In the book of Hebrews we learned about what is true and what is not (we call this doctrine). In chapter 12 this doctrine is applied to living. That is the way it always should work: we move from what we believe to how we live in light of that belief.
Chapter 12 ended with a crescendo about God being a consuming fire. It was a reminder that following the Lord is serious business. This rather ominous passage is followed by some intensely practical commands. In other words we are told that our God is a consuming fire and we ought to worship Him appropriately.
I believe what we look at today tells us what appropriate worship looks like. Worshiping God acceptably can only take place within community. It is not about the rituals we perform, it is about the life we live with each other. The way we experience the fire of His presence is through the radically new relationship we have with one another through Christ.
It is important that we get the connection between doctrine and the way we live. You may remember that many years ago we tried to drive this home during our Sunday sermons. At a point in the sermon I would say, “And all God’s people say . . . “ And instead of saying “Amen” we responded with the statement “So What?’ This simple litany was designed to remind us that doctrine and application go hand in hand. Information without action is pointless.
This morning we look at the first three practical commands.
Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. 2 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! 3 Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. (Hebrews 13:1-3)
Love Your Fellow Believers (1)
The first command is to keep on loving each other as brothers.
When you are family there may be things about your siblings you don’t like. They may choose to do things differently than you would do them. However, you still defend them and stand beside them. Why? Because they are family. When you are family you are willing to drop what you are doing to be present with your sibling. You will sacrifice for your brother or sister. You will defend them against all who would attack them (even if you don’t agree with what they are doing). This is the kind of attitude God wants fellow believers to have for each other.
This brotherhood should extend well beyond just the Christians of our own church but it certainly includes that.
It is often said disparagingly about the church: “the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.” We, who should be characterized by love, sometimes become harsh and judgmental. Sometimes Christians tend to isolate rather than embrace. We judge instead of understand. We kick instead of lift. Such actions are not the result of Christ working in our midst.
The thing that should set the people of God apart from the rest of the world is the love that we have for each other. We come from a variety of backgrounds, we have different political opinions, we come from different races, have different economic situations, different ethnicities, and different life experiences. However, we hold this in common: we are forgiven and made new by the Lord Jesus Christ. We understand that we are all broken people who have been remade by the love of Christ. This binds us together in a way that the world cannot understand.
So the challenge is to keep working at love. This means we
- Work to understand each other. We don’t jump to conclusions but take the time to listen.
- We help, even when it is not convenient.
- We stand with each other in good times and in trying times.
- We speak up (compassionately) when we see our brother or sister drifting into sin (ignoring sin is NOT loving).
- We encourage each other and cheer for each other.
- We sacrifice for each other when needed.
- We forgive each other and overlook small offenses.
- We build bridges with Christians that belong to other churches.
- We defend each other. We take the position that you don’t talk about one of our brothers and sisters in Christ without taking on all of us.
- We pray for each other.
- We catch each other when we fall.
When Christians truly love each other, the world around us will notice.
Show Hospitality (2)
There is something interesting in these words that we don’t see in our Bibles. In verse one the Greek says to “work at philadelphia” or love of the brothers. In verse 2 we are told to “work at philoxenia”. This means to love strangers and outsiders. In other words we are to work at loving our fellow Christians in the church and we are also to work at loving even those people we do not know.
In that day lodging facilities were poor and dangerous. Believers and itinerant preachers needed a safe place to stay. However, one of the ways they showed love to outsiders was also to have a spirit of hospitality. This is a very practical expression of love. When we open our homes to another we share a very personal part of our lives.
The Bible does warn us NOT to show hospitality to false teachers because that would be supporting their ministry which was corrupting others.
“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” (Luke 14:12-14)
We might think of hospitality as inviting people over for a gathering. However, there is a difference between hospitality and entertaining. One author writes,
Entertaining focuses on the host—the home must be spotless; the food must be well prepared and abundant; the host must appear relaxed and good-natured. Hospitality, by contrast, focuses on the guests. Their needs are the primary concern. Hospitality can happen in a messy home. It can happen around a dinner table where the main dish is canned soup. It can even happen while the host and the guest are doing chores together. Offer hospitality even if you are tired, busy, or not wealthy enough to entertain.
Hospitality makes yourself available to another. It is a person exchange much deeper than merely sharing pleasantries at church.
Then our author adds a strange piece to this instruction: “for some have entertained angels without realizing it.”
In Genesis 19 Abraham was visited by three strangers. He extended hospitality to them and at least two of them turned out to be angels who eventually went on to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abraham’s nephew Lot saw the same two men in Sodom he insisted that they come home with him.When Gideon encountered a man in Judges 6 he made him a meal and realized he was showing kindness to an angel when that meal was consumed as a sacrifice.
When the disciples on the road to Emmaus were walking after the Resurrection of Jesus a man joined them. It was getting late when they reached their home town and they invited him in (they extended hospitality). When the visitor said grace and broke the bread they realized they were entertaining Jesus! So, sometimes you literally do entertain spiritual beings without even knowing it.
In Matthew 25 Jesus spoke those very familiar words,
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
When we show kindness to each other we are in reality showing love and kindness to the Lord. When we honor someone created by God we are honoring him. Think about it, if someone treats your child with kindness don’t you feel that someone has also been kind to you?
So, how do we go about showing hospitality?
- Invite someone (say a visitor) over to your home for a meal after church.
- Invite a neighbor in for a glass of iced tea or coffee on the spur of the moment.
- Join in one of our dinner or dessert for eight groups
- Offer a place to stay to visitors from out of town.
- Buy someone a meal who is going through a difficult time
- Bring food to a neighbor who has just come home from the hospital
- Bring cookies to someone new to the neighborhood
- Invite someone to join you for worship.
- Give baked goods to a visitor to the church
Hospitality is a ministry; a ministry that makes a strong impression on someone else.
Remember Prisoners and the Mistreated (3)
3 Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.
In the early church many believers were imprisoned for no other reason than that they were believers. These people needed others to care for them or they would die of starvation and neglect. They needed support and comfort. Christians were to rally to their side.
The tendency when someone goes to jail is to pull away. It is to sever our association with that person. We do this because we seem to be concerned about “guilt by association”. However, that is just the opposite of what that person needs. They need someone who will care for them.
There are people who are very faithful about going to prisons and caring for prisoners. Some become pen pals with those in jail. And the joy of visits and receiving mail is more than we can possibly understand.
However, we need to expand our view of this command. There are people who are in long term care facilities (Nursing homes, rehab centers, hospitals, and mental treatment centers). These people are not in prison but they may feel like they are. They feel they have lost their freedom.
Again, what happens in these situations is that people are out of sight so they are also out of mind. They are sadly, overlooked. We fulfill this directive when we make the effort to visit these people. It is a way to remind these folks that they are not forgotten or tossed aside. We can cheer for them and inspire them to continue to work to get better.
I believe this command encourages us to speak up for anyone who is a victim and needs someone to stand up for them.
Martin Niemoller is famous for this quote,
In Germany they came first for the Communist, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.
In Germany in World War II Dietrich Bonhoeffer actively worked against the Third Reich because he felt he needed to fight for freedom and against the oppression that he saw taking place in Germany. He stood against these wrongs even though he would have been left alone if he had simply kept his mouth shut. Bonhoeffer felt that a Christian could not keep silent in the face of such wrongdoing (even though many did just that).
Martin Luther King Jr. said the same thing during the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960’s. When asked why he, a Minister, was in jail, He answered: I am trying to right wrongs. The question is not, why am I in jail? A better question is why aren’t all the other Pastors and followers of Christ in jail?
In the face of injustice we are to stand up for the oppressed. This is why I think it is imperative that Christians campaign against abortion on demand. There is no one more helpless than a baby. To treat the youngest of humans as if they were of no worth is shameful. I know the argument is that a person should have the right to do what they want with their own body. I agree. However, when that person freely chooses to be involved in behavior that may lead to pregnancy and then they get pregnant, why is it that the product of that free choice is the one who has to pay?
It staggers me that people will protest the killing of baby seals but not the killing of pre-born children! We campaign for animal rights while at the same time refusing to extend the most basic of rights (the right to life) to the weakest and smallest of our kind. It doesn’t make any sense.
Christians should be campaigning against human trafficking. No individual should be treated like property.
We should be working to alleviate hunger. We should be campaigning against those who persecute Christians. When elderly people are treated as if they don’t matter (elder abuse) we should be standing up to defend the dignity of their lives. When someone cannot be their own advocate when hospitalized we should take that role seriously. The follower of Christ should serve as an advocate of the needy wherever they are. We should be seeking to treat people with dignity and to show love to everyone who is in need.
The community of faith (the church) is where we get to practice our discipleship. This is where we learn how to follow the Lord Jesus. I like to think of the church as the laboratory of faith. If we truly want to love the Lord, then He calls us to love each other.
Love finds its expression in some very practical ways (there are more to come). This morning we’ve seen that we show love by opening our homes and hearts to each other. We love when we get involved to help those who need help.
We like to think of love as an emotion. We want to love people who make us feel good about ourselves. But what we are learning is that real love has shoes on. Real love gets involved. Real love is often inconvenient.
However, real love also honors God and draws other people to Him. Real love is an act of worship. May God help us to love Him enough that we love each other.
 Bruce B. Barton, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, Jude, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 1995), 118.