March 24, 2019
I don’t want to stereotype, or for sure sound sexist – but I’m a man, so I don’t do stores – well, except Lowes. After many years of marriage, my wife Tana and I have things pretty well figured out. For example, if we go to Winston, and she wants to wander through Target, I’ll go in with her, spend a few minutes, get an expensive coffee, and go back to the car where I have a good book to read. It works for her, and me. She can stay in there as long as she wants – I’ll just read. Or nap. Or watch the guys walking in with their wives who haven’t figured it out yet. You have a perfectly good seat in the car.
I especially don’t do grocery stores. I mean, I’m vaguely aware there are produce, meat and freezer sections, and then there’s everything else. But how do you find stuff? Tana recently sent me to the grocery store with a list that included pimentos. So, I searched for hours to find the olives. I thought that made sense. Who knew pimentos would not be by the olives – they’re on a completely different aisle. Who decides this stuff?
Tana can go to the grocery store and fill a cart in minutes. If she sends me to the store with a list of five items, it’ll take me like five hours. She’s a list person – so every once in awhile, I’ll notice she has a long to-do list, so I’ll volunteer to do something for her – and before you know it, the words are coming out of my mouth, I’ll go to the grocery store for you. She gives me the list and on the way there, I’m like, what was I thinking? What have I done? I’ll be there for hours. Here’s a trick. Walk up to a person who works there – I figured out they’re the ones with vests on – and when you walk up, look lost and forlorn. Show them the list, and ask. “Do you know where any of this stuff is?” If you’re lucky, they’ll fill your cart for you.
So, that has nothing to do with my sermon, other than this. We have a list today – and it’s like a grocery list of things found all over the store. I had a choice to make – do it like Tana, and cover it in 15 minutes, or like me, and take a few weeks. It’ll probably be a little longer than 15 minutes, but I decided to cover the text this morning.
Now, remember a couple weeks ago I suggested the author gets to the end of his letter and starts giving quick, rapid-fire instructions, like your parents did when you left home, That’s especially true in chapter 13 – lots of ethical instructions, like a grocery list. In fact, it seems a bit unlike this brilliant author, which has caused some to suggest he didn’t write it, it was later added, Paul wrote it – all kinds of crazy suggestions. To be clear, he wrote it – he uses some of the same vocabulary. But join me as we wander through the store – because when we get done, it’s going to make a great meal. Read the text with me – Hebrews 13:1-6.
Do you see the list? It does seem to be all over the place. And yet, these are ethical instructions, as they are called, often repeated in the Scripture – brotherly love, hospitality, remembering prisoners, sexual purity, pursuing contentment rather than covetousness. Jesus, Paul and others talk often about this ethical, Christian behavior. Think about it: if we are followers of Jesus, enduring to the end, running our races, throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles; if we are offering to God acceptable service – then we will pursue these characteristics, these behaviors. They form our outline, starting with, continue in brotherly love.
- Continue in Brotherly Love (1)
- Do not Neglect Hospitality (2)
- Remember the Prisoners (3)
- Honor Marriage (4)
- Be Free from the love of Money – or Be Content (5-6)
Let love of the brothers – that is, the Christian family, brothers and sisters, continue. More literally, it’s a command, continue in or remain in family, brotherly love. The word is philadelphia, you know, the city of brotherly love. Think about it – these readers were struggling, facing significant trials. It was hard being a Christian. And that outside pressure can bind a group of believers together, or tear them apart. So he says, remain committed in love to one another when you need each other most. Don’t turn on each other – love one another.
I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words to His disciples the night of the Last Supper – the night of His betrayal. He will talk to them in the next hour or so on the way to Gethsemane, in the Farewell Discourse about coming persecution. So He says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have love you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” The mark of being a follower of Jesus, of persevering to the end, even in the midst of trial, is family love.
Paul says it this way, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
Peter says, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.” (I Peter 1:22)
John says, “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (I John 3:11) When did they hear it at the beginning? At the Last Supper.
Do you see? Over and over in Scripture – the early followers got it – let me say it again, the mark of the Christian is our love for one another. The word philadelphia at this time spoke of the natural attachment to one’s blood relatives – it was a kindred love. Think of it, blood brothers and sisters may not always get along, but they do love each other. So when the word was brought into the Christian faith, it was used to speak of the attachment we have as a spiritual family – meaning, it’s still a kindred love – as brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is one of those concepts which has become so familiar it’s perhaps lost its meaning. If you’re close at all to a blood brother or sister, you know it’s a special relationship – it’s a love you share by nature of the fact that you have the same parents. As Christians, we are members of one spiritual family – we share the same Father (Mike). And within that family we are to experience a kindred love – a brotherly love.
In fact, notice again Paul said, when it comes to brotherly love, I don’t really have to write you about it – why? Because just like love between siblings in a blood family should be natural, so love in God’s family is supernatural – you’re taught by God to love one another. This tells us a couple of things about brotherly love:
First, this love is a supernatural love – it isn’t something we can produce within ourselves – it isn’t something we can just muster up by our own strength and willpower. It comes from the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. In Galatians 5, it’s listed as the first of the fruit of the Spirit. Paul says it this way in Romans 5:5, “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” We love, because He first loved us and gave us His Son, and His Spirit. Which means further, Christian brotherly love is something you will not experience outside the church of Jesus Christ. There is an intensity of love in the body of Christ that is unique to us.
And right now, you may be thinking, “That’s not true Scott. I have felt more love and more care and more concern from non-Christian coworkers or unbelieving fellow students than I’ve felt in the church.” To that I say, the issue is not that these non-Christians are loving like the church, but rather the church is not loving like we could. You see, ours is a God-given, God-taught love. We ought to feel love and loved when we’re together. You say, but sometimes I don’t. I know. That’s why so many authors of Scripture remind us – it’s a command, love one another. We are to be growing in our love.
Which leads to the second thing I would say about this brotherly love: it will be evident in the life of the believer. That is not to say it doesn’t need to grow, but it will be present in the life of true believers. It’s been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. I’ve said it over and over – you cannot say, I love Jesus, it’s just Christians I can’t stand.
A 17th Century Jewish philosopher once wrote, “I have often wondered that persons who make boast of possessing the Christian religion – namely love, joy, peace, temperance and charity to all men – should quarrel with such rancorous animosity, and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues which they possess, is the readiest criteria of their faith.” Did you catch that – to this Jewish unbeliever, the clearest display of the Christian faith, was their fighting and hatred toward one another.
And the words of Jesus come rushing back, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus said, the clearest criteria of our faith, the proof that we know Him, is our family love. I find that fascinating. Not by our theological aptitude, not by our big, beautiful buildings with crosses on top, not even first by our good deeds, not even necessarily by our love for the world, but by our love for one another.
Well, let’s keep going rather than wandering down the aisles. And I think these are somewhat connected. He says in verse 2, as you love one another, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Much to say. First, the definition of hospitality is to take strangers into your home for the purpose of caring for them – feeding them, shelter, even clothing them. In fact, the words hospitality to strangers is one word in the Greek. Because that’s what it means.
Which begs a question – is he saying we should show hospitality to everyone we don’t know – believer and unbeliever alike? Given the context, most agree he’s talking about hospitality to Christian strangers – to those we don’t know. You see, at this time inns were notoriously unsafe – and so traveling believers needed safe places to stay. Show them hospitality – bring them in to care for them, to speed them on their way – this is another way to show family love.
Now, notice a couple other things. First he says, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. This isn’t meant to be the motivation – the motivation is our love for other believers. But he’s pointing out, some without knowing it, have cared for angels. He no doubt has in mind at least Abraham and Lot at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – when they appeared to Abraham to tell of the coming destruction, Abraham prepared a meal for these strangers who happened to be angels – two of them were – the third was the Lord Himself.
And when the angels arrived in Sodom to rescue Lot and his family – Lot showed them hospitality by harboring them in his own home. As we care for each other, we get the added bonus of perhaps caring for God’s angelic messengers. But again, that’s not the motivation. We get all excited about the possibility of serving angels – God’s servants – when we should excited about the possibility of loving one another and caring for God’s children. That’s the motivation.
The other thing to notice is again, this is in the context of caring for Christians we don’t know. They could be travelers, but hey, we have safe hotels now. What about Christians you don’t know in this room? Is hospitality – inviting them in to feed them, meet needs – a way of loving one another? Other authors of Scripture suggest it is.
Paul in a long list of ethical instructions in Romans 12 says, “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” (13)
Peter says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” (1 Peter 4:9) Which is interesting – he seems to mean, care for each other, show hospitality without complaining about it.
So here’s a question – to whom are you showing hospitality? (dinner table) To whom are you demonstrating the love of Christ by spending time with them, having them into your home – even if you don’t know them? To know they are a brother or a sister is enough. Think of your home as an airbnb for Christians!
Bringing us to verse 3, and our third point – Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. What an amazing verse. The whole context here seems to point to Christian relationships. And just like showing hospitality, visiting prisoners is an act of love.
So, remember the prisoners – that is, those who are prisoners because of their faith in Christ – as though in prison with them. We’ve talked about this. Prisoners then were dependent on care – even food and water – from those outside the prison – family members, for example. But, to care for prisoners is also to identify with them – to show that you are a family member. As Christians, you did so then at great personal risk. But you did, because they were family.
And we remember the words of Jesus from Matthew 25 – when He separates the sheep from the goats. When I was in prison, you visited Me. But when did we see you in prison, Jesus? Inasmuch as you did so to the least of these, My brothers, you did it to Me. And we also remember these original readers had done so in the past. Chapter 10 said:
32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,
33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.
34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.
So they had been visiting those in prison, suffering along with those who were ill-treated, because they themselves were also in the body. Now, we might be tempted to think, since you’re in the body of Christ – and that’s true. But every time this author uses the word body, he’s talking about the physical body. Suffer with those in prison, those suffering ill-treatment – because you’re still in the body – you’re still here, physically, is the idea. Again, this means they loved others, even though it may cost them to demonstrate that love. They identified publicly with being followers of Jesus, by loving and caring for followers of Jesus.
Which brings us to verse 4 where the author takes a bit of a turn, but I would suggest is still related to godly, family love. You see, we love one another – brothers and sisters in Christ. We love the Christian family, even those we don’t know, by opening our homes and showing hospitality. We love those in prison, and those who are mistreated for their faith – even though by doing we may be mistreated.
Fourth, we love with a godly love our spouses. Marriage is to be held in honor among all – let’s start with that. In a society when marriage was often a mere convenience for pro-creation, when extra-marital relationships were the norm, the author says, honor marriage. Hold it in high value. So also today, as marriage is being redefined or discarded altogether, we are to honor marriages.
I thought I would scour the Internet looking for current marriage stats – they’re everywhere. Suffice it to say this: for the first time in American history, the majority of adults are living outside of marriage – as single, divorced, cohabitating, etc. After all, one of the major benefits of marriage can be enjoyed outside of marriage today. We even have this category of friends with benefits.
We however, as followers of Jesus and submitting to Scripture, should honor marriage, and those who have demonstrated a high and loyal commitment to one another. And we should certainly do nothing to interfere with those relationships – but rather to seek to support and honor them.
He goes a step further – the marriage bed – frankly talking about the sexual relationship – is to be undefiled. Meaning, the sexual relationship is to be found and guarded solely within marriage. To be clear – sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage. For fornicators and adulterers will be judged by God. The Scripture is clear – the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God because by their lifestyle immorality, they prove they do not know Christ.
He defines this immorality as fornication and adultery. Simply defined, fornication, which gives us the word pornography, is any illicit sexual activity – like premarital sexual relations, homosexual relations, or pornography which is simply lust – all soundly condemned in Scripture. Adultery is sexual intimacy outside the marriage relationship – again, clearly condemned, because the marriage bond is to be honored – the marriage bed undefiled.
Finally, verses 5 and 6 – in keeping with the theme of love, love God and prove it by your trust in His provision. So, love your brothers and sisters, love the brothers and sisters you don’t know, love the prisoners and those ill-treated, love your spouse with a holy love, and love God and trust His provision. By the way, sexual immorality is connected to greed or covetousness in Scripture – because both are a desire for that which you cannot have. For example, Ephesians 5:3, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you as is proper among saints.” Or Colossians 3:5, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” How does it amount to idolatry? Because it is wanting what you cannot have or should not have more than wanting God and His provision for you.
And by the way, just as I suggested earlier that those in sexual immorality will be judged by God and the immoral person will not inherit the kingdom of God – Paul says the same thing about the greedy and covetous. You see, Ephesians 5 goes on to say, “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Strong words, yes, but they remind us that where our treasure is, there our heart is also.
Look at verses 5 and 6 because they go together. Make sure that your character is free from the love of money. That’s interesting – earlier he said, love the Christian family. Then he said, show hospitality – the Greek word is literally love strangers. Here, he says, but don’t love money. We remember Paul’s words in I Timothy 6, which helps combine this idea of trusting God and His provision as opposed to greed and covetousness:
6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.
7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.
8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
You see, trusting God and His provision for you, finding contentment in His provision for you, loving God rather than money and stuff is what we’re talking about. Being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you (or leave you); nor will I ever forsake you.” That’s actually a combination of thoughts from the OT, primarily Joshua 1:5.
How often do we quote that verse out of context. Yes, it’s true that Jesus will never leave nor forsake us. He will walk with us. But the context is, in doing so, He will take care of our needs – He will never leave us – so greed and covetousness are unnecessary. We can be content with what we have because we have Jesus and He will provide what is best for us.
By the way, we typically and probably rightly apply that to Jesus, because at the end of the Great Commission, as He was returning to heaven, He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Of course, we know, He is with us by the Holy Spirit, whom He sent to be with us, and in us.
Verse 6, because we have Jesus, we can confidently say, The Lord is My helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” That’s a quote of Psalm 118. He uses it to encourage us. Whatever we have, or don’t have; whatever we’re facing – in trials and opposition – He is our helper. What can man do to us that God does not know, and does not allow. He has our best in mind and so, we can trust Him.
Amazing – we’ve made our way through the grocery list. It’s an interesting list – but upon closer examination, it’s based on family love. We love the Christian family, even those we don’t know – even those in this room we don’t know. We love by showing hospitality. We love and care for those who are suffering – being mistreated because of their faith. We loyally love our respective spouses – and remaining faithfully committed. We love God – not money – and trust His provision for us, knowing He is with us. Put that all together – it makes a great meal.