If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Hebrews 13. We’re going to be looking at the first three verses this morning. As we turn there, I’ll remind you that the last time we were together in this book in Hebrews 12, we were emphasizing the proper motivation for the Christian life – why it is that we do what we do. Our motivation is very important in the Christian life. And at the end of Hebrews 12, in fact the whole of that chapter, is very much devoted to making sure that we understand the motivations that God has provided for us to encourage us along in living the Christian life. When you get to Hebrews 13, the focus shifts to what we are to do in the Christian life – from why we do what we do, to what we do and how we’re supposed to do it. And so when you look at Hebrews 13 you could think, “Hmmm, this looks like a bunch of randomly collected exhortations, gathered up in a bag, shaken up and put down all in one chapter.” But what you find as you look at the chapter more closely is that it is actually giving you specific encouragement on how to live the Christian life in a series of important issues.
If you’ll go ahead and allow your eyes to scan down the page and look at verse 15 and then the verse following it, verse 16, the author of Hebrews says this. “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” And the look at verse 16, “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” now those two little verses ought to raise your antennae up because this whole book long, the author of Hebrews has been arguing that Jesus is better than the sacrifices of the Old Testament, that He has offered a better sacrifice than the ceremonial sacrifices of the Old Testament and therefore we are to leave behind those Mosaic, old covenant, ceremonials and trust in Jesus, follow Jesus, put our faith in Jesus. Why in the world, at the end of this book, having made that argument that Jesus is better all along, would he suddenly reintroduce the idea of sacrifices that we are to offer, using the language, “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God”? Because he is using, just like Paul, the term, “sacrifice,” not as a liturgical instruction for how we are to worship when we gather as the people of God, but as a metaphor for how to live the Christian life. Sacrifice is now suddenly not liturgical worship language; it’s all of life language. He’s telling us how to live as a sacrifice of praise to God or how to offer sacrifices pleasing to God.
And who is that like? It’s just like Paul. You remember what Paul says in Romans 12 verses 1 and 2? You know, for eleven chapters he has given you a glorious theology of the free grace of God in Christ Jesus, he has expounded the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and then in Romans 12:1 what does he say? “Therefore, in light of all that, brethren, by the mercies of God, I beseech you” – what? “To present your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is holy and acceptable to your God, your reasonable service of worship.” So isn’t it interesting that Paul, having put our hope squarely on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, draws the conclusion that now, because we’re trusting in the sacrifice of Christ alone for our salvation, as He is offered in the Gospel, we can now live as sacrifices for God? And the author of Hebrews is doing the same thing. He’s saying, “Do you want to live as a sacrifice of praise to God? Do you want to give God a sacrifice that is pleasing to Him? Then live this way.” In other words, both Paul and the author of Hebrews make it clear that our salvation is all by God’s doing and based on what Christ has done, which frees us to be living sacrifices to God, not so that He will accept us, but because He has accepted us in Jesus Christ. And so these exhortations tell you how to live the Christian life.
And isn’t it interesting, Hebrews 13:1, it begins with love? That really shouldn’t surprise us, should it? Jesus, in the Upper Room, wants to drive home one very important message to His disciples as He washes their feet in John 13 and what does He say to them? “Beloved, love one another as I have loved you. A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” The love command and especially the command for love to the brethren was central to Jesus’ teaching. And as the author of Hebrews gets to the point of telling you and me what it means to live a life that’s a sacrifice of praise, he begins with love.
And so as we look at this passage together I want you to be on the lookout for three specific things. First, notice it’s not just a generic command to love – you’ll find lots of those in the New Testament – this is a command to love the brethren, to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s verse 1. Verse 2 – second, isn’t it interesting the application of that love command in the sphere of hospitality is that you are to show hospitality to strangers? And then third, again, as an application of that love command, you are to show love to those who are imprisoned and mistreated. So you have a general command to love the brethren and then two specific applications of it as we read the passage together. Let’s pray before we read God’s Word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word, so open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it. The things that You tell us here, Lord, are so simple, so clear, so easy to understand, but very easy to forget to do and sometimes very hard to actually do from our hearts. So we ask the help of the Holy Spirit, not just to understand but to do Your Word. In Jesus’ name, amen.
This is God’s Word. Hear it, beginning in Hebrews 13 verse 1:
“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.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
How do you live as a living sacrifice? How do you live life as a sacrifice of praise to God? How do you offer to God a sacrifice that is pleasing to Him? God, in His kindness, does not leave you to scratch your head and wonder what the answer is to that question. And it begins here in Hebrews 13 with this command – “Love your brothers and sisters in Christ.” You want to offer a sacrifice that the Lord loves? You want to live as a sacrifice for Him? You don’t have to scale mountains, cross seas, reach the impossible star – you just have to love the brethren. This is a glorious example of how to really live the radical Christian life, you have to do things that are right in front of your nose that are mundane, that won’t get you an interview on Good Morning America, that won’t get you on the front page of the New York Times, but which are very important to your God and bring delight to His heart and encouragement to your brothers and sisters.
THE COMMAND TO LOVE
So let’s begin in verse 1. What does he tell us there? “Let brotherly love continue.” What does that mean? It means that we are to be deliberate in cultivating and in showing true Christian love to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, we are to live as if our fellow believers are family and we are to love them like they are family because they are. “Let brotherly love continue,” is an exhortation which is echoed throughout the New Testament. I’ve already alluded to John 13:34 where Jesus calls His disciples to love one another as He has loved them. But over and over in the New Testament, it is emphasized the believers are now family members. You cannot be a Christian and not be the brother or sister of anybody else who is a Christian. And this passage is saying, “I want you to live and love like you know that you’re actually related to these people in the pews who are not like you, who are different from you, who come from places and backgrounds and circumstances in life that are different from you. They are now your family and you are to love them with the same kind of an intensity that a functional family displays because they are your brothers and sisters. And my friends, that is hard to do. That is hard to do. Just like family can get on one another’s nerves, church family can get on one another’s nerves. I think it’s so interesting in this passage, he says, “let brotherly love continue.” You know, implied is, you’ve already started loving the brethren but you need to keep on doing that. And the keeping on of doing that is the hard thing, because over time we step on one another’s toes, we let one another down, we irritate one another, we disagree with one another, and he says, “Here’s the first thing that I want you to do to live as a sacrifice of praise to God – don’t stop loving one another. Let that brotherly love continue.”
And I want you to understand that he’s not just talking about good feelings towards one another. But you know, for a lot of us, that wouldn’t be a bad thing – to cultivate genuine delight in one another, to say, “Lord, I want not only to like but to genuinely love the members of my church family.” Most of you, in your families, have at least one person who is that special person who is exceptionally hard to love. Most of you have that. I talk to you; I know that most of you have that! There are people like that in the church family. I was talking to our executive minister this morning about one of those people and how to manage that people! And it’s very easy to become hard and a little jaded about some of the brethren. And here’s what the author of Hebrews is saying. “Let brotherly love continue. Cultivate real love, care, and concern for one another. Show real love, care, and concern for one another.” This is a New Testament emphasis. We cannot be Christians without being the brothers and sisters of all other Christians. And even more importantly, my friends, we cannot love and worship God while denying love for the brethren. John, having heard Jesus, tells us that. “You can’t hate your brother and love God.” John just puts it that starkly, doesn’t he? Why? Because he learned it from Jesus! Cultivate love for the brothers.
That is a good message for us at First Presbyterian Church. I must say, I am with ministers from all parts of the world all of the time and when I hear about their congregations, especially in the way that their congregations relate to one another, I am always happy when I am back home. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Do not take that for granted, First Presbyterian Church. Continue in love for the brothers. That is so important. It’s important for your witness to God, it’s important for glorifying God, it’s important for you to live as a sacrifice of praise to God – that you genuinely love one another. People will know. In this world, in this world that will mean so much. We live in a world that is virtually connected twenty-four hours a day and there has never been more loneliness in this world. And when people come into contact with genuine, Gospel-based relationships, who’ve never experienced that before, they’ve never ever conceived that something could be like that. You have no idea of the power of that. Cultivate that.
And don’t just cultivate the natural relationships that exist among you, cultivate all of the relationships that ought to exist for the sake of the Gospel. You are the most connected, related network bunch of people that I have ever met in my life! Two-thirds of you went to kindergarten with one another and stayed together in elementary school, high school, college, fraternity, sorority, and you live in the same neighborhood now! Paul’s talking about, or the author of Hebrews is talking about more than just that kind of relationship. He’s talking about a Gospel-based love for one another because you’re brothers and sisters in Christ, and that means loving people who are not like you but who are part of your church family and part of your Christian family and we ought to be deliberate in that. Every member of this congregation ought to be able to testify, “I love my brethren and I have been loved by my brethren.” Everyone ought to be able to give that testimony. “Let the love of the brothers continue. Let brotherly love continue.”
CULTIVATE AND PRACTICE HOSPITALITY
Secondly, look at verse 2. He applies this in a very specific way and it may be a little surprising to you. He says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” What is he saying? He’s saying that we are to be deliberate in cultivating and practicing hospitality to those who are passing through. In other words, we are to view ourselves as hosts appointed by God for the comfort of others. Middle Eastern hospitality is legendary. Even to this day, Middle Eastern hospitality is legendary. People in the Middle East know how to show hospitality. Once upon a time, the South was legendary for hospitality, but air conditioning and convenience had really gotten in the way of that and we have more of a bygone reputation for hospitality than we actually practice hospitality these days.
And I want to pause right here and say I think he has especially in mind traveling believers here. The whole context is how you love the brethren. And so he has especially in mind traveling believers. And this would have been very practical because in the first century, inns were dirty, dangerous, immoral places. Think of the innkeepers in Les Mis. That’s what innkeepers were often like and that’s what inns were often like in the ancient world. You came out of those inns flee bitten, with your pockets empty, and maybe you were exposed to immorality because they were the place where the brothel often was. And that made hospitality of believers welcoming people into their home especially important. And my friends, it’s important for us today. We live three blocks from a major Christian university with five thousand students. We are a half block from a major liberal arts institution. We are four blocks from the major teaching hospital in the state. Across the street from another major hospital. Down the street from yet another major hospital. We have a law school, seminary, and other colleges and universities in this town. We have ample opportunities to show hospitality in this congregation to Christians passing through and to non-believers, I might add. Are you deliberate in that?
Let me go on record giving thanks for Scottish Christians who took me into their homes when I was living six thousand miles from my parents in Edinburgh, Scotland, and let me just record right here thanks to Neil and Anne McTaggart of Holyrood Abbey Church in Scotland in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was what they call the session clark – the clerk of session of the Holyrood Abbey Church of Scotland and Neil and Anne took this American into their home and I have lost count and cannot remember how many Sundays I was in their home. And they put on a display of exactly what the author of Hebrews is talking about in Hebrews 13:2. Not only would they host me in their home, but Neil would go out visiting shut-ins in the afternoon and sometimes he would welcome me to come along with him and sometimes he would welcome me to stay at home and rest until the evening service. But what they did for my heart in those days is incalculable.
And my friends, there ought to be, young and old alike in our midst, that can give that same testimony of you. And I know that there are many of you here of whom that testimony can be given because I’ve talked to people that you’ve shown hospitality to. So to those of you who are showing hospitality like this, thank you! You are fulfilling Hebrews 13:2! For those of you who have not yet, let me say this word. If you do not plan to show hospitality you will not. The McTaggarts had extra place settings at their table at home every Sunday. And so Anne had to plan for extra food. And they went to Holyrood Abbey looking for people to invite home. You have to plan to show hospitality or the crush of life will keep you from doing it. And just let me say, the Lord’s Day is the perfect day to do it. David Strain and I were talking about the fact that so many Americans are scared to death of a Scottish Sabbath. You’ve never lived until you’ve had a Scottish Sabbath. Isn’t that right, David? You’ve never lived until you’ve experienced a Scottish Sabbath because it’s filled with worship and praise of the Almighty God, fellowship with other believers, deeds of mercy and necessity, and rest and refreshment. There’s nothing like it in the world. Make it a day filled with hospitality, saints of First Presbyterian Church.
DELIBERATELY MINISTER TO THOSE WHO
ARE IMPRISONED AND MISTREATED
Third and finally, look at verse 3. Then he says, “Remember those in prison as though in prison with them and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” In other words, be deliberate in cultivating a concern for and presence with and ministry to those who are imprisoned and mistreated. Now I think he especially has in mind believers who have been imprisoned and who are being mistreated, although certainly by application and extension, this verse extends to all kinds of prison ministry and all kinds of ministry to people who have been mistreated. But I think he has especially in mind believers who have been imprisoned and mistreated. And my friends, let me say especially to my young friends here today, you will, in your culture, have the opportunity to visit believers who have been imprisoned because of their testimony to Jesus. And you will, in your culture, have the opportunity to stand with believers who have been mistreated because of their testimony to Jesus. It’s already beginning to happen in the news all around us. There are people who have lost their jobs and their businesses simply because they want to obey the Bible and the government has said, “You can’t obey the Bible and have your business.” And they’ve said, “Well then I’ll just not have my business because I’m going to obey the Bible.” And you will have the opportunity, in your culture, to stand with believers who have been imprisoned because they’ve said, “I’m standing with the Word not with the world.”
But my friends, already, all around us, all around this world there are more persecuted and mistreated and imprisoned Christians than ever. Just a few days ago, dozens of your brothers and sisters in Christ were slaughtered in their worship service. From Pakistan across the Middle East we are seeing Christians targeted for destruction. We must be with them in solidarity! It’s been interesting, hasn’t it, that even the media has picked up on the fact that the Christian church in the United States has not seemed to care that dozens and dozens of believers in other countries have been slaughtered for the testimony of Jesus. This verse reminds us that we cannot be indifferent to believers who are imprisoned and mistreated. We must stand with them. Now that especially means right here. That especially means right here. And we need to cultivate that and be ready for that. And what is it? It’s an expression, it’s an application of brotherly love. If your child was in prison, you’d go visit your child in prison! If your friend was mistreated, you’d stand with your friend in the mistreatment! Think of your fellow Christians as your family and stand with them in those places. It’s all an extension of love.
This whole passage is designed to call us to a comprehensive and practical expression of love in the Christian church. That is how you live as a sacrifice of praise to God. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, cultivate in us and continue us in a genuine and robust and practical love for our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, here in this congregation, in our fellow evangelical congregations in this city, with believers around this community and state and around the world, so that they will say, “Behold, how they love one another and glorify our Father who is in heaven.” We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Now let’s sing about loving our family, loving the church, which is the institutional form of God’s kingdom in this world. Number 353, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord.”
Receive God’s blessing. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.