne by the heart which is filled with love. Love was active in Christ, when He said, “Serpents, offspring of vipers” (Matt. 23: 33), and in Paul, when he said, “I would that they would even cut themselves off who through you into confusion” (Gal. 5: 12). Love, because it brings in God and we feel His presence, is intolerant of evil. In brotherly affection, if God’s presence is not felt, nature comes in easily. The brother being the object before my mind, before I realize it, I will put man before God, smother evil, and keep fellowship going at any cost.
God is never inconsistent with Himself. Thus love gives to God all His rights. God’s love to us was shown in what was the most solemn proof of His intolerance of evil—the cross. There is no true love apart from righteousness. If God is indifferent to evil then there is no love in grace to the sinner. Unconverted men want God to be as careless as to evil as they are—that is the kind of love they look for. Regrettably, Christians can also be careless about sin, and act as if God is careless about sin as well. Philadelphia must ever be exercised in love—God’s love—else it is liable to excuse evil in the name of affection among brethren.