Due to inclement weather, the 9 a.m. service for Sunday, Jan. 20 has been cancelled. We will have one morning service at 10:45 a.m. as road conditions improve.

Love One Another

by Jeremy Shaffer

Have you ever stopped to consider why the phrase “love one another” is a command in Scripture? I think the simple answer is that loving one another is not an easy task.  Loving one another takes work; it often needs to be deliberate; it can be messy, time-consuming, and dangerous, but it can be rewarding, maturing, and addicting.  The church of today continues to struggle with this one simple command.  Books have been written to help believers better implement this command, annual conferences are held to talk about the newest methods of loving one another, and church leaders are constantly assessing their ministries in the context of loving one another.  Jesus has already issued the command to love one another, and that command is reinforced throughout the New Testament (i.e. First John), but practically speaking, how are we to go about doing it?  Thankfully, the author of the Book of Hebrews answers this question by giving us four distinct ways in which we show love to one another.    

Loving One Another must be habitual

Hebrews 13:1 says, “Let brotherly love continue.”  Did you notice the tense of the command in this verse?  Brotherly love was already a distinguishing mark of the early church.  In first-century culture, the relationship between siblings was the closest and strongest of relationships; many times, that love exceeded the love for a child.  However, time, stress, conflict, and a multitude of other causes can strain even the tightest bonds; the author of Hebrews is worried that their love will fade, and his concerns are duly noted.  If there is any love that ought to remain habitual through life’s journey, it ought to be our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Based upon the blood of Jesus Christ, each believer has an obligation to love one another.  Now, I know that some believers might rub you the wrong way; you don’t have to like them, but you are commanded to love them.  The family of God is not a family of competition; it’s a family of cooperation.  Every believer desires to run a race that is faithful to the end, and your family, the body of Christ, are the ones who can help you reach that goal.

Any discipline, whether faithfully reading your Bible daily or preparing your body for an Olympic competition, requires the most basic action: practice.  “Practice makes perfect,” says the adage, but let’s polish that phrase with practice can make you better.  On this side of heaven, we will never be able to love one another perfectly, but as each day passes, we can do better.  Do we really expect to win Olympic gold with only a few practice sessions under our belt?  Of course not!  Every human being has a sin nature and is inherently only interested in themselves; therefore, demonstrating love for others will not come naturally; it will take work, and it must be intentional.    

Loving One Another must be hospitable

Hebrews 13:2 reads, “Do not forget to entertain strangers,” but a more literal reading from the Greek text would say hospitality, do not neglect.  Hospitality was a vital part of first-century culture, and it continues to be highly prized in many Middle Eastern countries.  The author of Hebrews reminds his readers to make sure they are not neglecting hospitality to two groups: strangers and prisoners.  The term stranger could mean a fellow brother in Christ, or it could mean an unbeliever.  The latter designation is probably the better of the two options based on the larger context of Hebrews 13.  Regardless, the believing community was to show hospitality towards those inside or outside their communities.  

In the first century, travel was rather difficult, and inns were not always the safest places to lodge, and sometimes (in the case of the birth of Christ) they were booked up.  Inns were notoriously dangerous and immoral; they were targets for thieves and prostitutes.  So, Christians would welcome traveling believers, especially those laboring in the gospel, into their homes, even if they had never met them. To open up your home to a traveling stranger evidenced brotherly love and was considered a high virtue in first-century society.  The earliest Christian assemblies met in homes that provided a natural setting for extending hospitality toward strangers as well as traveling missionaries (i.e., Paul and his team or missionaries that visit churches today).  Practicing this hospitality could put Christians in a vulnerable position.  An early Christian handbook called The Didache, section 11.4-6, states these cautious words:

“Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stays three days, he is a false prophet.  And when an Apostle goes forth let him accept nothing but bread till he reach his night lodging; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet.”  

The command to be hospitable must be blended with some common sense about our human nature.  We should be generous and ready to share, but we should not foster someone’s irresponsible habits.  

Furthermore, as Hebrews 13:2 continues, sometimes those strangers who were shown hospitality could be supernatural beings.  Since the writer of Hebrews uses extensive Old Testament allusions and quotations, he could likely be referencing an Old Testament narrative at this point.  For example, in Genesis 18 and 19, Abraham and later Lot welcomed strangers and treated them as family, not knowing they were supernatural beings.  The point is not that we should open our homes up to every stranger in hopes of receiving a supernatural being; the point is that we may never know the far-reaching effect of our simple act of hospitality.  The stranger(s) to whom you show hospitality might be a bigger blessing to you in return, as the supernatural beings were to Abraham and Lot.  Hebrews 13:3 introduces another group to be hospitable towards: prisoners.  A guest may come unannounced, but prisoners must be sought out.  Who are they?  The author of Hebrews is not explicitly referring to criminals (although we should go to prisons and share the gospel with them); the context takes us back to Hebrews 10:32-33, where we read that some believers were imprisoned for their faith and are suffering in chains.  Listen to the passage:

“But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated.”

These imprisoned Christians must not be forgotten.  How could you forget something traumatic like this?  In the first century, prisoners were treated poorly and relied on family and friends for necessities.  In the Roman system, prisoners were not given anything other than a bit of bread and water by the jailer, and even that could be withheld.  Incarceration was not a form of punishment; it was a holding pattern until a judgment was rendered, and it could go on for an extended period.  This meant that outside help would be needed if the prisoner were to get sick, become malnourished, or even die.  

Don’t miss the nuance in the text.  It may be that some believers were withholding help to their fellow believers who were imprisoned.  Why?   If they entered the jail and provided help to their fellow believers, then they would come face to face with their suffering and shame.  In other words, they would get their hands dirty helping their fellow believers, and sadly, some believers chose to avoid such situations.  I’m so glad Jesus didn’t avoid coming into a sin-cursed world to bring aid to the world.  He even took on flesh and became a man so that He could become intimately connected with our pain and suffering.  Jesus was not embarrassed by being associated with our pain and suffering, He knew the full extent of what it would cost Him when He willingly stepped into a human body.  

Loving One Another must be honorable

The topic of marriage introduced in Hebrews 13:4 might seem like an abrupt change in the text, but if you look closer you will begin to see all the connections.  The word honor is part of traditional wedding vows and part of some familiar Bible verses, too, like “honor your father and mother.”  Honor carries the idea of exceptional value or highly prized.  The institution of marriage, the author of Hebrews says, should be honorable by all.  You might be tempted to look at our current day and assume that our current view of marriage is much worse than that of the first century.  Don’t be blinded!  Whether living in the first century or the twenty-first century, the institution of marriage has been a target and will continue to be a target by the forces of darkness.  When a husband and wife enter the bonds of marriage, they declare that the institution of marriage is honorable.  It is highly prized and valued because it has been ordained and designed by God.  A husband and wife are setting an example of honoring what the Lord honors.  

Now comes the contrast, “but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”  Fidelity to one’s spouse is crucial if the marriage is to be highly prized; when the marriage is defiled, then some of the value of marriage is lost.  When a man and a woman enter a marriage covenant, the expectation is that they will remain loyal and faithful to each other as long as they live.  The very heart of marriage is tied to unselfishness; when your desire is to put your spouse’s needs above your own – this is love in action.  Fornicators and adulterers are examples of those who have selfish motives, being ruled by their own passions and only concerned with loving themselves.  The simple point to be learned is that remaining faithful to the spouse you’ve committed yourself to is an example of showing love to others.  How are you supposed to love your other brothers and sisters in Christ if you can’t love the one you’ve committed your life to?  

Loving One Another must be about HIM

Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have…”  The covetous or greedy man pursues selfish aims, whether immoral desires (v.4) or financial desires (v.5), without regard to the rights of others.  Don’t be a lover of your possessions is what the author of Hebrews is reminding the early church.  Worldly possessions are not wrong; improper use of, abuse, and love for them often derails believers without prejudice.  Did you know that money and/or possessions are the fourth most taught subject by Jesus in the Gospels? (In case you were curious, the kingdom of God, God the Father, and faith are the top three). One of the most significant and well-known lessons that Jesus taught about possessions is found in Matthew 6:24:

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and riches.”    

Jesus was concerned about the danger of making money or possessions the center of one’s affections.  Jesus also called the Pharisees “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14).  He called them out for their lack of trust in God’s care and provision.  For the readers of the book of Hebrews, this appeal had special relevance.  In earlier days, when they had been subjected to public abuse and arrest, and some had been imprisoned, they remained steadfast in their faith even though this meant losing some of their possessions (Hebrews 10:34).  Love for our Christian brothers and sisters and unbelievers stands in contrast to the love of possessions and riches, it is an ugly expression of deep-rooted selfishness.  When a person is consumed with what they have, they become utterly selfish.  Furthermore, how are believers to be selfless, considering the needs of others when increasing their net worth is what fills their heart?  God expects us to be wise about managing what He has entrusted to us, but the “love of” enters the picture when those possessions control us.

1 Timothy 6:10 contains the phrase that most believers have heard, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” but what about the rest of the verse?  Why is the rest of the verse not memorized and quoted completely? We’ve missed something important.  Here is the whole verse:

“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

People can be so enamored and overtaken with their riches and possessions that it can cause them to stray from the faith.  Believers who love their possessions more than they love God pierce themselves through with many sorrows; it has the idea of impaling oneself.  It renders the person immovable.  What a believer has in Christ is far more important than any earthly treasure.  It’s about His presence in our lives, not the possessions that we amass.  Our contentment in this life will only be learned and experienced through a selfless life.  It was the selfless act of God that gave us the Son as a sacrifice for our sins, and it was the selfless obedience of the Son to the will of the Father.  HE is our contentment!  For as Hebrews 13:6 points out, He will never leave us or forsake us. Our contentment is based on the solemn and sure promise of God’s unfailing presence and care.  I am HIS and HE is mine.  How many times have we sought the things of the world to fill the void in our lives, when we knew that only the presence of God could fill the void?  

Beloved! If we know that His presence is with us, then should we not seek His help? “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear, what can man do unto me?”  This quotation comes from Psalm 118:6, which is the middle verse of the entire Bible.  The very center of the Bible reminds us of the amazing promise that God is our helper and we have absolutely nothing to fear.  When we fall in love with HIM repeatedly, day after day, year after year, then loving others may get easier, or it might become more difficult.  In this great task of simply loving one another, we must not get discouraged, nor should we fear.  The Lord is with us, and He is our helper in this pursuit to love one another better, deeper, and fuller.    

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