Let Your Brotherly Love Continue!
“Let your brotherly love continue.”—HEBREWS 13:1.
1. What would you do in order to keep a fire burning on a cold night, and what similar responsibility do all of us have?
IT IS dangerously cold outside, and the temperature is plummeting. The one source of heat in your house is a fire crackling in the fireplace. Lives depend on your keeping it going. Will you simply sit and watch as the flames die and the red glow of the coals fades to a dull, lifeless gray? Of course not. You tirelessly keep feeding it fuel to keep it alive. In a sense, each of us has a similar job when it comes to a far more important “fire”—the one that should burn in our hearts—love.
2. (a) Why might it be said that love has grown cold in these last days? (b) How important is love to true Christians?
2 We live at a time when, as Jesus long ago foretold, love is cooling off among professed Christians around the world. (Matthew 24:12) Jesus was referring to the most important kind of love, the love for Jehovah God and for his Word, the Bible. Other types of love are also on the wane. The Bible foretold that in “the last days,” many would have “no natural affection.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) How true this is! The family should be a haven of natural affection, but even there, violence and abuse—sometimes terrifyingly brutal—have become commonplace. Yet, in this world’s cold climate, Christians are commanded not only to have love for one another but to have self-sacrificing love, putting others ahead of self. We are to display this love so plainly that it is visible to all, becoming the identifying mark of the true Christian congregation.—John 13:34, 35.
3. What is brotherly love, and what does it mean to let it continue?
3 The apostle Paul was inspired to command: “Let your brotherly love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1) According to one scholarly work, the Greek word here translated “brotherly love” (phi·la·del·phiʹa) “refers to affectionate love, showing kindness, sympathy, offering help.” And what did Paul mean when he said that we should let such love continue? “It is never to grow cold,” the same work observes. So it is not enough to feel affection for our brothers; we must let it show. Further, we must make this love last, never letting it grow cold. Challenging? Yes, but Jehovah’s spirit can help us to cultivate brotherly affection and to maintain it. Let us consider three ways to fuel the fire of this love in our hearts.
Show Fellow Feeling
4. What is fellow feeling?
4 If you want to have more love for your Christian brothers and sisters, you may first need to feel for them, to empathize with them in the trials and challenges they face in life. The apostle Peter suggested as much when he wrote: “All of you be like-minded, showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate, humble in mind.” (1 Peter 3:8) The Greek word used here for showing “fellow feeling” denotes “suffering with.” One authority on Biblical Greek says of this word: “It describes that state of mind which exists when we enter into the feelings of others as if they were our own.” Hence, empathy is needed. A faithful, elderly servant of Jehovah once said: “Empathy is your pain in my heart.”
5. How do we know that Jehovah has fellow feeling?
5 Does Jehovah have such fellow feeling? Absolutely. For instance, we read regarding the sufferings of his people Israel: “During all their distress it was distressing to him.” (Isaiah 63:9) Jehovah did not merely see their troubles; he felt for the people. Just how intensely he feels is illustrated by Jehovah’s own words to his people, recorded at Zechariah 2:8: “He that is touching you is touching my eyeball.”* One commentator notes regarding this verse: “The eye is one of the most intricate and delicate structures in the human frame; and the pupil of the eye—the opening by which the light of heaven enters for the purposes of vision—the most sensitive, as well as important, part of that structure. Nothing can more finely convey the idea of the exquisitely tender care of Jehovah for the objects of his love.”
6. How has Jesus Christ shown fellow feeling?
6 Jesus too has always shown profound fellow feeling. He was repeatedly “moved with pity” over the plight of his fellow humans who were sick or troubled. (Mark 1:41; 6:34) He indicated that when anyone fails to treat his anointed followers kindly, he feels as though he himself were receiving that treatment. (Matthew 25:41-46) And today as our heavenly “high priest,” he is one who can “sympathize with our weaknesses.”—Hebrews 4:15.
7. How might fellow feeling help us when a brother or a sister irritates us?
7 “Sympathize with our weaknesses”—is that not a comforting thought? Surely, then, we want to do the same for one another. Of course, it is far easier to look for the weaknesses of another. (Matthew 7:3-5) But the next time a brother or a sister irritates you, why not try this? Imagine yourself in that person’s circumstances, with that background, that personality, that set of personal faults to contend with. Can you be sure that you would not make the same mistakes—or perhaps even worse ones? Instead of expecting too much of others, we should show fellow feeling, which will help us to be reasonable like Jehovah, who ‘remembers that we are dust.’ (Psalm 103:14; James 3:17) He knows our limitations. He never expects more of us than we can reasonably do. (Compare 1 Kings 19:5-7.) Let us all extend such fellow feeling to others.
8. How should we react when a brother or a sister is going through some hardship?
8 Paul wrote that the congregation is like a body with diverse members that must work together in unity. He added: “If one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-26) We need to suffer along with, or empathize with, those who are going through some ordeal. The elders take the lead in doing so. Paul also wrote: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is stumbled, and I am not incensed?” (2 Corinthians 11:29) Elders and traveling overseers imitate Paul in this regard. In their talks, in their shepherding work, and even in their handling of judicial matters, they endeavor to show fellow feeling. Paul recommended: “Weep with people who weep.” (Romans 12:15) When the sheep sense that the shepherds truly feel for them, grasp their limitations, and sympathize with the hardships they face, they are usually more willing to accept counsel, direction, and discipline. They attend meetings eagerly, confident that there they will find ‘refreshment for their souls.’—Matthew 11:29.
9. How does Jehovah show that he appreciates what is good in us?
9 A second way to fuel brotherly love is through appreciation. To appreciate others, we must focus on and value their good qualities and efforts. When we do so, we imitate Jehovah himself. (Ephesians 5:1) Daily he forgives us many minor sins. He even forgives serious sins as long as there is genuine repentance. Then once he forgives our sins, he does not dwell on them. (Ezekiel 33:14-16) The psalmist asked: “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) What Jehovah focuses on are the good things that we do in serving him.—Hebrews 6:10.
10. (a) Why is it dangerous for marriage mates to lose appreciation for each other? (b) What should one do who is losing appreciation for a spouse?
10 It is particularly important to follow this example in the family. When parents show that they appreciate each other, they set the tone for the family. In this era of throwaway marriages, it is all too easy to take a spouse for granted and to magnify flaws and downplay good traits. Such negative thinking erodes marriage, turning it into a joyless burden. If your appreciation for your mate is on the wane, ask yourself, ‘Is my spouse really without good qualities?’ Think back on the reasons you fell in love and married. Have all those reasons for loving this unique person really vanished? Surely not; so work hard to appreciate the good in your mate, and put your appreciation into words.—Proverbs 31:28.
11. If marital love is to be free from hypocrisy, what practices must be avoided?
11 Appreciation also helps marriage partners to keep their love free from hypocrisy. (Compare 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22.) Such love, fueled by heartfelt appreciation, will allow no room for cruelty behind closed doors, no room for words that hurt and humiliate, no room for the cold shoulder treatment wherein days may pass without a kind or civil word being spoken, and certainly no room for physical violence. (Ephesians 5:28, 29) A husband and wife who truly appreciate each other honor each other. They do so not only when they are in public but whenever they are within Jehovah’s sight—in other words, all the time.—Proverbs 5:21.
12. Why should parents express appreciation for the good in their children?
12 Children too need to feel appreciated. Not that parents should shower them with empty flattery, but they should commend their children’s praiseworthy qualities and the genuine good that they do. Remember Jehovah’s example in expressing his approval of Jesus. (Mark 1:11) Remember, too, Jesus’ example as the “master” in a parable. He commended two ‘good and faithful slaves’ equally, even though there was a difference in what each one was given and a corresponding difference in what each one produced. (Matthew 25:20-23; compare Matthew 13:23.) Wise parents likewise find ways to express appreciation for each child’s unique qualities, abilities, and accomplishments. At the same time, they try not to emphasize accomplishments so much that their children constantly feel driven to perform. They do not want their children to grow up exasperated or downhearted.—Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21.
13. Who take the lead in showing appreciation for each congregation member?
13 In the Christian congregation, elders and traveling overseers take the lead in showing appreciation for each individual member of the flock of God. Theirs is a difficult position, as they also bear the heavy responsibility to discipline in righteousness, to readjust erring ones in a spirit of mildness, and to offer strong counsel to those who need it. How do they balance these differing responsibilities?—Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 3:16.
14, 15. (a) How did Paul show balance in the matter of giving strong counsel? (b) How can Christian overseers balance the need to correct wrongs with the need to give commendation? Illustrate.
14 Paul’s example is of great help. He was an outstanding teacher, elder, and shepherd. He had to deal with congregations that had severe problems, and he did not fearfully hold back from giving strong counsel when it was required. (2 Corinthians 7:8-11) An overview of Paul’s ministry suggests that he used the rebuke sparingly—only when the situation made it necessary or advisable. In this he showed godly wisdom.
15 If an elder’s ministry before the congregation were likened to a piece of music, then rebuke and reprimand would be like a single note that fits into the whole. That note is fine in its place. (Luke 17:3; 2 Timothy 4:2) Imagine a song containing only that one note, repeated over and over again. It would quickly grate on our ears. In a similar vein, Christian elders try to round out their teaching and imbue it with variety. They do not limit it to the correcting of problems. Rather, its overall tone is positive. Like Jesus Christ, loving elders look first for the good to commend, not the fault to criticize. They appreciate the hard work their fellow Christians are doing. They are confident that by and large, each one is doing his best to serve Jehovah. And elders readily put that feeling into words.—Compare 2 Thessalonians 3:4.
16. What effect did Paul’s appreciative and empathetic attitude have on his fellow Christians?
16 Unquestionably, most of the Christians to whom Paul ministered sensed that he appreciated them and had fellow feeling for them. How do we know this? Look at how they felt about Paul. They did not fear him, even though he had great authority. No, he was beloved and approachable. Why, when he left one area, the elders ‘fell upon his neck and tenderly kissed him’! (Acts 20:17, 37) How thankful elders—and all of us—should be that we have Paul’s example to emulate! Yes, let us show appreciation for one another.
Acts of Loving-Kindness
17. What are some good effects stemming from acts of kindness in the congregation?
17 One of the most potent fuels for brotherly love is a simple act of kindness. As Jesus said, “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) Whether we give spiritually, materially, or of our time and energy, not only do we make others happy but we make ourselves happy as well. In the congregation, kindness is contagious. One kind act generates similar acts in turn. Before long, brotherly affection flourishes!—Luke 6:38.
18. What is the meaning of the “kindness” spoken of at Micah 6:8?
18 Jehovah urged his people Israel to display kindness. At Micah 6:8, we read: “He has told you, O earthling man, what is good. And what is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?” What does it mean to “love kindness”? The Hebrew word used here for “kindness” (cheʹsedh) has also been translated into English as “mercy.” According to The Soncino Books of the Bible, this word “denotes something more active than the abstract English word mercy. It means ‘mercy translated into deeds,’ the performance of personal acts of loving-kindness, not only to the poor and needy, but to all one’s fellow-men.” Thus another scholar says that cheʹsedh means “love translated into action.”
19. (a) In what ways might we take the initiative to show kindness to others in the congregation? (b) Give an example of how brotherly love has been shown to you.
19 Our brotherly love is not theoretical, or abstract. It is a concrete reality. Hence, look for ways to do kind things for your brothers and sisters. Be like Jesus, who did not always just wait for people to approach him to ask for help but often took the initiative himself. (Luke 7:12-16) Think especially of those most in need. Does an elderly or infirm person need a visit or perhaps some help with errands? Does a ‘fatherless child’ need some time and attention? Does a depressed soul need a listening ear or some consoling words? As we are able, let us make time for such acts of kindness. (Job 29:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; James 1:27) Never forget that in a congregation full of imperfect people, one of the most vital acts of kindness is forgiveness—freely letting go of resentment, even when there is a legitimate cause for complaint. (Colossians 3:13) A readiness to forgive helps to keep the congregation free of divisions, grudges, and feuds, which are like wet blankets that smother the fire of brotherly love.
20. How should all of us continue to examine ourselves?
20 Let all of us be resolved to keep this vital fire of love burning in our hearts. Let us keep examining ourselves. Do we show fellow feeling for others? Do we show appreciation for others? Do we perform acts of kindness toward others? As long as we do, the fire of love will warm our brotherhood no matter how bitterly cold and unfeeling this world becomes. By all means, then, “let your brotherly love continue”—now and forever!—Hebrews 13:1.
Some translations imply here that the one touching God’s people is touching, not God’s, but Israel’s eye or even his own. This error came from some medieval scribes who, in their misguided efforts to emend passages they viewed as irreverent, changed this verse. They thereby obscured the intensity of Jehovah’s personal empathy.
What Do You Think?
□ What is brotherly love, and why must we let it continue?
□ How does having fellow feeling help us to maintain our brotherly love?
□ What role does appreciation play in brotherly love?
□ How do acts of kindness cause brotherly love to flourish in the Christian congregation?
[Box on page 16]
Love in Action
Some years ago, a man who had studied the Bible for a time with Jehovah’s Witnesses was still somewhat skeptical about brotherly love. He knew that Jesus had said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) But he found it hard to believe. One day he got to see Christian love in action.
Though confined to a wheelchair, this man was traveling far from home. In Bethlehem, Israel, he attended a congregation meeting. There, an Arab Witness insisted that another Witness tourist stay with his family for the night, and this Bible student was included in the invitation. Before going to bed, the student asked his host for permission to go out onto the veranda in the morning to watch the sunrise. His host sternly warned him that he must not do that. The next day this Arab brother explained the reason. Through an interpreter, he said that if his neighbors knew that he had guests of a Jewish background—as was the case with this Bible student—they would burn his house to the ground with him and his family inside. Confused, the Bible student asked him, “Why, then, did you take such a risk?” Without the interpreter, the Arab brother looked him in the eye and simply said, “John 13:35.”
The Bible student was deeply impressed with the reality of brotherly love. He was baptized shortly thereafter.
[Picture on page 18]
The apostle Paul’s outgoing and appreciative nature made him approachable