“Let your brotherly love continue.”—HEB. 13:1.
1, 2. Why did Paul write a letter to the Hebrew Christians?
THE year was 61 C.E. The Christian congregations throughout Israel were enjoying a period of relative peace. Although the apostle Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he was hoping to be released soon. His companion Timothy had just been released, and they were planning to visit their Christian brothers in Judea. (Heb. 13:23) However, in five years’ time, Jerusalem would be “surrounded by encamped armies,” just as Jesus had prophesied. Christians in Judea, and especially those living in Jerusalem, would have to act decisively. Jesus had warned them that they would need to flee as soon as they saw these events start to unfold.—Luke 21:20-24.
2 In the 28 years since Jesus had uttered that prophecy, the faithful Jewish Christians living in Israel had already faced much opposition and persecution successfully. (Heb. 10:32-34) Yet, Paul knew that they were about to be confronted with one of the most challenging tests of their faith. (Matt. 24:20, 21; Heb. 12:4) He wanted them to be prepared for whatever might come their way. They would need exceptional endurance and faith—faith strong enough to preserve their lives. (Read Hebrews 10:36-39.) So Paul was prompted by Jehovah’s spirit to write those dear brothers and sisters a letter designed to meet their special needs. That letter is now known as the book of Hebrews.
3. Why should we be interested in the book of Hebrews?
3 All of us today should be interested in what Paul wrote to those first-century Hebrew Christians. Why? Because we find ourselves in a similar situation. During these “critical times hard to deal with,” Jehovah’s people have faced all types of opposition and persecution. (2 Tim. 3:1, 12) We have proved beyond doubt that our faith and devotion are strong. Many of us, though, are now living in a relatively peaceful time, with no outright persecution. However, like the Christians in Paul’s day, none of us should lose sight of this key fact—soon we will face the most challenging test of our faith!—Read Luke 21:34-36.
4. What is the yeartext for 2016, and why is it appropriate?
4 What will help us to prepare for the events that lie immediately ahead of us? In the book of Hebrews, Paul outlines many things that will help us to strengthen our faith. One essential thing is highlighted in the first verse of the last chapter of that letter. That verse has been selected to be the yeartext for 2016. It admonishes us: “Let your brotherly love continue.”—Heb. 13:1.
Our yeartext for 2016: “Let your brotherly love continue.”—Hebrews 13:1
WHAT IS BROTHERLY LOVE?
5. What is brotherly love?
5 What does it mean for us to show brotherly love? The Greek term used by Paul, phi·la·del·phiʹa, literally means “affection for a brother.” Brotherly love is the type of affection that involves a strong, warm, personal attachment, such as to a family member or a close friend. (John 11:36) We do not pretend to be brothers and sisters—we are brothers and sisters. (Matt. 23:8) Our strong feeling of attachment to one another is summed up nicely in these words: “In brotherly love have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another, take the lead.” (Rom. 12:10) Combined with principled love, a·gaʹpe, this type of love promotes close companionship among God’s people.
6. How do true Christians understand the meaning of brotherly love?
6 “‘Brotherly love,’” according to one scholar, “is a relatively rare term outside of Christian literature.” In Judaism, the meaning of the word “brother” sometimes extended beyond those who were literally relatives, but its meaning was still restricted to those within the Jewish nation and did not include Gentiles. However, Christianity embraces all believers, no matter what their nationality. (Rom. 10:12) As brothers, we have been taught by Jehovah to have brotherly affection for one another. (1 Thess. 4:9) But why is it vital that we let our brotherly love continue?
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO CONTINUE TO SHOW BROTHERLY LOVE?
7. (a) What is the most important reason for us to show brotherly love? (b) Give another reason why it is important to strengthen our affection for one another.
7 The simple answer is that Jehovah requires us to show brotherly love to one another. We cannot claim to love God and at the same time refuse to love our brothers. (1 John 4:7, 20, 21) Additionally, we need one another. This is especially true in times of trouble. Paul knew that some of the Hebrew Christians to whom he was writing would soon need to leave their homes and material possessions. Jesus had described how difficult that time would be. (Mark 13:14-18; Luke 21:21-23) So more than ever before, those Christians needed to strengthen their affection for one another.—Rom. 12:9.
8. What do we need to do now before the start of the great tribulation?
8 Soon the destructive winds of the greatest tribulation of all time will be released. (Mark 13:19; Rev. 7:1-3) Then, we will do well to heed this inspired counsel: “Go, my people, enter your inner rooms, and shut your doors behind you. Hide yourself for a brief moment until the wrath has passed by.” (Isa. 26:20) These “inner rooms” may refer to our congregations. That is where we come together as brothers and sisters to worship Jehovah. But it is not enough for us to meet together regularly. Paul reminded the Hebrew Christians that they should use such occasions to incite one another “to love and fine works.” (Heb. 10:24, 25) We need to develop our brotherly love now, for it will help us during whatever tests and trials we may face in the future.
9. (a) What opportunities do we have to show brotherly love today? (b) Give examples of how Jehovah’s people have shown brotherly love.
9 Even now, before the outbreak of the great tribulation, we have a strong need for brotherly love. Many of our brothers have been adversely affected by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, or other natural disasters. Some brothers are suffering because of opposition and persecution. (Matt. 24:6-9) Added to all of this are the economic woes we experience daily as a result of living in this corrupt system of things. (Rev. 6:5, 6) As such problems increase, so do our opportunities to demonstrate the depth of our brotherly affection. Even though “the love of the greater number [of people] will grow cold,” we need to prove that our brotherly love continues.—Matt. 24:12.
HOW CAN WE LET OUR BROTHERLY LOVE CONTINUE?
10. What will we now examine?
10 Despite the number of problems we face, how can we make sure that we let our brotherly love continue? In what ways can we prove that we have this type of affection for our brothers? After stating, “let your brotherly love continue,” the apostle Paul lists several ways that Christians can do this. Let us now examine six of them.
11, 12. What does it mean to show hospitality? (See opening picture.)
11 “Do not forget hospitality.” (Read Hebrews 13:2.) The original-language expression translated “hospitality” means “kindness to strangers.” This phrase may remind us of the examples of Abraham and Lot. Both men showed kindness to visitors whom they did not know. These visitors turned out to be angels. (Gen. 18:2-5; 19:1-3) Paul alludes to these examples in order to encourage the Hebrew Christians to show brotherly love by being hospitable.
12 Do we extend hospitality to others by inviting them to our home for a meal or for some association and encouragement? We would not need to make elaborate or expensive arrangements to be considered hospitable; nor would we want to invite only those who might repay us in some way. (Luke 10:42; 14:12-14) Our goal should be to encourage, not to impress! Even though we may not know our circuit overseer and his wife very well, do we eagerly show them hospitality? (3 John 5-8) With our busy schedules as well as the stresses of daily living, how important it is that we “do not forget hospitality”!
13, 14. How can we “keep in mind those in prison”?
13 “Keep in mind those in prison.” (Read Hebrews 13:3.) Paul was not here referring to just any type of prisoner. He was speaking about those brothers who were imprisoned for their faith. Paul himself had been in prison bonds for some four years by the time he penned those words to the Hebrew Christians. (Phil. 1:12-14) He commended the brothers for having “expressed sympathy for those in prison.” (Heb. 10:34) Unlike the ones who personally assisted Paul while he was in prison, those Hebrew Christians were physically separated from Paul. So how could they keep him in mind? They could do so by their fervent prayers in his behalf.—Heb. 13:18, 19.
14 Today, we may likewise be separated physically from our brothers who have been thrown into prison. We may not be able to give them the practical help that is provided by the Witnesses who live near the prison. But we can show our sympathy and brotherly affection by constantly remembering these faithful ones and mentioning them in our prayers, pleading to Jehovah in their behalf. For example, do we keep in mind the scores of brothers, sisters, and at times even children who are in prison in Eritrea, including the three brothers—Paulos Eyassu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam—who have been imprisoned there for over 20 years?
15. How can we honor our marriage?
15 “Let marriage be honorable among all.” (Read Hebrews 13:4.) We can also prove our brotherly love by remaining morally chaste. (1 Tim. 5:1, 2) If someone were to “go beyond proper limits and take advantage” of a brother or a sister by committing sexual immorality with him or her or with members of that one’s own family, this would violate the trust on which brotherly love is based. (1 Thess. 4:3-8) Additionally, imagine how a wife would feel if she discovered that her husband betrayed her by watching pornography. Would such conduct show love for her and respect for the marriage arrangement?—Matt. 5:28.
16. How does contentment help us to show brotherly love?
16 Be “content with the present things.” (Read Hebrews 13:5.) True contentment is based on our trust in Jehovah. It allows us to have a balanced view of material possessions. (1 Tim. 6:6-8) It helps us to realize that our relationship with Jehovah and our Christian brothers is far more important than anything that money can buy. A contented person does not complain, grumble, or find fault; nor does he succumb to feelings of envy and greed—feelings that can stifle the development of brotherly love. Rather, contentment promotes a generous spirit.—1 Tim. 6:17-19.
17. How does being “of good courage” help us to show brotherly love?
17 “Be of good courage.” (Read Hebrews 13:6.) Our trust in Jehovah gives us courage, no matter what challenges we may face. This courage, in turn, allows us to have a positive attitude. Our brotherly love, combined with such a positive attitude, will enable us to build up and comfort our fellow believers. (1 Thess. 5:14, 15) Even when the world faces its darkest moment during the great tribulation, we will be able to “stand up straight and lift up [our] heads,” knowing that our deliverance is near.—Luke 21:25-28.
18. How can we strengthen our brotherly love for our elders?
18 “Remember those who are taking the lead.” (Read Hebrews 13:7, 17.) When we think about the hard work that our elders do for us—all without financial reward—our brotherly love and feelings of appreciation for them are strengthened. Never would we want them to lose their joy or to sigh because of something we do. Rather, by our obedience and submission, we “give them extraordinary consideration in love because of their work.”—1 Thess. 5:13.
KEEP ON DOING IT MORE FULLY
19, 20. How can we continue to show brotherly love in a greater way?
19 There is no doubt that Jehovah’s people are well-known for their brotherly love. Paul acknowledged that fact back in his day. But then he went on to encourage all “to go on doing so in fuller measure.” (1 Thess. 4:9, 10) There is always room for improvement!
20 As we look at our yeartext throughout the year, let us also meditate on these questions: Can I be more hospitable? How can I remember our brothers in prison? Do I show proper honor for God’s arrangement of marriage? What will help me to gain true contentment? How can I deepen my trust in Jehovah? How can I cooperate more fully with those who are taking the lead? If we apply ourselves in these six areas, then our yeartext will not be just a sign on the wall in our Kingdom Hall. It will remind us to heed the admonition: “Let your brotherly love continue.”—Heb. 13:1.
^  (paragraph 9) For examples of how Jehovah’s Witnesses show brotherly love in times of disaster, see the July 15, 2002, Watchtower, pp. 8-9, and Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, chap. 19.