“Let brotherly love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)
The New Testament resounds with the command to love the “brothers,” an idiom for fellow believers in the faith (Matt. 22:39; John 13:34; Rom. 13:8; 1 Cor. 13; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 2:10; 3:10, 4:7). The word “love” used in Hebrews 13:1 is φιλαδελφία transliterated from the Greek as philadelphia which means “Love of brothers or sisters, brotherly love; in the NT the love which Christians cherish for each other as brethren.” We all have heard of Philadelphia before because it is known as the city of brotherly love.
Christians are to love one another because Jesus has loved them first.
1 Thessalonians 4:9 declares, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” Loving other believers should be as easy as falling off a log. Christians should not wait to get to church where they can drink in the fellowship of the godly. For the early church, the fellowship of their new brothers and sisters was delectably mysterious to them and they rejoiced in plumbing the depths of each other’s souls.
Brotherly love is to be a telltale sign of the salvation of the people of God.
As the Apostle John would later write in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” The impulse of the early church to brotherly love provided a sweet, inner self-authentication. It also announced to the world that their faith was the real thing as noted in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What a glorious phenomenon brotherly love is, a sense of the same paternity—a brotherly and sisterliness taught by God—a desire to climb into each other’s souls, a sweet inner authentication, and the sign of the real thing to the world.
Christians are to practice brotherly love.
Inwardly, this requires that we will consider the stupendous implications of our shared regeneration, that we truly are brothers and sisters. And those terms “brother” and “sister” are more than sentimental notions. Though we are millions, we share only one Father. And we will still be brothers and sisters when the sun is no more. God is pleased when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity (Psalm 133 and John 17). Our status as brothers and sisters in Christ is truly an eternal bond to be treasured. Outwardly, we must will to say and do only those things that will enhance our philadelphia. Furthermore, we must will to love one another because of the gospel.
Jesus commanded brotherly love.
When Jesus readied his disciples on the night of his arrest, he gave them one clear command to guide them in the days ahead:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
As we look at the message of Hebrews 13:1, it must be noted the Book of Hebrews was sent to a body of Jewish believers who were tempted to revert from Christianity back to Judaism in order to escape persecution. The great refrain of Hebrews is both a warning against apostasy, against a falling away from the faith, and an exhortation to hold fast to Christ for salvation. Five times this warning is given in one form or another, including the one at the end of chapter 12 referring to the voice of God in the gospel: “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (v.25).
Not unlike Jesus on the night of his departure from the twelve disciples, the writer of Hebrews prepares to leave his readers, and in this last chapter he gives his final words of exhortation. It is no surprise, therefore, that he begins in the same manner Jesus did, exhorting them in verse 1 to “Let brotherly love continue.” Hebrews 13 begins with a command for Christians to take seriously, “Let brotherly love continue.” We are to live continually by this principle as Christianity is all about being in the family of God. And the church is to be a community characterized by family love.
Francis Schaeffer on Christian love
One person who wrote much about Christian love was Francis Schaeffer. Much of his life was caught up in church disputes that were quite divisive. Schaeffer was known as a powerful defender of Christian doctrines, yet at the same time he strove to maintain love within the body of believers. One of his books begins with these words:
“Through the centuries men have displayed many different symbols to show that they are Christians. They have worn marks in the lapels of their coats, hung chains about their necks, even had special haircuts. But there is a much better sign. It is a universal mark that is to last through all ages of the church until Jesus comes back.”1
That mark is love among Christians, and Schaeffer proves it with Jesus’ teaching of John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is a conditional statement predicated on the reality that if we love one another, the result will be that people will see this as the mark identifying the disciples of Jesus.
In another of his excellent books Schaeffer writes, “Evangelism is a calling but not the first calling. A Christians first call is to return to the first commandment to love God, to love the brotherhood, and then to love one’s neighbor as himself.”2 This means we are to show love as an essential part of our witness, but more importantly because God is love and we are called to be like Him in the world. The Apostle John puts this in challenging terms:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
Simply put, loving others is an outflow of our relationship with God. It is how we show gratitude for His love to us.
Christian love is a fruit of the new birth, a necessary by-product of becoming a Christian. To love one another is not a suggestion; it is a command grounded in the finished work of Jesus Christ. When Christians love one anothe, they bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:1) and seek to faithfully live out the “one another” passages in the New Testament. All of this is because of the Gospel which provides the basis for loving God and loving others.
Brothers and sisters, let’s love one another because of the great work of God’s grace. The Christian who has been born again can’t help but love his brothers and sisters in Christ because they know it is the love of God in Christ that has wooed and won them over. The world doesn’t get this. They are greatly confused about love. So let us all the more love one another as Jesus has loved us and demonstrate His love within the confines of our local churches and to a watching world to the glory of God.