God’s Word is full of wonderful teaching regarding every area of life. God’s Word is not learned by osmosis, it is not passed on through genetics, it isn’t captured through sitting in a pew, or by having a Christian friend. God’s Word is learned, internalized, and appropriated through deliberate, disciplined study. God’s Word, and His will for our lives, is learned and discerned as we set aside other things so that we might study and be still. God’s Word is learned as we pour over and pray over line by line, verse by verse, asking the Lord what He means and what it means for our lives. God’s Word is learned when we hunger to know God’s Word more than we hunger for our free time, being entertained, sleeping in, or just chillin’.
There are many folks today who are curious and interested in God’s Word. They have heard a catchy, inspirational, or thought provoking verse quoted by someone they know or they have heard a speaker tell some biblical story that really captured their heart. Some folks are curious, but they are not serious.
There are others who are committed to the study of God’s Word. They want to take it apart and put it back together again. They are serious students of God’s Word, they attend Bible studies, they memorize Scripture, they take notes during the sermon, and they love it. They don’t do these things to impress others, but to learn more about God and His Word. They study biblical history, they’ve taken a class in Hebrew and Greek, they can quote Calvin, Luther, and Augustine, and they know by heart the genealogy of Jesus.
While they are taking notes and diagramming the book of Leviticus you better not disturb them or you will catch their wrath. They don’t want to be bothered with serving others because it would take away from their Bible study time. They have learned the biblical principles of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and the like, but they can hold a grudge like a pair of vice-grips. They know that Paul said, ‘Whatever you do work at it with all of your heart as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for man,’ but they are the last ones to show up for work and the first ones to leave. Their coffee breaks always begin early and linger beyond the whistle. They know that Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples, but they would rather hang out with those who are like them. They are serious students of God’s Word, but they are seriously deficient in the application of His Word to their daily life.
Both of these groups of people are seriously flawed. On the one hand we have a group of people who love the inspiration of God’s Word. They cling to passages like, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ ‘Ask and it shall be given to you” and ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever would believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ They love the comfort that God’s Word brings when they go through a rough time, a challenging episode, but that is the extent of their commitment.
On the other hand, we have another group of people who are modern-day Pharisees. They can quote many Scriptures in the NIV, KJV, RSV, or NASV. They can dissect, analyze, scrutinize, and hypothesize about any and every Scripture, but there is precious little evidence that the Scriptures have had any impact on the living of their lives. They talk a good game, but they walk in the ways of the world. They are much like those that Isaiah spoke about in Isaiah 29 when he wrote,
13 The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’ (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)
These folks were not just present in Isaiah’s day; they were present in Jesus’ day as well. Read with me from Mark’s Gospel and you can see how Jesus was reminded of Isaiah’s words when He was confronted by the Pharisees. In Mark 7:5-9 we read,
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?’ 6 He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ”These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’ 9 And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!’ (Mark 7:5-9 NIV)
We are going back to our study of Hebrews this morning. As we continue our study by looking at Hebrews 13:1-3 we can see how important it is for our beliefs to match the way we live, for our theories of living to align with our practice, and for our actions to reflect our convictions.
For much of our study in Hebrews we have studied matters of theology. We’ve taken a look at the centrality of the Cross, the superiority of our High Priest over any high priest who ever served in the Temple, and the sufficiency of God’s sacrifice on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins. We’ve been encouraged time and again not to turn back to some other belief system, but to run the race with endurance. Now, as we come to the opening verses of Hebrews 13, we are called to consider how to apply these wonderful teachings of our faith to the living of our lives. Take a look with me at Hebrews 13:1-3.
1 Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3 NIV)
It has been a few weeks since we last took a look at Hebrews. I have to tell you that this past week, when I read this chapter to begin to prepare for our time together today, something jumped off the page at me. Notice the beginning of each of these three verses. ‘Keep on” ‘Do not forget” and ‘Remember” stand out like they are written in neon when you read these verses. Each of these three phrases is packed full of action. Each of them is brimming over with meaning that teaches us that a conscious, conscientious mind-set is called for. Let’s dig in.
Take a look at verse one with me. The writer of Hebrews says, 1 ‘Keep on loving each other as brothers.’ We are to continue, to never give up loving one another. Love is a choice, not a feeling. Love is not deterred by broken promises, hurt feelings, or emotional down turns. Love seeks the highest good for the other. This is the kind of love we are called to possess for one another.
The Greek word that is used here for ‘love’ is the word, ‘philadelphia.’ The word means, ‘affection for one’s fellow believer in Christ.’ The word is used oftentimes in the New Testament for the love that we are to possess and demonstrate for other Christians, but love also reaches out beyond the Body of Christ. The Greek word is composed of two root words’ ‘phileo,’ which means, ‘tender affection’ and ‘adelpheos,’ which means, ‘brother or near kinsman.’ It literally means, ‘from the same womb.’
The same word is used in five different verses in the New Testament. Each time the word is used it describes the relationship of fellow Christians. In Romans 12:9-13 we read the commitment that is mandated for us toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul writes,
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13 NIV)
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes again about ‘brotherly love’ and commends the believers in Thessalonica for their love for one another. He doesn’t stop with his commendation — he urges them to love one another more and more. Take a look.
9 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 NIV)
The love that you and I are to have for one another has nothing to do with what matters so much to most people today. Friendships today are forged most often by what we have in common. We choose our friends today because we go to the same school, play on the same team, belong to the same clubs or social circles, or are black, white, Asian, or Hispanic. In God’s economy none of that matters. Race is redundant, money is meaningless, and personal preferences are pointless. We are to love, to be devoted to one another, for the sole reason that we are brothers and sisters adopted into the same family by the Father.
I don’t know any Christian who won’t agree with that statement in theory, but I just don’t see an abundance of evidence to prove that we believe it enough to lay aside our personal preferences. Christians form clubs, circles, and churches around personal preferences and not the call of God. We have Gen-X churches, black, white, and brown churches, suburban and urban churches, and charismatic and liturgical churches. Outside of morning worship we strike up friendships with those that we share things in common with, disregarding what we have most in common ‘ our faith in the God who calls us together as family.
The biblical mandate for us to love our ‘brothers’ most certainly applies to those who are in the Body of Christ. We are to decide to love our brothers and sisters, to make a determination to act in love toward those that know Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life. We can’t even have a discussion about whether or not we should love these folks, regardless of our personality differences, varieties of background, or preferences. Even though we can’t argue with the mandate to love the family of faith there are many who want to question our relationship with those outside of the Body of Christ.
Jesus would be shocked and saddened at the discussions going on among Christians about matters like these. I have seen video of Christians protesting against abortion clinics, gay pride parades, and Muslim Mosques; I have to admit that I didn’t see anything that even remotely resembled Jesus. I have seen posters held by people who claimed to be Christians that read, ‘God hates fags.’ I have seen young Christians totally reject some kid who came to church just because of the way he or she looked or acted. I have heard about kids at school who need to be reached, but the Christians won’t love them because they are not in their clique or they are strange or some other crazy reason. I’ve got news for you’we are all weird and we all need someone who will reach out to us with the love and grace of the Father.
I have heard unbelievable comments made by Christians about those who live life very differently than God calls us to live. I don’t agree with these folks. I stand in opposition to what they stand for in life, but Jesus does not give me the option of hating these folks. As a matter of fact, Jesus calls me to love all sinners ‘ those in the Body and those who make no claim to being a follower of Jesus. For those of you who disagree with me — then deal with Jesus. He said,
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)
Pastor Steve Sjogren of the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio shocked many believers a few years back when they learned that he was going to the corporate office of Hustler Magazine’s founder, Larry Flint, and cleaning his bathroom. Pastor Steve wasn’t an employee of Larry Flint, he felt God was calling him to be a servant leader. If anyone is an enemy of the cause of Christ by the way he lives his life it would be Larry Flint, but Pastor Sjogren felt called by God to serve Mr. Flint instead of picketing his office.
There were folks who noticed. Steve Sjogren was on a flight back from Singapore when he saw Larry Flint’s brother, Jerry. He spoke to him and Jerry remembered him. Jerry said, ‘You know when you first started coming to clean the bathrooms we thought you were going to put a bomb in it. We couldn’t figure out what you were up to. What kind of Christian are you any way?’ Steve smiled and said, ‘The kind who doesn’t hate you.’ Paul wrote in Galatians,
10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10 NIV)
In Thessalonians, Paul said to ‘make sure that we don’t pay back wrong for wrong.’ Take a look at 1 Thessalonians 5:15 with me.
15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:15 NIV)
Those in our society, in our circle of friends, in our community who would seek to undermine the cause of Christ are accountable to God. It is not our place to ridicule, or act in an equally ungodly manner, because they are living ungodly lives. We are to seek to bless them, to show them the love of God so that they might come to know the Lord for themselves. Oh, by the way, Steve Sjogren has moved on from Larry Flint’s bathrooms ‘ since September 11th he has been cleaning the bathrooms of Muslim Mosques in Cincinnati.
In Hebrews 13:2, we read, 2 ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.’ We do not show love and hospitality to others because they may be angels, but because acting in this manner is the way of the Lord. At the same time, you and I have no idea who we are truly interacting with from day to day. Abraham had no idea that the two men who came to him while he was sitting in front of his tent were messengers of God and that the third man was the Lord Himself. Take a look at Genesis 18:1 and read with me.
1The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 3He said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way’now that you have come to your servant.’ ‘Very well,’ they answered, ‘do as you say.’ 6So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. ‘Quick,’ he said, ‘get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread.’ 7Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. (Genesis 18:1-8 NIV)
Abraham had no idea who was serving when he offered to help ‘ he simply saw a need. Abraham is much like those in Matthew 25 who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, and visited those who were sick and in prison. Jesus said to them, ‘In as much as you have done it unto the least of these My brothers, you have done it unto Me.’
In Hebrews 13:2, we read that we are not to ‘forget’ the strangers that come our way. The Greek word for ‘forget’ means, ‘to forget, neglecting, no longer caring for, forgotten, given over to oblivion, i.e. uncared for.’ Not forgetting doesn’t just happen, we have to make an effort, we have to think about the opportunities that God sends our way. We can thoughtfully reach out to strangers because at one time, while we were strangers, sinners, God reached out to us.
The same word for ‘forget’ is used in other places in the New Testament. Take a look at Hebrews 13:16.
16And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16 NIV)
God doesn’t forget us. Jesus told those in His day that God doesn’t even forget a sparrow, something far less valuable to God than you and me. Read along with me from Luke 12:6-7.
6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7 NIV)
I love Pastor Eugene Peterson’s translation of this passage of Scripture. He writes in The Message,
‘What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail’even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries. (Luke 12:6-7 The Message)
In the last section of Scripture that we will take a look at this morning we see the writer of Hebrews urge us to not forget those who are in prison. As a matter of fact, we are to remember them as if we ourselves were in prison with them. Read verse 3 with me.
3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
‘Remember’ is a verb. It is an action word. To remember takes an effort. To remember means that we have to sacrifice something to be attentive to those who are in prison. To remember means that we go out of our way to pray for, care for, and visit those who are confined and those who are suffering mistreatment.
The verb used here for ‘remember’ means ‘remember, call to mind, to remind one’s self of, care for, think about again and again so as to bring about action.’
When Paul was writing to Timothy in his second letter, Paul has Timothy on his mind. Paul writes,
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Timothy 1:3-5 NIV)
The Old Testament, Hebrew, equivalent of ‘remember’ has the same meaning, ‘to remember, recall, to call to mind and to act.’ While the Hebrew slaves were being mistreated and suffering in Egypt, God remembered and acted. Take a look at Exodus 2:24 with me.
24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. (Exodus 2:24 NIV)
God remembered his covenant with Abraham and it moved God to action. When we remember someone who is hurting or incarcerated, regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent, it should move us to action. Love is not inactive, it acts on the behalf of others to bless them.
I love Hebrews 13:1-3. You and I are called to love, to not forget, and to remember. God calls us as a family to demonstrate our love in a manner that reflects His great love for us. How can we say that we love Jesus and yet not show our love for others? How can we say that we love Jesus and pick and choose who we will share His love with in our lives?
God has called those of us at Britton Christian Church who claim Jesus as Lord and King of our lives to show His love for all people ‘ God has called us to be a ‘Lighthouse of Hope’ for all people. I want you to know that the world will not be won to Christ by another new translation of the Bible, a better evangelism program, or a new Christian television or radio station. The world will know the power, grace, and mercy of our King when they see His heart reflected in the way we love them. Let’s go to work.