Love in Action for All
"Let brotherly love continue" (Heb 13:1, ESV).
Love forms the heart of authentic Christianity. The God whom we love, worship, and serve "is love"—love defines all that he is in character, ontology (i.e., nature or being), and action (1 John 4:8, 16, ESV). He demonstrated his unfathomable love in an unimaginable way: n the person of the Son, he took upon himself human flesh so that he could be our substitute and die in our place as an atoning sacrifice for sin (Rom 5:8). And he did this when we were morally weak, ungodly, sinful, and enemies of him (Rom 5:6–8, 10). This remarkable love of God is poured into the hearts of those who ask for it by faith (Rom 5:5). What is the purpose of this divine love that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts? The purpose is twofold: (1) to reciprocate God's love with all our heart, soul, and mind and (2) to love others as ourselves (Matt 22:34–40). Jesus called us to love higher, broader, and deeper than even this. He said, "'This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you'" (John 15:12, ESV). Just as God loved us through Christ, giving himself to us self-sacrificially for our redemption, so we are to love others with this quality of profound love. Jesus is our example of how to genuinely love others. In alignment with the teaching and example of Christ, the writer of Hebrews urged us parenetically to let "brotherly[/sisterly] love" continue, remain, or abide (μενέτω [menetō]) among one another (Heb 13:1, ESV). Apparently, we need this reminder because of how easy it is to forget the Christian call to love in a world that is full of both hatred and indifference. Yet, in spite of the negative influences that swirl all around us, we must choose daily to "[p]ursue love" (1 Cor 14:1, ESV). The Greek word used here is interesting. We might expect the word ἀγάπη (agapē), but, in this case, the term φιλαδελφία (philadelphia) is used. The name of the "city of brotherly love"—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—derives from this Greek noun. Φιλαδελφία is composed of two words: (1) φιλία (philia), which means "love," and (2) ἀδελφός (adelphos) or αδελφή (adelphē), which means "brother" or "sister" respectively. To a large degree, ἀγάπη and φιλαδελφία overlap in meaning (especially the root term φιλία), but φιλαδελφία has this connotation of friendly or familial love that is manifest between friends or siblings. The imperative of Heb 13:1, then, is to love one another with the kind of love that is typified internally within a family, and particularly between siblings. Blood bonds run deep and are hard to break. We are called to permit this quality of love to flourish perpetually amongst one another. We are to view one another as brothers and sisters and treat one another accordingly. Therefore, the concern of φιλαδελφία is how we understand our relationship with one another and how we treat one another within the context of that understanding (cf. Rom 12:10; 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Pet 1:22; 2:17; 3:8; 2 Pet 1:7; 1 John 3:10; 4:7, 20, 21). So, how does this kind of love, φιλαδελφία, manifest itself pragmatically and tangibly? The next few verses of Heb 13 describe very practical principles for how to love others in this way. They read, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have" (Heb 13:2–5, ESV). Simple right? (1) Be hospitable (Gen 18:1–21; 19:1–3; Rom 12:13; 1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Pet 4:9). (2) Take care of those less fortunate than yourself—for example, those in prison, those who are mistreated (e.g., abused, oppressed, sidelined, downtrodden, persecuted, impoverished), etc. (Heb 11:37). (3) For those who are married, be faithful to your spouse and your marital covenant with him/her (Exod 20:14; 1 Thess 4:3–5). (4) Do not be covetous or greedy, lusting after others, their money, or their possessions, but be satisfied and content with what you have (Exod 20:17; 1 Tim 3:3; 6:10). Love requires tangible, concrete action for others. Like faith, love without works is dead (Jas 2:14–26). Love is a verb! Furthermore, love implies certain ethical ways of living in relationship with one another. There are certain common-sense things that should not be done to other people whom you love. Love demands a particular kind of treatment of others—treatment that uplifts and empowers others. Deeds of love ascribe dignity, value, worth, respect, honor, and equality to others. That is what it means to let "brotherly[/sisterly] love continue" in your relationships with others (Heb 13:1, ESV). Because of the world of sin in which we live, there will always be people, even in the church, who, for whatever reason, really frustrate us or with whom we just do not get along very well. Perhaps, there are hurts and hang-ups that we have experienced with them. Maybe, we have developed certain prejudices toward them. We may not "feel" like loving them in the ways described in Heb 13:1–5 because we think they do not deserve such love because of this or that thing. But, remember, you yourself do not deserve God's love, yet, while you were an enemy of God, Christ died for you in demonstration of his love (Rom 5:6–8, 10). What a marvelous gift that he gave in spite of our unworthiness! So, no matter how we may "feel," Jesus calls us to love, as he loved, and to treat these "hard-to-love" people as brothers or sisters. Love is a powerful force that can dramatically transform anything for good. If we will let our God of love do his work in our relationships with others, the possibilities are endless. The truth is that those of us who are in Christ are all going to live together in the same heavenly New Jerusalem for all eternity. We ought, then, to learn now how to treat each other with brotherly and sisterly love, so that, when we get to that place that Jesus has prepared for us, we will naturally get along with those individuals who, during our time on earth, really bothered us. Bear in mind that a lack of love for others is a lack of true knowledge of God, and such a lack could cost us the kingdom. I want to encourage you to do a little activity with God to help you grow in love this week. Take some time and make a list of individuals that irritate or frustrate you—those "hard-to-love" people in your life. Pray for those persons on your list, petitioning God that he would pour out his love into their hearts by the Holy Spirit and that they would openly receive this love into their lives. Then, ask God to fill your heart with his divine love and to teach you how to love those "difficult" people in your life. God will answer your prayer of faith. Now, realize that, after praying such a prayer, God is going to place you providentially in situations in which you will have to interact with the people on your list. Make sure your heart is prepared and ready for such encounters so that you can grow in love with them in tangible ways despite their "rough edges" or whatever negativity resides in your heart for them (Prov 25:21–22; Matt 5:43–48). After your prayer, you may even feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to seek out opportunities in order to practice the love of God for those who are on your list. Listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Follow his leadership. He will pour into your heart the love of God and empower you to love even those "difficult" people, as Jesus loved. May God's love be perfected in you (1 John 4:7–12). "Let brotherly/\[/sisterly] love continue" (Heb 13:1, ESV).