Terms of Endearment

Did you ever wonder what it would have been like to listen to the Apostle Paul preach?

I have.

But you know, in a way, we can listen to him preach even now. We can’t hear the sound of his voice, or be caught up in his dramatic gestures, but we can hear his words in his letters in the New Testament. And you know what I recently realized about those letters? I noticed how Paul addressed fellow Christians in the second person.

You who preach, or you who listen, how are fellow Christians addressed in your churches on Sunday morning or anytime? Does the voice coming from the pulpit say, “you” (or “y’all” for you Texans) without any appellation of familiarity, as in “you need to do this” or “you shouldn’t do that”? Does the sermon giver pause and call to “my friends”? What about “members of this church” or “fellow believers”? How is the congregation addressed when spoken to directly?

Paul used a term when addressing Christians which emphasized that we are a family, not merely friends or fellow travelers. We’re not some society of like-minded moralists; we’re supposed to be a family.

Paul called Christians, “brethren” or “my brethren” or even “my beloved brethren”. If you flip through the New Testament, you’ll find him saying it nearly every chapter!


Romans 1:13
Romans 7:1
Romans 7:4
Romans 8:12
Romans 9:3
Romans 10:1
Romans 11:25
Romans 12:1
Romans 15:14
Romans 15:30
Romans 16:14
Romans 16:17
1 Corinthians 1:10
1 Corinthians 1:11
1 Corinthians 1:26
1 Corinthians 2:1
1 Corinthians 3:1
1 Corinthians 4:6
1 Corinthians 6:5
1 Corinthians 6:8
1 Corinthians 7:24
1 Corinthians 7:29
1 Corinthians 8:12
1 Corinthians 10:1
1 Corinthians 11:33
1 Corinthians 12:1
1 Corinthians 14:6
1 Corinthians 14:20
1 Corinthians 14:26
1 Corinthians 14:39
1 Corinthians 15:1
1 Corinthians 15:31
1 Corinthians 15:50
1 Corinthians 15:58
1 Corinthians 16:11
1 Corinthians 16:12
1 Corinthians 16:15
1 Corinthians 16:20
2 Corinthians 1:8
2 Corinthians 8:1
2 Corinthians 8:23
2 Corinthians 9:3
2 Corinthians 9:5
2 Corinthians 11:9
2 Corinthians 11:26
2 Corinthians 13:11
Galatians 1:2
Galatians 1:11
Galatians 2:4
Galatians 3:15
Galatians 4:12
Galatians 4:28
Galatians 4:31
Galatians 5:11
Galatians 5:13
Galatians 6:1
Galatians 6:18
Ephesians 6:23
Philippians 1:12
Philippians 1:14
Philippians 3:1
Philippians 3:13
Philippians 3:17
Philippians 4:1
Philippians 4:8
Philippians 4:21
Colossians 1:2
Colossians 4:15
1 Thessalonians 1:4
1 Thessalonians 2:1
1 Thessalonians 2:9
1 Thessalonians 2:14
1 Thessalonians 2:17
1 Thessalonians 3:7
1 Thessalonians 4:1
1 Thessalonians 4:9
1 Thessalonians 4:10
1 Thessalonians 4:13
1 Thessalonians 5:1
1 Thessalonians 5:4
1 Thessalonians 5:12
1 Thessalonians 5:14
1 Thessalonians 5:25
1 Thessalonians 5:26
1 Thessalonians 5:27
2 Thessalonians 1:3
2 Thessalonians 2:1
2 Thessalonians 2:13
2 Thessalonians 2:15
2 Thessalonians 3:1
2 Thessalonians 3:6
2 Thessalonians 3:13
1 Timothy 4:6
1 Timothy 6:2
2 Timothy 4:21

Doesn’t that long list of verses just astound you? Look how many times Paul would pause and say “brethren” or call someone his “brother”. I think it’s just amazing. These are not obscure isolated texts—it’s practically every couple of paragraphs in every letter he wrote.
Paul also seems to exude love toward his “brethren”. Time and time again in his letters to the churches he planted he writes that he loves them. Not that he misses them. Not that he appreciates them. Not that he needs them. Not that he respects them. Not that he admires them. Not that he cares for them. Not even that he “feels their pain.” Paul calls his Christian brethren “beloved”, and he does it a whole lot!

Romans 1:7
Romans 9:25
Romans 11:28
Romans 12:19
Romans 16:5
Romans 16:8
Romans 16:9
Romans 16:12
1 Corinthians 4:14
1 Corinthians 4:17
1 Corinthians 10:14
1 Corinthians 15:58
2 Corinthians 7:1
2 Corinthians 12:19
Ephesians 1:6
Ephesians 5:1
Ephesians 6:21
Philippians 2:12
Philippians 4:1
Colossians 1:7
Colossians 1:13
Colossians 3:12
Colossians 4:7
Colossians 4:9
Colossians 4:14
1 Thessalonians 1:4
2 Thessalonians 2:13
1 Timothy 6:2
2 Timothy 1:2
Philemon 1:1
Philemon 1:16

Mind you, this was a radical thing to say at the time. Remember, he was writing to Greeks who considered non-Greeks to be barbarians. He was writing to Jews who considered Gentiles unclean. He was writing to Romans who considered all the nations they had conquered as their inferiors, fit only for slavery. And yet Paul is able to cross religious, ethnic and political boundaries and address all kinds of Christians as his brothers. No Jewish Pharisee, Greek Philosopher or Roman General would have called a bunch of people like the early Christians his brothers, and the notion of loving all these kinds of different people was beyond the imagination at the time. Paul, like Jesus, was radical!

Today there are churches that strive to be “New Testament” churches. They seek to resurrect the “Agape feast” or the “holy kiss.” Some seek to wash feet and others to have all things in common. Maybe these are worthy objectives, but there is something much simpler we can all do, without debate. We can begin treating, viewing and calling each other as brothers and sisters.

From the pulpit the preacher should imitate Paul. He should pause before an application of the lesson and say, “my brethren” or “my brothers and sisters in Christ”. In fact, like Paul, he should say it all the time. Just like Paul’s letters are literally sprinkled with direct references in the second person to “brethren”, so should the sermons be. Preachers, preach like Paul.

From the pew we should act more like brothers. For starters, we should know each other. Having everyone stand up and greet the person on the left and the right is not enough! Brothers don’t just see each other at church, they visit each other’s homes, bring meals when someone is sick, help watch each other’s children, take vacations together, watch football on TV together. A “brotherly” relationship by definition is deep and not superficial. I believe developing these relationships is as integral to growth as a Christian as reading one’s Bible. God intends His church to be a community, not a society.

If any one ever asked you to list your “loved ones” to be contacted in the case of an emergency, would all the names of those you know from church immediately spring to mind? Have we merely “made friends” with those at church or do we really have a love toward them?
No one you hardly know can be your “brother”. To casually greet one you hardly even know as “brother” or call someone “brother so and so” is a distortion of the meaning of the term. “Brother” is not a title like “Baron” or “Padre” to be inserted in front of someone’s name. It’s an expression of a personal relationship.

Let’s develop a New Testament way of speaking and acting. Let’s restore the brotherly part of brotherly love. Paul commands we do so: “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” 1 Corinthians 4:16