Meditations in Hebrews 13: 53. The Christian love thing
Heb 13:1 Keep on loving each other as brothers.
Intro to Ch.13: As we have gone through this book (although the writer calls it a short letter – Heb 13:22) we have observed a number of what I have referred to as ‘exhortations’, appeals to his readers to hear and respond. In this final chapter we are now going to observe a number of basic instructions. These are not so much appeals to keep to the faith as we have had mostly so far, but specific instructions to DO certain things or hold certain attitudes.
The temptation is to skim through these fairly ordinary things but we will resist that with the thought that this are particular basic issues that the writer was bringing to the early church and if they were basic for them, they should be basic for us, and we therefore need to pause over each one. There are, depending on how you read these verses, at least twelve of these instructions in chapter 13.
- Love each other: The first one is to “Keep on loving each other.” Now that appears so fundamental that you might wonder why we give a full meditation to it. My reason is that it is so basic we all know it in our minds but I am not sure of the practice in the church of the twenty first century. Let’s establish the basic teaching about love in the New Testament.
Love in the NT: Well, first of all, it is the same as found in the Old Testament and Jesus quoted the Old when he said, “Jesus replied: ” `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:38,39) Love is the fundamental and most basic character of the Christian faith. It starts with wholeheartedly loving God and continues with loving all those in our vicinity.
The Meaning of Love: I had cause some while ago to stop and consider what love actually means. A dictionary says, “‘Love’ – warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for.” Note that last part in particular – ‘strong benign feelings for’. Benign means caring, kindly, gentle, compassionate, thinking good for, wishing the good for. Is that how we feel about each person in our vicinity? When I took that definition and applied it to God, for “God is love” (1 Jn 3:8,16), I felt it fell short and so a better and more appropriate definition of love in respect of God is, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others.” Note the unrestricted good will towards all others.
A New Commandment: Now understanding how God loves is important because Jesus said to the disciples at the Last Supper, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35). Now we may want to restrict this measure of love to fellow-believers because Jesus was talking to his disciples but even so it presents quite a challenge. Stop and think about the people you encounter at your church. Can your feelings for them be described as “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others”. Do you have that sort of ‘good will’ towards all of them, because that IS Jesus requirement for his church? Now you may see why I said earlier I am not sure of the practice in the church.
Some Applications: Take the people closest to you in the church. Do you know them well, do you know about their lives? Do you know the things that worry them? Do you know the difficulties they are going through? Just knowing people like this has to be the starting point in considering love in the church. Now you cannot know everybody like this in a big church but we must know some. Now what happens when you find out how they are, you find out about their worries, their difficulties etc.? Are you there for them? Love means being there for them. Love means accepting them like they are. Love means praying for them and over them. Love means giving them help. Love is always practical, it does not just sit and watch. Is your church community like this?
Love for Enemies? But before we finish we have to note that Jesus’ teaching went way beyond this: “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:43,44) This love thing is to be extended beyond my close contacts in church, beyond those in my vicinity, it is to be extended even to those I might consider my enemies. We cannot escape Jesus call to ‘love your enemies’. Love means we dare not tolerate barriers between us and this needs saying in a day where there have been surprise shock at national levels of voting. As Christians we dare not hold on to hostility for those who voted in a different way to us. Oh yes, this love thing is very practical and in the kingdom of God it does not stop at boundaries, group boundaries, cultural boundaries or national boundaries.
How? Now much of this is ‘a hard word’. How can I love people like this? And the answer has to be, only by the grace of God. It can only be as we turn to God, surrender our feelings of self to him and ask Him to fill us with all of His grace, His resources to enable us to conform to His will, to comply with His instructions, and they cannot be more basic than this first one in this chapter – “keep on loving each other.” Oh yes, ‘as brothers’, as those closest to you, part of the family. Yes, it starts with God, it continues to the church and then it extends to outsiders and even to enemies. Basic but very challenging, that’s why we need to pause over each of these things, as simple and as basic as they may appear because if we don’t conform to the basics, you have to wonder are we really Christians?