Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 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. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 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.” 6 So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever ….
15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
In this final chapter of Hebrews, the writer turns practical. He has addressed a disheartened community, reminded them of who and why they worship and called them to choose the Christian life. Now he calls them to live that life. Each of these six admonitions reflect practical expressions of a love that is made possible by God’s love for us.
“Let mutual love continue.” Though I would hope this is an obvious expectation among Christians, in real life, it can easily be a means to serve self. I see a woman in her late forties whose mother and father died within a few months of each other. She met a man who was very helpful during this time—both emotionally and practically. He took time off work to help sort and pack her parents home. He stood by her as she struggled through the fog of grief. Unfortunately, she learned that the entire time he had been in another relationship. She felt devastated, angry and betrayed. What had appeared as regard turned out to be this man’s seeking to enhance his own desire to be a ‘white knight’. He was kind but his kindness was born of his own neediness and self interest.
In less dramatic ways, most of us have a list of ‘look what I did for you’ that we pull out of our back pocket when we feel entitled to care. As soon as we do that, however, our gift of loving becomes a transaction to make sure our own needs are met. None of us escape the desire to manage, and worse, coerce love. We use guilt, entitlement, good deeds and martyrdom to evoke the recognition we crave.
Mutual love—regard for self and other—is a difficult standard. It doesn’t say, always defer to the needs of the other. Nor does it say, make sure you take care of yourself, It says share mutual love We must live in the middle ground of competing needs—of treating ourselves and others as valuable children of God. Such mutuality is not even possible without the undergirding promise of God’s steadfast love for us. Without that promise, we can only depend on the reactions of others. Human beings are notoriously frail and sometimes, when we most need another, they are not there. No human is always there when we need them. We have reason to be afraid. But when we live out of our fear, mutual love is impossible.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” This is not a natural human reaction. The greek for ‘hospitality’ here is literally “love the strange.” In real life however, precisely because someone is strange to us, they are unpredictable. Unpredictable and safe do not go together. Over the years, I have worked to see patterns and similarities among people. I try to respond to how we are alike before I respond to how we are different. I can maintain that orientation when I feel relatively safe. If for any reason, however, I feel anxious or threatened, I, like anyone else will be cautious and defensive.
We can choose an orientation toward curiosity and hospitality. But always remember, it is one thing to have the values of hospitality and quite another to have sufficient internal safety to live them.
“Remember those who are in prison …(and) those who are being tortured”—as though it were happening to you. This is a specific extension of ‘show mutual love.’ It is a specific way to acknowledge and feel like what it might be for ‘the other.’ There is no better way to show compassion than to have walked in another persons’ shoes. It is what God offered when the Word became flesh.
“Let marriage be held in honor by all.” Without getting into the intense societal conflicts regarding definitions, I will simply say that mutual love is required for the covenantal relationship to be sustained. In any particular relationship how the ‘marital bed is honored’ can be quite diverse. But no matter how that is decided, it is up to God, not us, to pass judgment. What is up to us is that we make a conscious commitment to show mutual regard as we struggle with our differences.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.” First, please note, the admonition here is not that money or wealth is bad. What is misplaced is our idea that money provides worth or safety. Secularly that is true—at least for a time…but ultimately it is not. But, for most of us money and security are tightly intertwined.
I’m not sure I know a single person that does not have some anxiety about financial security. ‘ Will there be enough?’ It turns out that if you asked people how much is enough, the most common response is ‘about 25% percent more.’ We imagine that with just a little more, we could be worry free. It is very hard to be content with what we have.
Also, all too often our ideals and our pocket books are in conflict. We say we want a simpler life and then over work. We say we want a cleaner world but don’t want the companies in our investment portfolio to pay for it. We say we want social equality and justice for the disenfranchised—but not so much if it means it will cost us.
In real life, we make different decisions when our safety is based upon our assets. In real life, we are far more likely to be fear-based than live in confidence in the Lord. But no matter how insecure or afraid we are, and the first century Christians were both, we are still called to turn toward God. We just need to acknowledge that our real life prayer may be, ‘Lord, be present with me in my fear. Help me turn to you.’
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. It helps to see that the Christian life, with all of its challenges is actually possible. Jesus, ‘the same yesterday and today and forever ….’ shows us the way and the cloud of witnesses testify that His way is the way of life. That is our belief and that is what we worship and praise.
Our community has been trying to encourage dialogue by having people of diverse backgrounds gather together in small groups. Several of our Faith in Real Life members have participated. On matters or race, the question was asked, “what can we do?” The response was, speak up. It is good advice. We need to learn how to speak up and we must be willing to speak up. We must “continually make sacrifices of praise.” We must sacrifice our own agendas, our own sense of safety, our own desire for self sufficiency. We must tolerate our fears if we are to turn toward God. Only when we surrender ourselves can we defer to and worship God’s call to love. The writer of Hebrews asked the congregation to tolerate the hardness of this world, to sacrifice their own conceptions of safety— in order to praise Jesus who is the same yesterday and today and forever …and who shows us the way.
There is a reason the Christian path is the road less traveled. Mutual love, hospitality, mindfulness and contentment all require choosing to believe that God’s way is what ultimately matters. It is God who provides us with the choice in the first place—giving up our way is never natural. And it only through his Grace that we can be sustained and love in a world beset with fear and self righteousness.
Turn our faces toward love and sustain us in our fears. Let it be so.