Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:1-3
Abide in Brotherly Love
Continuous mutual love (brotherly love, Gk. phil-adelphia) anchors the heart in the life of Christ. He sacrificed for us as his brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11-12) therefore our continual sacrifice is to offer our lives and love to one another as the family of God. Our mutual love is an aspect of the “unshakable kingdom” which we are inheriting. As Paul reminded in 1 Corinthians 13, love is one of the three things that will “remain” after all else comes to an end. At the last hour, the only thing that will matter is our abiding relationship with God and one another. All else is secondary. Our love for one another is eternal; it continues forever; it never ends.
Do not forget to love the Stranger
There is a tension between the life of holiness and the life of love. They are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are two sides of the same coin. To “be holy” means to “be set apart”. Does that mean that hospitality to outsiders goes out the window? Are the boundaries to be set so strongly that the Christian should not even associate with strangers or non-believers? Xenophobia is the fear of the stranger. Often an “inside group” can be very concerned about an “outside” group or person. Their cultures and customs are often strange and perceived as a threat to identity and purity.
Quite the contrary, once we are secure in our own relationship to God through Jesus Christ, our identity in him and our manner of life, we can freely relate to the stranger with love (love for the stranger, Gk. philo-xenia). The call is to love and welcome the stranger with a posture of hospitality and grace. Inside the community of the church, the people of God are called to be holy in their relationships. However, we are to maintain a loving holiness that extends out beyond itself. In Jesus Christ, xenophobia is transfigured into philoxenia.
When we are focused on our own familiar relationships, it can be very easy to forget to look around and show care to the new person or the unknown visitor in our midst. As a pastor, I find it heartbreaking to hear from new members to the church how they visited other churches (or even ours sometimes) and no one said a word to them. They walked in and they walked out without so much as a greeting or any attempt to welcome. How do we perceive the stranger in the midst of our assemblies? What does it feel like to be the lone outsider with a group of insiders–can you relate?
The call to show hospitality runs deep in the story of Israel. Abraham is blessed by welcoming three strangers who turned out to be messengers of good news who spoke prophetically as the angels of the Lord.
The strangers and visitors in our midst may very well have been sent by God to bring some missing spiritual gift or to provide for a need where there is lacking. At one time, Jesus came as a stranger to this world, and those “who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Do Christians have a unique role to play with respect to immigrants and foreigners in our country?
Remember the Prisoner and the Mistreated
If we are to not forget to show love to the stranger in our midst, we are to always remember to show love to Christian brothers and sisters out of our presence trapped in prison. In the days of the early church, one could become imprisoned for simply being a believer in Jesus Christ. Just as we see in parts of the middle east today. Christians were persecuted and mistreated for their insistence on singular personal allegiance to Jesus Christ. Many today are trapped in the persecuting prison of their own country, and they would seek refuge if they could.
The preacher exhorts that even though our Christian brothers and sisters are away from us, they are still connected to us as united parts of the body of Christ and the household of God. We must always remember them, pray for them, and if possible, help them.
In 2013 the US Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that there 2,220,300 people in state and federal prisons, and county jails.
While it difficult to be exact, researchers estimate that there are between 50-60% of this population that identifies itself as Christian (either protestant or catholic). Jesus joined us in solidarity to our prison to Satan, sin and death:
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Our character of solidarity with brothers and sisters in Christ who are imprisoned or mistreated by persecution reflects the unity we share in Jesus Christ. He came to us when we were in prison. Jesus is the great liberator. When they are imprisoned, we are with them. When they are mistreated, so are we. We are one.
What is your experience of visiting the prisoner? How can the church more effectively care for our brothers and sisters in Christ behind bars? How can we better relate to Christian refugees and those who are persecuted for the Christian faith in other parts of the world?