Let Brotherly Love Continue: How to Love a Messy Church

Sermon Passage: Hebrews 13 (a focus on verses 1-6) | Preached to SGF | 03-07-2021 

By Peder Kling 

One Last Look at Hebrews 13

Today is our last day in Hebrews, and it is also our last of three sermons in Hebrews 13. And, we have approached this chapter in an unusual way. Instead of doing our usual verse-by-verse explanation of the passage, I have sort of jumped around this chapter as we have looked at it in the last three weeks. And the reason is because the chapter itself seems to jump around from one topic to the next, without much organization.

 

I mentioned last week that the style of writing that we see here is much like the way many of us might journal—you write your stream of consciousness. Whatever comes to mind as you are writing, you simply put it down with freedom to return back to that topic again after following a rabbit trail. 

 

A lot of the New Testament letters conclude this way. You can imagine the writer running out of space on his precious writing material, and he needed to get his final exhortations, instructions, blessings and farewells in.

 

So, one way to get the most out of a passage like this is to organize the commands and instructions into categories that can build off one another, and that make sense of one another. Let me remind you one last time of the three categories I see in this passage. I want us to see the full weight of Hebrews 13 every time we look at it, especially today as we will consider the last and more practical category of instruction. “Let brotherly love continue” (verse 1). “Show hospitality to strangers” (verse 2). “Let the marriage bed be held in honor”, verse 4. “Don’t love money”, verse 5. These are all part of our Christian ethic. But they are only the mountain top experience of our Christian faith. There is a sea of grace and theology underneath these ethical instructions that strengthen you and give you reason to live that way. So, that’s where we have been in the last two weeks, with the first two categories of instructions in Hebrews 13. And I want to refresh our memories on those two categories so we can bring them into our Christian ethic of brotherly love.

 

The Blood that Supports Our Brotherly Love

So, the first category of instructions in Hebrews 13 draws our attention to what the entire book of Hebrews has been about. That is, specifically, what it means to be accepted before God—both ourselves, and our worship of him. This is most clear in Hebrews 13 when you look at verses 12–15. 

 

Verse 12 tells us, “Jesus suffered… to sanctify the people [you and me] through his blood”, and then verse 15 brings us sanctified people to worship—“therefore through him let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God”. He sanctifies us that we would be acceptable to God through is blood—and therefore, we also offer our worship to God through his blood. We and our worship are only acceptable “through his blood” (verse 12), or “through him” (verse 15). Without his blood to sanctify you, your sacrifices of praise to God are offered from an unsanctified, unholy person. And, as you are positionally unholy before God, so also are your works and your worship. But, verse 12 reassures us that Jesus suffered under the wrath we deserved, and thus he sanctified us, so that God would accept both us and our worship as pleasing to him. 
 

But notice how verse 15 illustrates the centrality of this for us. This is a command that we are to live under—we are to offer praises God “continually”. This work of praise is never-ending for the Christian. All the other commands in this chapter are fundamentally to be understood as commands to praise to God in your good works, brotherly love, and hospitality. In fact verse 16 says that we should “do good and share… for such sacrifices are pleasing to God”, as you worship God through them. Any good that you do is best understood as a sacrifice of praise to God. 

 

This matters because it this gives you freedom to worship and work before God, knowing he accepts you and is pleased with you even on that horrible, unproductive day at work. I mentioned 1 Corinthians 15:58 last week as the passage which has kept me reassured before God in all my work. And, I keep bringing this up because I hear people talk in a way that does not believe this passage. The verse says—“Be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”—or, to use language from our passage—“continually offering up sacrifices of praise in all you do”. Why? The verse continues with this promise, “knowing that  your labor [or again, your “sacrifice”] is not in vain”. It’s accepted “in the Lord”. It glorifies God “in the Lord”. Whether you choose this job or that job; that restaurant to eat at or the other one, God will accept them both! God doesn’t have a secret, hidden will for you except to serve him joyfully through faith. Trust that he will accept you on the basis fo Christ’s blood, not on whether you correctly heard his hidden plan for you today, or if you picked the correct career. Rest assured in God’s approval of you through Christ’s blood, not in your perfect decision making.

 

That’s the first category of instructions in Hebrews 13. He sanctified you through his blood, so offer up praises to him continually. This supports all the other instructions in this passage, especially what we will look at today regarding brotherly love, hospitality, and things of that nature.

 

The Leadership that Fosters Brotherly Love

Then the second category of instructions in this passage, which we looked at last week, pertains to church leadership. Verse 7, 17, and 20–21 all pertain to church leadership. And, I’ll just say one word here—God intended the leaders that he appoints in his church to foster brotherly love by pointing us to the gospel. If they preach the freedom of the gospel that I just described, and how it pertains to our good works, the church’s service and worship will be fostered to Christ’s glory.

 

Narrowing into Today’s Message on Brotherly Love

With all that in mind, let’s narrow into the subject matter for today. Today, we are going to look at the third category of instructions in Hebrews 13. This category pertains to brotherly love, and what that looks like in the church. Verse 1 tells us, “Let brotherly love continue”—and, the next 6 verses give us some concrete examples of what brotherly love contains. 

 

So, we’re going to consider brotherly love today—what it requires, and what it accomplishes. It’s quite a simple outline today.

 

1. What Brotherly Love Requires 

2. What Brotherly Love Accomplishes (“Let Brotherly Love Continue” i.e., to what end?)

 

1. What Brotherly Love Requires

What does brotherly love require? At face value, you will look at this passage and see some of the obvious descriptions of brotherly love in verses 1–6. It involves hospitality, remembering those who were mistreated and thrown into prison for the gospel. It involves keeping the marriage bed pure and not being greedy with money.

 

Love for God’s People

But, just so we really get what “brotherly love” is referring to here, it would be good to recognize that we are talking about love of the bretheren—the Christian brothers. Love those in prison “as though in prison with them… since you are in the body”. The body, there, is most obviously referring to the Christian family. Go to the prison and provide a word of encouragement. Pray for them with urgency. Remember their families who are left behind. Love the brethren.

 

And the same is true for the reference to hospitality in this passage. It’s likely that hospitality, there, is referring to being hospitable to traveling Christians—perhaps preachers and ministers. I haven’t seen evidence that the NT commands us to be hospitable to the random person on the streets who doesn’t love Jesus. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but the hospitality we are required to seek pertains to God’s household. The apostle Paul did not stay in hotels in his journey, did he? He stayed in homes. In fact he says to the church in Galatia, in Galatians 4:13–14—

 

You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.

 

So, a sick minister—possibly contagious—comes to town. Do you receive him in your home? “you did not despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus [himself]”. Jesus reminds us that to serve the body is to serve him, personally. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40)

 

To love and be hospitable to Christ’s people is to love and be hospitable to Christ himself. It’s an astounding reality that we must receive and obey with faith in this word. This testifies that this is an act of worship—you serve and worship Christ by serving the brethren. 

 

Thus, just at this point, we must recognize that this is not a command to philanthropy—a general love toward humanity. This command in Hebrews 13 is calling for philadelphia—a love of the brethren. And, just so we don’t miss it—botherly love requires just that. It really does require love for God’s people. 

 

Many people have been hurt in the church. Many Christians are ashamed to be associated with Christians—the brethren in the church. “The church is full of hypocrites and sinners. I don’t need that in my life—I’m better off to simply practice the faith in private”. Well—yes, the brethren of God are full of sin and messiness. The church can be a messy place. But do you know something? It was no different when Jesus came down to save his brethren. But the hypocrisy didn’t stop him. It moved him to sacrifice and love, forgiveness and grace. 

 

I am reminded of that passage earlier in Hebrews when we are told that Jesus became a man, and “was not ashamed to call them brothers” (2:11). He wasn’t ashamed—meaning, he might as well have been given how sinful and miserable we are under God’s curse. Yet he wasn’t ashamed. He was proud and zealous to call us brothers. If you look at the next verse in Hebrews 2, verse 11 even goes so far to say that Jesus came praising his heavenly father in the assembly of God’s people saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers, in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise”. Yikes. He actually went to those messy churches, and he meets us with all our problems every time we meet together now. “When two or more are gathered, there I am with them”, Jesus says. He loves the brethren, and instead of running away from the mess and hypocrisy, he instead sacrificed himself for it. And what does Philippians 2 say about this? “Have this [same] mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though in the form of God did not count equality a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself…”. Brotherly love requires love—such a love that is not arrogant or ashamed, but sacrificial and humble.

 

Constancy in Love

But notice what else brotherly love requires in this passage. “Let brotherly love continue”. Brotherly love requires constancy, steadfastness, diligence. Brotherly love is not always easy, especially when you are constantly forgiving the same person over and over again for the same offenses. Yet Jesus says we should forgive our brothers 77x7. Paul says “forgive as God in Christ forgave you”—do you know the infinite constancy of God’s forgiveness toward you, that you should extend it to the othe guy? When the Corinthian church was struggling with brotherly love, Paul reminded them (1 Cor 13:4–7)

 

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 

That’s not a poetic wedding verse designed to woo you into romance. That’s a verse designed for the church—to describe what brotherly love is. It’s designed to be instructive and piercing. And did you notice the last few descriptions, there? Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Does brotherly love give up on the church, or on Christians? Not at all. It endures. It continues. “Let brotherly love continue”. That’s not supposed to be an easy, flip-of-the-switch command. Brotherly love requires love, humility, and constancy. 

 

Uncomfortable Vibes

Yet, brotherly love in the church also requires you to get uncomfortable as you would invite people into your homes—even strangers who you don’t know. The greek word for hospitality actually is a combination of two words in the greek—combining the words “love” and “stranger”. Philo—love; and nexia— stranger. Is hospitality comfortable and easy? I suppose it depends who you are, but there really is a certain vulnerability and openness to it that can readily cause unrest. Hospitality is exercising brotherly love not on Sunday morning, nor in the coffee shop on a Wednesday afternoon get-together. It’s brotherly love in the most intimate place of your life where everything is exposed—your home. Think of the exposure: your family life, your smells, your possessions, your mess that could characterize you as a careless person or perhaps your pristine home that might mark you as an OCD person. It’s all on the table for someone to see. Yet, we are called here to exercise brotherly love through hospitality—even to strangers whom we have never met. 

 

The thought of strangers in our homes opens a whole different can of anxieties, doesn’t it? “Is this person safe?” “Is it wise for me to welcome a complete stranger into my home”? More on this later. For now, just notice that brotherly love requires us to get uncomfortable. 

 

Forsaking the World for Contentment in Christ

Yet, brotherly love does not only call us to forsake these anxieties that pertain to being open and vulnerable to people. It also requires us to forsake the desires of our flesh and this world. Look at verses 4 and 5. Verse 4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled”. Then verse 5, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have”. In other words—don’t pursue promiscuity or money, but rather be content with what you have. What does adultery do to brotherly love? It destroys brotherly love. What does greediness with money do to brotherly love? It destroy it.

 

Then, of course, what does contentment do for brotherly love? It fosters it. It frees you up to be happy at your neighbor’s prosperity rather than to be jealous and envious of it. 

 

Contentment really is a rare gem that produces such incredible fruit, isn’t it? Paul tells us that “Godliness with contentment is great gain”. The Godly person who is content cannot lose—they’re godly. They are going to be content in God and in what God gives! Things like Jesus’s blood and righteousness, fellowship with the saints, an unshakable hope, the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self control, and God’s gracious providence that turns “all things”, even the hard things, “into our good” (Romans 8:28). 

 

So all this to say—brotherly love requires a love toward the messy, sinful, brethren of God. The very Christians who may have hurt you personally. Brotherly love also requires humility, long-suffering and constancy. It requires you to invite people into your very homes—even strangers whom you do not know. And, it requires us to forsake the world for contentment in God and in his people.

 

Now, this all might make brotherly love impossible. Where do we find the strength and security, the peace and hope and wisdom to do this? Brotherly love, at its very core, requires exactly what the gospel requires of us—faith in God’s great promises. And, that’s exactly where Hebrews takes us in this passage.

 

Faith in Blood-Bought Promises (vv 5–6).

Consider how all these commands conclude in grace. “Let brotherly love continue… show hospitality… remember those in prison as though in prison with them… forsake the passions of sex and money… be content with what you have for he has said ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ [Joshua 1:5].” There’s a promise for you through all those difficult commands. And, just in case we miss how that promise is supposed to land on us, Hebrews takes us directly to the words of Psalm 118:6. “I will never leave you”, verse 5. Then verse 6, “therefore we can say with confidence [in that promise] “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?”. 

 

That’s the words of faith speaking. I mean, think about this. What can man do to you when you are seeking that sort of brotherly love in public? He can kill you and mistreat you! He can put you into prison and torture you! People in the church betray you or talk about you behind their back! The writer of Hebrews isn’t stupid, here. He just said in verse 3, “remember those in prison… and those who are mistreated”. Yet, by faith, we are called to believe God’s words when he says to his people “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. Thus, we can confidently say “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear, what can man do to me?”. Beat me? Judge the way I decorate my home? The Lord of the universe is on my side. To live is Christ and to die is gain. 

 

Notice, however, the word “confidence” in that verse. Because God has spoken his promise, we can therefore confidently say “I will not fear”. In other words—you believe that promise with confidence, and therefore you are able to rest in it, and not fear. You are able to be content in it, because you know it’s true. You receive that promise, and you rest in it.

 

I used an illustration a few months ago that gets at this nicely. When you make a promise to a child that you will throw the football with him after your day of work, that child will do one of two things. The first thing he might do is not listen to your promise, or not believe your promise. So, he will say to you all day with anxiety in his voice, “When are we going to play football? Can we play football? Are we going to play football?”. That’s dishonoring to you and your word, as the father in that situation. And, it’s not good for the child’s soul. The second thing he might do is believe your promise, and rest in it with a joyful anticipation. He will say, “I can’t wait to throw the ball when your done with work”. That’s honoring to the father’s word, and it’s good for the child’s soul. It fills the child with joy and contentment, restfulness and excitement rather than anxiety. That’s the contentment we were talking about earlier—contentment that comes with a restful confidence in God’s promises.

 

How do you respond to God’s promises? The easy way to answer that is to ask yourself—am I an anxious or a restful person? Am I content in God and all he gives me—or, am I discontent with what he has given me?  

 

We are called to let brotherly love continue through the power of faith in God’s unshakable promises. Oh, if we would simply have that sort of confidence in God’s promises that would lead us to say “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear”. I will not be afraid of the person God is calling me to welcome into my home—God is with me. There is no need to be be discontent, envious of my neighbor’s wife or money. I know God’s promises. I know that Psalm 34:10 says “Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing”, and Psalm 73, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”. 

 

And we Christians now, today, have all the more reason to have confidence in God’s promises. We have Jesus. That’s what Hebrews has been seeking to show us from beginning to end. Jesus’s sacrifice is better than the Jewish sacrifices, because he actually deals with sin and makes his people right with God. Jesus’s priestly intercession between God and us is better than the Old Testament priests because he actually brings us to God in heaven where he sits—he doesn’t simply bring us to a temple in Jerusalem. Old Testament priests would sacrifice bulls to temporarily deal with sin, and then they would turn around to bless the people with a word of blessing. Jesus sacrificed himself to deal with sin permanently, and then he rose to heaven to bless his people with his Spirit, and all the blessings God might have for his people.  Paul tells us that “All the promises of God find their yes in him” (2 Cor 1:20). 

 

Trusting the blood-bought promises of God is where you will find strength to love patiently, to endure all things, to bear all things, to show hospitality, to be content, and to forgive the brethren as you yourself were forgiven.

 

So, brotherly love requires a love for the messy, sinful, brethren of God. It requires humility, long-suffering and constancy. It requires you to invite people into your homes—even strangers whom you do not know. It requires us to forsake worldly pleasures for contentment in God and in his people. And therefore, it ultimately requires us to seek a confident, restful trust in all of God’s promises so that we might say “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear, what can man do to me?”. 

 

That’s what brotherly love requires. So now, what does it accomplish?

 

2. What Brotherly Love Accomplishes

God gave us a brotherhood—or, a family—in the church for a reason. Let me give you a few of them from Hebrews, as well as a few other places in our Bibles.

 

Camaraderie and Accountability

First, camaraderie  and accountability in the faith. That really is the most pressing reason for brotherhood in Hebrews. Hebrews was written to a hurting, persecuted church. Again, verse 3 of our passage, “Remember those in prison… and those mistreated”. Yet Hebrews was also written to a very tempted church—the temptation for these early Jewish Christians to return to Judaism was real. There are hints at that all over this letter. So, where should the church turn for encouragement and perseverance? In Hebrews, there is a constant refrain to comradery and accountability in the church, for the faith. 

 

You see that almost right away in the letter, in chapter 3. Verse 1 says “Therefore, holy brothers [there’s the brotherhood], you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus”. Consider him together—consider how he is better than Judaism. Then verse 12–13 gets more explicit after it teaches us about Jesus— 

 

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day as long as it is called “today”, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 

 

Take care—see to it that your brother is safe, resisting sin and trusting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many people regard the church as a place where they get hardened because of how messed up the church can be. Yet here, we see that the exact opposite should happen in the church. Your heart should get soft, and stay soft as the people of God are exhorting you to remain faithful to faith and repentance in gospel.

 

Then later, in chapter 10:23–24, Hebrews reminds us of the exact same thing. We are to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another”. How do you stir someone up to love and good works? You tell them the gospel—the gospel that frees you to serve and worship God because he accepts you and your worship through Christ’s purifying blood. As I mentioned earlier—people in the church get tied up asking, “does God want me to do this, or do that?”. Stir them up with the gospel! “Pick one! If they are both reasonable options, pick one and serve God in it! God will accept you either way because he accepts you on the basis of Jesus’s blood, not on the basis of what job you decided to take”. That right there is camaraderie in the gospel—camaraderie for gospel service and faithfulness.

 

Prayer

So, the brotherhood accomplishes a accountability and camaraderie in the gospel. Yet another important matter that it accomplishes is the great work of prayer. You see this at the end of Hebrews 13, as we are receiving the very last instructions. “Pray for us”, verse 18. The author of Hebrews is asking for prayer from the brethren. The greatest privilege we have through the gospel is to lift ourselves and our fellow Christians up to God in prayer. It really is a great comfort to know that you are being prayed for. When you are prayed for, you are doubly loved—loved by the person praying for you, and loved by God who is hearing a request on your behalf. Charles Spurgeon said on this, 

 

Earnest intercession will be sure to bring love with it. I do not believe you can hate a man for whom you habitually pray. If you dislike any brother, Christian, pray for him doubly, not only for his sake, but for your own, that you may be cured of prejudice and saved from all unkind feeling.

 

If you have a hard time loving the brethren, then pray for them. It will do you as much good as it will them. 

 

Easement of our miseries in this life

Yet another accomplishment of brotherly love in our passage is the easement of our miseries in this life. We are called to be hospitable to those who need a place to live. If you’re not hospitable to someone passing by, then they either have to spend money at a hotel or they have to sleep in their car. Or if its hospitality to someone in the community, your fellowship might ease their misery of loneliness, or worry. The Christians were called in our passage to “remember those in prison… and those who were mistreated”. I don’t think this is a call to just think about them. This is a call to care for them—bring them or their family food. Be the hands and feet of Christ as they endure miseries in this fallen world.  

 

A Picture of the Gospel 

The final accomplishment of brotherly love in our passage is that it provides a picture of the gospel. I’m thinking specifically of hospitality, here. Again, the specific hospitality that Hebrews has in mind is being hospitable to strangers—people passing through the community, or people you simply don’t know. This has actually been a command upon God’s people ever since the Exodus. In Deuteronomy 10:18, God says to Israel that “he [God] executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing”. In other words, God loves the people who are hard to love, and he is hospitable toward them. Then he says, “love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” God is hospitable—loving the unlovable, and bringing them into his care and making them his guests. One day, we will all sit at his table that he prepared by shedding the blood of his own Son, and raising him victoriously over the curse so that we might feast forever, with a toast to our king’s victory.

 

So, brotherly love accomplishes a much needed camaraderie and accountability in the faith. It accomplishes prayer. Through brotherly love, we ease one another’s burdens from the miseries of this life. And, it gives us a glorious picture of the gospel, as we open our hearts and our homes in the same way God has done for us in Christ.

 

Conclusion

That does, indeed, conclude our study through the book of Hebrews. I pray that this would all move you to serve God in the freedom for the gospel. You are free to love one another because God first love you, and he accepts your love of the brethren as a sacrifice of praise through the merit of Christ’s blood. Even as you do not love perfectly, your brotherly love and service is still accepted. You are free to worship and serve God through Christ. And, you can rest assured in your salvation because Jesus is a great high priest, who offered a great sacrifice, and established a great, sanctified brotherhood.