We must not allow the world to define love for us. According to blind men and social agitators, love is accepting a personal lifestyle choice without question or judgment. If you reject perversion and believe there are limits to legitimate sexual expression, then you are hateful and phobic. If you believe there is only one God, only one way to God, and only one way of salvation, you are a hateful, bigoted person. The radical revolution against the Christian faith in this land has now reached down and stolen love from the only ones who know what love is. Loving you is not respecting your right to live as you please or to marry your pets. Love is defined by God’s gift of his Son and the Son’s obedience and love unto death on the cross. Love is self-denial, including our prejudices, fears, and sexual appetites. Love is sacrifice of oneself for the good of others. Love is serving men because Jesus Christ served us. The world knows nothing of love – only uncontrollable desires, theft of other men’s property and purity, and slavery to self. It is pitiable. Let us pray for the salvation of the world. Let us also understand that we cannot accept the world’s definitions of love and be faithful Christians.
The Three Loves
Hospitality to Christian Strangers (v. 2)
We have already seen the connection between “consuming fire” (12:29) and “brotherly love” (13:1). Now we are given three applications of brotherly love. Faith works through love, expresses itself through love (Gal. 5:6). Love needs direction, or it will be lost in the labyrinth of our lusts. Enslaved in our sins, we turn love to lust, love to self-service, love into its opposite. Reconciled to God through Christ and in fellowship with him, love is his life in us. Thus, “When I was a stranger, you took me in” (Matt. 25:35). “Show hospitality to strangers” is not a command to pick up vagabonds off the street or to take into one’s home completely unknown persons. Never does faith teach imprudence. The context is the Christian congregation – brotherly love. Christ is the ultimate stranger we are taking in when we take one another into our homes, wash the feet of the saints, and pour ourselves out for one another. These strangers were believers displaced from their homes through persecution, traveling on business, or servants of the church. The local inns, such as there were, were unsafe and unsavory. Because believers have a common bond that transcends even personal acquaintance, we are directed to be ready at all seasons to open our homes to one another. Does not life often push hospitality out of our minds – Why, I can barely get it all done, and you want me to remember to show hospitality? This is one of the three loves that are uniquely Christian – that in the midst of busy lives, even facing persecution, believers in Jesus are controlled by the concerns of love – or must not forget to be! It is our new nature (1 John 4:7). It is Christ Jesus in us.
Sympathy to Christian Prisoners (v. 3)
Closely related to extending hospitality is sympathy to imprisoned believers. Jesus said to Saul on the Damascus Road, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4)? When the Lord’s people are mistreated or persecuted for the sake of the gospel, he is personally attacked. Throughout Christ’s body, there is a remarkable sympathy and concern for one another. This is true mystically, for we are one with him, and it is true sympathetically, for we cannot but love those who love the Savior, and who are loved by him (1 John 5:1). Therefore, since we are bound together by the closest ties, we must remember those who are in bonds for the gospel. The Christian idea is not “out of sight, out of mind.” It is, “One for all, and all for one,” with the One being Jesus Christ, who has loved us all and laid down his life for us. Therefore, we must lay down our lives for one another and be vitally interested in one another’s afflictions and especially wounds suffered for the sake of Christ. And when we remember that in tending to our imprisoned or suffering fellow-believers, we are really ministering to our Savior, and that this will be brought up on the day of judgment as evidence that we truly know him, then these closing practical remarks force themselves to the very center of our souls. Has Christ made us sympathetic? Are we moved much by the sufferings of his people? Do we bear one another’s burdens? Or, are we apathetic, concerned mostly with our own affairs, with barely a drop of Christian kindness and compassion able to be squeezed from our souls?
Purity in Christian Marriage (v. 4)
A third uniquely Christian love is purity in marriage. I am sad to say that we have always struggled with this – by we, I mean Christians. Some in the Corinthian church were encouraging women to be strong-willed, throw off the authority structures God has established in home and in church, withhold sexual love, and even to divorce their husbands. Others said there was nothing wrong with sex outside of marriage, for the body did not matter. They were like those today who say, “You cannot see my heart; therefore, do not judge me.” God says to them, and so may we with humility, “I cannot see your heart directly, but I can see its loves and commitments by the way you talk and live.”
Against asceticism on one side, and giving free reign to one’s sexual appetites on the other, we are told that marriage is honorable and the bed undefiled. It is to be held in honor and treated with honor, for it belongs to God, and not to us. He is the Creator and Lord of marriage. Those early believers were not to think it sub-Christian to be married. And as for sexuality in marriage, it does not defile. It is sex in any other context that defiles and reveals a defiled heart. The marriage bed should be celebrated between husband and wife and enjoyed regularly (Prov. 5:18; 1 Cor. 5:1-5). This celebration is made challenging by the many and constant attacks against the honorableness of the marriage estate. Some of these would include an undue delay of marriage and unwise extending of singleness, undermining mutual admiration and tenderness through emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, and redefining marriage itself as to include perverse family arrangements that God condemns in his word. The marriage bed is also attacked with great vehemence through craving after fantastical experimentation, sexual obsession, imitating the world’s perversions and prostitutes, and relating to one’s wife as a legal and respectable way to gratify lust rather than the covenanted wife of one’s youth to be cherished. May the Lord deliver us from these!
The Three Motives
Angelic Visitation (v. 2)
Over the years, I think I have heard more objections to hospitality than to election and predestination. This is not surprising, for hospitality to anyone, especially to strangers or large Christian families that cannot afford sufficient hotel space, directly challenges us. For whom are we living? Are we ready to serve? Have our families so completely enfolded upon themselves so that there is no room to minister to others? And so, the Holy Spirit gives us a surprising motivation to show hospitality to strangers. When Abraham our father extended hospitality to the three travelers on the plains of Mamre, little did he know that he was being visited by a deputation of angels, with one of them being the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Son of God! The point is not that by showing hospitality within the body and especially to those who need it most, that we shall likely be visited by angels. That is not impossible, of course, but it is more to the point that Abraham was uniquely and unexpectedly blessed by showing hospitality. And that is the promise to us – that loving our brothers and sisters by serving them in our homes will actually bless us! Therefore, whenever we are thinking about all the arrangements that have to be made, facing and fighting against our idols of appearance and perfection, let us remember that hospitality is not about putting our homes and culinary abilities on display – it is about opening ourselves up for love’s sake to minister to Christ, which in turn opens us up to receive his blessing and visit. For when we serve those who belong to Christ, we serve Christ himself, just as surely as Mary washed his feet (Matt. 25:35).
Body Oneness (v. 3)
Brotherly love means that each believer is part of the body of Christ and therefore “members one of another” (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25). It was no easier to convince the earliest Christians of this truth than it is us. If we believed this, we would not fight and devour one another, view one another suspiciously and put the worst possible construction upon words and even casual looks. This is the way the world’s warring tribes relate to one another, and even families within the same ethnic groups attack one another like wild animals. Blood is simply not thick enough to keep sinners together and at peace, for that blood is diseased with selfishness, hate, and fear. But we are one body in Christ. Again and again, the apostles insisted upon this – Jew and Gentiles together in one body, no longer separated, brought together in Christ, all the church one under Christ the head. This was shocking in the first century for the same reason it is today. Where is unity and peace among one’s own race, much less between races and other social groupings? Only in submission to the Prince of peace can sinners live at peace. Thus, when it comes to compassion toward prisoners for the gospel and other suffering believers, the Christian has a different take. He feels as if this concerns him deeply, as if it is happening to him. This is because Jesus Christ restores the ability to sympathize with the sufferings of others, to enter into them, and to do what we can to relieve those who are in distress. And notice the motivation – because we are in the same body. These things are happening to us – mystically in Christ as the Head of the body, and even in a sense existentially, if we allow ourselves to love as our Savior did and truly bear one another’s burdens.
God’s Judgment (v. 4)
Given man’s long and lost battle against impurity, God’s certain judgment against all sexual sins must arrest our attention. We can bring to memory ages and peoples that suffered because they had no fear of God and would not bridle their sexual appetites. Seeing what happened to them and feeling the war in ourselves, let us take this warning seriously. “Fornicators and adulterers” captures both unmarried and married sexual sins. The inescapable implication is that there is no legitimate sexual activity or expression outside of marriage. Marriage and its pleasures belong to God; he created them and gave them to man as a gift. But only Christians are able to live this way. Only Christ is able to break the dominion of lusts in our lives and restore sexual harmony through obedience to God’s will. And make no mistake – no sexual harmony or satisfaction is to be found by throwing off traditional values or by pursuing the more aggressive and violent perversion in which burned out men have recklessly participated, from Baalism to today’s transvestitism. Ancient and modern, men are not born this way, except in the sense of being born in bondage to various sins and lusts; they practice these things as a way to rekindle vitality and find meaning that has been lost due to sin. Nothing short of the fear of judgment can keep us in line when it comes to purity. God will judge those who sin against marriage and the marriage bed. Let us first repent of our pre-marital, heterosexual infidelities, impure gazes and lusts, and every departure from holy matrimony as established by God in the beginning. And then we shall be readier to call men back from the grosser impurities that will bring God’s certain judgment upon us.
Christ’s Three Transformations
From Selfishness to Sharing (v. 2)
Given that these practical directives come at the end of a letter completely devoted to the superior person, priesthood, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we must view these virtues and directives in their relation to him. If we know anything about men, about ourselves, we must readily admit that selfishness and self-interest dominate us. Men speak admiringly of altruism, but this is because it is so rare in our race. But in the Christian faith, sharing and hospitality are institutionalized as a way of life. And this is not to earn one’s salvation, as in the cults and various world religions that believe in salvation through moralism and good works. Nor is it to impress one another. Jesus was far more impressed with the widow’s two mites than with the rich man’s wagon of wealth – and he remains so to this moment. The hospitality he envisions is born of love for him. It is self-consciously given to him by being given to his people. Christian hospitality does not look to the worthiness of the recipients, other than as being co-heirs with us of the grace of life and common lovers of our blessed Savior. It looks not at the inconvenience but at the opportunity to wash our Savior’s feet by washing one another’s. But let us be clear that he alone can break the dominion of selfishness, the fear of what others may think about us or what we have, and our unwillingness to spend and be spent for others. We are by nature lovers of self, haters of men, and haters of God. Thus, when we are confronted with the need to entertain strangers, let us not search within ourselves for the strength but in our Savior, who can work in us the graces that are wholly beyond us. The more closely we walk with him, think of his love, stand in awe of his hospitality to us in his heavenly kingdom, the more we shall find our hearts willing and able to serve strangers – for the sake of Jesus.
From Indifference to Mercy (v. 3)
And the same is true of the sympathy we should have toward persecuted and afflicted believers. From where does this sympathy and mercy come but from the renewal we have in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we share the same love and prefer one another to ourselves (Phil. 2:1-5). Then, when we hear of suffering, or someone asks us to pray for another believer, we shall not dismiss this as a waste of time. When Christ Jesus dwells with us, he brings his heart enabling us to bear one another’s grief and sorrows, like he did. Why would the Son of God be concerned with our tears and sorrows – did we not bring all our misery upon ourselves? Without a doubt, but he did not feel any less compassion. O, how careful we must be when we hear of a believer suffering or persecuted, that we do not say to ourselves that if this was us, it would not have happened; or they must have done something wrong or foolish to bring this upon themselves; or simply remain indifferent – hey, at least there will be peace in my life. This is Satan’s heart, not Christ’s. Notice carefully that the Hebrew believers were the ones suffering, and they are being encouraged not to forget others who are suffering! Was their plate not already full? Did Jesus refuse to sympathize with the thief on the cross or his mother while his own soul was engulfed with the pains and sorrows of death and hell? When we are regenerated and as we are sanctified, his likeness of mercy and compassion grow in us. Let us pray it will grow more and more, especially in hard times, for love is the mark of Christians and the shining witness to the presence and power of Christ in his suffering people. It is especially vivid and a compelling witness to the world when believers sympathize and care for each other when they are all suffering. What is this! Suffering does not have to wholly consume us so that we think only of ourselves? Not when we know and walk with our Savior! He will give us a big heart and fill it with his beautiful love.
From Filth to Purity (v. 4)
Left to itself, our nature teems with vile lusts. They do not always express themselves in the same way or to the same degree, but whenever the soul is not reconciled to God and satisfied in him, it cannot be at rest, as Isaiah says (48:22; 57:21). This is especially evident with respect to sexual desires. The history of our race bears such a painful and constant testimony to our utter enslavement to our lusts that men praise and envy those who are the most outrageous in their immodesty and perversity. We do not praise murderers and thieves, but the impure and salacious draws us in so that most love to hear their debauched stories and lives unfolded. Those who frown upon these things in public are often private indulgers in impure thoughts and actions. The Bible’s constant warning against sexual sins and honesty in recording godly men’s failures in this regard should alert every believer to the truth of Solomon’s warning – and O, that he had heeded it, so that he would not have destroyed his people by his lusts! – “many strong men have been slain by her” (Prov. 7:26).
But where is relief to be found? It is only by the power of Jesus Christ that we can “possess our vessels in sanctification and honor, not in the lust of concupiscence, as the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3-4). There is only one who can replace the lust of the flesh with the hunger for righteousness, the lust of the eyes with the pure heart that will see God. It is Jesus Christ. He alone saves his people from their sins. And perhaps in this area alone, of sexual purity, is our witness to the world so shining and compelling, especially in debauched ages like ours, in which everything sordid is paraded before men. Our age is so worn out with abuse, taking advantage of women (and men), and brokenness, yet it cannot escape itself. What are we to do about the heart? No one will talk about it. Educators and social scientists have given up – just make sure the young have contraceptives and abortion available. There is nothing we can do to address the heart, so let’s make sexual expression the greatest virtue of all, and the more perverse, the more misunderstood and deserving of our respect. It is twisted beyond belief; only Satan can tie a knot this tightly, so that the more you pull at it, the tighter it gets.
In Jesus Christ, we are new creatures, part of his new creation. The old things have passed away, including enslavement to our lusts. But we shall have to fight, which with respect to sexual sins, means to flee them (2 Tim. 2:22). Run far, far way – do not want to know about them, look at sexual images, or give your mind to sexual fantasies. Flee into the arms of your husband, Jesus Christ. Ask him to quench these impure fires of the flesh and replace them with burning desire for him. Godly jealousy for Christ and holiness can quench raging lusts (2 Cor. 11:2). Take your failures to him. Confess them. Resolve to walk in purity, to fight against every thought. Recognize that long indulgence to the lusts of the flesh is like a drug, and you will pass through serious withdrawals as you forsake them; the flesh will fight back, and it can rage, insinuate, and deceive. Still, keep looking unto Jesus. Practice marital purity and remember God’s judgment against all sexual sins. It is hard to conceive of a more shocking truth, that the holy God and righteous Judge will one day condemn to hell the men and the sexual fantasies and desires that are now openly celebrated and craved by so many. Only purity, only holiness, only in Christ, can his gaze be endured (Heb. 12:14). Let us seek to be found only in Jesus, to forsake our sins, and to put on as the elect of God, holiness and marital fidelity. God’s will is our sexual purity; where he has made known his will, he also promises strength and grace in his Son to do his will. So, let us fall down before him, confess our infidelities, large and small, our attacks against his holiness and purity. Then, trusting his promise of mercy and cleansing in Jesus Christ, let us resolve and pledge to be Christ’s pure virgins, faithful to our earthly spouses, and disgusted by all the filth of ungodly men.