I would like to start my talk with a dictionary definition. I’d like to, but I can’t.
You see my talk today is on brotherly kindness and as it turns out those two words do not appear in tandem in Webster’s Dictionary, the bible dictionary, topical guide, or any other reference text found in your quad.
What I did find was a 1991 talk by Russell M. Nelson in which he talks briefly about brotherly kindness. And in that talk he uses this scripture to exemplify the subject.
Ephesians 4:15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
So this scripture makes no mention of kindness or brotherhood. So why did Elder Nelson choose this scripture. Well let’s look at what’s inside this scripture and find out. This scripture is about the community of saints and likening it to a body with Christ as the head. In describing this body of saints Peter uses words like edify, increase, and love.
So with this scripture as a guidepost I set out to write my own definition of brotherly kindness. In crafting my definition I decided to look at literal brothers in the scriptures and learn what their relationships can teach us about how we are supposed to act toward our figurative brothers and sisters here on Earth.
I studied three sets of brothers. Cain and Able, the first brothers mentioned in Genesis, the Prodigal Son and his brother, and finally the sons of Mosiah. Now I realize that these are mostly counter examples, but I think that often times the scriptures teach us effectively by letting us learn from a bad example. And after all, John Steinbeck points out to us in East of Eden that we have more to learn from Cain because we are his children, and often times we, as a fallen human race, have much more in common with Cain than we have with Able.
Now remember as we discuss these stories to keep in mind the words Peter used earlier that exemplify brotherly kindness. Community, Love, and edification.
The most infamous example of failing to show brotherly kindness is the story of Cain, who after killing his brother asked the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” With this iconic phrase Cain attempted to sound indifferent toward his brother. After Cain’s gruesome act he harbored a desire to not associate with his brother and to not be accountable for him to the Lord.
But the murder was not his first sin. Cain failed to show brotherly kindness well before this murder.
19 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
20 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. … And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
26 And Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord.
Cain was wroth that his brother’s offering to the Lord was accepted while his was not. His immediate response was to not listen anymore to the Lord or his brother. He withdrew from this fellowship.
Now Cain had a choice here. Cain could have taken the opportunity to be comforted by his brother. He could have rejoiced in the good fortune of Abel whose offering was accepted. But Cain chose not to do this. Instead of drawing closer to the Lord in humility and drawing closer to his brother in good tidings, he chose to retract. He distanced himself from the lord and his brother.
This incident where Cain refused to show brotherly kindness eventually lead to Cain’s murdering Able. For when God asks afterward what Cain had done, Cain responded by saying “I was wroth that my offering was not accepted.”
Cain displayed the same reaction after he killed Abel that he had after his offering was not accepted. By asking “Am I my brother’s keeper” he was again trying to distance his association with his brother and the Lord.
Now on to example number 2.
When the prodigal son returned after squandering his inheritance on riotous living, his father killed the fatted calf and had a party to celebrate his son’s return.
Now in this story the more righteous brother was the one who was wroth.
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
So in this instance, the Prodigal Sons Brother was again unable to be happy for his brother’s good fortune. He could have chosen to go in and celebrate with his brother, and both would have been edified and uplifted one another. Instead he chose to stay outside. He actively denied himself the joy of fellowship that was his to partake in.
In the end, his father had to come out and explain the party was not an act of favoritism.
So what can we learn from these stories? On the surface it looks like jealousy was these brother’s problem.
Cain and the Prodigal Son’s Brother both were jealous of their brother because the father had showed favor to one over the other.
So both brothers fell into that trap that all humans are subject to. The trap of thinking that life is a zero sum game. That if one person is up the other must be down.
That kind of thinking comes from the brothers’ failure to understand that God’s love is infinite. The brothers failed to comprehend that it would be possible for God to love both sons equally despite the different circumstances.
In this way they failed to comprehend the true nature of God. And as Joseph Smith teaches us in his Lectures on Faith, one must have an understanding of God and his character in order to have faith. Indeed these two brothers did not understand God’s character. Cain even said before the offering and before the murder “Who is God that I should know him?” (Moses 5:16)
So in both these instances the Prodigal Son’s Brother and Cain lacked Faith.
Brotherly Kindness is a remedy to this. In second Peter, Peter teaches us how.
2 Peter 3
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, …
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ
So Peter tells us that if we have brotherly kindness we will gain a knowledge of the Lord and this will help us understand the true nature of God. Then, if we understand God and exercise faith in him we can one day be partakers in his divine nature.
The son’s of Mosiah are my good example. Here we have brothers who went on two very different missions. One converted a King, while the others were thrown into jail. But instead of expressing jealousy, Ammon’s brothers were patient in their sufferings, and Ammon showed empathy by sorrowing in his brothers’ trails.
28 And it came to pass that Ammon and Lamoni proceeded on their journey towards the land of Middoni. And Lamoni found favor in the eyes of the king of the land; therefore the brethren of Ammon were brought forth out of prison.
29 And when Ammon did meet them he was exceedingly sorrowful, for behold they were naked, and their skins were worn exceedingly because of being bound with strong cords. And they also had suffered hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions; nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings.
30 And, as it happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people; therefore they would not hearken unto their words, and they had cast them out, and had smitten them, and had driven them from house to house, and from place to place, even until they had arrived in the land of Middoni; and there they were taken and cast into prison, and bound with strong cords, and kept in prison for many days, and were delivered by Lamoni and Ammon.
In this story we see that selflessness is key to practicing brotherly kindness. Each brother was not focused on their own trails or successes, but rather looked outward at the other brother and sought to share in the experience of the other.
This is in harmony with what Elder Nelson has to tell us about brotherly kindness.
“Brotherly kindness overcomes the rudeness of selfish intent.” (Russel M. Nelson 1991 general conference)
So we have come to the end of my three sets of brothers and learned what we can from their example. Now, after studying all of these things I have come up with my own definition of brotherly kindness.
Brotherly Kindness (noun) – The act of cultivating relationships in a community based on love and a mutual desire to edify and uplift one another.
It is not a perfect definition, but I believe most of the really important things are there, and if we can learn to look beyond ourselves and enjoy the fellowship we are entitled to with our brothers and sisters we can learn to be more like the Savior Jesus Christ and one day become a joint heir with him in the Kingdom of our Father.
And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.