Tale of Two Brothers – Part 1
I’d like to introduce two people whom I’ve met during the years of my ministry.
I’ll introduce them, except they don’t represent exact people—down to every detail—but these are definitely two kinds of people whom I have ministered to over the years. These two people you could consider typical or representative of two styles of Christian life.
I think that we can learn a lot from both of them—both in warning and in encouraging—and learning particularly about the value of being in the Scriptures, of reading, and meditating, and listening and obeying the Word of God.
I call them Brother 1 and Brother 2. And when I say “brother,” realize that so much of this could also apply to a sister, a young woman, a student, a mother.
This is a brother who is a lot like a lot of us. That is, he was raised in a Christian home. He was born to believing parents, he was baptized, he was taught to pray at mealtimes, “Lord, bless this food for Jesus’ sake, Amen”, and he was sent to a Christian school for twelve or thirteen years. He went to church twice every Sunday and he attended Catechism for several years. Then he decided that it was about time to profess his faith, so that’s what he did. Maybe his story sounds familiar to you—it certainly does to me!
His story continues: Brother 1 is married now, and he’s got three kids. He and his wife belong to the same church that he grew up in, and next year the oldest of his children will be attending the same school that he once went to.
Brother 1 is a nice guy. Whenever we get the opportunity to have fellowship, I enjoy his company. He is polite, always ready to laugh, and he works hard at his job.
But of course, when you visit for an hour or two, or when you chat at church, you don’t notice everything—not at first, anyway. You might catch a hint here or there, but not the whole picture. Only later do you find out. Only when you press a bit do you find out. And this is what I’ve learned about him.
Brother 1 works really hard, I said. I think he is providing well for his family, but it comes at a high cost. He is away from home a lot, from very early in the morning to late in the afternoon or early evening. Sometimes the work spills over into Saturday, so that by the time Sunday comes, he is just totally exhausted. I’ve seen him from my perch on the pulpit, and he’s struggling to stay awake.
And during the week, it’s no better. When he comes home from work, he is really tired. A quick shower, dinner with the family, some bedtime routines with the kids, and then he collapses onto his chair in the lounge. Most nights he sits there for a couple hours, watching whatever looks interesting on Netflix. He sits there until he falls asleep, and then he stumbles off to bed. Tomorrow will be another early start.
There are things that I appreciate about Brother 1, and I love him dearly. But something is wrong with his life. It’s not immediately obvious, but true.
First, he is not a strong spiritual leader for his wife. He could take more initiative and set a different tone around the house. Related to that is a second concern, that he finds it really hard to teach his children about things like Christian living. It’s like he doesn’t have that much to say to them, besides getting them to say “Please” and “thank you” and to say their prayers. Third, he’s not really engaged in church life. He doesn’t go to Bible study, doesn’t take a lot of time for fellowship, and lately it seems to happen more than it used to that he’s not in church in the afternoon. So overall, Brother 1 seems weak, indifferent, complacent, lukewarm. I look at him and I fear that he’s drifting.
What is at the heart of this? I can’t say for sure, of course. But here’s what I know, and here’s what I think is critical.
Brother 1 is a stranger to Scripture.
To be sure, he reads it with his wife and kids at dinner time. And of course, he opens it at church. Some nights he manages to read a Psalm before he falls unconscious. Yet he’s a stranger to Scripture.
Sure, he knows many of the Bible stories, about Noah and Abraham and David and Jesus and Paul. He could probably say most of the 66 books in the right order, though he has a hard time finding Zephaniah. He can remember a few things from his years of Catechism class, things like “the accursed idolatry” and the definition of true faith. But he’s a stranger to Scripture.
Why is that? There is no profound or mysterious reason here, nothing that would surprise you. He’s a stranger to the Bible because he doesn’t read it. He is up early, we said—hardly time for a bowl of cereal, let alone a page of Deuteronomy. Then he is super busy all day. On Saturdays he likes to take out the boat, Sundays are for taking naps, and Monday it all starts again.
Brother 1 knows the same things that we do. He knows that it’s good to read the Bible, that it is good to prayerfully study it, to listen to preaching, and so on. He knows all that, but so far he hasn’t really worked with it.
Consequently, he struggles to remember when he last sat down with Scripture and really took the time to absorb it, to think about it, to pray over it. I said that Brother 1 doesn’t read the Bible, because there’s a massive difference between opening the Bible to the next Psalm, skimming it quickly, rushing off to your day (or to sleep) – AND opening the Bible, reading the text slowly, pondering it, praying it, actually focusing on it. There’s such a world of difference that the first kind of reading can hardly be called reading. It’s the reading demanded by ritual, it’s the reading required by the dinnertime checklist.
And so the Bible remains something foreign to my brother. It’s an uncomfortable companion, a large and intimidating volume. And this is a really crucial reason why, I think, he struggles to lead his wife, or to teach his children, or has little motivation to engage in church life.
No, I am quite certain that this is actually the major factor behind his being indifferent and lukewarm. He’s missing out on Scripture’s priceless wisdom, its warm encouragements, its powerful lessons, its direct admonitions. He’s probably still benefiting a bit from family Bible reading, and from the preaching on Sundays, but these are but the briefest of moments in a busy life. We need more than this. For him it could be so much different—it could be so much better.
What comes of a person like this? I don’t know. Is Brother 1 moving forwards or backwards? Where will he be in twenty years? Put another way, what’s the destination of a complacent Christian? Or is that a contradiction in terms, an impossibility?
So what will come of Brother 1? Will he ever change? Maybe God will send a trial that shakes up his safe little world—his wife gets breast cancer, he loses his job, his dad dies suddenly—a trial that causes him to crave what is truly important, to open Scripture and embrace its truths. Or maybe God will use a powerful sermon to cut him to the heart, and move him to repent of his sin. Maybe he’ll meet a friend who challenges him, who takes the time to exhort him, and who helps him to grow.
That would be wonderful. I hope this will happen, but it’s far from certain. Meanwhile, our brother continues along, essentially a stranger to Scripture.
He’s a nice guy, but in the end, it’s not enough to be nice.
I have met Brother 1 in many places over the years. I always find his story to be sad—sad, because it doesn’t have to be this way. And that’s why I introduce you to him. You’re not so different from Brother 1. Even if you’re a young woman, or you’re unmarried, or you’re in school, you’re not so different from him. For we have essentially the same opportunities that he has, and the same fundamental calling.
The question for our brother is the same as the question for all of us: Will I be a stranger to the Scriptures? And if I am, what am I missing out on?
Next time I’ll introduce you to Brother 2.