In closing, the writer of Hebrews outlined seven exhortations for living daily by faith, beginning with the encouragement that all these heroes of our faith act as a cloud of witnesses—past runners—cheering us on from the sidelines in the amphitheater of heaven, as we run the race of life.
Chapter Twelve contained four exhortations on how to live by faith.
- Focus on Christ, Hebrews 12:1-3
- Welcome God’s Discipline, Hebrews 12:4-13
- Keep Our Relationships Right, Hebrews 12:14-17
- Trust in God’s Promises
Chapter Thirteen contains the three more.
5) Treat Brothers and Sisters Well
Let mutual love continue.Hebrews 13:1 Z(NRSV)
Jesus, it seems, leaned on one commandment, but in this commandment is embedded the whole of the law. It all began with some Pharisees and scribes, and teachers of the law, gathering together to quiz this itinerant and seemingly unschooled rabbi on his grasp of the scriptures. It was completely legit! One of the solemn tasks of the Sanhedrin was to vet anyone who positioned themselves as a teacher of God’s word.
At regular intervals, a delegation of Bible experts would seek Jesus out and pose the kinds of questions that would act as entrapment to anyone less than expert in the scriptures, as well as being intelligent and wise. This occasion was no different, when Jesus was asked what He thought the greatest commandment might be. It is no surprise to you and me today that Jesus’ answer centered on love.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSV)
Then, on the last night they would have together, the cross’s shadow looming metaphorically overhead, Jesus gathered together His students, disciples, and followers for His deepest teaching yet. It was Jesus’ moment to tell them the things He wanted etched into their hearts and minds. Listen to how often Jesus leaned into the word love.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me;
and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.John 14:15-24 (NRSV)
Later, this command of love became a central part of the apostolic teaching.
The Apostle Paul
Paul spoke extensively on love, in all his letters. The Holy Spirit sheds God’s love abroad in our hearts, and with that supernatural outpouring of love, we love one another with mutual affection, knowing that when we love each other we are fulfilling the law.
In fact, Paul wrote, it really does not matter how gifted a person is, how amazing in all other respects, how famous and celebrated, how inspiring and whatever else. If that person does not have the love of God in their hearts, or does not love others, then that person is no better than an obnoxious noisemaker, even at their best. Because there is no good without love.
James and Jude, Jesus’ Brothers
James also focused on Jesus’ teaching of the Law of Love, writing,
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”James 2:5 (NRSV)
And Jude prayed there would be an abundance of love, mercy, and peace among all the assemblies of believers.
The Apostle Peter
Peter also spoke regularly of the crucial centrality of love, writing,
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.
. . . have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
. . . Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.1 Peter 1:22; 3:8; 4:8 (NRSV)
The Apostle John
John was deeply affected by that last night with Jesus, and later wrote,
[The Who who claims] “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.1 John 2:4-6 (NRSV)
Every chapter of John’s letter speaks of the love of God in Christ and how that love affects those who have the Spirit of Christ. John taught that love for brothers and sisters in the Lord keeps us from stumbling, but that love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive.
In fact, when we have this love of God within us, we can tell because we will love others. This is such a basic truth, in John’s mind, that to not have that love for each other is equated with not loving God, not even having God. We have not passed from death into life. And that love is not simply a good feeling—although that is certainly an important marker! But love is truly expressed in practical and real ways.
Listen, John wrote, We could not love except that God already loved us, and God’s perfect love casts out any fear we may have in loving God back, as well as loving each other. Let the Love of God do it’s good, healing work inside of you, casting out one fear after another, filling you so full that anxiety, worry, and all forms of fear are steadily edged out.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent [God’s] only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that [God] loved us and sent [God’s] Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and [God’s] love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in [Christ] and [Christ] in us, because [Jesus] has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.1 John 4:7-16 (NRSV)