Throughout the book of Hebrews we have learned a good deal about God’s holiness. The sobriety of the warnings, the gravity of Christ’s sacrifice should remind us that God is a consuming fire. Yet I hope we have also learned much about God’s love.
Every argument contained in this book was penned with love and designed to capture (or even rekindle) our love for Him.
It is, then, no wonder that these words about love mark the conclusion of this book. The author has called us to give our singular love to Christ. Now he shows us how our love for Him love should be manifest. If we truly do love Christ, then we must love one another with the same red hot love that he himself demonstrates.
Here in this passage we see that he focuses our love upon three specific targets. In verse one he specifies the believers in our local fellowship. In verse two he expands the proximity of our love to encompass those who are perfect strangers. Then, in verse three, he tells us that our love must express a specific sympathy for those who are mistreated.
And as we examine these things in more depth we will see that, even as our God is a consuming fire, we are called to a robust, red-hot love.
Of course, the one place where our love must be the strongest is here within our own congregation. Perhaps that’s why he begins where he does in verse 1.
I. We must love our brethren
Verse 1 says, “Let brotherly love continue.”
There are two things I want you to note about this love that we are to have for each other. First of all, I want you to think of the nature of this love. Or maybe, I should put it this way: I want you to consider the depth of this love.
The word that is used here is the word “Philadelphia.” It is an interesting word because it stresses the particular kind of love that we are to show. Philadelphia is “brotherly love;” just like the city of Philadelphia is the “City of brotherly love.”
Our love for each other is to have a fraternal quality. We are to see each other as siblings, and we are to treat each other with the same kind of love that exists between such relations.
Now I want you to understand that this is one of the deepest bonds that the author could draw from to express the depth of love that we should have for one another. This image of brotherhood signifies a profound level of commitment and sacrifice.
In Proverbs 18 it says, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Now when it says that this friend sticks closer than a brother, he’s taking the strongest bond of love that he can think of and trying to add another degree of depth to it. He’s trying to “one up” brotherly love. In other words, there are friends, and then there are brothers. Brothers stick close to one another. They are united by blood and there is a union between them that cannot be broken. Brother’s are brothers through the thick and thin.
So the person who wrote this proverb is trying to say that there is one friend that is radical. His love is so radical that he’s never going to leave you nor forsake you. His love is just out of the ordinary, extraordinary! That’s why I think it is talking about God’s love. One that is basically supernatural.
But you understand that to show the depth of God’s love he had to draw from the family and, in particular, he had to draw from a brother’s love.
I’d be good to remember how brothers love each other though. It is interesting to watch brothers and how they relate to one another. They are always grappling with one another, aren’t they. They have a unique relationship in that they can inflict pain upon each other and do it lovingly. Yet, the very moment that one brother is attacked by someone else, the other brother immediately stands up for him.
That union, that bond, is to characterize the love we express for one another. You must understand that you are in a special covenant with the others around you. You have been brought into the family of God, and as such you have been united to each other. And therefore, you must remain fully committed to them no matter what. No matter their faults or failings, you must love them.
And we are to grapple with one another. When we sin, we should embrace our brother and wrestle him until the issue is resolved. Or, if someone attacks us from the outside, we stand with him and do everything within our power to protect him.
And we should do that because this is exactly the kind of love that Christ himself shows us.
Christ’s love is a brotherly love because his love is covenantal. He has committed himself to us and he grapples with us constantly, doesn’t he? Just like the angel of the Lord wrestled with Jacob. That became symptomatic of how God would relate to his church all through history.
And when we are attacked, what does he do? He protects us, doesn’t he? He keeps us safe and reminds us that not one hair can fall from our heads without his will.
And in this passage he calls us to love each other in the exact same way.
This is a fraternal love, and it is the exact same kind of love we are to have for one another. That should be descriptive of the fondness we have for the other people in this room.
But I don’t just want you to see the depth of love that you are to show. I want you to understand the danger posed to this love.
You no doubt heard that it says, “let brotherly love continue.”
These Hebrews had no doubt shown brotherly love in the past. There have been places in this epistle where he has commended them for their love. They’ve had a great track record up to this point. And the author now says, keep it up! Don’t let it die out. Take care that you don’t hit the power button and let this love shut down.
This is the real danger! We have to keep in mind that brotherly love can peter out. It can go along strongly for a while—it can be a great thing for a time, but there is always the danger of it being like an ember that has bounced out of the rest of the coals. It glows hot for a while but slowly it starts to cool and its brightness dims more and more until it is no more.
That’s why he tells you that you have to let this love continue. Sometimes you have to renew your commitment to your brothers and sisters. You shouldn’t let your love wax cold like that. You cannot even say that “I will love you this far, but after that I can’t love you anymore.”
Your love for me—your love for each other—has to be an undying love. It can’t be based on how you feel about me. It can’t be based on how nicely you are treated by your brother. It cannot be based on whether or not I (or anyone else) live up to your expectations. It has to be based in the covenant you have with God.
We’ve been talking a lot about apostasy in this series. We’ve addressed how serious it is to lose one’s love for Christ. And I can’t help but that that what is said here has a direct relation to the rest of the book of Hebrews. There is a direct connection between faith in Christ and love for the brethren. If your faith begins to ebb, then your love will too. And if you commit ecclesiastical apostasy (i.e. if you turn away from the church and stop loving your brethren), that is a demonstration that you’ve apostatized from Christ.
I believe what is said here is just an echo of what John says in his epistle:
If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1Jn 4:20-21 ESV
Young people, do you love your brothers and sisters? I hope you do. Because that’s the way you show your parents that you love them. You can’t love your parents and not love your brothers and sisters.
That’s the way it is in the church too. If we are going to love the Lord, then we must take care to love the things the loves. We must let brotherly love continue.
And again, this is only a reflection of God’s love for us. I mentioned the brotherly love of God, right? I just said that God’s love for us is brotherly in its nature. And what does his brotherly love do? It continues; it always continues. In the next week or two we will study verse 5 where it says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” That’s an expression of God’s love for you, isn’t it?
And when you see that Christ’s love for you is an undying love—and you know that he will never run out of love, and won’t even let your sins stop his love—that should remind you of how you must love the others in this church.
Jesus calls us to a robust love. One where we really and truly love the brethren. But not only does he call us to love the brethren, our love must not only reach those who are near and dear to us. It must also extend to those who are perfect strangers.
II. We must love the stranger in our midst 
Look at verse 2. It says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,”
You can tell that this is related to the first verse because the first verse uses “Phila-delphia.” This verse uses the word “Philo-xenos.” Philadelphia is love for brothers. Philoxenos is “love of strangers.”
I believe that there is a suburb of Columbus called Xenos. If you go there you will fit right in because everyone from Xenos, Ohio is a stranger.
We are to Philo-xenos: Love the stranger. And how do you love a stranger? You welcome him in and show him hospitality.
But you see how robust this love is supposed to be. It is perhaps a little more difficult to love a stranger. Loving your brothers is probably an easier thing to do. You know them; you are around them; it’s likely that your brother is not all that different from you. Typically there is a bit of homogeny in any given church.
Strangers, however, are, well, for lack of a better word, strange! We don’t know anything about them. So it’s not as easy to love them.
But that’s what we are to do. We are to reach out to them, and we should assist them in any way possible. We are to love them by making them feel welcome and like they have a friend in us.
Now, we recognize that a lot of what is in the background here is the ancient world’s culture. In the first century they didn’t have a Motel 6 or Holiday Inn every couple of miles. You can read in the OT that people would travel places and they would sleep in the city square or just out under the stars. Jacob has that story where he just pulled up a rock and used it as a pillow because there was no place to bed down for the night.
And if there was a motel in a given city, you never know what it might be like. The owner could be a crook or the inn might be infested with fleas.
So, we recognize that the culture has changed a lot. But we still come in contact with strangers. Perhaps there may still be some people in this room that are still a little foreign to you. You’ve never really connected, even though you’ve been attending the same church for a number of months. You haven’t really tried to reach out to them and show them any kind of love.
Or there can be visitors who come here. They need your love too. I have to say that it is always a heartwarming thing for me when I see new faces. We all probably love that. But it is even more satisfying when I see some of you shaking their hand and taking a few minutes to welcome them.
But think about real hospitality. Isn’t it one of the greatest ways you can love someone? By bringing that person into your house and making them feel like they have a place in your heart.
Yeah, it’s hard to do. I know that. It means you have to clean up your place and go through the hassle of fixing something nice for them.
And who knows what’s going to happen once they get in your house, right? They could stain your carpet. They could be loud and rambunctious. Worse yet: you may have to talk to them!
But when you open your home, you are also opening your heart. And you are giving them love and attention that they might not otherwise receive.
And who knows what might happen when you do reach out to people or befriend someone who is unknown to you? You might be blessed by it, right? The passage even says that celestial beings might be lurking about. You might even find yourself entertaining angels for the evening.
A number of years ago there were all kinds of books published on angels and angelic encounters. Some of that was fanciful for sure. It was one of those fads that focused on the sensational. But some of them certainly could have been real instances of encounters with God’s messengers.
You might not ever have a serif over for coffee. But you might be blessed by your company. That’s the real treat of hospitality, isn’t it? When the angels came into Lot’s house, do you remember what happened? They saved his life! They got Lot to safety right before the place got smoked.
That’s the real point of what is said here. When you entertain a stranger, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You might find yourself enjoying the time and receiving a huge blessing out of it.
In other words, the love you show might very well be rewarded. If anything, you may just gain a friend. And that would be worth it in and of itself.
But again, this is just a reflection of God’s love for you. What does the Scripture say? In the book of Ephesians we are told that at one time you were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of promise. You had no hope and were without God in the world.” But what does it say? It says that you have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Even though you were a stranger to God He brought you into his fold through the blood of Christ.
And what’s more, the Lord hosts a meal for you every week here in this room. He invites you into his presence and feeds you at this communion table. What great hospitality!
You know, He didn’t have to do that. He could have left you out on the street. He could have left you in your sins, but he didn’t do that. He loved you and he reached out to you and he brought you near that you might have friendship with God.
What a great love that is. That’s a robust love. And it is the kind of love that we are to share with the strangers around us.
What about verse three? What do we see there? Verse 3 says that we are also to extend a special dose of love to those who are being mistreated.
III. We must love those who are being mistreated
It says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.” Then he adds all those who are “mistreated.” Not just the one’s in prison, but everyone who is suffering at the hands of their oppressors. Don’t forget about them. These are people who really need your love the most.
It is easy to do that, isn’t it? It’s easy to forget them. Out of sight out of mind, as we say. We are not to forget them though. Rather we are to love them and care for them as best as we can.
You can think about Pastor Saeed. Most of you probably know the Saeed. He’s the Iranian American who has been imprisoned in Iran because he was preaching the gospel. He’s been there three years now. And there are hundreds (if not thousands) like him all over the world. He’s been separated from his wife and children and his health is always questionable.
It’s guys like this we are to remember. We should offer our prayers for them, and where possible we should give them more tangible aid.
In the early church there are reports of people waiting outside the jails. Christians would rise up early and be standing outside the jail waiting for the prison guards to open the doors so they could come in and visit their friends. They would come and dress their wounds and provide food for them.
One story I heard told of a pastor who actually spent the night in the jail with his parishioner, just to comfort him and set him at ease.
As you know I do some ministry at the prison. They are not being mistreated though. And they are not there because they are being persecuted. But you should see them when they know they have a visitation coming up. They get so excited. We always have a prayer time at the end of class, and they request prayer for their visitations because they don’t want anything to hinder their visit.
They love that kind of love. When someone goes out of their way to make the trip and come to see them.
I doubt anyone in close proximity to us is probably going to prison anytime soon. We have that glorious freedom that no threats like that exist. But there is certainly a degree of antagonism that might be faced. And perhaps a note of encouragement would be in order or some other expression of sympathy would be good.
You know why? Because “you are also in the body.” That’s what it says at the end of verse 3. Remember them “since you are also in the body.”
I think that when it says that you are “in the body” I think it is reminding us that we are the means of Christ’s care for one another.
When you hurt your thumb, what do you do? You naturally grab it. You may even pull it close to your chest. Why do you do that? It’s because the rest of your body tries to sooth the pain.
That’s what I think this means. Remember those who are experiencing pain because you are in the body. Its your job to try and sooth the pain they are experiencing.
When someone is hungry, Jesus doesn’t usually drop bread from the sky. When someone needs medical attention, angels don’t usually come down and bandage you up.
Their needs are usually met because another Christian has taken it upon themselves to care for one another.
And perhaps now you see why this love is so very necessary. Why is it that Christ calls you to such a robust love? It’s because the love you show to your brother or to the stranger or to the one who is hard pressed is the love of Christ.
Let me say it again, the love you show to one another is the very love of Christ. It is the expression of His love. Just as preaching is the expression of God’s voice, your acts of kindness are the expressions of his love.
When you come to worship, you can say that you “feel his love.” You can get caught up in the songs and the music. And maybe even the sermon will move you. So you might say, “I really felt God’s love today.” There may be some truth to that. But how does Christ really express his love? It is through your hospitality; it is through your charity; it is through your can of condensed potato soup that you make into a casserole of some kind.
You are the body of Christ! You are his hands and feet. And what you do will be what determines whether or not the people around you experience God’s love.
You are in the body. You are the agents of God’s love. And I hope you take that with the glorious solemnity that it entails.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.