1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:1-6 ESV
The author ended chapter 12 with an exhortation to “be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” and to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV). The same God who shook the landscape surrounding Mount Sinai and rattled the knees of the Israelites with His divine presence is our God and He has prepared a kingdom for us. So what should be our response? Proper worship, reverence, and awe. And to make it even more practical, in the closing chapter of his letter, the author illustrates what those things look like in everyday life.
Sometimes we’re tempted to make our worship of God an external show for others to see. We confuse worship of God with the intensity of our singing, the verbosity of our prayers, the selflessness of our service, or the generosity of our giving. But sometimes our love for God is best measured by our love for others. Worship of God that does not include love for others is hypocritical and insincere.
So, the author moves from grand descriptions of God as a consuming fire to a plea for brotherly love. “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1 ESV). Love for one another is an indispensable and non-negotiable requirement for anyone who claims to be a lover and worshiper of God.
At one point in His earthly ministry, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees, who posed to Him what they believed to be a trick question. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36 ESV). His intent was to entrap Jesus. The question he posed was one that the Scribes and Pharisees debated regularly. They had numbered the laws of God and had come up with the staggering sum of 613, which they categorized into two groups, with 248 deemed positive and 365 designated as negative. Then they divided them all into two categories, the “heavy” or more important ones, and the “light” or the less important ones.
In the question they posed to Jesus, they were asking Him to give His opinion as to which of all the laws was the “heaviest.” And Jesus didn’t hesitate in giving His answer.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-38 ESV
Love God AND love others. According to Jesus, those two commands encapsulate the entirety of the rest of the law.
So, it is no wonder that the author of Hebrews told his readers, “Let brotherly love continue.” But he took it a step further. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2 ESV). This recalls the parable of the good Samaritan that Jesus told in response to another inquiry from a Pharisee.
This man approached Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 ESV). In His inimitable way, Jesus responded with a question of His own, asking the man to tell Him what the law said. The Pharisee quickly replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
What Jesus said next must have surprised the learned Pharisee. It was not what he was expecting.
“You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” – Luke 10:28 ESV
Unsatisfied with Jesus’ answer, the man asked for clarification. “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 22:29 ESV). That’s when Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan. In it, He described what it truly means to show hospitality and kindness to someone who is a stranger and in need. It involves sacrifice. It requires giving up your rights and a commitment of your resources. The author of Hebrews echoes the sentiment of Jesus’ parable when writes, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3 ESV).
Our love for God is best expressed by our love for others. The apostle John encourages us to compare the love Christ expressed for us with the way in which we love others.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-18 ESV
Love should permeate all of our relationships, including that between a husband and wife. A couple that truly loves one another, as Christ loved them, will find no place for adultery or immorality in their marriage. They will always want what is best for one another.
Self-obsession or self-love is the greatest detriment to loving others. When we love ourselves too much, we are incapable of loving others. We end up pouring into our relationships in a selfish attempt to get something in return. We give to get, and those relationships quickly become self-serving rather than selfless.
It’s interesting that, in this context, the author warns against the love of money. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). The love of money is self-directed. We love money for what it can do for us. And yet, to properly love others, our money may need to be involved. We may be required to let go of our resources in order to best express our love. It was James who said, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16 ESV).
Talk is cheap. Words cannot fill someone’s stomach or make them warm.
The walk of faith is to be future-focused, recognizing that the ultimate promise of God is our glorification and final redemption. We are to live with the end in mind. But our faith walk is also to be God-dependent. We are to spend our days on this earth with a constant recognition that He is our provider and sustainer. That is why the author reminds us to be content because God has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV).
But not only are we to be future-focused and God-dependent, we are to be other-oriented. We are to live our lives with an outward orientation that puts the needs of others ahead of our own. When we love others, we are loving God. When we lovingly sacrifice for others, it is an act of worship to God. When we give up what we have for the sake of others, we are letting God know that we are dependent upon Him. All that we have comes from Him and is to be used for His glory and the good of others. Our constant attitude is to be, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6 ESV).
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.