In closing, the writer of Hebrews outlined seven exhortations for living daily by faith, beginning with the encouragement that all these heroes of our faith act as a cloud of witnesses—past runners—cheering us on from the sidelines in the amphitheater of heaven, as we run the race of life.
Chapter Twelve contained four exhortations on how to live by faith.
- Focus on Christ, Hebrews 12:1-3
- Welcome God’s Discipline, Hebrews 12:4-13
- Keep Our Relationships Right, Hebrews 12:14-17
- Trust in God’s Promises
Chapter Thirteen contains the three more, beginning with
- Treat Brothers and Sisters Well
5) Treat Brothers and Sisters well
There are five ways in which we are to treat each other well, and the first is to genuinely love each from the heart. The second way flows easily from the first.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
—Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them;
—those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.Hebrews 13:2-3 (NRSV)
Even if you and I might feel we do not have the knack for it, every Christian is called to offer hospitality.
You and I are to offer a special kind of compassion to the imprisoned. Think of all the prisons people find themselves in today, of addiction, financial hardship, poor coping skills, or relating skills, of pride, isolation, of physical and mental disability, of jobs they cannot afford to lose, or relationships they do not have the wherewithal to change or leave. People can become imprisoned by others’ expectations, or prejudices, or resentments, or fears.
Being incarcerated is certainly meant, but it is only one way in which people find themselves locked in and locked down.
The writer was enjoining believers to identify with the prisoner in all humility. You and I need to get into that person’s life with them, and help them, shoulder-to-shoulder, either in how to find the door out of their prison, and how to walk through it to freedom on the other side, or in how to cope inside the prison where leaving is not possible or permitted.
Does that sound risky and messy?
Taking the risk and trusting God with the mess is exactly the kind of faith project God loves to commend.
Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.Hebrews 13:4 (NRSV)
It has been said that the countercultural Way of Christianity in the first-century Greco-Roman world was to share the table rather than the bed. Believers were well-known for their love feasts, and it is clear from the apostolic writings that all were to eat together as equals, sharing their table with stranger and friend alike, slave and free, man and woman, wealthy and poor, and so on.
But the marriage bed was kept sacred in ways unheard of to the surrounding society. Men, in particular, were called to faithfulness to their one wife—that slaves were not to be pressed into sexual service, prostitutes and temple workers were not to be visited, and the farther reaches of sexual behaviors considered perfectly normal and culturally acceptable (even applauded, as between tutors and their students) were called impure and unfaithful in Christian assemblies.
The Apostle Paul gave direction concerning marriage that has often been misunderstood.
But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.1 Corinthians 7:2-4 (NRSV)
Paul was not providing a club for married couples to use in forcing each other to have sex. Rather, Paul intended to convey in as clear of terms as possible that men were to be with their own wives only, and women only with their husbands.
In Paul’s day, where chastity, monogamy and the sanctity of marriage were routinely dishonored and disregarded, this kind of monogamous faithfulness in marriage, or otherwise a celibate lifestyle was a very countercultural and public expression of a believer’s life of faith.
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;Hebrews 13:5-6 (NRSV)
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
Jesus spoke about this confidence in God for our care on several occasions. On one occasion, Jesus spoke about being continuously in connection with God about our every need. Keep on asking, keep on asking, keep on knocking reverently. Jesus promised that God, Who is good, wise, loving and powerful, the Lord will certainly give you and me what we need to live for God.
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
—For everyone who asks receives,
—and everyone who searches finds,
—and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?
Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!Jesus, Matthew 7:7-11 (NRSV)
Jesus was referring to the little round limestone stones on the shore of Lake Galilee which were exactly the shape and color of little loaves; and to eels, which were often drawn up along with other fish, in the nets, but which were considered unclean to eat, since they had no scales. The Father will give you and me what we need, and what our hearts desire for, deep down. The Father will never give us counterfeit bread, and counterfeit meat, He will give us, always, the real thing.
God never changes. God is completely good, without any shadow of meanness or darkness. God is consistently good. God’s goodness is not arbitrary or capricious, God’s goodness flows from the perfection of God’s character. James reminded his readers that every good and perfect gift comes from God, for God is not only the standard for goodness, God is the very source of all goodness.
God will always answer our prayers, but the Lord will answer in God’s way. God’s way is perfect wisdom and perfect love. God will sometimes allow suffering, trouble, grief, all kinds of things you and I did not realize we were praying for. But the writer of Hebrews would say, do not be discouraged.
The Father is answering our deep need
- for the sense of God’s presence,
- for God’s comfort and courage,
- for God’s strength and spiritual power,
- for maturity in our character,
- for depth in our personality,
- for a capacity to love and forgive that begins to match God’s own.
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.Hebrews 13:7 (NRSV)
The word leader, here, is the Greek verb ἡγέομαι | hēgeomai, meaning one who is leading the way, going before the others to show where or how. For those who are teachers among us, who are elders and shepherds, are leading the way in living lives of faith.
They are not perfect! And there is every chance they will get some things wrong, or make unwise decisions, or in a myriad of other ways, miss the mark. After all, even those who lead the way are human beings, just like the rest of us.
Nevertheless, if the assembly recognizes God’s Spirit with these leading-the-way-ones, and sees God is with them, if it is recognized God is at work in and through them, then we do well to willingly cooperate with them, show them respect, heed their direction, and weigh their counsel.