I enjoy reading the end of letters; it is where all the good stuff is waiting. The "I love you", "I miss you", "see you soon", "say hi to the kids", "I'm sending some money", "give everyone a hug for me". It is no different with the concluding remarks in the epistles of the New Testament. The author often listed some subjects that he did not have time to include in the body of the letter. Hebrews is no different and I would like to take the next few days to consider them.
The first few remarks are aimed at our relationships within the Body of Christ; the relationship between you and me. Have you thought much about those relationships? Sometimes they are difficult to develop and maintain because we have certain expectations of our Christian friends. Sometimes we fail to realize they are just like us; filled with fears, concerns, a desire to be more, a failure at heart, always stumbling, often times embarrassed by their effort. We should not be like this, we should be victorious because of Jesus in us, but that is a reality we often have to grow into. The reason we have so much spirituality immaturity is because people are afraid to live and to try because they fear they will be rejected if they fail.
There are bullies in the Church you know. In my experience, first as a student and then as a teacher, I have come to conclude that bullies are just kids who try to hide their own faults by pointing out the faults of others. By misdirecting the attention of the crowd they hope that no one will notice them. We have bullies in the Church who patrol for those people with weaknesses and they call everyone's attention to it so no one will notice their own. These people are creating an atmosphere opposite to what Jesus desires for us, opposite to what the Spirit provokes in us, and opposite to what the Word teaches:
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3)
Some people look at this and see how we are to treat people in the world. I look at this and see instruction on how to care for the Body of Christ. To love each other as brothers is to realize that we are family, plain and simple. Family looks after and encourages each other. The strangers referred to here would have been believers passing through from other communities or even guests who had come to visit the church in that city or town. The Body has always been encouraged to practice great hospitality. Many Christians were being persecuted in trouble spots throughout the Roman empire. It wasn't a wide spread persecution but it was like what we read about with Paul, when an individual in a city would provoke the crowd. In this and several other epistles, believers were being encouraged to go into the jails and look after their spiritual family members. The "mistreated" had to do with the way some Christians were rejected in the community. Remember that the author is writing to the Hebrews, so these were Jews who converted to Christianity. They would have been rejected, persecuted and would have suffered greatly.
This is an important point because we are terrible at looking after our own. We will go out and build hostels to look after people on the street, we will build hospitals to look after the sick, we fill fund treatment centers to treat those with addictions and we will even patrol the streets looking for the lost. Yet, when it comes to our own we can't even find a couple of hours to listen to their struggles, doubts, fears; to hold them with understanding and comfort; to pray with them in an outpouring of love. Someone who stumbles and falls, we totally reject. Those who have struggled with thoughts and perspectives, we completely give up on. The cranky believer we ignore. The weak ones we abandon. The old ones we forget. I know this due to the sad fact, as much as I love the Body, my hands are not clean in this matter, because I am just like you.
As important as it is to seek out the lost, we also need to remember that Jesus told us:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)
Remember the idiom, "You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family". In the Body of Christ we are family and like any family we will find crazy characters across the entire spectrum. We are to accept, appreciate and serve one another. When we start doing that the Church will become a lot more attractive to the lost and much of the criticism will dry up for lack of evidence. Let's try it this weekend. Let's decide to stop looking at others with such a critical eye and instead, "Keep on loving each other as brothers."