“Have Tender Affection for One Another”
NOTE TO THE READER
You might enjoy reading the 12th chapter of Romans before considering this material.
LISA was a very rebellious teen-ager—running with a rough crowd and dabbling in drugs. She stole her unbelieving father’s tranquilizers and wrote letters to her friends defaming her Christian mother who tried to correct her.
Finally, Lisa’s mother asked the elders of the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to meet with the girl. How did Lisa feel about this? “I was sure that all they were going to do was to tell me how bad I was. My father, who is not interested in the Bible, told me to go ahead and meet with them and then tell them to ‘get off my back!’”
Yet what was the outcome? Lisa relates: “Instead of their being mean, they were very, very kind. Was I surprised! They told me the reason that my mother counseled me so many times was simply because she loved me. They didn’t say things like I thought they were going to. They had a very understanding way about them. The love that the elders showed resulted in my reviewing my associations and behavior.”
Obviously, those elders convinced the girl of their genuine concern. They had the ‘spirit’ of Paul’s counsel in Romans chapter 12: “Let your love be without hypocrisy. . . . In brotherly love have tender affection for one another.”—Ro 12 Verses 9 and 10.
But how can we likewise display this spirit of kindness and affection? To what depth of feeling is the Bible here urging us? These are vital questions, for Jesus stated that the mark of his true disciples would be the love that they would have for one another.—John 13:34, 35.
WHAT IS THIS “TENDER AFFECTION”?
It is important to realize that the “tender affection” Paul encouraged at Romans 12:10 is not merely surface politeness. The Greek word philóstorgos there translated “have tender affection” means ‘having love for affection,’ being close in warm intimacy. Bible scholars note that it is the kind of love frequently expressed between children and parents. Does this not fit Jesus’ statement that true Christians would gain ‘brothers, sisters, mothers and children’ from within the congregation?—Mark 10:29, 30.
Too, Jesus set us a fine example. He perfectly reflected the qualities of his Father, Jehovah, who is “very tender in affection and merciful.” (Jas. 5:11) The apostle Paul, who imitated Jesus Christ, revealed such tender affection in dealing with fellow believers. He writes at 1 Thessalonians 2:7 of ‘cherishing’ them as a “nursing mother” does her children—truly a picture of tenderness. And apparently this resulted in their having deep affection for Paul. The Ephesus elders, in a final farewell to him, wept and “fell upon Paul’s neck and tenderly kissed him.” (Acts 20:17, 36, 37) No, this was not like the farewell to a cold commanding general reviewing the troops. It was that of men of the same ‘family’; they were brothers.—Matt. 23:8.
Many Christian men and women know that for the words “brother” and “sister” to be meaningful, they should strive to increase their affection for fellow believers. They appreciate too that for this to be ‘love free from hypocrisy,’ there must be a genuine growth in affection. But some may ask, how is this motivated? How can we improve at demonstrating our brotherly love?
Valuable answers to such questions are found in the setting or context of Paul’s urging us to show tender affection.
“BELONGING . . . TO ONE ANOTHER”
Early in Romans chapter 12 the apostle explains that the members of the Christian congregation ‘belong to one another.’ They are interdependent—they need one another. (Ro 12 Verse 5) He then supports this by mentioning several of the gifts given to different brothers within the congregational body, since “the members do not all have the same function.” Together, all combined, the congregation makes up a whole or complete instrument that Jehovah can use to carry out his work on earth.—Ro 12 Verses 4, 6-8.
How, you might ask, do these facts affect our having tender affection? Well, if we do not see how much we need one another, we will probably fail to develop the feelings that Paul goes on to admonish us to have. However, recognizing our common need, both to assist one another and to accomplish Jehovah’s will, serves as an inducement to draw close to one another. It motivates appreciation for our brothers and a ‘family feeling.’
But there are barriers to this feeling of interdependency and brotherhood. Paul strongly attacks two of these—egotism and pride: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think.” (Ro 12 Verse 3) The Phillip’s translation says in Ro 12 verse 16: “Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people.”
Snobbery is a form of pride, an assumed superiority. It puts emphasis on social position, accepting class distinctions or racial prejudices, disdaining the poorly educated. All of these act as barriers to the godly view of needing and caring for one’s brothers. Really, when grave difficulties come or severe persecution arises, who will stand by you? Will it not be those who truly love God and Christ no matter what their background?
But besides avoiding snobbish or prejudicial views, what are some positive ways to show our tender affection?
‘IN SHOWING HONOR, TAKE THE LEAD’
Paul gave another valuable guideline when, immediately after exhorting us to have tender affection, he wrote: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Ro 12 Verse 10) This command was not just aimed at the elders, for Paul’s letter was written “to all those who are in Rome as God’s beloved ones.” (Rom. 1:7) Thus all are to be honored and these, in turn, are to honor others.
We honor our brother by showing him deep respect and by taking him seriously. If he expresses himself on some matter that is of concern to him, we would not simply listen to be polite and then ignore his opinion, but we would sincerely give consideration to what he says.
Likewise, sisters in the congregation should be honored, treated respectfully. This contrasts sharply with the view of worldly men today who often dominate women by physical strength and assertiveness. The Christian brother appreciates that he can be manly yet gentle, taking a firm but kindly lead.—1 Pet. 3:7.
The principle of showing honor applies also to the children. For example, at the Kingdom Hall, are they viewed as young Christians or simply as ‘obstacles’ that tend to get underfoot?
A traveling overseer visiting a congregation in a rural area observed an eight-year-old boy who did not have a Bible but was listening intently to his talk. After the meeting, the overseer made a point of speaking with this young member of a newly interested family. Asking the youngster to come outside with him, he located a Bible in the trunk of his car and made the boy a gift of it. The lad was impressed, not only with the gift, but with the way the overseer treated him and the interest shown in his continuing to learn and progress.
Over twenty years later, the boy, now an elder himself, has worn out several copies of the Bible since that first one, but he has never forgotten that overseer’s loving manner. Actually, with all age groups, our showing an interest in them and honoring them builds affection.
“PEACEABLE WITH ALL”
However, to continue showing affection, another quality that Paul stressed in Romans chapter 12 is vital—the quality of peaceableness. Since the apostle directs the Christian to “be peaceable with all men,” how much more so should he strive to keep peaceful relations with his brothers. (Ro 12 Verse 18) One might become very disappointed with a brother over a matter, one perhaps involving gossip or unreliableness in a business arrangement. Even after the problem is straightened out, it would be easy to withhold affection and adopt an attitude of “I’ll never trust him again.”
“Never” is a strong word. How grateful we all can be that Jesus did not feel embittered toward his disciples who abandoned him at the most crucial hour and say: “I’ll never trust those men again!” To the contrary, after seeing their repentance, he forgave them, loved and even honored them. (John 20:19-23; Acts 2:4, 14) Considering Jesus’ ‘largeness of heart,’ should we not be ready to forgive and trust again?
Yet even when motivated to show tender affection, how can we know what is really needed in a particular circumstance?
KNOWING WHAT TO GIVE
We may want to help our brother, out of our keen interest in his spiritual well-being, but what is the best course to take? Why is it that some brothers and sisters seem to have such perception as to the loving thing to do? Undoubtedly, they have learned how to apply Paul’s counsel at Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with people who rejoice; weep with people who weep.”
What quality is here described? It is empathy. This means more than a sympathetic concern for others. Rather, it involves “projecting” ourselves into their circumstances—“participation in another’s feelings.” Obviously, if we really feel deeply the pain, anxiety or joy of another, we are in a far better position to know what he needs at the time. Too, since our own feelings are now involved, we can sincerely express them to the other person.
To illustrate, suppose a brother with a large family loses his job. Certainly a sympathetic remark to the brother reflecting concern would not be wrong. But the empathetic person will go beyond words—feeling the anxiety of his brother—he will think in terms of positive action. Is there a job opening where he himself is presently employed? Does the family need food or transportation to Christian meetings? Thus, empathy, because of the depth of feeling, naturally leads to affection and loving action.—1 John 3:18.
Hence, when we review the desirable qualities that Paul describes in Romans chapter 12, we find, not only the command to have tender affection, but also the motivation and aids to help us genuinely to grow in love. If we ponder on these—
appreciating our interdependency,
showing honor to one another,
maintaining peaceful relations with all,
developing empathy leading to right action—
do they not all encourage brotherly love and tender affection? And, of course, these same principles can build affection in any relationship—between marriage mates, parents and children, or others.
Further, the power of this love to touch lives, and to bring about a new society, is assured. It is demonstrated both in God’s Word and in what is taking place right now in Kingdom Halls around the globe. The international ‘family’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses encourages you to investigate the depth of its brotherhood. In a time when people are frequently without natural affection, the tender affection of true Christians shines as a bright light, a testimony to the wisdom and love of our One Father.