The letters of the New Testament often seem to conclude with a few “Oh and by the way” moments. It’s like a quick list of “Dos and Don’ts” coming from a travelling supervisor to local churches.
So in Hebrews 13:1-6, we have the following:
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
To hear the points that the writer are making, you have to understand his basic premise. It is this: Jesus is Lord. Jesus is superior to Moses, to Judaism, and to anything you have previously experienced. And so, the writer continues, If you stand on this principle of understanding, then you will follow these guidelines and you will enter by faith into the fulfilment of Christ’s promises.
But are these sentences related? Some would just see them as a few bits and pieces of disconnected instruction. There is however, a thread running through. It’s about relationship. It’s how “Church” lives together in the real world. What is your relationship like to the people in your fellowship? What is your relationship like to people in need? What is your relationship like within your marriage? What is your relationship like to “stuff,” to material possessions? And all these questions must be answered on the given principle that Jesus is Lord of our life together.
So: “… let brotherly love continue…” A visiting preacher was given this text to preach, and, somewhat disconcertingly, he asked us how we did it! We eventually (after considerable prompting) concluded that love should grow, develop and continue, growing stronger through diligence, experience and time. That takes a huge commitment and an understanding of church as a family in a way that is seldom achieved.
But Jesus gave it as a “commandment” in John 13. Imagine that. (Pause while I feel condemned and then remember that all this is by grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit).
But seriously, church, how can you really love people that you barely know? Or barely want to know?
The second point picks this one up. Given that Jesus is Lord, how is your relationship with people that need help? Here’s the text: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, and those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also.”
Even if we enjoy warm fuzzy feelings for people inside our tight circle of trust, what about the others who are suffering right now? What about outsiders?
When this letter was written there were many Christians who encountered physical oppression and persecution (as is the case today). Many Christians had been imprisoned. The writer reminds his readers to spread their love wider than their own small circle. In Matthew 25, Jesus said, “I was in prison, and you came to visit me.” Don’t forget people outside your circle and “…do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Third, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Here is the husband-wife relationship. It’s a call to keep purity and honour in marriage. But we live in a world saturated with sex and to say “You shall not commit adultery,” is considered to be out of touch with reality. Sex has become an idol, and the threat to marriages and families is real. Sanctity in marriage must be a priority to Christians and I need to pray and work daily to avoid neglect or defilement.
Fourth, our relationship to “stuff”. How materialistic are you, given that Jesus is Lord of all you have? “Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have.” In life here on earth – not only do we have relationships with people, but also – relationship with stuff… the material things here on the earth. Fill in the blanks. How much stuff do you have? How much do you need?
The Bible doesn’t say “Have no money”. The point is not that things on earth have no meaning. Rather, “keep your lives free from the love of money.” And to that this is added: “be content with what you have.” It is so easy to become addicted to our stuff and It can become a subtle slavery, that can render us unreasonable, unspiritual and ungodly. I just have to learn Contentment! As Paul said “…godliness with contentment is great gain.”
If Jesus is Lord in your life, then, think about these areas:
Our relationship with each other:
“Let brotherly love continue. “
Our relationship with people in need:
Our relationship with our spouse:
“Keep Marriage Pure.”
Our relationship with the material things of the earth:
“Let your conduct be without covetousness.”
But how do you do it? Only one way. By admitting Jesus is Lord and asking for His help: . “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me’?” He can do all you need, once you really submit these areas to His lordship.