4 February 2011Hebrews 13:1-8
"Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." (vv. 1-2)
In the final chapter of this letter to the Hebrews, the writer
turns from theology (what we believe and why) to application (how
we should live in the light of what we believe).
Following a general exhortation to love, the writer suggests a number of particular ways to show this love - through hospitality, prison-visiting, care for the tortured, marital fidelity and resisting the love of money. Perhaps there were specific reasons in the local situation why these examples were chosen, although all of them are still relevant to Christians trying to live in today's world, combining as they do practical expressions of our love for others with our most intimate and personal conduct and motivation.
'Entertaining angels without knowing it' is an intriguing idea. It may recall a number of Old Testament stories (Abraham and Sarah inGenesis 18; Samson's parents in Judges 13) and even Gospel incidents, most famously the supper on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35) where the offer of hospitality from Cleopas and his friend led to them entertaining not angels, but Jesus himself. Maybe it also still happens, both supernaturally and naturally, when someone is in just the right place at the right time to guide or help us, or when an unexpected guest (possibly even invited rather grudgingly) can turn out to be a real messenger of God and bring great blessing.
For the writer to the Hebrews, faithful discipleship is bound to show itself in daily living; 'good deeds' are always supported, and even made possible, by our faith; contentment and freedom from greed come through believing that God has promised always to be present. In verse 6 the psalmist is quoted to support this principle (Psalm 118:6); with the Lord as our helper, we have no cause to fear what anyone can do.
The passage ends with another glance backwards - remember those who first spoke the word of God to you and imitate them - and then the past and present and, indeed, the future are drawn together in a succinct statement of faith, perhaps the best-known verse in this letter, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (verse 8). So there's another reason to stay faithful.
When are the times when you may have "entertained angels unawares"? What happened?
In your own life, how far is the practical outworking of faith bound up with what you believe as it seems to be for the writer to the Hebrews?
If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, what does that say about change and how we should deal with it?