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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Keep On Loving Each Other
Text:Hebrews 13:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

How Good and Pleasant Is the Sight

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

O Love of God, How Strong and True

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
Keep On Loving Each Other”
Hebrews 13:1-3
As we come to the closing chapter of Hebrews, we find a number of practical guidelines to live by. Most New Testament letters follow this type of format: first doctrine is explained, and then after the doctrine comes the practical application. And there is good reason for that format. The reason is that a faith which is all intellect – doctrine – and no action, is not a true saving faith.
The same is true of the words that we speak. We need to have a vocal confession of faith in Jesus Christ. As Romans 10:9 says, “...If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” But if words are all that we have, then something is drastically wrong. As 1 John 3:18 says, “Let us not love with words or with tongue, but with actions and in truth.” If our Christianity is real, it will be more than knowledge of doctrine; it will be more than a profession of faith. If it is real, we will strive to put it into practice what verse 1 tells us to do. This chapter begins by saying, “Keep on loving each other as brothers.”
The love for brothers, of course, includes love for sisters in Christ. The word for love, used in this verse, is from the Greek word for brotherly love. Philadelphia is a city named after that Greek word. The goal of those who founded the city of Philadelphia was that everyone would dwell together in brotherly love in that city.
 Having lived there for a little over four years, Karen and I can attest that, unfortunately, that city – along with all earthly cities – fails to live up to the high calling of brotherly and sisterly love. But unfortunately, within the body of Christ we also often find that the brotherly and sisterly love that should be there has grown cold.
That is why the author of this letter is reminding all of us that our love for one another – just like our love for the Lord – is to be a continual love. The wording of “keep on loving each other as brothers” could imply that apathy had grown in this group of Hebrew Christians to whom the letter was originally written.
Perhaps they had genuine love for each other, but as time went by, with familiarity, their love was no longer what it had initially been. We have all heard that expression, “Love grown cold.” That expression is often related to those in a marriage, that the love that was there on the wedding day has grown cold over the decades.
You may have heard this example, or a variation of it, which is comical, but also sad, because it carries a certain amount of truth: When his bride got a cold during the first month of marriage her husband rushed to the drugstore to buy cough drops and cough syrup and to do everything he could to make his dear wife feel better.
The next year she got a cold and he said, “I think there's some cough syrup and some cough drops in the medicine cabinet, would you like me to check and see?”
The third-year when his dear wife got a cold the husband said, “You know where the cough drops and cough syrup are. You should go use them so that you're not coughing so much, it's very distracting.”
And by the fourth year – as the story goes – when his wife got a cold he said, “You should go to the store and get some cough medicine and some more cough drops because I sure don't want to get your cold!”
The point of the story is that if we are not careful, we can easily become apathetic and uncaring, not only in a marriage, but in the body of Christ, within the true church. And it is that type apathy that the author of Hebrews is warning us about when he writes, “Keep on loving each other as brothers - and sisters.”
Hospitality as a Crucial Characteristic
Verse 2 gives us another example of love. Brotherly love includes being hospitable. Verse 2: “Do not forget to entertain strangers for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
In Biblical times offering hospitality to strangers was crucial. They did not have motels for travelers to stay in. The few hostels where people could stay were known for their crime and for the immoral activity that often took place in them. And there were no restaurants for travelers to eat in, as we have today.
Consequently, in New Testament times it was essential for Christians to open their homes to other Christians. But the need for Christian hospitality has not disappeared with the advent of motels, restaurants and other services for those who travel. Hospitality remains an important part of our Christian love for one another and for those whom God brings into our fellowship. 1 Timothy 3:2 lists hospitality as a requirement for elders. Romans 12:13 puts it in the imperative when it declares, “Practice hospitality.” And here in Hebrews 13:2 we are told not to forget to entertain strangers, that is, we are told to be hospitable.
In our church in Vermont, we had considerably more visitors than what we have here in Oak Lawn, especially during the autumn season. Tourists who come to Vermont to look at the beauty of the autumn leaves are known by the local folks as “leaf peepers.” Because we had a lot of leaf peepers every fall – and we had quite a few visitors of visitors throughout the year – we formed a hospitality group. A number of families signed up in this group, with each family taking turns on a different Sunday to have a meal prepared in order to invite whoever was visiting to come to their home for lunch after church.
It was an excellent way to put into practice what the Bible teaches about hospitality. Visitors who were invited over, even when they declined the invitation, were clearly grateful for the offer that was extended to them. And when there was no one visiting on a particular Sunday the family on the hospitality list was encouraged to invite someone from the church over for fellowship and for food. And they were encouraged to invite people who they didn't know well in the church. That, too, turned out to be a great blessing for those families involved. It is for our own good that the Lord tells us to practice hospitality.
But in case anyone needed a greater incentive to be hospitable, verse 2 tells us that by being hospitable some have entertained angels unaware. If you believe in the Bible, then you certainly believe in angels, including their ability to look, talk and act like a person. Who is to say that by being hospitable, you might entertain an angel one day whether you realize it at the time or not?
That was the case for Abraham. When visitors came to Sodom Abraham invited them in, and from the account in Genesis 18 we know that one of the visitors was not an angel but a pre-incarnate visit from Christ himself.
The same thing happened to Lot. He, too, entertained angels unaware that they were angels until they urged him to flee Sodom. And later Samson’s parents also provided hospitality for angels unaware that they had done so. The need to be hospitable has not disappeared with the proliferation of restaurants and motels. The need to be hospitable is still a vital part of Christianity, and it is a blessing to all who practice it and to all who receive it.
Putting Yourself in the Place of Prisoners
Verse 3 gives us another aspect of biblical love for our brothers and sisters. It says: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
We are to remember those in prison, but we are also to remember them in the context of the New Testament writings. Those in prison were usually Christians, such as the apostle Paul, Peter, and Silas. They were a few of the great number of believers who were imprisoned because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
That is certainly the context of this chapter. Through our study of this letter to the Hebrews we have seen that many of them faced imprisonment as they were persecuted for believing in Christ. For instance, we read in Hebrews 10:32-34:
 ...Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
And we read in Hebrews 11:36 how some believers “faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.” They had compassion on those in prison knowing that they had been imprisoned because of their faith.
It is important to have prison ministries today. It is important to support them with prayers and financial giving, but I do pray that those involved realize the context of remembering those in prison. The context in virtually every case, including the famous words of Jesus, “I was in prison and you came to visit me,” is the context of believers being imprisoned for their faith. When that context is not remembered, Christians are often taken advantage of, sometimes with disastrous results. Great discernment and perception must be a part of every prison ministry.
Verse 3 also tells us to remember those who are mistreated as if you yourself were suffering. Again, the first century recipients were well acquainted with suffering for the gospel. Hebrews 11:36-38 describes how “Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were put in chains and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and in holes in the ground.”
The situation is still similar. We have seen the pictures of Christians kneeling in their orange jumpsuits. Behind them are their persecutors, ready to behead them. And those pictures are just a tiny snapshot of the immense number of martyrdoms around the world today. Christians are mistreated around the globe, including North America where we experience increasing hostility for our faith in Christ. Verse 3 is telling us to put ourselves in the shoes of our persecuted brothers and sisters, to remember them in prayer, and to help them in whatever way we can.
From these verses, we see that the true biblical love for brothers and sisters in Christ has many aspects to it. It must be ongoing, with a continual care and concern for one another. It includes being hospitable and bringing others into our lives, which is what really happens with hospitality. True hospitality is far more than sharing a meal; true hospitality is the sharing of oneself, and with that, the sharing of one's faith as one believer encourages and builds up another believer through that time of fellowship and the enjoyment of food together.
And then also, true biblical love includes remembering the persecuted church, both those who are imprisoned and those who are mistreated terribly because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to remember them by putting ourselves in their shoes. The same phrase is used twice in verse 3, “as if you were their fellow prisoners” and then again “as if you yourselves were suffering.”
When we truly picture ourselves in the predicament of those who are persecuted for their faith, we are enabled to pray for them more fervently and to help them with whatever other means we possibly can. That includes praying for the conversions of their persecutors. Saul of Tarsus, the harsh persecutor of the early church, was transformed by God’s grace and Spirit’s power into the Apostle Paul, and we are to continually pray that persecutors would be changed still today by God’s sovereign grace according to his will.
The Supremacy of a Christ-like Love
These verses touch on just a few facets of Biblical love. And love is, of course, the most enduring quality that anyone of us can have. The classic chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, concludes by saying: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Consequently, it should be of no surprise that love is commanded by God. Although we often speak about the 10 Commandments, I'm sure we all realize that the 11th Commandment, so to speak, is greater than all the others. In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” And in John 15:12 Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” The greatest commandment, which tells us to love the Lord with all that is within us, includes the familiar coupling to love our neighbor as ourself (Matt. 22:39). Love is indeed the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8-10).
Love is not an option in the Christian life. Nor is love just to be shown to those whom we find most lovable. Rather a Christ-like love – brotherly love which befits those who are in the family of God – must radiate from each one of us into the lives of others.
It should be no surprise that the love of the Christian community serves as a powerful witness. After giving us the new commandment to love one another as we have been loved by God, Jesus added in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In the first century, as the church grew even while it was being severely persecuted, it presented a powerful witness to the world through the love that was demonstrated for God and for others. And some 20 centuries later nothing has changed. People will know that we are disciples of the Lord if we demonstrate a true Christ-like love for one another and all those around us.
And that, incidentally, is why the devil works so hard to stir up dissension in every church. He does everything he can to thwart God's purposes and to have the church portray – not the love of God – but the dissension and hatred that the evil one sows.
Not only is our love for each other and for the Lord a powerful witness but also our love – or lack of love – reveals whether our faith is genuine or not. The imposter and the hypocrite will betray themselves by their lack of brotherly love. And when that happens, when a group of believers no longer has a love for one another, when they do not keep on loving each other as brothers, it results in a detrimental witness instead of a positive witness.
Ignatius, who was a student under the Apostle John in the first century, wrote about those with a strange doctrine of God's grace. He described how they spoke of God's grace that had “no care for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the afflicted, none for the prisoner, none for the hungry or thirsty.”
They may have had the doctrine in their mind and they may have had a profession of faith on their lips, but without the practical exercise of love – even though in this life our love is always imperfect – they showed themselves to be hypocrites.
The Apostle John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was more direct than Ignatius.  In 1 John 4:19-21 he writes: “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother – and sister.”
May your Christianity and mine not just be a testimony of our words. May our Christianity not just consist of the knowledge of doctrine, important as that is. But may our faith in Christ overflow with a sincere love expressed in thoughtful and practical ways so that others may see Christ as they see our love for one another. Amen.
Sermon Outline:
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers,
for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners... - Hebrews 13:1-3a
                           “Keep On Loving Each Other”
                                          Hebrews 13:1-3
I. Putting Christianity into practice includes:
   1) Expressing continual love for each other (1)
    2) Being hospitable (2)
    3) Remembering prisoners and others who are mistreated (3)
        because of their faith (Hebrews 10:32-34; 11:36-38)
II. Our love for each other:
     1) Is commanded by God (1; Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:34; 15:12)
     2) Serves as a powerful witness (John 13:35)
     3) Reveals whether our faith is genuine (1 John 4:19-21)





* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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