Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:1-6, ESV)
It seems abrupt to us, but a common feature of Christian letter writing from teachers and leaders was a segment with concluding “exhortations” or encouragements to holy living. And it is fascinating to see what is emphasized as part of the ethic of Christianity in the early church. Should it not comprise our ethical message as well?
- Love your fellow Christian: This is our most basic ethical requirement as believers. And in light of the struggles of this congregation it was a needed reminder. Love for one another is what Jesus said would set us apart as belonging to him (John 13:34,35) and the one thing we seem to most often find missing in our testimony for Christ.
- Love your fellow man: Showing hospitality to strangers has always been a hallmark of believers. We were helpless strangers and God showed us compassion. This is not quid pro quo, an exchange of help for payback. It is offered freely and genuinely with no expectation in return. Who knows if God is not testing our love by sending angels to pose as strangers (see Genesis 18&19).
- Empathize with your fellow man: Some of the Hebrews were in prison, not for crimes but for their faith. But even if they were there for crimes, or were people who were not believers, this was a call to identify with the horrible experience prison was as well as with other ways in which people were being mistreated.
- Maintain sexual purity through marriage: In our present culture the living out of the first three ethical demands would make it much easier to focus on this one, but as it is we often don’t speak compassionately about sexual purity. We must hold ourselves to contentment with one spouse.
- Maintain financial purity through contentment: Love for money is a problem in any culture but all the more so in the United States, where we’ve come to expect a level of wealth as a pre-requisite to happiness. It is hard to be free from the love of money, but that is the Christian ethic. It is made possible by the knowledge that God will undertake to meet our needs. We don’t need to live in fear when God is our helper and protector.
Suffice it to say that the Christian ethic is all a response to God’s work in our lives to rescue and redeem us. It all hinges on the reality of His righteousness and loving requirements of His children. His holiness is best for us.