Summary: If you're going to keep the faith, it's necessary to keep the love of Christ as well, especially for one another, and some folks who are likely to be neglected or forgotten. The lifestyle choice is between worldly lust and Christ-lke love.
Jeanie and I watched several segments of the History Channel’s “The Men Who Built America” this past week. We had watched parts of it before and had always wanted to watch it again as a gave a great history about how America has become the land of opportunity it has come to be.
However, as we watched the segment that focused on the careers of business magnates J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and John P. Rockefeller we were both surprised by some of the darker themes of American business history. J. P. Morgan, Carnegie and to some degree Rockefeller were all very cold-blooded, ruthless businessmen who crushed competitors, developed monopolies and especially Carnegie abused their employees, demanding impossible work schedules, dangerous working conditions and barely livable wages in order to get ahead. They had, by today’s standards, billions of dollars, but never had enough, because they were in competition with each other to either be the richest or the most powerful men on the planet. Their excesses led to labor violence, unions, and eventually anti-trust legislation to destroy monopolies and spread the wealth.
In fact, by the end of one segment, their greed, selfish ambition and abuse of others were so obvious that Jeanie had nightmares that night.
And it reminded me of the choice that we all make, that is evident from Hebrews 13, when we decide to follow Jesus. When we follow Jesus, we choose to live by Christ’s love, rather than the world’s lusts.
And that seems to be the theme of the first few verses of Hebrews 13. The writer seems convinced that he’s persuaded his readers to persevere in the faith. And for a moment, he wants to review exactly what that means practically. Now that you’ve decided to continue following Jesus, live according to His love, not the world’s lusts. Live according to love, rather than the perverted, ugly and harmful desires of the sinful nature.
It’s a theme that will again be emphasized tonight at the baptism. We have eight folks who are willing to declare publicly by being baptized that they have died to living for sin and self, and now are living for Christ.
Again, remember that those being addressed are first century Jewish or Hebrew believers in Jesus living in Judea. They had suffered persecution from their fellow Jews in Israel for decades, and the Holy Spirit has here indicated that they had grown so weary of the persecution that they were contemplating abandoning Christ and going back to Judaism. Since the writer now believes he has precluded that possibility, now they need to renew their commitment to follow Christ. And the first order of business is this matter of demonstrating Christ’s love for each other. Verses 1-3 tell them and us to continue to love one another like you’re family—because you are. Continue to love one another, like you’re family, because you are.
Hebrews 13:1: “Let love of the brethren continue.” Don’t let it stop! Don’t hesitate in this most cardinal and basic virtue to be displayed by all who believe in and follow Jesus Christ.
The word used here for love is phileo, brotherly love. The emphasis then is that we as believers, who are all part of the family of God and Christ, are to love each other with the same affection and care that we would love the members of our own nuclear and extended families. It’s because we actually are family. We are all part of God’s family, all brothers and sisters in Christ. And how does a healthy family relate to each other? They care about each other, they see each other regularly, they pray for each other if they are believers, they are there for each other in hard times, they sacrifice for the welfare of each other, they provide for each other; they are there for one another in good times and bad.
Do you know that we are a family? And we are to love one another as a family. It clearly is not enough to merely attend church, sit and soak and go away. The love of Christ, the example of Christ compels us be devoted to one another in love, as Romans 12:10 tells us. And of course Jesus Himself set the example and told us in John 13:34 that we must love one another as He has loved us. How did He love us? To the end, to the ultimate end, of giving His life for us on the cross. John 15:13: “Greater love has no man than He give his life for one another.”
Now think about this for a moment. The entire letter has been so far devoted to encouraging faith, continued faith in Christ. Faith is what connects us to the life and eternal life of God. Now that the writer has concluded his exhortation about keeping the faith, now he exhorts us to keep or continue in the love of Christ. Faith connects us to the life of God. Love is that very life of God, the very essence of who God is and what He is like. It is to the believer what electricity is to a light bulb, what gasoline is to the internal combustion engine. It is the motivation and expression of the fact that Christ lives in us. You cannot be a Christian, or act as a Christian unless the love of Christ is the controlling motivation, power and character of your life. As I John 4:20 puts it, if anyone says He loves God, but does not love His brother, He is a liar. You simply cannot love and follow Christ without loving your brother in Christ. To claim to do so is simply a lie.