In the Lord Jesus Christ
I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
-1 Thessalonians 5:27
Throughout Paul's writings in the New Testament, he uses the word "brethren" when he writes to the churches. This word comes from the Greek word adelphos, which is one of the oldest words in the New Testament. In the King James Version, it is usually translated as the word "brethren." However, it actually has a much deeper meaning than this.
In its very oldest sense, the word adelphos ("brother") was used by physicians in the medical world to describe two people who were born from the same womb. So when the early Greeks addressed each other as "brethren," they meant to convey the idea: "You and I are brothers! We came out of the same womb of humanity. We have the same feelings; we have similar emotions; and we deal with the same problems in life. In every respect, we are truly brothers!"
In part, this was Paul's thinking when he addressed his readers as "brethren." By using this terminology, he brought himself right down to the level of his readers to identify with their position in life and with their personal struggles and victories. They were truly brothers - born from the womb of God, related by the blood of Jesus Christ, and members of the same spiritual family.
But the word "brethren" also had another very significant meaning during New Testament times, a meaning that it doesn't have in our world today. It was used during the time of Alexander the Great to describe faithful soldiers. These fighting men were true brothers, comrades, and partners who were united to fight the same fight, handle the same weapons, and win the same wars!
From time to time, Alexander the Great would hold huge public ceremonies where he would give awards to soldiers who had gone the extra mile in battle. When the most coveted awards were given, Alexander the Great would beckon the most faithful soldiers on stage to stand next to him. Before an audience of adoring soldiers, Alexander would embrace each faithful soldier and publicly declare, "Alexander the Great is proud to be the brother of this soldier!"
That word "brother" was this same Greek word adelphos, but in this instance, it referred to military men who were brothers in battle. This was the highest and greatest compliment that could be given to a solider during the time of Alexander the Great.
Thus, to be a "brother" meant that a person was a true comrade. Through the thick and thin of battle, these soldiers stood together, achieving a special level of brotherhood known only by those who stay united together in the heat of the fray. This was also part of what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Early Church.
When Paul called his fellow Christians "brothers," he was telling them:
"In addition to being blood brothers, we are all in a similar fight, slugging it out against the same enemy - and this common fight makes us real comrades."
I'm sure that Paul's readers were probably struggling in their personal lives, just as we do today, but they hadn't given up the fight. They were still on the front lines, slugging it out and plodding along, one step at a time. They were the kind of believers who are worth knowing and worthy to be called brothers because they possessed an ongoing commitment to stay faithful in the battle and committed to the cause.
No matter how well or how badly these believers were doing in the midst of their fight, at least they were still fighting! Others had given up, but they had not. As long as they remained faithful to the fight and refused to relinquish their stand of faith, Paul viewed them as exceptionally fine soldiers - the kind of soldiers anyone would be happy to associate with!
The word "brother" emphatically declares that it's not really how well you fight in life that counts. What really counts is that you keep on fighting! So don't give up on yourself, and don't give up on those believers around you who seem to be struggling. As long as they keep on trying - as long as they stay in the battle - they're worthy of your friendship! You should be proud to be associated with people of such a spiritual caliber!