I want to ask those of you who are part of the OLDER generation to look back over your life and answer a question. Here it is: Have you ever noticed how every new generation strives to be different than the ones that went before it?
Well, I for one will admit that that my generation did this. For example:
- Instead of short hair like our parents we were proud to wear ours LONG. In fact, the longer the better!
- Instead of straight-legged pants like prior generations we proudly invented bell bottoms.
- Instead of wearing our belt buckles in the front like our dads—we piously wore ours on the side.
In these ways—and lots of others—we wanted to be different! The funny thing about all that is since we all embraced the same counter-cultural things—everyone in my generation looked the same. I mean, everyone wore their hair long! Everyone wore bell-bottom jeans. All of us wore their belt buckles on the side. Ironically, since we all conformed to NOT conforming—no one stood out.
In any case, every new generation seems to embrace this same philosophy—the one that says, “Stand out, because if you’re not you’re blending in.” We’ve chuckled at all this but the fact is nonconformity is a serious matter—especially for Christians. In fact, it is one of the Bible’s clearest teachings. God’s Word says that WE are to stand out. It teaches that if we serve Christ alone—our faith will show. Here’s a couple of texts that teach this:
- Romans 12 says we are “NOT to conform to the pattern of this fallen world.”
- And do you remember how Paul put it in his letter to the Philippians? He said, we are to be “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then we will shine among them like stars in the sky as we hold firmly to the Word of Life.” (Philippians 2:15)
Well—in our text for today—which by the way is our final installment in our study of Hebrews—the writer suddenly gets very practical by talking about exactly how we are to stand out. In fact, he gives five specific ways our faith is to show in as many verses.Take your Bibles and follow along as I read them—Hebrews 13:1-5:
1- Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.
2 – Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
3 – Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
4 – Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
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.”
Okay—did you catch all those practical applications of our faith?
(1) The first “nonconformist” thing he cites that makes our faith show is the way we LOVE.
Look at verse 1 where it says, “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” Now—remember—this letter was written to Christians who were facing persecution—and persecution can have two affects. One is good—in that it can compel Christians to draw closer to one another. But the other is bad because if we are not careful persecution can promote arguing and strife. It can lead to a lack of love.
To help you see this more clearly, take a closer look at the verbiage. This verse is in the form of a command and it’s structured so as to STRESS the first two words. It would be read like this: “KEEP ON” loving. Another good translation would be, “Let brotherly love REMAIN.” My point is that this command suggests that the bonds of love in that little fellowship were frayed.
Perhaps believers had become afraid to show love for one another because that would make them stand out such that they would be the targets of persecution. Maybe there were suspicions that other Christians were informants which would stop the flow of love. I don’t know—but the writer says no matter what the cause they must keep on loving one another in the way Christ loves us all.
I point this out because the same kind of thing can happen to us. The way we love can change—it can lessen. I mean, if we are not careful, the busy-ness of life can cause our bonds of love to begin to wear thin. We get too stressed to take the time to go the extra mile for each other.
It becomes too time-consuming to love the way Jesus loved. Well we must always remember that one way we are to be DIFFERENT is by the way we love one another.
- In 1st John 3:14 it says, “We know that we have passed from death to life if we love our brothers.”
- In John 13:35 Jesus said, “All men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another.”
Remember—the NORM in our world is not love—the norm is to focus on self rather than others—so when we love the way Jesus loves we do stand out. And in our text we are commanded to do this—to KEEP ON doing it—to let Christ-like love REMAIN!
In 2009 ESPN aired a story about Dartanyon Crockett and Leroy Sutton, two high school students in inner city Cleveland. Crockett and Sutton were teammates on Lincoln West High School’s wrestling team. Crockett, who is legally blind, was often filmed carrying Sutton, a double leg amputee, on his back. The show was produced by Lisa Fenn, an ESPN veteran—and a Christ-follower—who had done stories about famous athletes like Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter. But when she finished the piece about Crockett and Sutton she couldn’t leave their lives. Fenn took it upon herself to help as she put it, “the one with no legs, being carried by the one who could not see” get to college. She raised donations from around the world, coordinated college visits, and ensured that the boys were well fed every day. Thanks to her efforts, Crockett became a bronze medalist in judo at the Paralympic Games in London and Sutton will become the first member of his family to graduate from college. After the media hoopla died down, Leroy Sutton quietly asked Fenn, “Why did you stay? Why did you help us after the interview was over?” Fenn said, “I love you.” Sutton pressed, “That’s what I thought you’d say. But—why? Why did you stick around and do everything you did?” Lisa Fenn wrote: “Dartanyon and Leroy opened up about their struggles—Dartanyon with great eagerness—-as I think he had waited his entire life for someone to want to know him, to truly see him. Leroy’s revelations emerged more reluctantly. He had been emotionally abandoned too many times before. But both began to believe that, perhaps, I genuinely cared. I stayed because I would not be next on the list of people who walked out and over their trust. I stayed because we get only one life, and [as Jesus said] we don’t truly live it until we give it away. I stayed because we can change the world only when we enter into another’s world. I stayed because I love you.”
Now—ask yourself—does the way you love make you stand out? Does it make your faith show? Does it make others ask you why you act the way you do—does it make them ask why you “stay?”
(2) This leads me to mention a second way our faith is to show—in the way we WELCOME.
Verse 2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” This “hospitality to angels” phrase no doubt refers to the time Abraham welcomed three strangers to his tent—men who were actually angels and other instances like that in the Bible. Well, due to the persecution they were facing it was dangerous for these Hebrew believers to be so hospitable. After all, they might invite into their home an enemy—someone who would hear about their faith and then turn them in. But the writer reminds them they are to still welcome—still show hospitality to all. And this same teaching is found throughout God’s Word.
- In Romans 12:13 Paul says, “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
- 1st Peter 4:9 says, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
- 1st Timothy 3:2 says that church leaders are to set the example in this. It says, “The overseer must be above reproach, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable.”
The fact is, when we welcome ALL people—all people notice. That Christ-like behavior makes us stand out. It gives us a platform to share our faith that we might not have otherwise.
This week I read about something that happened in Germany back in March of 1990. It was reported by Clark and Ann Pedddicord, who were Campus Crusade for Christ representatives in Germany at the time. They write:
“Last week the former communist dictator, Erich Honecher, was released from the hospital where he had been undergoing treatment for cancer. There is probably no single person in all of East Germany that is more despised and hated than he. He had been stripped of all his offices and even his own communist party had kicked him out. He was booted out of the villa he was living in; the new government refused to provide him and his wife with accommodation. They stood in essence, homeless on the street. It was Christians who stepped in. Pastor Uwe Holmer, who is in charge of a Christian help center north of Berlin, was asked by church leaders if he would be willing to take them in. Pastor Holmer and his family decided that it would be wrong to give away a room in the center that would be used for needy people or an apartment that their staff needed. So instead, they took the former dictator and his wife into their own home. It must have been a strange scene when the old couple arrived. The former absolute ruler of the country was being sheltered by one of the Christians whom he and his wife had despised and persecuted. This man had closed churches. In East Germany there was a great deal of hate toward the former regime and especially toward Honecher and his wife, Margot—who had ruled the educational system there for 26 years with an iron hand. She had made sure that very few Christian children were able to go on for higher education. There are ten children in the Holmer family and eight of them had applied for further education in the course of the past years. All had been refused a place at college because they were Christians in spite of the fact that they had excellent grades in school Pastor Holmer was asked why he and his family would open their home to such detestable people. He said, ‘Our Lord challenged us to follow Him and to take in all who are weary and heavy laden…both in soul and in body.’”
Now—I don’t know if Honicher or his wife ever became Christians. I scoured the Internet and all I could learn was that the former dictator died of liver cancer after moving to Chile. But I do know that the unconditional hospitality by Pastor Holmer stood out. It made news around the world. It’s all over the Internet.
Well—are you as HOSPITABLE to your enemies? Do you WELCOME those who make your life hard? Is your hospitality—your kindness—is it of a “stand out variety?”
(3) Here’s the third thing the writer says makes our faith show—and I’m referring to the way we CARE.
Look at verse 3 where it says: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” In other words, our faith is seen in our EMPATHY—our COMPASSION for others.
John Wesley put it this way, “Put yourself in the place of every poor man and deal with him as you would want God to deal with you.”
Now–think of that statement. Wesley says we must put ourselves in the place of our employer—or employees—in the place of our spouse when they are irritable, in the place of our children or parents when they are hurting—in the place of those who let you down—in the place of those whose lives have been wrecked by sin—in the place of the beggars on the street corner most of who are probably con-artists—in the place of those difficult people who seem to feel it’s their calling in life to make your life miserable—we must put ourselves in their places and deal with them as God would want us to. It’s hard—but empathizing with people helps us to understand why they are the way they are—this helps compel us to care. It fuels our love—even for the unlovely.
Well, we MUST do this if we are to be known as people who have put their faith in Jesus because let’s face it, the world doesn’t usually see Christians as empathetic or compassionate. No—they tend to see us as legalistic and judgmental—Uncaring.
Brenda Salter McNeil tells the story of a diverse group of Christians who traveled across the United States visiting some of the places known for their racist past. McNeil writes: “One of the stops on the trip is a museum with a collection of graphic photographs documenting the horrific lynching of black people in America. Looking at photo after photo of young black men hanging from trees, or mothers hanging with their children, with white people often looking on in celebration—well, it was intensely disturbing for the group. Most of the members couldn’t speak. They got back on the bus in complete silence. There was palpable tension. Finally, one of the white members broke the silence. He was eager to defend himself and put some distance between himself and the immense brutality of what they had just witnessed. After all, HE hadn’t committed these terrible crimes—and it was all such a long time ago. Then a black student stood up, in obvious pain and yet still calm, collected and quiet, and announced her conviction that all white people are evil. Well, shouting and disagreement erupted from both races, and it was unclear how the group would be able to move forward from this experience. Finally, a white female student stood up and said, “I don’t know what to do with what I just saw. I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I promise. I will work the rest of my life to fight for you and for your children so they won’t experience that kind of pain ever again.” She started to weep, and her mascara streaked down her cheeks, leaving dark trails. The bus was silent, and then one of the group leaders said aloud, “She’s crying black tears.” She was indeed crying black tears in every sense of the word. And because she did—because of her caring empathy—the black students on that bus felt that someone identified with their pain and the experience of their people. It was a profound moment of identification for all of them.
Listen—our faith is seen as REAL—the kind of faith that stands out—if we cry the tears of others. We show our faith—when we show that we hurt for people who hurt—whatever the reason. Do you remember when Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept with Mary and Martha? He knew that He was about to bring Lazarus back from the dead—and yet our Lord still shared the sorrow of these two grieving women. Christians—WE—are to be like Jesus in that we are known as people of compassion. Are you? Or are you like too many of our fellow believers in that you tend to be known for your judgmentalism?
(4) A fourth way our text says we are to stand out is in the way we relate as HUSBAND and WIFE.
Look at verse 4 where 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.” Now—this was a radical thing to say back in the first century. I mean honoring marriage—keeping the marriage bed pure—definitely made your faith show back then. When Pliny was sent by the Roman Emperor Trajan to given the province of Bithynia and looked for charges against the Christians, he had to report back that on the Lord’s Day, “They bound themselves by an oath, not for any criminal end, but to avoid theft or ADULTERY, never to break their word…” So you can see that sexual morality was unique in the pagan world and a source of wonder for people like Pliny.
Of course it is increasingly so in our culture. Our world’s view of marriage is far from God’s original intent. Most couples live together before marriage. Way too many do not remain faithful to their vows. Divorce rates are at an all-time high—especially for those who live together first.
Time magazine recently featured an article that asked, “Is monogamy over?” The article offered various opinions, including this one: “Monogamy is a charade that leads to institutionalizing dishonesty. Monogamy is just an option—not the fault. There is no right or wrong.”
The other day I was channel surfing with my mom and landed on The View. The ladies were discussing this issue and three of the four women at that table said it was okay to have extra-marital affairs—and that porn in marriage was okay. In their opinion this kind of thing was good for marriage in that it “spiced things up.” Only one of the “View ladies” seemed offended by the things her fellow hosts said. And of course our government has now changed the definition of marriage such that sexual orientation no longer matters.
A couple months ago I came across an excerpt from an article that was recently published in The New Statesman, a British magazine described as “left of center.” Remember that as I proceed. Christina Odone, the former deputy editor of The New Statesman was invited to speak at a conference on marriage last summer that was to be held at the Law Society in London. The conference was set up as a chance for supporters of traditional marriage to contribute to the debate about gay marriage. It was entitled: “One Man. One Woman. Making the Case for Marriage for the Good of Society.” Ms. Odone accepted and reports: “A few days before the conference, the sponsors of the event [rang me and said that] the Law Society had refused to let us meet on their premises. They said the theme was ‘contrary to our diversity policy—espousing as it does an ethos which is opposed to same-sex marriage.’ In other words, the Law Society regarded support for heterosexual union—as discriminatory. Hurriedly, another venue was found in the heart of London, a publicly owned modern building situated across the street from Westminster Abbey. But with only 24 hours to go before the conference, managers at that venue told Christian Concern that the subject it planned to discuss was ‘inappropriate.’ The booking was cancelled. When challenged, the centre’s chief executive cited its diversity policy as reason for the cancellation. A journalist asked for a copy of the diversity policy. The centre refused to provide it. By the time I took part in the event, (which had been moved to the basement of a hotel in central London), [I concluded that] not only Christians—but also Muslims and Jews, increasingly feel they are no longer free to express any belief that runs counter to the prevailing fashions for superficial ‘tolerance’ and ‘equality.’ In fact, intolerance is [now] state-sanctioned.
When it comes to crushing the rights of those who dissent from the new orthodoxy, [public leaders] are in the forefront of the attacks, not the defense.”
Now—if you’re like me—your first response to this article and so many others like it—is disgust and anger. It makes me feel like there’s a war on and I’m on the side of Biblical marriage—leering across the battle lines at those intolerant people who force their evil views on me, the world—and even my children. But that is not the right response. As I said a moment ago we need to be known for our love—even for those who are intolerant of our right.
And here’s another thing. I believe much of the blame for how bad our culture has become when it comes to sex and marriage falls on Christians—people on MY side of the battle lines. Too many believers have not obeyed the Bible’s clear teachings in this area. Their FAITH did not show in this way. They did not keep the marriage bed pure. They did not obey God’s loving laws when it comes to sexuality. I mean, if more of us SHOWED how WONDERFUL sex and marriage is when expressed according to God’s loving laws—if more of us STOOD OUT in the countercultural way we relate as husband and wife—I can’t help but think that things would be better. I mean, people’s longing for joy and intimacy—cannot be found in the practices of our fallen culture. No—they are only found in marriage as God ordained it.
So—if more of us SHOWED that—I think more people would be drawn to it. I mean, BIBLICAL marriage is the gold standard. We should hold it high. Again—I’ll pose the question—does YOUR faith show in YOUR marriage? And for you singles out there—does your faith show in your DATING?
(5) Okay—one more. The writer reminds us that our faith is to show in the way we look at MONEY.
Look at 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.” The sad fact is too many people DON’T keep their lives free from the love of money. They love it—and the things it buys—too much.
I did a wedding last year and at the rehearsal when the bride practiced her vows she looked at her future husband and instead of repeating what I said she put it this way: “For richer—and RICHER!” They both chuckled but as I looked at their home and how they had furnished it—I sadly realized that was their perspective.
On a lighter note, John Ortberg writes: “When our kids were little, we put them on the envelope system. When we gave them an allowance, they would put it in envelopes labeled ‘Give,’ ‘Save,’ ‘Gifts,’ ‘Spend,’ and so on. I thought it was working until one day I had a Band-Aid on my arm, and my daughter, who at that time was about six, asked, ‘Why?’ I explained I had gotten a medical exam that day to get life insurance. She asked, ‘What’s that?’ I explained, ‘Well, Daddy loves you so much and loves the family so much, so if anything were to happen to Daddy (which of course it won’t, but if it would), it would provide for $250,000.’ Her eyes got really wide. She has a tender heart, and I knew she’d be worried. She looked up at me and said, ‘Apiece?’ I thought, ‘I’m not sure the right lesson is getting communicated.’”
My point is that many people—young and old—base their security on money and the things it buys. They look to their finances for security. And, this was an issue for the first readers of this letter. I mean, the persecution they were facing was financially crippling. Being a stand out Christian cost them jobs—it cost them sales because no one wanted to shop at a store owned by a believer. So the writer says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money—be content.”
And he says this CONTENTMENT—this financial attitude that makes you stand out—is possible because God will never leave or forsake you. He will take care of you. He will provide for your needs.
This week was one of those tough financial weeks at the Adams’ home. You know what I’m talking about because we all have weeks like that. This week we had several unforeseen expenses—one after another.
- a tire had to be replaced.
- a dishwasher had to be repaired.
- a new storm door had to be purchased and installed.
- taxes had to be paid and so on.
Now—I’m not asking for a love offering—we are fine. But to you know what I mean? We all have those times when we feel like we have been repeatedly hit in your financial gut! Well, Sue and I have had tons of those times down through the years—and we have learned NOT to be afraid. We have learned to be CONTENT—because experience has taught us that God is with us. He has never forsaken us. He has always provided for us.
Maybe you’re suffering some financial fear this morning—you have a repair you can’t afford—or you wonder how you’ll be able to afford retirement—or you have unforeseen medical bills. If we are not careful, these fears can cause us to have an unhealthy love of money. We can begin to look to our checkbooks for comfort. We cut back on our caring for others in need. We cut back on our tithes in order to keep that checkbook balance up. Well, that’s foolish! We need to look to God! He is our Helper. We do not need to be afraid. We can be CONTENT, knowing God is Who He is! And Christians who learn this lesson—Christians who are content with God’s provision have a faith that STANDS OUT!
I remember reading a story about a king who was suffering from a certain malady and was advised by his wise men that he would be cured if he could wear the shirt of a contented man. The search for a contented man began and after a long search a contented man was found—but he had no shirt! This shirtless guy must have been a Christian because true lasting contentment comes from the conviction that we are in God’s care.