The Church is referred to under many different figures in the New Testament, it is called a: Holy nation - emphasizing our common citizenship; Kingdom-emphasizing our common submission; Priesthood -emphasizing our common privilege, access to God; Vine and branches - emphasizing our common dependence to bear fruit; Temple - emphasizing our common doctrine and teaching; Body - emphasizing our common life, interdependence; Flock - emphasizing our common need to be fed and led; Assembly - emphasizing our common calling to God's presence. And the figure we want to focus on today; Family - emphasizing our common love, intimacy and care.
Ephesians 3:14-15 (NKJV) For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
The moment you receive Christ, you are adopted by God to be his child. This means not only that you are permanently accepted by him and the object of his loving care; it also means you are given a new family of spiritual brothers and sisters. One of the greatest gifts of God is the privilege of living our Christian lives with other Christians, learning about God, growing in Christ, and serving God together. All believers are part of the family of God.
Matthew 12:47-49 (NKJV) Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You." 48 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" 49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!
It's a spiritual birth that makes us family. This brotherhood is based upon the teaching we saw in Hebrews 2. Our brotherhood is based first of all upon Jesus' incarnation, and secondly we are all one in Christ by means of the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. The fact that we are a family is founded upon these two events. The incarnation of our Lord by which He became one with us in human nature, and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit by which we became one with Him and consequently one with each other.
All believers are part of the family of God, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. And as part of this family, we have responsibilities, or duties, just as we do in our earthly families. The duty that our author emphasizes here is that of love. We are to demonstrate a brotherly love toward one another.
As we come to chapter 13 and its many exhortations, we must remember that these exhortations are based upon the 12 chapters of doctrine that precede them. This fits the pattern of the New Testament teaching which is always doctrine and then duty, position then practice. Believers, please understand we cannot live the Christian life without having a sound doctrinal basis. Christian living depends on Christian learning, to be ignorant is to be impotent. Only as we understand Christian doctrine can we live out these exhortations.
The exhortations in chapter 12 are general, encouraging them to run the race of faith with patience and to follow peace and holiness. But in chapter 13 the exhortations are specific, and in some respects we might treat them as a special elaboration of how to "...serve God acceptable with reverence and godly fear". (12:28). The first way in which we are to do this is by loving each other. It is quite clear that the theme of these first three verses is love. As members of God's family, we are to love one another.
Hebrews 13:1 (NKJV) Let brotherly love continue.
Notice that he doesn't say that they needed to start loving one another as if they hadn't been doing so before. What he seems to be saying here is that they need to take careful steps to ensure that love of the brethren remains operative. This command is in the present imperative, meaning it is something that always must be done.
Hebrews 6:10 (NKJV) For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
He praised them for their love. He wants to ensure that they continue to love. "Continue" is the Greek meno, which means: "abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry". The word includes the idea of enduring in the face of difficulties and temptations. He is exhorting them to perseverance in love.
What is the nature of this love that is to abide in us? He calls it "brotherly love."This is one word in the Greek, philadelphia, which means: "fraternal affection, brotherly love, kindness". It is composed of two root words - phileo, which means: "tender affection", and adelphos, which means: "brother, or near kinsman" it literally means: "from the same womb".
The writers of the New Testament repeatedly admonished the Christians to cultivate brotherly love:
Romans 12:10 (NKJV) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;
1 Peter 1:22 (NKJV) Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,
The word "fervent" means: "to stretch or strain." A good translation of it would be: "full strength or maximum effort." It has the idea of holding nothing back. Giving it everything you've got. This refers to consistency and intensity. It involves the kind of love in which we not only sympathize with one another but actually take steps to deal with the need that exists.
I think that we see this love demonstrated in:
Matthew 8:1-3 (NKJV) When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. 2 And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." 3 Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Jesus touched a leper! Leprosy was a dreaded malady which rendered its victims ceremonially unclean - that is, unfit to worship God (Lev. 13:3). Anyone who came in contact with a leper was also considered unclean. Therefore, lepers were isolated from the rest of the community so that the members of the community could maintain their status as worshipers.
The whole crowd must have gasped when Jesus touched him. But a touch from someone clean was probably what that leper needed more than anything else. Jesus could have healed him from a distance, but he touched him. Jesus cared not just about his physical needs but also about his emotional needs. We too are to love like this.
Our love for our brethren has as its standard Christ's love for us:
John 13:34 (NKJV) "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
How did Jesus love us?
Matthew 20:28 (NKJV) "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
He loved us by sacrificially meeting our needs, even to the extent of dying for us.
Love is action, you cannot statically love someone:
1 John 3:16-18 (NKJV) By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
And according to 3:14-15, Love is a test of our fellowship with the Father:
1 John 3:14-15 (NKJV) We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Are you in fellowship? Are you loving your brothers and sisters in Christ? It's not that if we love our brother, God will accept us into His fellowship; it's that if we are walking in fellowship with God we will have the ability to love our brothers. Love is not natural, it is supernatural.
Brotherly love is like a tender plant which requires much attention, if it is not watched and watered it quickly wilts. It is an exotic plant, for it is not native of the soil of fallen human nature.
Titus 3:3 (NKJV) For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.
Not only has the root of hatred been left in me, but the flesh still remains in my brothers and sisters as well, and there will be much in them to test and try my love.
Yes, brotherly love is a very tender plant and quickly affected by the cold air of unkindness, easily nipped by the frost of harsh words. If it is to thrive, it must be carefully protected and diligently cultivated. Loving as we should is hard work:
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NKJV) remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father,
Love is not natural, it is supernatural, and it requires that we walk in the Spirit, being totally dependent upon God.
The greatest hindrance to brotherly love is self-love; we can become so occupied with ourselves and our interests that we lose sight of others. In an unusually graphic illustration, the writer of Proverbs describes the true nature of self-love in:
Proverbs 30:15 (NKJV) The leech has two daughters; Give and Give! There are three things that are never satisfied, Four never say, "Enough!":
The leech mentioned here is a repulsive creature which would often gorge itself until it exploded. It is never satisfied, and its insatiable appetite is the enemy of everything around it. It is even its own worst enemy, because self-love can never be truly satisfied.
As Christians our concern should be for others and not self. Look at:
Matthew 6:25 (NKJV) "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Matthew 6:27-28 (NKJV) "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? (YLT "is able to add to his age one cubit?"28 "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;
Matthew 6:31 (NKJV) "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'
The word "worry" is the Greek word merimnao, which means: "to be anxious about, to worry, be concerned for." It is a sin when our concern is directed toward self. Paul told the Philippians:
Philippians 4:6 (NKJV) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
The word "anxious" is the Greek word merimnao, but look at:
1 Corinthians 12:25 (NKJV) that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
The word "care" is merimnao. Paul tells the Philippians to "...be anxious for nothing", but he tells the Corinthians to "...have the same care for one another". What we see here is that we are to be concerned for others, that is love, but when its directed toward ourselves, it is a sin. We must have the mind of Christ and turn from self-love if we are going to love others. How important is it that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ? Let me try to show its importance first by a positive and then by a negative.
John 13:35 (NKJV) "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
John Owen, in commenting on this verse said, "The love which is among His disciples is that whereupon the Lord hath laid the weight of the manifestation of His glory in the world". Think about that! The Lord Jesus Christ has tied up in the love which His people show toward one another the manifestation of His glory in this world.
The demonstration of Christian affection between the people of God is a far more weighty argument with unbelievers than any apologetics.
"The world," said Alexander Maclaren, "takes its notion of God most of all from those who say they belong to God's family. They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible. They see us; they only hear about Jesus Christ." Our Lord commands of His followers:
Matthew 5:16 (NKJV) "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Our Lord is manifest to the world by our love. This is a strong motive for loving our brethren. But I also see here a very strong negative motive as we look at the context. Look at the verse which immediately precedes verse 1, and remember that when this epistle was first written, there were no chapter-breaks:
Hebrews 12:29 - 13:1(NKJV) For our God is a consuming fire. 1 Let brotherly love continue.
Think back to the first pair of brothers who ever walked this earth; did "brotherly love continue" with them? Far from it. Cain hated and murdered his brother. And he found God to be a consuming fire, as his own words testify, "My punishment is greater than I can bear" (Gen. 4:13). Our God is a consuming fire, and we do well to obey His voice so we don't have to suffer His temporal judgment.
We fail to "Let brotherly love continue" when we forsake a believer in the time of trouble. You remember the story in Luke 10 of a man who journeyed from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves. He was beaten and robbed and left for dead beside the road. We notice in the story that a Priest and the Levite came by that way but passed on the other side of the road. They forsook a brother in the time of need.
Galatians 6:2 (NKJV) Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Romans 12:5 (NKJV) so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
Because we are members one of another, and because we should bear one another's burdens, let us make sure that we never forsake a brother in the time of trouble.
Not only are we to love our brothers, but in verse 2 we are told:
Hebrews 13:2 (NKJV) Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.
Because he began talking about loving brothers and sisters in verse 1 and is talking about loving them in verse 3, when he talks about "strangers" here in verse 2, he's probably talking about strangers in the family of God - people who are unfamiliar to those in a particular fellowship of believers.
The words "entertain strangers" are one word in the Greek, philonexia. It comes from "philos", which means: "love", and "xenos", which means: "stranger". It means: "loving strangers or a fondness, affection to strangers, hospitableness, hospitality."
This was nothing new to the Hebrews, they knew the teaching of:
Leviticus 19:33-34 (NKJV) 'And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. 34 'The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
The Jews had a list of six things to commend a man in the life to come and number 1 on the list was "hospitality." Job said of himself:
Job 31:32 (NKJV) (But no sojourner had to lodge in the street, For I have opened my doors to the traveler);
In the times of the early Church it wasn't always possible or desirable to stay in inns, they were dirty and immoral. Christians like Paul traveled widely in the exercise of their ministry, and hospitality was necessary. They were all one family, and they readily welcomed as guests even believers they had never met.
The writer says, "Do not neglect" this. Showing hospitality to strangers is something that's easy to neglect, isn't it? The comfortable thing is to neglect strangers and newcomers, because they're strange and new, and we're more comfortable with familiar people and old friends.
The New Testament gives us a number of exhortations to hospitality:
1 Peter 4:9 (NKJV) Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.
3 John 1:5-6 (NKJV) Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, 6 who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well,
Of course, the open-heartedness of Christian hospitality is liable to invite abuse on the part of unprincipled persons who regard it as an opportunity for eating and lodging at the expense of others. So, in the sub-apostolic period instructions were given in the writing known as the "Didache" to protect against such abuse. The Didache said:
Let every apostle (referring to missionaries) who comes to you be received as the Lord, but he must not stay more than one day, or two if it is absolutely necessary; if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. And when an apostle leaves you, let him take nothing but a loaf, until he reaches further lodging for the night; if he asks for money, he is a false prophet.
We should use our common sense in deciding how to best help strangers in need, but our primary concern should be for helping, not for avoiding being taken advantage of. Love is often taken advantage of, but this is a cost that it does not count.
Some Christians, who had been deceived by such people, might be leery of offering hospitality too readily next time they were asked for it, but here they are encouraged with the remark that some who have given hospitality to passing strangers found that they were entertaining angels unawares.
Verse 2 goes on to say, "...for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels." The word "angel" may refer to superhuman beings or it may refer to human beings who are messengers from God. "Angel" is from the Greek word aggelos, which means: "to bring tidings; a messenger". I think the point here is that we can never know how important and far reaching a simple act of helpfulness may be.
Abraham went out of his way to help the three men who were passing by his tent. He didn't wait to be asked for help but volunteered. It was an opportunity more than a duty. In fact, he considered the greater service to himself, saying, "My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant." (Genesis 18:3). At that time he had no idea that two of the men were angels, and that the third was the Lord Himself.
I think we can see how important hospitality was to these people by noticing the extremes that Lot went to to protect his visitors:
Genesis 19:1-8 (NKJV) Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground. 2 And he said, "Here now, my lords, please turn in to your servant's house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way." And they said, "No, but we will spend the night in the open square." 3 But he insisted strongly; so they turned in to him and entered his house. Then he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally." 6 So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, 7 and said, "Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! 8 "See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof."
The NIV renders verse 8 this way:
Genesis 19:8 (NIV) Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
Does this make any sense to you? Lot stepped outside, closing the door behind him, hoping to defuse the situation. He pleaded with them not to act wickedly, and, just as we are about to applaud his courage, he offers to surrender his two daughters to the appetites of these depraved degenerates. What kind of father would do something like this? We might just write this off as the actions of a very lousy father, but we see a very similar incident in Judges 19:17-24. In both of these stories we have men offering their daughters to a homosexual crowd in order to protect a guest in their home, why? What would possess these fathers to do such an unspeakable thing?
First of all, let me say that what these men did was sick. I can't even imagine doing such a thing. Having said that, let me try to explain their actions. Remember what I said about the Jews list of six things to commend a man in the life to come? The first thing on that list was what? Hospitality! The crowds demanded that Lot and the old man turn over their guests, this was an unthinkable violation of the protection guaranteed one who comes under the roof of your house. Hospitality is: "loving strangers." We don't usually think of hospitality as one of the top ten commands, but the Jews saw it as number one as illustrated by these strange Old Testament passages.
Let's look at a passage that should motivate us all to hospitality:
Matthew 25:37-40 (NKJV) "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 'When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'
Hospitality should be a mark of all Christians, a basic characteristic, not an incidental or optional practice. This is a Kingdom perspective that is exceedingly rare in our time - at least in the Western world. I believe the need for hospitality is still great today, maybe not so much in a physical way but certainly in an emotional way (caring), which can be even more important. We know it was important to Jesus, because He touched the leper.
Are we continuing in hospitality here at BBC? Do you reach out to those you don't know with affection? How do you treat the visitors to our Church? They're strangers who need fellowship. Many of them are new to this area, they don't know to many people, and they could use some fellowship. How we treat them is how we treat Christ.
Romans 12:13 (NKJV) distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
The word "given" is from the Greek word dioko. Do you remember what it means? We just studied it in Hebrews 12:14. It means: "to pursue, to go after with zeal". We are to pursue with great effort strangers, (visitors) whom we can minister to.
Hebrews 13:3 (NKJV) Remember the prisoners as if chained with them; those who are mistreated; since you yourselves are in the body also.
The reference is to those who were imprisoned for their Christian testimony. Prisoners depended on relatives and friends to provide food, clothing, and other necessities. The numerous references to Paul's experiences as a prisoner reveal that his friends came to take care of his needs. Prisoners, then, had to be remembered; otherwise they suffered hunger, thirst, cold, and loneliness.
"Remember those who are mistreated"; that is those who are enduring indignities and afflictions other than imprisonment because of their Christian witness.
"...since you yourselves are in the body also." The bodily hardships now being experienced by some of their fellow believers could equally well, and perhaps will, be experienced by them too.
The point of this verse is that we should do our best to identify with those in need, to try to put ourselves in their places. We are to sympathize with those who are suffering or in need. I have heard many very encouraging reports as to how some of you have reached out in love to the Townsend family. As Colleen shares with me your acts of love toward her and her family, my heart is filled with joy.
Our love is to be directed toward two groups of people: We are to love those inside our Church family, this is PHILADELPHIA. Philadelphia literally means: "love of the brethren." It refers to the rich kind of love shared by family members. We are not only to love those in our family, we are to love strangers. Philoxenia is "love of the stranger," and probably refers here to other Christians who lack a spiritual family, and those who don't know Christ. This is a value which God wants us to cultivate just as much as philadelphia.
We could sum up this message with the words of Jesus, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:39). We all understand this, the only question is will we obey? We are to continue in love, because our God is a consuming fire.
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