“Let Brotherly Love Continue”

“Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” —Hebrews 13:1-3

AS BEING YOURSELVES also in the body.” These closing words of our text reveal the true meaning of the term ‘brotherly love’ as used by the apostle. It is a love which we bear toward our fellow brethren in the body of Christ. In a natural body which functions normally, each member or part works harmoniously with every other member. When one member suffers they all suffer; and no member of a natural body deliberately inflicts injuries upon another member. So it should be in the body of Christ. And so it is in that body to the extent that brotherly love continues to operate among all its members.

Our text has a setting which suggests its special appropriateness for the Lord’s people at this end of the age; for in the closing verses of the preceding chapter Paul gives us a prophecy which is having its fulfillment in the world-shaking events of our time. He tells us that not only the symbolic earth, “but also heaven” was to be shaken. Today we stand in awe as we watch the fulfillment of this and other prophecies which tell of the “shaking” of civil and ecclesiastical authority in the earth.

We know from the Word of God that this shaking will continue until, as the apostle declares, the only things which will remain are “those things which cannot be shaken.” That “which cannot be moved” is the kingdom of Christ soon to be established, and it is our hope to receive a share in that kingdom, to live and reign with Christ a thousand years. The Apostle Peter sums up the character requirements of the Christian, including brotherly kindness and love, and tells us that if we do these things we “shall never fall,” and that “an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”—II Pet. 1:10,11

The brotherly love which is the sum of all the Christian graces is a quality of character which seeks to bless and help not only when things are going smoothly for fellow-members of the body, but also, and particularly, when our brethren need our help most. It is brotherly love which prompts us to “remember them that are in bonds,” not merely in the sense of wishing them well, but with that same deep concern and determination to help as though we were thinking of ourselves as being in a similar position—“as bound with them.”—Heb. 13:3

At the time this epistle was written it was not an uncommon experience for some of the brethren to be in bonds, and to suffer adversity in other ways. Many of these Hebrew brethren to whom Paul wrote had taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and had been locked in stocks. (Heb. 10:33,34) The true brotherly spirit had been manifest among them in that those who had not been actually apprehended and punished became the companions of those who were so used. It was, no doubt, because of this, that, in our text, Paul uses the word ‘continue’. They had displayed brotherly love toward those in the body, and his admonition was that they should continue doing so. In chapter 6, verses 10 and 11, he tells this same group that the Lord is not unrighteous to forget their labor of love in ministering to the saints, and he encourages them to continue this program of sacrifice on behalf of the brethren, “with full assurance of hope unto the end.”


True brotherly love is an essential element to cement the body members together, not only in their mutual joys, but also in their communion of suffering. The apostle explains that it was God’s will in bringing “many sons to glory” to make the “Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Heb. 2:10) These ‘many sons’ are the fellow-members of the “body” of Christ, the brethren. Paul speaks of them as “holy brethren,” and explains that Jesus is the “Apostle and High Priest” of their profession. (Heb. 3:1) Yes, the ‘brethren’, the ‘many sons’, the ‘body’ members are also priests.

Priests, Peter explains, are those who offer sacrifices. (I Pet. 2:5) As we put these thoughts together and associate them with Paul’s admonition to ‘let brotherly love continue’, there is no escaping the thought that Christian love is closely associated with sacrifice, being that motivating principle governing the heart of every follower of the Master which prompts to faithfulness in the service of the Lord and of the brethren, even though that service leas to death—as indeed it must before the Christian’s walk in the narrow way is finished.

And this is fully in harmony with the Master’s own exposition on the subject of brotherly love. He said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) We all know the manner in which Jesus loved us. It was a self-sacrificing love, a love that motivated him to give up life itself in order that we might live. And his ‘new commandment’ to us is that we love one another as he loved us, that our ‘brotherly love’ manifest itself toward our brethren in the same self-sacrificing way. Yes, Christian love is more than an emotional sentiment of kindly feeling toward our brethren. It is also an impelling force which manifests itself in unselfish devotion to a great cause—that common cause of all the fellow-members of the body of Christ, the cause of sacrifice in the interests of one another, that all may receive an abundant entrance into the kingdom.

And as Jesus delves deeper into the subject of love, he uncovers another heart-searching fact concerning it in the question, “If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” (Matt. 5:46) We are loved—or should be—by our own brethren in Christ; so at first glance it would appear, although it is not actually, that Jesus is here discounting somewhat the importance of his own ‘new commandment’ to love our brethren, indicating that there is no sacrifice involved in loving those who love us.

And there is a danger that we may adopt this viewpoint, and in our hearts and minds try to separate love from sacrifice. And if we do this, the next easy viewpoint to adopt is that sacrifice is not essential in the Christian life, that only love is required. The reasoning of the fleshly mind supersedes that of the new mind, and those overtaken in this thought begin to go into spiritual decline.

But does the commandment to love one another which Jesus gave us imply that we love only those who love us? Surely not! Note, for example, his added explanation, ‘as I have loved you’. Our love for one another is to be the same kind of love, and to operate under similar conditions as Jesus’ love for us. When we take this into consideration, the whole viewpoint of that new commandment is broadened considerably, for divine love through Christ was exercised on our behalf “while we were yet sinners,” that is, long before we were in a position to love him.—Rom. 5:8

The divine plan for the followers of Jesus whereby they would have the privilege of exercising love for one another upon the same basis as Jesus loved them, is outlined by the Master himself in his command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel for the purpose of making disciples. These disciples which are to be ‘made’ through the ministry of the truth are our brethren—brethren for whom we have the privilege of sacrificing while they are still sinners, even as Jesus laid down his life for us.


Not only did Jesus lay down his life for us while we were yet sinners, but his love continues after we hear and accept the call to follow in his steps. This is the case despite the many imperfections which continue with us and cause us many times to transgress the laws of righteousness. Therefore, if we love one another as he loved us, it means that we will have a love which will manifest itself for the good of our brethren, regardless of the many things about them which may not be pleasing to us—imperfections which may, indeed, be a real trial to us.

In this connection we are again reminded of the Master’s assertion that if we love only those who love us, our love is not of a very high order, being merely on the level of the publicans’ love. The expression, ‘those who love us’, might well be broadened to mean those who are congenial to us—those whose ways of life do not irritate or vex us. These it is easy to love, and it is a pleasure to serve them. To love those among the brethren who are in this category is not, therefore, the final test of loving one another as Jesus loved us.

The quality of love which reached out for our salvation while we were yet sinners is that superlative expression of unselfishness which we will need in order to lay down our lives for the brethren, to love them as Jesus loved us—that is, if we are to love all the brethren and not merely those who take a special interest in us or those whose company and association we especially enjoy. It is this quality of love that covers a multitude of sins; that helps us to judge our brethren, not according to their outward appearance, but according to their hearts; that extends mercy when they fail, and a helping hand in their weakness. All this, and more, is implied in the words of our text, ‘Let brotherly love continue’.


Brotherly love—that great principle of unselfishness which each member of the body of Christ exercises toward every other member of the body—is the motive power back of all true Christian activity. It is a principle which must find expression in service if it is to remain alive. The body of Christ is a cooperative arrangement for active service in the outworking of the divine plan. That this is true is clearly shown by Paul in his lesson found in I Corinthians, chapter twelve.

In this body, he explains, “there are diversities of operations,” or activities. (vs. 6) Note the emphasis on ‘operations’. When there ceases to be operation, or activity, that member of the body which becomes inactive must either be revived or else lose his place in the body. And in this remarkable chapter the apostle emphasizes that there is given to each member of the body some special function of service, and that these all combine to accomplish the Lord’s will. One member cannot truthfully say to another, ‘I have no need for you’; nor can any true member of the body say to himself, ‘There is no service that I need to render, so I’ll just enjoy the benefits of the body, but won’t exert myself to do anything for the other members’.

Activity, well organized and ceaseless, is one of the lessons of the ‘body’ illustration. And it is only in connection with this true Christian activity that brotherly love has an opportunity to function. Let us never think of brotherly love as being manifested merely in kindliness of manner, or as a lofty platitude to be talked about from the platform. No, brethren, God has set every member in the body as it has pleased him, and his purpose in giving us a place in the body at all is that we may actively function in whatever capacity he indicates is his will for us.

Inactivity is an unnatural state for any of God’s intelligent creatures. We are so constituted that we are truly happy only when we are active. However, the mere fact of being active is not sufficient. It is perhaps for this reason that in the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, Paul follows up his lesson on the active functioning of the body of Christ with the warning that without love as the motive, nothing we might do would have the Lord’s approval. In other words, we are not to think that all the Lord is looking for in his people is that they be continually engaged in a frenzy of activity. God wants us to be active, but he wants us to be motivated in what we do by brotherly love.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,” writes the apostle, “and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (I Cor. 13:1) “And though I have the gift of prophecy … and have not charity [love], I am nothing.” (vs. 2) In the preceding chapter Paul has told us that some in the Early Church had been given gift of tongues, and some the gift of ‘prophecy’, or public speaking. These were gifts of God, given by him to be used. The apostle is not implying that it would be better to possess love than to use these gifts. What he wants us to realize is that even these gifts of God might be used selfishly.

The gift of speaking with tongues did not continue with the church, but the gift of prophecy or public speaking has. There are none today who are ‘tongues of … angels’. But many have some talent, and those who do should use it. Public speaking does not imply the necessity of addressing an audience from a platform or a pulpit. The most effective preaching is often done to an audience of one. Think of the wonderful sermon that Jesus preached to the Samaritan woman at the well. But regardless of what our opportunities may be, if we are overflowing with brotherly love, our tongues will be ‘loosened’ and we will be using every possible opportunity to speak of the loving-kindness of our God. Indeed, we will wish that we had ‘a thousand tongues to sing his praise’, and the praise of our dear Redeemer!

“Though I … understand all mysteries, and all knowledge …” (vs. 2) Paul gloried in the fact that God had made known to him the “mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations.” (Col. 1:26) How we rejoice in our knowledge of that mystery today! And how essential is a knowledge of the plan of God if we are to be acceptable coworkers with him. But the apostle hints here that it may be possible, temporarily at least, to possess this wonderful knowledge, and yet not ‘hold it’ in love.

Brotherly love will cause us to communicate our knowledge of the truth to others. Not only will we want to do this, but we will be happy to have the effort cost us something—yes, even life itself. It is exactly this sort of love which we see exemplified in Christ, and we have covenanted to follow in his steps—to follow the pattern of living and dying which he shaped for us.

The apostle tells us that even a mountain-moving faith would not, in itself be, of great profit to us spiritually if unaccompanied by love. We will need this sort of faith if we are active in the Lord’s service; for there will be many discouragements to overcome because many difficulties will be encountered. It is only those who do nothing in the Lord’s service who can get along with a little faith. But faith without love will leave us in the category of being ‘nothing’ in the Lord’s sight.


When the rich young ruler inquired of Jesus the way of life, the Master outlined the terms of discipleship to him, explaining that he would need to sell all that he had and give to the poor. Paul alludes to this, yet emphasizes that even in doing this, unless love is the motive, it will profit us nothing. Jesus told the young ruler that his profits would be great—that in sacrificing all his earthly wealth he would be laying up treasures in heaven. But, as Paul explains, this is true only in the case of those who give all their goods to feed the poor because of their love.

The most poverty-stricken people in the world today, and those who need our help the most, are those who are ‘poor in spirit’, and who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. It is our privilege to feed these with the ‘bread of life’, and to refresh them with the ‘water of life’. And this is just what we will be doing with all that we have and are, as long as brotherly love continues to rule in our hearts.

‘Giving our bodies to be burned’ may be a reference to a heathen form of worship, but we are inclined to think that the apostle is speaking, rather, of the privilege of presenting our bodies “a living sacrifice,” as mentioned in Romans 12:1. The type picturing this privilege was the offering of the ‘Lord’s goat’ on the typical Day of Atonement, when the body of the goat was burned. See also, Hebrews 13:13. But here again, love must be the motive, else our sacrifices in the service of the Lord will profit us nothing.

“Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind,” says the apostle. (vs. 4) The way of love is a difficult one, a way of sacrifice and suffering. Selfishness as a motive might spur us on for a while, but there is no motive more powerful than love. Love will enable us to suffer long—yea, even unto death.

And herein also will come the need of love from the standpoint mentioned by Jesus; namely, that we are to love one another, as he loved us. Jesus loved us while we were yet sinners, and he continues to love us despite our imperfections—those things which are so unlovable, and often so contrary to his will. So it is in our association with one another. Perhaps some of our greatest trials come from the brethren, but love will enable us to endure these experiences. And it is well to remember that our imperfections are as great a trial to other brethren, as their weaknesses are to us., None of us is superior in every respect to others.

But how do we know that brotherly love is enabling us to endure? Paul explains that love suffers long “and is kind.” (vs. 4) If we discover that we are dealing unkindly with our brethren we may know that we are deficient in brotherly love. There can be no legitimate excuse for a Christian ever to be unkind! Let us not deceive ourselves along this line. If we are unkind, we may know that selfishness is still ruling to some extent in our hearts, or that we have been overreached by the spirit of the Adversary.

“Charity [love] envieth not.” Envy is a very subtle enemy of the New Creature. We seldom make an outward display of our envy. If we did, we, as well as others, would recognize it and we would be ashamed. Instead of announcing that we are envious of others, of their position in the church, perhaps, or because of special blessings they enjoy, we begin to criticize them, to call attention to things they do which we think are wrong. We emphasize that our ways would be so much better! Thus, perhaps without recognizing why, we endeavor to debase those whom we envy, and exalt ourselves. This is not the way of brotherly love.

“Charity [love] vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” (vs. 4) The human heart is too cunning openly to vaunt itself, and no Christian ever goes around announcing that he is ‘puffed up’. No, these conditions of heart and mind manifest themselves in strange things which one says and does. A brother, for example, over a period of years, manifests humility in his association with the friends. He is meek and teachable. In time the local ecclesia elects him to eldership, and soon a marked change is noticeable in the brother. He becomes opinionated and considers that his judgment is better than the judgment of those who have been serving faithfully as elders for years. At times he is almost arrogant in his insistence that he have his own way. What has happened? He has become ‘puffed up’, and is no longer being governed by brotherly love. Yes, a puffed up attitude causes brethren to act in very strange ways, but love does not behave itself ‘unseemly’.—vs. 5

Love “seeketh not her own” (vs. 5), particularly her own way. Motivated by love, we presented ourselves and all that we possessed to the Lord. We have agreed to give up everything. If we have been sincere, we will not be too concerned about our ‘rights’. True, every Christian should stand for principle, but let us be sure that we do not make a ‘principle’ out of the idea of having our own way.

Love “is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.” (vs. 5) At no time in the history of the world have people been so ‘on edge’, and so prone to attribute evil motives to others as now. Every Christian is surrounded by these influences, and nothing but a rich infilling of brotherly love will prevent him from indulging in the same sins. We get ‘provoked’ at a brother, or at the brethren, over what we suppose they have said or done. Then, unless we are on our guard, we will begin to think evil of them. And, too often, thoughts of this kind are not based on anything except imagination. It is always well to ask ourselves if we actually know that Brother ‘So-and-so’ said or did what we imagine he did. Nor is a rumor, or even an apparently definite report, sufficient grounds for thinking evil of a brother. If the matter is serious enough, we should go to the brother alone to find out for ourselves. In most cases, when this is done it will be discovered that the report was mere idle gossip.

If our thinking is governed by brotherly love, our joy will be in the Lord, in his truth, and in his people, for love “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” (vs. 6) What are our habits of thought? Are they wrongly seeking to find flaws and imperfections in our brethren? If so, we may know that we are sadly lacking in brotherly love. Love ‘rejoiceth in the truth’, and if that is the fountain of our rejoicing, we will see in our brethren the things which we love, and we will rejoice together with them in all those things which pertain to our common cause as fellow members of the body of Christ.

Love “beareth [covereth] all things”—even the imperfections of the brethren.

Love “believeth all things”—not rumors of evil, but the good reports of our brethren, and the professions of the brethren themselves.

Love “hopeth all things”—even when circumstances tend to present a dark picture.

Love “endureth all things.” (vs.6) How important this is, for only those who “endure unto the end … shall be saved” with that great salvation which “began to be spoken by our Lord.”—Matt. 24:13; Heb. 2:3

Having mentioned these many situations in which brotherly love could be depended upon to keep the Christian in the right way, the apostle makes a blanket statement by way of summary, adding that “Charity [love] never faileth.” (vs. 8) Brotherly love was essential in the Early Church, and is no less essential now. The gift of tongues was necessary then, but the need for it ‘vanished away’. Not so with love.

The importance of brotherly love cannot be over-emphasized. but we are not to suppose that it can take the place of other important considerations in the Christian life. It cannot take the place of doctrine, but it guides us in the proper use of doctrine. Love cannot take the place of activity in the Lord’s service, but it is the only motive for service which is acceptable to God.

Nor can we limit brotherly love to those in the body whose human characteristics may be especially pleasing to us, or to those who may be in agreement with our understanding of the truth in all details. Those who err from the truth need our love even more than others, and often it is on behalf of these that we find our real opportunities for sacrifice.

Let us, then, brethren, not love merely in word, but in truth and in deed. Love is more than merely something to talk about. Those who possess true brotherly love do not need to tell others of their love, for it will be manifested in self-sacrificing zeal on behalf of all the brethren, and in devoting time and strength and means to reach and help those who can be contacted only through a proclamation of the truth.

It is a truism that ‘actions speak louder than words’, and there must be ‘actions’ which, if the ‘voice’ of love is to be heard, will cost us our lives before we reach the end of the way.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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