The Life List: 'Brotherly' Love (Hebrews 13:1-3)

Aristides, a philosopher who converted to Christianity, recorded the following observations around 125 AD concerning followers of Christ:

“For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs.  

They honor father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure. And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a recompense to come in the other world. 

Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction. They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting.  

And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food.  

They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him. And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. [1]

Aristides observed what the thirteenth chapter in Hebrews commands: “Let brotherly love (“philadephia – love of siblings; friendship or partnership) continue among you.” To understand why the early church took this so seriously, look no further than the text.“Our God is a consuming fire” (12:28) is followed immediately by “let brotherly love continue” (13:1). God will burn out unholiness so that what is left is pure and undefiled. After 12 chapters on theology, the writer of Hebrews finishes with what our lives look like when our theology is purified. In other words:

  • Purification inside us changes our focus around us. 

  • As we see the world in new ways, we act in new ways. 

  • Doctrine leads to duty.

  • Belief announces itself in behavior. [2]

  • People will know who or what we love when they see who and how we love.

The rest of Hebrews is basically a list of what it looks like to live in holy philadelphia love (which is a very close cousin toagapelove). I’m focusing on only the next two verses today, because I want us to have time to settle into all of these. 

Don’t forget to extend your hospitality to all—even to strangers—for as you know, some have unknowingly shown kindness to heavenly messengers in this way.[3] Remember those imprisoned for their beliefs as if you were their cellmate; and care for any who suffer harsh treatment, as you are all one body.

This is hardly the only time this is talked about in Scripture. The concept starts in the Old Testament when God’s people are called to be hospitable and continues into the New.

  • “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt…” (Leviticus 19:34)

  • “(The LORD your God) give justice to the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the foreigner by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for them, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:1819)

  • “The stranger has not lodged outside, for I have opened my doors to the traveler.” (Job 31:32)

  • “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (philadelphia); outdo yourselves in honoring one another.” (Romans 12:10)

  • “Now as to the love of the brethren (philadelphia), you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love (agape) one another.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9

  • 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me…” to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' " (Jesus, in Matthew 25)

  • "Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without complaint.[4](1 Peter 4:89)

  • "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love for each other (philadelphia), fervently love one another from the heart for you have been reborn - not of a plant seed which is perishable but a spiritual seed that is imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Peter 1:22,23)

Our passage today is, I believe, targeted specifically toward our hospitality and concern toward those in the body of Christ. The biblical narrative as a whole broadens the concept: God’s people are to be hospitable, compassionate and caring, because God did that for us as demonstrated ultimately in the person of Jesus. 

David Brooks tells the story of a woman who was shot in the face by two pre-teen boys. She survived. What stood out to her was the terror in the shooters’ eyes (it was part of a gang initiation). When she recovered, she committed her life to reaching out to this population. Eventually, she was hosting up to 40 boys a weekend in her home. One time she asked them, “Why do you hang out with a middle-aged woman on the weekends?” And they said,  “Because you are the only one who will open the door.”

I wonder: do people experience the church as the place that will open the door? Do people experience us individually as the people who will open the door? This can’t mean all the time to everybody, because that’s not sustainable and might be foolish at times. But it has to at least meansome of the time to somebody;it probably meansbe willing at all times to show hospitality and concern to someone in some way… likelyat cost.

We are to show this kind of love to all people, beginning with our brothers and sisters in the church. This is hard.  

“Brotherly love is a tender plant which requires much attention: if it be not watched and watered, it quickly wilts… It is not a native of the soil of fallen human nature—“hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3) is a solemn description of what we were in our unregenerate state. Yes, brotherly love is a very tender plant and quickly affected by the cold air of unkindness, easily nipped by the frost of harsh words. If it is to thrive, it must needs be carefully protected and diligently cultivated.  (A.W. Pink)[5]

Our heart and mind, our focus as a way of passing on the love God has given to us, is to look for and look out for others, first in the church and then in the community. 

HOW TO LOSE BROTHERLY LOVE

1. Destructive theology. Hebrews 1-12 should make the importance of truth clear. It’s the foundation on which love is built. If we misunderstand God, we will misunderstand God’s love, and we will love people poorly. For example, don’t isolate Jesus’ interaction with people.  #bigpicture

2. Differences in opinion and practice about secondary, “open hand” things.There are a lot of things capable of dividing Christians. I saw two church splits when I was growing up, one over End Times and one over coverings. That seems foolish when you see it on a group level, but we divide on an individual level all the time on secondary things. Jesus unites us.

3. Unreflective/unsurrendered character.All I mean by this is that if you want to settle for immaturity and offensiveness, you will poison the community. You need me to grow up. I need you to grow up. Our commitment to holy maturity in the midst of our imperfection is of great importance to the community. 

4. Looking for offense/needing a conflict.Some people thrive on conflict. They need to be worked up about something. Others are determined to hear what you say in the worst possible way. There is no benefit of the doubt; there is always the detriment of the doubt. 

5. Lording or envying power/gifts.If you need people to know how amazing you are, it’s going to undermine community. If you can’t stand how amazing other people are, it’s going to do the same. 

6. Self-centeredness.If you show up every Sundayonlythinking, “What’s in it for me today?” you are probably going to have ongoing experiences of disappointment as the church and the people in it constantly fail to meet your expectations. Church is for you, but it’s not aboutyou. 

7. Unchecked sin.This isn’t about struggling with sin. I’m talking about settling into sin and being content with surrendering an area of your life to the chains of sin. Sin is never merely personal. It is always communal. It always has a ripple effect, because it impacts your heart, soul, mind and strength. 

8. Aloofness.Community gatherings are a time to engage. We don’t all have to be extroverts, right? We don’t all have to engage the same way. But it’s a time to let brotherly love continue, and that starts with engagement. If people can come to our church gatherings and walk away without being noticed and engaged, we have failed. If we are not in an ongoing cycle of meeting new people andpressing in to those we know, we are failing to represent a God who is interested in all of us. 

 

HOW TO KEEP BROTHERLY LOVE

1. Experiencing and passing on grace.We experience it in two ways: through Christ and through others. We receive kindness, love and forgiveness that we do not deserve. Then we pass it on.To whom much has been given, much is required, right? That requirement is, I suspect, paying grace forward. #parableoftheunforgivingservant

2. Knowing duty within our family.When Braden got home from college this summer, we talked about what his duties were at home. He’s part of the family. He can contribute. He will contribute. We have duties as children of God. Here’s one: “Let brotherly love continue.” We don’t sign up for the Kingdom and just soak up the blessings and privileges of becoming a child of God. We pass it on. With great blessing comes great responsibility.  

3. Pursuing and embracing sanctification (the process of growth and maturity).He who has begun a good work in us will continue it. This is the opposite of avoiding maturity. This is walking into and embracing the process of becoming mature in Christ – which almost certainly means in Christ’s community as well.  #bible #holyspirit  #honesty #accountability 

4. Making peace.When we enter into a situation with conflict, do we irritate it or soothe it? (We don’t avoid it; that’s not peace making.) 

  • Are we gracious when we speak truth? 

  • Do we give the benefit of the doubt to others? 

  • Do we clarify before we reach conclusions? 

  • Do we genuinely listen before we respond? 

  • Do others know we are having conflict with them because we love them and genuinely care for them?

5. Boundaries. Jackie Kaschel offered a great definition of generosity in Message Plus last week: giving to others what they need. Sometimes they need boundaries.Sometimes, the most generous thing you can do is say, “no,” or “stop,” or “not in my house,” or “let me know when you are ready to be serious about this.”

6. Other centeredness.This is an outlook whereby we focus on and really see those around us. In the overall process of church community life, two things should happen: we are filled up,and we are spilled out.

There are obviously times when we need to receive, rest, and experience renewal from God and God’s people. That’s how church is for us. But that’s not all the church is meant to do. The church is the place where we do that for others from our abundance – relationally, emotionally, financially. Maybe JFK was right: “Ask not what your church can do for you; ask what you can do for your church.” If we all take that approach, I think we will find that we are filled up even as we give. Love those already in your ‘circle’. Expand your circle in some fashion. Look for opportunities to invest in anyone. 

“When people make generosity part of their daily routine, they refashion who they are. The interesting thing about your personality, your essence, is that it is not more or less permanent like your leg bone. Your essence is changeable, like your mind. Every action you take, every thought you have, changes you, even if just a little, making you a little more elevated or a little more degraded. If you do a series of good deeds, the habit of other-centeredness becomes gradually engraved into your life. It becomes easier to do good deeds down the line.  If you lie or behave callously or cruelly toward someone, your personality degrades, and it is easier for you to do something even worse later on…The people who radiate a permanent joy have given themselves over to lives of deep and loving commitment.”  - David Brooks, The Second Mountain

 RECOMMENDED VIDEOS

·      Christy Nockels, “By Our Love”

·      Matt Maher, “Hold Us Together”

·      Matthew West, “Do Something”

·      Casting Crowns, “If We Are The Body”

·      Casting Crowns, “Love Them Like Jesus”

·      Gospel-Motivated Hospitality (https://vimeo.com/100275606)

·      Word Study – Agape – The Bible Project (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slyevQ1LW7A)

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[1] http://www.earlychristanwritings.com/text/aristides-kay.html

[2] https://www.preceptaustin.org/hebrews_131-2

[3] Note: inns at that time were notoriously unsafe and immoral. Not to take in a fellow Christian would almost force them into a compromising environment.

[4] John gives three characteristics of true love for our brethren: doing righteousness (1 John 3:10); willingness to die for them (1 John 3:16); willingness to share our possessions with them (1John 3:17).

[5] There is room here for discernment. The early church writing are full of warnings against those who take and don’t give, or who try to get wealthy off of the generosity of others. They are imposters; they are to be booted from the community. The Didache limits hospitality to itinerant preachers to three days max. A Roman satirist named Lucian made fun of Christians for being suckered by a dude named Proteus Peregrinis, a charlatan who became wealthy off of their generosity. 

[6] I am appreciative to John Owen for the original list, which I have edited for my purposes.