Summary: We are called to love one another

Hebrews 13 - 11/4/12

Turn with me this morning to Hebrews chapter 13. We are closing out this book that we have spotlighted over the last couple months. We saw in Hebrews, this book written to Jewish Christians tempted to go back to the OT sacrificial system with all its laws and rules and regulations, that Jesus is better than OT prophets, angels, Moses, Aaron or any other high priest, even better than Abraham, the father of the Jews. Jesus provides us salvation and direct access to God Almighty, and as a result we are given direct access to God and are invited to approach God’s throne to find grace to help in time of need. We saw in chapter 10 we are called to live boldly, to draw near to God, to hold on to hope, to spur one another on, and to encourage one another by meeting together. In chapter 11 we have examples of many, many OT saints who lived their lives of faith out to completion, giving us an example to follow. In chapter 12, we are reminded that these individuals function now as witnesses in heaven, cheering US on to win the race we are in. We win that spiritual race as we get rid of the sin and baggage that weighs us down, as we don’t give up but continue to persevere, and as we look to Jesus and seek to be like Him. And we learn that discipline is a good thing, given by God not to punish us, but to help us succeed, to help us WIN the race!

We come today to the end of chapter 12 and then go on to chapter 13, the last chapter, and we see some summary ideas that wrap up this letter. But they are truths that will transform our lives if we put them into practice. Because these summary statements, different than much of the rest of the book, have more to do with how we relate to one another as opposed to understanding the truths about salvation. Before we look at the scripture, Let’s PRAY!

In 12:14 we are reminded to

• live in peace - Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord. See to it that no-one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. What so often happens is that when something comes up - an area of conflict between us and another - we lose all semblance of peace. First it starts out as irritation, a disagreement that festers, then before you know it, that anger has turned to bitterness, and everyone who comes around you gets influenced by your negativity and critical spirit. When we allow bitterness to develop in our hearts, it doesn’t just hurt us, many people are injured in the process.

And notice this key idea here: it you have bitterness - if you are allowing a bitter root to grow up in your heart - then you have missed the grace of God. Why does it say that? Because when an issue of contention comes up between you and someone else, our first response is to magnify the offence, defend ourselves, prove the other person wrong, and enter into armed warfare to prove that WE are the one in the right. At least, that is our human response, that is what our sin nature tells us we should do.

But as Christians, there should be another response that comes - and that is the grace of God at work in our hearts. When we think about an issue of contention, 1 Peter 5 tells us what grace does for us: All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. What is that saying? That we should choose to BE HUMBLE! What is humility? Philippians 2:14 tells us, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. So humility is considering others better than you. It is looking at the conflict to see how THEY can come out as winners! It’s considering what it is that is of interest to the other person. Whenever we have a conflict or disagreement, we want to see how we can WIN - but humility says, how can THEY WIN! And to have that type of attitude, we definitely need to grace of God at work in our lives.

But what about when the other person IS in the wrong? Once again, the grace of God comes to us and says, “Release it!” Let it go! Even when we are in the right, we don’t have to claim our rights. Proverbs 10:12 - Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs. 1 Peter 4:8 - Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

So, we choose to allow God’s grace into our hearts, and we choose not to let conflict escalate into bitterness. We then go on to 12:16 where we read, See that no-one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Here again, is the same idea. I don’t think that the call is as focused on the issue of sexuality as it is focused on relationships with others. God is saying “Don’t be a user!” Don’t abuse others by your focus on self. What is the example of Esau? It is a person so focused on himself that he threw away great wealth and riches for a bowl of stew.

Think about that - who would pay a million dollars for a bowl of stew - or a plate of spaghetti - or even a bowl of ice cream? NO ONE! At least not in their right mind! But that’s the point - when you a focused on yourself you don’t think rationally. And that’s where the tie-in to sexual immorality comes in. Most people involved in sexual immorality are NOT considering the welfare of the other person. Oh sure, they might SAY they can’t break things off because the other person NEEDS them - they love the other person SO much! But the truth is that they are going down the road of sexual immorality to satisfy one person - themself!

We miss God’s grace and blessing when we focus on ourselves and not on others! Then the chapter goes back into the analogy and word pictures from the OT- God’s voice booming from the mountain when Moses went up to get the 10 Commandments. If God audibly spoke to you from heaven about your biggest sin and said “STOP IT or I’m going to strike you down DEAD tomorrow!” We would listen - he would get our attention. Two weeks ago we talked in men’s group about Paul on the road to Damascus speaking to God and being blinded. God got his attention. Last week we talked about Ananias & Saphira in Acts 5 - God got their attention and the whole church’s too when He struck them down dead in the center of the church!

12:25 warns us, See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? So it is a serious thing to see what God wants from us - because He wants us to PAY ATTENTION! The chapter ends with these words in vs. 28 - Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

So, this idea of obedience is a serious matter. When we sing the song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”, it is not just a nice ditty to put a smile on our faces. Instead, it should cause us to think about what a SERIOUS decision that is. The world behind me - the cross before me - what is the cross? sacrifice and suffering! - though no one join me, still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back!

Today, as you understand what God is speaking to you about, will you make a decision to listen and obey? There is no use to come out to worship if you are going to go home and DISREGARD what you know God wants you to do! Stay home and catch up on your sleep. It will do you more good and make you feel better. But, if you DO want to follow God, then let’s move on to chapter 13 and see what God wants from us. Ch.13-

Keep on loving each other as brothers. What does God want from us? He wants us to

* Love One Another - How? As if we were Family! Love as brothers. Because we really ARE family. As Christians we are brothers and sisters. Over the course of a lifetime you have probably lost many friends - some slipped away, some might have gotten into an argument, some might have had best intentions of staying friends, but for one reason or another the friendship ended. But in your life you have NEVER lost a brother or sister. Because no matter how angry or upset or furious you might get with them, they are still your brother or sister. The bond between you is not based on FEELING but rather Relationship!

In the same way, here in the church, there are some Christian brothers or sisters who will be mean and insensitive and downright CRUEL to you by the things they say and do - but that doesn’t give you an excuse to walk away - because they are still your brother or sister. Confront? Yes, by all means! Provide accountability? Yes! But destroy your relationship? NO! By no means!

What is God’s will for you today? It is to Keep on loving each other! And how is that love shown?

• Love is shown through Hospitality! We looked in ! Peter 4:8 at how we show love to one another - we read - Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. But then we go right on to verse 9 - Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. It we are going to love one another, it will be shown by Hospitality! So, what is hospitality? It is the idea of opening up our hearts and our homes. For some of us, we might strike out on both parts! Often we don’t open up our homes. When Ronda & I were in PA, we went to a church in Chambersburg. Ronda’s dad grew up in that area, and said, “Let me tell you two things about people in that area. First, they won’t tell you when they hurt. They might tell you if they have physical pain, but they don’t open up about emotional issues. And secondly, he said, I can’t remember growing up ever having anyone else in our house for hospitality. Maybe an uncle dropped by or something, but people in that area don’t have others into their homes.

The term “hospitality” literally comes from two words which means “lover of strangers.” When we open up our homes, often when people come, they come in as strangers, but when they leave, they leave as dear friends. When we were at Mt. Pleasant in PA, there was a member who lived across the street from the church, Charlie Koons. Charlie got upset with the church because he was drug into a lawsuit against his will. It’s a long story, but I used to go over to visit Charlie. When he would come to the door, he we get a scowl on his face, and I could see the blood start boiling and the anger coming as Charlie got worked up. But I didn’t let that stop me. I would go in and talk with Charlie, and an hour later as I left, Charlie would be crying and say “Come back any time.”

There is something about sharing our homes that builds bonds. But we won’t share our homes unless we have met the first part - unless we are willing to share our hearts. We need an openness to others, a concern for others, a desire to love others as they are.

I mention that the idea has to do with being a “lover of strangers” - that’s what we see next in verse 2 - Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Not only do we need to show love and hospitality to our brothers and sisters, but we show that same love to strangers! God is love, and we, His followers, need to be characterized by our love. And that love is not just shown to those who love us. It shows itself even to the unlovely.

Now what I find interesting is that the Jewish culture, in fact the whole Middle Eastern culture placed a very high priority on hospitality, entertaining strangers. So WHY are these Jewish Christians reminded to do it? Very likely, it is because they had FAILED to show hospitality, or at least were being tempted away from doing it.

So, if we ARE going to follow up on this call to show love and hospitality even to strangers, how do we do it? Right now, we have the perfect opportunity. It’s coming this Tuesday and it’s called the Election. Chances are for some time now, whether it be in the lunchroom at work, or over the coffee table at a family gathering, or sipping a coke at the bowling alley, the discussion sooner or later turns to the election. And before you know it, the discussion becomes an argument. Because as a nation right now we are very polarized and divided as a people. Regardless of WHO you vote for, and regardless of WHAT PARTY the person talking with you is, make sure that you go OUT OF YOUR WAY to show love and kindness and respect to others - even if you disagree with them and think they are making the most foolish choices possible!

So, we show love by hospitality - to our brothers and sisters, to strangers, and then to those in prison - the KJV says Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them. I like that because sometimes the bonds people are facing are not just physical ones. But do we think about showing hospitality to those who are going through difficult times in their lives? When is the last time you opened up your heart and home to someone who was “down on their luck” or struggling with a serious addiction? We can overcome the discomfort and invite another couple from church over for coffee and pie, but it’s a whole lot harder to invite someone with tattoos up and down their arm in to share our home. Because we often judge others based on appearances.

So, love is shown by hospitality. Next we see a second way love is shown

• by honor - not only by giving hospitality and care, but by the honor and respect we show. And when it comes to showing honor, the first person we should think about is your SPOUSE! Sadly, many times our spouse is the LAST person we get around to honoring - even though they might be the person who deserves honor the most. The very fact that they put up with you day after day is a good reason to honor them!

In verse 4 it says Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Marriage should be honored by all. Shamefully, that’s not true in our country. Because there are many who want to either dismiss marriage altogether, or else they want to redefine marriage to be something God never set out for it to be. Throughout our nation Christians rose up in the past to DEFEND marriage in our country. But legislators and judges have stood against those who would like to honor marriage.

That brings us back to the election again. If you are registered to vote, by all means get out and vote this Tuesday. I’m not telling you who to vote for, but I would encourage you to VOTE your VALUES! Marriage is just one key area. There are some non-partisan voter guides in the lobby that will help to INFORM you as to where candidates stand. Don’t vote for someone because they are male or female or because they are friends of friends - and don’t vote for a person based on their political party - vote for people because of the values they stand for.

Right now much of the attention has been focused on President Barak Obama and Mitt Romney. And their views are pretty well known - on funding of planned parenthood and their system of promoting abortion, on cloning and stem cells, on defense of marriage legislation - you have two very opposite candidates - Vote your VALUES!

But let me make you aware of another serious issue - yes we all know there are 6 ballot proposals - different interest groups that want to change the constitution - but what slips under the radar is that we are electing THREE new Michigan supreme court justices. Judges either are “rule of law” judges who see to interpret the laws we have, or they are “activist” judges who want to “reinterpret” the laws we have to change our laws to be what they as an individual think it should be.

Don’t be unprepared! Know the names of the judges who stand for the values you hold, and vote for them!

So, coming back to the passage, we need to honor marriage - and beyond the election, one of the key ways that we can do that is to maintain the purity of the marriage bed - the sexual relationship of our marriage.

How do we dishonor our marriages?

1. Lack of purity - impurity will destroy intimacy in a marriage. It contrasts here an honorable marriage with adultery and sexual immorality. To honor your marriage and to honor your spouse, be sexually pure. Be CONTENT with your spouse! With the way they look; with how much money they make; with how neat and clean they are; with how they dress themselves. That doesn’t mean you can’t want them to change; but don’t withhold your love and passion because of discontent.

And speaking of contentment, it goes on to say in verse 5 - Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Now it might seem quite a jump to go from marriage to money - but most of the fights in marriage will be about money! Those who learn to be content - both with how much money they have and also with the spouse they have - will find great pleasure in life.

And notice the end of verse 5 - even if you have a spouse who doesn’t love you, who doesn’t provide well for you, who doesn’t satisfy you or meet your needs, don’t allow Satan to tempt you to think you need to turn to someone else. Because God reminds us here that HE is always with us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” No matter what we face in life, verse 6 goes on, we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.

We’re going to stop here today. But all these ideas - loving one another as family - showing hospitality - reaching out to the unfortunate - even honoring our spouses - they are all IMPOSSIBLE on our own strength. We will only be able to do it as we receive the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. So, no matter what God might have spoken to your heart about today, let’s pause and ask for His help in taking practical actions steps to apply His truth to our lives. Let’s pray.