Hebrews 13:1-4 Living the new life in the unshakable kingdom I
The new covenant does not remove the necessity for repentance and godly living; it imbues grace to live a life of selfless dedication to serve strangers and to uphold faithfulness in both brotherly and marriage relationship. In this final section, the author accentuates the virtues and lifestyle of the unshakable kingdom. It is not so much in seeking out an unshakable kingdom but in living out its lifestyle. The belief system in an unshakable kingdom must find expression in faithful and committed relationships and in works of charity.
1 Let love of the brethren continue.
Love of the brethren is derived from the Greek form philo-adelphia which refers to love (philo) among brothers (adelphos) in Christ. Hence, philadelphia differs from the social kind of love which exists among human beings. Love among brothers in Christ has its basis in our common identity as children of God, belonging to one body and one Spirit, just as also we were called in one hope of our calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Ephesians 4:4-6. Jesus called His disciples to pledge their lives to one another: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13. Therefore, philadephia or brotherly love is an unconditional kind of love pledged to members of the family of faith.
However, in order for Christians to continue in love, each person must do his part to grow in the knowledge of the word, and in obedience to God’s calling for him. Having said that, more mature believers must bear with the weaknesses of the maturing and not to judge them. At the same time believers must not let minor aspects of doctrine divide the community. The gaps in understanding and conviction must be filled up with a measure of patience lest the revelations they possessed become counterproductive against the greater unity of the church.
2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, could also be translated as do not forget to love and serve strangers. The author called believers to a persistent alertness towards the needs of strangers or people who are marginalized. It refers to a lifestyle of charity and always being ready to share a part of what you have with others. For such will most definitely be blessed unexpectantly with gifts from heaven: for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. The author might have in mind Abraham’s readiness to host the strangers that came to his tent (Genesis 18). He unwittingly entertained angels who came bearing the good news of Isaac’s birth.
The corollary of brotherly love is the willingness to go out of one’s way to identify with the sufferings of others: Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them. It involves giving a part of what is of intimate personal value: your time, your resources and your heart. It is one thing to offer your money, it is quite another to offer your love and your friendship. Christ as an example for all believers, walked with His disciples and offered up His life by taking on our punishment on the cross. Therefore, we must give special attention to those who are weaker and marginalized by society: and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.
4 Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
The marriage relationship is singled out as highly precious, and must be honored above all other relationships to be kept undefiled under all circumstances. A fornicator is an immoral person who engages in wanton and unlawful sexual relationships. An adulterer is one who is unfaithful to his spouse. For such who do not repent, God will in no uncertain terms judge and punish.
Works done out of love are spontaneous, persistent and especially when it is done in private. I have seen some church leaders put in protracted hours in prayer meetings, bible studies and other church activities but snub at old ladies paddling tissue packs at the food center. God does not reward our premeditated “acts” done out of selfish agenda. But He will certainly remember our works done out of kindness, especially when no one is watching. The author said, “Do not forget to love and serve strangers”; we must be keenly sensitive to the needs of those around us. In a highly competitive and stressful society, people are accustomed to minding their own business. As time and resources are precious commodities, doing favors spontaneously for strangers hardly crossed anybody’s minds. Even if they do, they require a myriad of conditions to be aligned: a convincing vision, an affable fundraiser, glossy presentations and the right mood. Yet, Jesus was always ever ready to serve strangers and bless them. He ministered to the woman at the well while en route through Samaria. Jesus while at Nain, interrupted a funeral possession and raised a dead man, the only son of a widow. Not only must we be ever ready to serve a stranger, we must be intentional by scheduling time to serve them.
The righteous will be rewarded for their works of love. The author said, “… by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” God rewards those who do works out of love and selfless dedication. Even as they do not seek a reward for themselves or to be noticed, God rewards them at a time when they least expect it. However, God some times tests each person’s heart by withholding reward and allowing the wicked to prosper for a time. Abraham and Sarah waited for the birth of his son until they were pass childbearing age. However, Abraham did not become bitter against God, as evident by his readiness to serve strangers. And God rewarded him by giving him a son by his own wife (Genesis 18:10). People do good works for various reasons, but their persistence and faithfulness eventually reveal their motives and intentions. If the purpose of their work is to gain reward, their persistence may not endure. But if their work arises out of love, they will continue to contribute without being incentivized. However, God will in His time fulfill the desires of the faithful. The psalmist urges believers to be patient and faithful in doing good. For in due time believers will reap a harvest.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart… For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land. Psalm 37:3-4,9.
The greatest power is not money but empathy and hope. Money provides temporal reprieve from physical poverty. But empathy heals the heart and restores the soul forever. Concerning prisoners, some are unjustly imprisoned (ill-treated) and some rightly for their crimes. Nevertheless, prisoners need hope and friends who could walk with them and believe in them and see their future when they can’t. The author instructed believers: Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them. The literal translation is: Think of the prisoners as if fastened together with them in prison. As Paul said, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26. Many believers are ill-treated by their families, colleagues and by their communities. Some are prisoners of their peculiar circumstances and past failures. Believers must never judge them but think of them as if fastened together with them in their prison of circumstances. Some are imprisoned by their impoverished mindset, some by their alternate sexual orientation, and some by their addictions. What they need is not more judgment but rather more empathy and friendship through which they will gradually emerge from their prison.
- Do you lack motivation to do works of charity? Try putting yourself in the position of those who are impoverished and marginalized. Perhaps, you could feel with them and sense their current predicament. It is through empathy that you find compassion to reach out to them.
- Do you sometimes feel not being appreciated for your work? Your superior or pastor could be too busy to express their appreciation. And those whom you are serving may not know how to express their appreciation towards you. Nevertheless, what is most important is God’s favor for your selfless dedication. The King will say to the righteous on the day of judgment, “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.” Matthew 25:40.
Dear Lord, help me develop empathy towards those who are impoverished and imprisoned by their own circumstances. As I commit my time and resources towards works of charity, cause me to grow in my capacity to do more for your kingdom’s work. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.