Better Living Under A Better Covenant
Hebrews 13:1-3 – Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. 3 Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.
The mood of Hebrews changes with the introduction of the last chapter. The author’s task of demonstrating how much better Christianity is compared to the Law of Moses has been completed. This final chapter takes on a personal tone with a variety of short and to the point exhortations. These tell the Christian how they can live better lives under the better covenant.
Continuing Love For The Brethren
The first exhortation deals with their mutual relationship. It is to be one of love. The Greek word is philadelphia, coming from phileo for “love” and adelphos meaning “brother” (1 Jn. 3:17-19), but is based upon the same love with which Christ has loved us.
Those living under the High Priesthood of Christ are to continue to love one another. The command “continue” indicates that such love already exists. No matter how much we may have manifested love towards one another as brethren in the past, it is imperative that such love continues! The extent of this love is shown in 1 John 3:16. “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.”
Why does the Hebrew writer start off with brotherly love as the first commandment. First, love is a mark of true discipleship. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). It reveals to the world that we belong to Christ (Jn. 13:35). It reveals our true identity to ourselves (1 Jn. 3:14). Love for our brethren delights God (Ps. 133:1).
Considering Hospitality To Strangers
The establishment of so many hotels and the various other improvements of modem civilization have somewhat diminished our sense of duty to show hospitality. However, this command to show hospitality is not an incidental or elective practice. This is not a new command for Jews. The Law of Moses commanded it (Lev. 19:34). As Christians we are commanded to make strangers welcome in our home (Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:9). Those men who would serve as elders (bishops) “must be…given to hospitality” (1 Tim 3:2). Those widows who would be “taken into the number” must have shown hospitality (1 Tim. 5: 9-10).
Ironically, the Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia, which is similar to the word for brotherly love. It literally means “love of strangers.” In practice one would be inviting a stranger or sojourner into one’s home as an honored guest providing them with food, shelter and protection.
Ancient people, even pagans, greatly valued this virtue. The Greeks gave Zeus, as one of his favorite titles, the title Zeus Xenios, which means “the god of strangers.” For the Bedouins, it was an expression of righteousness. One of Christ’s most famous parables, the Good Samaritan, focuses on this virtue (Luke 10:25-37).
In the first century, people needed others to open their homes for the purpose of showing hospitality. Many were displaced and scattered from their native surroundings because of persecution. Public inns were scarce, costly, and sometimes dangerous. Traveling evangelists were to be supported through hospitality. In The Frogs of Aristophanes, Dionysus asks Heracles, when they are discussing finding a lodging, if he knows where there are fewest fleas. Plato in The Laws speaks of the inn-keeper holding travelers for ransom. Hotels were also known as places of prostitution. Josephus says that Rahab, the harlot who harbored Joshua’s scouts in Jericho, kept an inn. When Theophrastus wrote his character sketch of the reckless man, he said that he was fit to keep an inn or run a brothel; he put both occupations on the same level. The early Christian did not want to stay at one for fear of what people might think and to keep himself from evil.
Today, many of these needs do not exist to the extent they did in the first century. The greater concern for many Christians is not where to stay when away, but the concern over being a victim of those who would take advantage of their hospitality. The danger of “being taken” is no excuse for not helping someone in need. A person who asks us for ten dollars to buy food for his family may spend it on alcohol or drugs. However, we could take the time to purchase these items for them. Such happy experiences in helping others far outweigh the unhappy ones.
In the Didache: “Let every apostle 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” (Didache 11 :4-6).
Zeus, or one of the other gods, was believed to have assumed the disguise of a wayfarer and brought great blessing to those who treated him hospitably, not realizing whom they were entertaining. The Hebrew writer also implies that there may be unexpected benefits in showing hospitality. He may be referring to the example of Abraham in Genesis 18:1-8 when the angels came to Abraham and Sarah to tell them of the coming of a son. These strangers turned out to be angels. It could also be a reference to the example of Lot who showed hospitality to strangers in Sodom who also turned out to be angels (Gen 19:1-32). When Manoah showed hospitality to an angel who came to tell him that he would have a son, who would be the judge Samson (Judg.13:3ff). Any strangers could turn out to be a messenger of blessing to us. Kindness to strangers is one of the means by which Christianity was so rapidly propagated. However, this does not mean Christians should practice hospitality with the express hope of entertaining angels. It does mean that we should “be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9).
Compassionate Concern For Imprisoned Christians
Imprisoned Christians were suffering adversity. Literally, this means in the Greek “to have it bad.” Listed in the gallery of faith in Hebrews 11:37 are those said to have been kakouchoi or “tormented.” The same word was applied to Paul in his afflictions (Acts 23:18; 28:17; Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 2 Tim. 1:8).
Often, as a form of persecution some Christians were condemned to the mines which was almost like being sent to Siberia. The Apostolic Constitutions describes this: “If any Christian is condemned for Christ’s sake to the mines by the ungodly, do not overlook him but from the proceeds of your toil and sweat send him something to support himself and to reward the soldier of Christ.” There was actually a little Church in the mines at Phaeno. Sometimes Christians had to be ransomed from robbers and brigands. The Apostolic Constitutions lay it down: “All monies accruing from honest labor do ye appoint and apportion to the redeeming of the saints ransoming thereby slaves and captives and prisoners, people who are sore abused or condemned by tyrants.” Furthermore, there were actually cases where Christians sold themselves as slaves to find money to ransom their friends. Aristides the heathen orator said of the Christians: “If they hear that anyone of their number is imprisoned or in distress for the sake of their Christ’s name, they all render aid in his necessity and, if he can be redeemed, they set him free.” Lucian describes how Porteus Peregrinus, during his period of association with the Christians, was imprisoned. The Christians “left no stone unturned in their endeavor to procure his release. When this proved impossible, they looked after his wants in all other matters with untiring solicitude and devotion. From earliest dawn old women (widows) and orphan children might be seen waiting about the prison-doors; while the officers of the church, by bribing the jailors, were able to spend the night inside with him. Meals were brought in, and they went through their sacred formulas”(The Death of Peregrinus 12). Emperor Licinius passed new legislation that “no one was to show kindness to sufferers in prison by supplying them with food and that no one was to show mercy to those starving in prison.”
Just why was it so important for fellow Christians to show compassion upon the imprisoned Christians? It is necessary for us to feel with those who suffer. Putting ourselves into their shoes, so to speak, is essential. It is the only way we can have sympathy with them. Paul commanded “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (I Cor. 12:26). The Golden Rule would require us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Mt. 7: 12). It is easier to appreciate hunger when we have been hungry, loneliness when we have been lonely.
Another reason is that we too could be imprisoned. No Christian is immune to persecution themselves. Our true home is heaven, but we are still in the body. No one can imprison our soul, but they can still imprison our flesh.
Additionally, we are commanded to remember and visit Christians in prison as an act of devotion to Christ Himself (Mt 25:35-40). To feed the hungry, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned in Jesus’ name is to serve Him. To turn our backs on those in need of such things is to turn our backs on Him (v. 45). “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” (Mt 25:40).
How would we go about showing compassionate concern for imprisoned Christians? We could also remember them in our prayers (Ac 12: 5; Eph. 6: 18-20). We can show sympathy by “being there” for them and giving direct assistance.
– Daniel R. Vess