Reading: Hebrews 13:1-3
Have you (or I) adopted strange teaching concerning the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? (See Hebrews 13:9.) Early in the second century, Ignatius spoke of those who “contrary to the mind of God” come with “strange teaching concerning the grace of Jesus Christ” saying they “have no concern for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the mistreated, none for the prisoner, nor for the one who has been released from prison, none for the hungry or thirsty”.1 His appeal is rooted in this text.
Let brotherly love continue. 2Don't neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it. 3Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily. (Hebrews 13:1-3 HCSB)
Verses 2-3 enlarge on what it means to let brotherly love continue. Love shows hospitality, which is literally love or kindness to strangers. If someone was a brother or sister in Christ, then there was a sense of being united. This seems to be an application of the words of Christ,
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me... (Matthew 25:35-36)
In light of Jesus' words in Matthew 25, we could paraphrase Hebrews 13:2 as, “for by doing this some have welcomed Jesus Himself as a guest without knowing it.” It is certainly true both ways. However, the rest of Matthew 25:36 (“...I was in prison and you came to visit me”) is addressed in Hebrews 13:3:
Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.
How are we to identify with those who suffer? How are we to identify with those who are wronged? In context (see Hebrews 10:32-34) these are most likely those who are in prison either for their faith, or fellow believers falsely accused and awaiting trial. What are we to do when our brothers and sisters in Christ are mistreated and wronged? Do we stand idly by grateful that it didn't happen to us?
The literal translation of the second half of this verse is interesting. The translation I have quoted does justice to the expression in terms of meaning, but isn't quite as literal. Young's Literal Translation reads, “of those maltreated, as also yourselves being in the body.” That is a bit convoluted, but it reaches back into the Gospel itself. Earlier in Hebrews we are told that since we are flesh and blood, Christ shared in the same. As a result we have a high priest who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 2:14; 4:15). Christ took on a body in order to identify with us. Having experienced human life he has the ability to sympathize, or to suffer with us (which is the root meaning of sympathize).
Now, as Christ has done for us, so because we too are in the body we are to bear each other's burdens; we are to act and think as if we are experiencing the mistreatment ourselves. Christ suffered with us; we are called to suffer with others. In doing so we join a long line of believers who have chosen to be mistreated with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25-26, 36-37). Those who engage in this kind of brotherly love show that the world is not worthy of them and that they are looking for a better country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:14-16, 36).
How do we suffer with others? Visiting those in prison is one way. If they have suffered loss, absorbing some of that ourselves. If they experience injustice, speaking up on their behalf (Proverbs 24:11-12). Living this way will cost us. It will seem much like going to a cross and following Jesus. It will seem much like loving our neighbor as ourselves. And when we live this way, if we live this way, people will get a glimpse of the Kingdom of Christ come.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1Lane, William; pg. 511, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 47b, Hebrews 9-13.