Hebrewsby Robert M. Solomon
How does one obey Jesus? The author of Hebrews provides three examples of what we can do to ″make level paths for your feet″ (Hebrews 12:13). First, we are urged, ″Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters″ (13:1). This is what Jesus taught His disciples (John 13:34-35) and what the apostles continued to teach (1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 John 3:11-12, 23). Such love does not depend on whether we like others or not, but on the fact that we share the same heavenly Father. It involves a deep commitment and practical expression (1 John 3:17). ″Mutual affection″ (2 Peter 1:7) would be a mark of maturing faith and it should characterise relationships in the church.
Second, we are urged to be hospitable (Hebrews 13:2). Love helps us to respond to others with Christian hospitality. The writer tells his readers not to forget ″to show hospitality to strangers″ and that some people have in the past ″shown hospitality to angels without knowing it″ (v. 2; see Genesis 18:1-15; 19:1-3). Jesus will one day say to the faithful, ″I was a stranger and you invited me in″, something that may surprise them because they were not aware of it (Matthew 25:35, 38). Christian hospitality was often a necessary virtue in the early church because visiting preachers needed accommodation other than the public inns (often dirty places of ill-repute). Thus, Christians were urged to welcome brothers even if they did not know them personally (see 3 John 5-8; Romans 12:13). Hospitality was one of the qualifications for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8).
Third, we should empathise with those who are suffering and in need (Hebrews 13:3). Christian love will express itself in compassionate acts towards needy people. Here, the writer refers to those in prison, most likely believers who were imprisoned for their faith, or those who were reduced to poverty through systematic persecution and thrown into jail as debtors. These brothers should not be forgotten, but visited with care and supported prayerfully. Jesus will one day commend the faithful, ″I was in prison and you came to visit me″ (Matthew 25:36). When Paul was imprisoned in Rome (most likely for the second time), many deserted him (2 Timothy 1:15). But Onesiphorus, his friend and fellow worker, visited him with food and water, the supply of which prisoners were left to find for themselves (2 Timothy 1:16-18). Empathy for those mistreated (″as if you yourselves were suffering″ (Hebrews 13:3; see Isaiah 63:9, where God shows such empathy) is an expression of true Christian love.
The author uses the phrase ″keep on loving″ (Hebrews 13:1)-what does that mean? When may we be tempted to give up loving? How is this love expressed through hospitality? What would Christian hospitality look like today?
How can we grow in our empathy for those who are suffering and in need? Make a list of people you know who may need an encouraging word, a concerned visit, or supportive prayer. Turn it into a ″to-do″ list.