“Let brotherly love continue (Heb 13:1).”
In one of many exhortations to the New Testament church, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews makes this explicit statement. It is only a mere four words in our English Bible but they are full of applicable wisdom.
The choice of words by the Spirit is meaningful. The very first word in this verse, ‘Let’, implies that the responsibility rests upon us. Christians are to put effort into brotherly love. In other words, it is up to us to make it work.
A car with the best engine in the world is no more than a hunk of metal if all it does is to remain in the garage with a canvas cover over it. It must get out there on the road or the racetrack; it must do what it has been built to do.
What are we if we do not obey the Lord’s command to let brotherly love continue? The motivation for our love for one another is the Lord’s love for us.
“We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1Jn 4:19-21).”
For love to happen it is not only our responsibility as a corporate body of Christ, individually we must work at it as well. It is not only my neighbour’s job to love me; it is my job to love him/her as well.
This love is a ‘brotherly’ love. It is the love exclusive to brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Such holy, brotherly love can only be possible among those who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. It cannot exist with those who are outside of Christ, whatever their claims may be. Obedience to the gospel is the acid test.
We love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). The love we have for others is a reflection of the love that God bestows upon mankind through His only begotten Son (cf. John 3:16). Brotherly love, on the other hand, is familial love as the children of God.
The apostle Paul explains how saints can practise brotherly love.
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3).”
Humility, patience, peace and unity are key ingredients of brotherly love. This unity is “the unity of the Spirit”; it is a unity which comes about by abiding in the doctrine of the Spirit of God—the Bible—not by finding common interests while ignoring doctrinal differences.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1Co 1:10).”
We are to let brotherly love continue. This clearly implies that brotherly love can be disrupted and discontinued.
There are many stumbling blocks to letting brotherly love continue. As we see from the text quoted above from Ephesians 4, humility is an ingredient of love. Conversely, pride is a hindrance.
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith (Rom 12:3).”
The one who thinks of himself ‘more highly than he ought to think’ is usually the one who goes around finding real and imaginary faults with others. It is never hard to find faults since none of us are perfect.
Paul says, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits (Rom 12:16).”
The fault-finder who harbours inordinately high thoughts of himself goes about criticising brethren, sometimes accusing them of hypocrisy, sometimes accusing them of being poor stewards of God’s money, or anything else not to his personal liking.
Besides finding faults with others and leveling baseless accusations at them, he boasts of himself often, telling others of his ‘faithfulness’ and ‘activeness’ in the Lord’s work. This is to boost his ego while attempting to tear down others.
Brethren, this must not be so in the Lord’s church. Such attitude and behaviour is a major hindrance to brotherly love. Forbearing one another in love does not mean we condone sins. It means we recognise and appreciate one another’s differences and idiosyncrasies which are not against the law of Christ.
In matters of the faith, let us exercise unity in the Spirit. In matters of expediency, let us exercise love and forbearance.
“Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).” Once again we are reminded of our God-given responsibility to strive to build up brotherly love. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Psa 133:1)!”
True peace is only possible in the Lord when the children of God adhere to His word in faithful obedience. Brotherly love takes conscious effort on the part of every saint. There is no time to lose. Let us keep at it.
“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently (1Pe 1:22).”