Teaching series from Hebrews

Christian Distinctives #1: Community & Hospitality

Hebrews 13:1-3

Teaching t05007


>> Before we start in on the final chapter of this letter, let's step back and take a look at the major themes so far:

First, we need to learn that God loves us and has done everything necessary through the FWC to give us a love relationship with him that is safe and secure (1:1-10:18).

On that basis, we are challenged to cultivate this love relationship with God by receiving this gift, by regularly drawing near to him (10:19-22), by exercising faith in his promises (11), and by cooperating with his loving discipline in our lives (12:1-17).  Vs 10 describes a training process through which God is seeking to make us holy (distinct).  What does this distinctive character look like?  How can I know if I am making progress toward it?  This is the purpose of chapter 13...

What we find is that God wants to instill certain distinctive values so that they become the key considerations in our decisions and actions.  This chapter provides a snap-shot of some of these key values.  Over the next few weeks, we'll take a close look at this profile, referring to other parallel passages as needed...

>> Read vs 1-3.  The first distinctive mentioned is loving other people.  This shouldn't surprise us, since all through the Bible God tells us that personal love relationships is to be the central concern of our lives: loving him and then loving others.  What is prescribed here is a lifestyle of initiating love in two directions, toward two groups of people...

PHILADELPHIA: Loving those inside your Christian family

Philadelphia literally means "love of the brethren."  It refers to the rich kind of love shared by family members: positive sense of identity as those with common ancestry, affection for each other, loyalty to one another, enjoyment of coming together and sharing life's experiences, sense of belonging from sharing life and having a role, etc.

The moment you receive Christ, you are adopted by God to be his child.  This means not only that you are permanently accepted by him and the object of his loving care.  It also means you are given new family of spiritual brothers and sisters.  One of the greatest gifts of God is the privilege of living our Christian lives with other Christians: learning about God, growing in Christ and serving God together.

How can you cultivate this philadelphia in your life?

The first step is to become a member of God's family by receiving Christ (Jn.1:12).

Second, you need to commit yourself to become a member of a Christian family.  Yes, we are all members of the universal family of God--but we need to take our place in a local expression of God's family and be committed to it if we want philadelphia to be more than an abstract spiritual concept.  Passages like this one were written with that assumption.  They met together regularly to study God's word and communicate with him through corporate prayer and worship and encourage one another (Heb.10:24,25).  They got together informally to do the same (Acts2).

This is why choosing to get involved in one of the home groups is so important.  It's how we say: "I'm ready to get serious about my new family."  Some of you have come to Christ through this meeting, and consider this your church--but you haven't yet really gotten involved with your family members.  I can guarantee you your relationship with Christ will be significantly restricted until you do this.

Many of us may be reluctant to do this because we have embraced certain cultural values which are antithetical to philadelphia.  First century cultures understood and accepted the high value of family life.  The challenge in the first century church was for this to continue and improve.  But for many of us in the twentieth century, we may need to begin by affirming this value and forsaking the antithetical values.

It means forsaking our radical individualism which fears and avoids vulnerability and accountability.  It means realizing that it cannot be "just Jesus and me."  Dependence upon Christ is expressed corporately as well as individually--much of what he gives me (instruction; encouragement; confession; correction; etc.) will come only through other Christians in the context of personal interaction with them.

It means rejecting the radical materialism of our culture which defines success and fulfillment primarily in terms of acquiring, enjoying and accumulating possessions.  It means valuing people and relationships with people more than things: money, possessions, recreation, career, etc. to the extent that we are prepared to make sacrifices in these areas in order not to invest the time and energy needed to be involved in-depth with other Christians in this way.

But this is not enough.  Some of us have done this, but the results have been rocky--even distasteful.  The easiest thing to do is blame it on the Christians we were with and "go find some people who will treat me better."  This is rarely the solution, and we should be suspicious of it--especially if this is a pattern.  Once we join in with other Christians in this way, we need to take the responsibility to cultivate certain attitudes which are necessary for good family life.  Peter lists these for us in 1Pet.3:8,9 (read).

"Harmonious" means "one-minded."  The idea here is not that we all have exactly the same opinions and tastes.  There is room for diversity here and we need to extend it to each other as far as possible.  To be "one-minded" means that we agree to relate to each other under a common authority.  Unless we come together agreeing to submit to the moral imperatives of God's word and to defer to the established leadership of the church (Heb.13:17), we have no real basis for trust or unity because self-will prevails.  This "my way or the highway" attitude makes healthy family life impossible.

"Sympathetic" means "to feel with."  Paul describes this as "rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep" (Rom.12:15).  This doesn't mean that we automatically feel whatever our Christian friends feel, or that we must feel it to the same extent that they do--we can't really control this.  Neither does it mean that we are so neurotically enmeshed with someone that our emotional lives are controlled by theirs.  But that we cultivate other-centered involvement and concern to the extent that what happens to them affects us on an emotional level.  SHOULD VS 3 BE MENTIONED HERE????

"Kindhearted" means to be merciful and forbearing and forgiving.  It is the opposite of being thin-skinned, touchy, vindictive.  It means we get away from the habit of cataloging how others have offended us and reserving the right to pay them back, and instead determining relate to them for their good (vs9a).  This is one of the most fundamental ways we are to respond to God's treatment of us in this way (Eph.4:32). 

"Humble in spirit" means we are learning to drop our demands to be served as someone special and instead taken up the commitment to serve.  This attitude is described in Phil.2:3,4.  Many of us could list at the drop of a hat how our Christian friends serve us inadequately and how they should serve us better--and we communicate it, too.  Others of us would blanch at this (FINGERNAILS ON BLACKBOARD); our perspective has been substantially replaced by humble gratitude when others help us coupled with creative concern to assist others more effectively in their walks with God.  This is not an attitude you automatically grow into with the passage of time; it is an attitude you choose your way into, often painfully as you decide to trust our Father to take care you and practice Phil.2:3,4 in real-life situations.

>> This is the key to a healthy Christian family--a group of people who are committed to becoming more loving people (not who are committed to being loved more).  And this same commitment to love people must be expressed in a different direction...

PHILOXENIA: Loving those outside your Christian family

"Hospitality" means more than the willingness to invite someone inside your home.  Philoxenia is "love of the stranger," and probably refers here to other Christians who lack a spiritual family and those who don't know Christ.  This is a value which God wants us to cultivate just as much as philadelphia.  Why?  Because God loves those outside his family as much as he loves his those inside his family, and he wants them to become members of his family.  And he extends the invitation through us.

Our name, Xenos, is derived from this word in part because we want to be known as a church which loves the stranger.

Just as a healthy family rejoices over additions (BIRTHS; IN-LAWS), it should give us great joy to see people come to Christ and then begin to grow in him in the context of our Christian family (CCM BAPTISM).

But this does not happen automatically.  If anything, it's more common to neglect it.  That's why the author says, "Do not neglect..."  Whole Christian groups commonly wind up becoming HOLY HUDDLES which effectively communicate you're not wanted, or GHETTOS in which Christian children grow up out of touch with and without concern for those far from Christ.  Why would we neglect philoxenia?

Because we are so immersed in philadelphia.  Brotherly love is a great thing.  In fact, it is so enjoyable that it's natural to want to spend virtually all of our free time enjoying it.  But remember: God wants us to reach out to those outside like he reached out to us.  In fact, the ongoing quality of our philadelphia depends on it. 

Therefore, healthy philadelphia should strengthen and motivate us to be more bold and effective in sharing Christ with others at work, at school, in our families and neighborhoods (Acts2:46,47; REFUELING STATION).  Philadelphia should also "be on display"--demonstrating to onlooking non-Christians a quality of love relationships that often results in curiosity about the One who makes it possible (Jn.13:34,35; SOFTBALL).

Because we doubt that our efforts will be spiritually significant.  This is what the author is emphasizing (vs 2b).  Like Abraham, who served lunch for what turned out to be three angels, this effort often turns out to be much more significant than we realized!  Some of these people may come to Christ because of your input.  Others may not, but they may have their view of Christianity positively altered because of you.  Some may become good friends.

Because we conclude we are inadequate in this area.  You may be naturally introverted.  It may be difficult for you to strike up conversations with people you don't know.   You may compare yourself with those who are outgoing, charismatic, gifted in this area--and conclude they would be better off if you left them alone.  But God says he has people you are uniquely suited to reach out to.  And he is with you to help you communicate his love for others.  And there are ways to do this which are fairly easy (SEE BELOW).

What practical steps can we take to cultivate this?

Get to know those near to you (NEIGHBORS; SCHOOL & WORK-MATES) & be helpful in practical ways (WATCH KIDS; SICK AID; LISTENING EAR).



Invite them to join you & your Christian friends in appropriate activities (CT's; GRAHAM CRUSADE: etc.).

>>  How about you?  Are you actively and purposefully reaching out to those you don't know so you can show them that God loves them?

>> This dynamic of philadelphia and philoxeniais a powerful spiritual combination!!  It should become a rhythm, a way of life for us!