Second Reformed Church

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Loves" Sermon: Hebrews 13:1-6


[Hebrews 13:1-6]

February 23, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            In the light of God being a consuming fire – demanding holiness of us – that we keep God’s Moral Law – and we can keep the Moral Law, because Jesus has kept the Moral Law on our behalf, and He and the Father have given us the Holy Spirit, that He would lead us in all those things which are pleasing and glorifying to God – and Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV) – do you love Jesus? – the author of Hebrews gives instruction on three types of love:

            He tells us:

            First, we are to love others.

            Second, we are to love our spouse.

            And third, we are to be content in God.

            Do you love Jesus?  Then keep His commandments.

            First, we are to love others.

            Who do you have trouble loving?  Because we are to love everyone for the sake of Christ.  We don’t have to like everyone, but we have to love everyone – as Jesus explained in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  All people bear the Image of God and are worthy – for that – to be loved by us – all people are our neighbor, and we are to seek to keep them from evil and to seek out their benefit, especially by giving them the Gospel.

            “Let brotherly love continue.”

            We are to love our fellow Christians.  Do you have trouble loving some of your fellow Christians?  I do – there are people who are Christians that I really don’t care for as people, but that is not an excuse not to love them.  We are brother and sisters in Christ – we have been adopted by God as His children – we are – together – the One Body of Christ.

            Paul wrote, “The commandments ... are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:9a,c-10, ESV).

            The author of Hebrews would not have told his readers to continue to love their fellow Christians if there wasn’t a problem – or at least the possibility of there becoming a problem.  Love easily slips away – it has to be worked at.  We need to look at those who profess Christ as part of us – even if we don’t agree with them on everything – even if we don’t particularly like each other as people.  One of the scandals of Christianity – that the world cannot understand – is that people who would normally not have anything to do with each other – gather together in worship and for the good of each other and the world.              

            We are also to love strangers: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.”

            There were Christians in the first century who were fleeing from one location to another, and they were looking for a safe place to stay.  There was no such thing as a hotel in those days, and the inns were notoriously unsafe, so strangers would seek out the hospitality of someone in the town.  Hospitality was a virtue in the ancient world that we have largely lost in having hotels – and we have become so protective of our stuff that we don’t want strangers in our homes. 

            Of course, the author of Hebrews is not telling us to be unwise – he is not saying to let someone in who appears dangerous.  He is not saying to let someone in if we have circumstance in our home where it would be easy to hurt someone – such as a baby or an invalid.  We must use wisdom.  But if someone is in need, and we are able to show him hospitality, because Christ has shown us hospitality and even died for us, we ought to find ways to welcome people in and let them know that we do so for the sake of Christ and in His Name.  That was one of the motivations behind our Community Lunch and for allowing the Bedrock church to worship in our building.

            And the author of Hebrews is not just talking about Christians – he is saying that we ought to show hospitality to any person who is in need.  Again – that doesn’t mean we need to let just anyone stay in our homes.  But we might help someone by showing him compassion, praying for him, assisting him in some way, or visiting someone who is unable to come out from where they are.

            And the author of Hebrews gives a reason for showing hospitality to strangers that we may not think of – we might entertain angels unawares.  There are angels all around us – and they usually are not visible to us.  God sends the angels to minister to His people, and sometimes, God sends angels in human form.

            We remember Abraham’s encounter: “And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.  He lifted up his eyes, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.  When he saw them, he ran from the door of his tent to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water been brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring you a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after you may pass on – since you have come to your servant.’  So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’  And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quick!  Three seahs of fine flour!  Knead it, and make cakes.’  And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf he had prepared and set it before them.  And he stood by them under the tree while they ate” (Genesis 18:1-8, ESV).

            It is revealed as the history continues that one of the men is a pre-incarnate visitation of the Son of God and the other two are angels.  The two angels went on from Abraham to Sodom and Gomorrah and saved Lot and his family from the destruction of those wicked towns.

            We read in Judges that the Angel of the Lord came to Gideon to lead him against the enemies of Israel and the Lord.  And the Angel of the Lord came to Samson’s mother to tell her of Samson’s birth.

            And we remember the Angel came to Zechariah and Elizabeth, to tell them of the birth of John the Baptist, and Mary and Joseph, to tell them of the birth of Jesus.

            And we are tempted to say, “that was then; this is now.”  But the author of Hebrews, writing around 70 A. D., was telling his readers that angels still do visit us in human form.  It may not happen frequently, but wouldn’t it be interesting to come into the New Jerusalem and meet an angel who came to you as a hungry man you never saw before, but bought a lunch?

            Showing the love of hospitality to a stranger may also be the way that someone is willing to hear us on the subject of the Gospel.  If someone in need comes to us for help and all we do is shoo him away, what chance have we of telling that person that God came to earth to save those who will believe?

            My friend, Danny, his wife, Kimberly, and their five children – so far!, routinely invite strangers in to eat, and they have let people stay with them from time to time.  They have been taken advantage of and robbed, but they are gifted in giving hospitality and find it worth losing some stuff to be able to have people in to talk with them about Jesus as they minister to them.

            Do you ever show love to a stranger?

            We are also to love those who cannot leave where they are: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.”

            We are to love those who are in prison – visiting them, writing to them, praying for them.  Again, with wisdom – some people who are in prison will try to take advantage of us.  But, today, we can widen the idea of those in prison – without neglecting those in prison – to those who are homebound, in foster care, in the military, or any other broken or restrictive situation.

            We have some people in this congregation who are gifted in visiting our homebound – and I am very thankful for that.  If someone who is usually here is not here on a Sunday and you notice, have you ever sent a card or made a phone call to check up on them?  That is a way to show love, too.

            Jesus explained that when we show love to others – to those in need, strangers, those in prison, and so forth, we are showing love to Him.  Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36, ESV).

            Will you show love to others?  Do you love Jesus?  If someone is a Christian, he or she is part of our body.  If someone is in need, you may be ministering to an angel or showing Christ to someone, proving yourself to be a son or daughter of God.

            Second, we are to love our spouse.

            “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

            God ordained marriage in the Garden of Eden when He presided at the wedding of Adam and Eve: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ESV).

            God’s intention from the beginning was that one man would be married to one woman, and they would be one flesh and never be separated one from another.  We know that, due to sin, there is divorce and remarriage.  Yet, even when that happens, God calls us through the ordination of marriage to be one with our husband or wife – to be one body – to be faithful to each other, as faithful to the one body that they become together.

            Marriage and its ensuing intimacy, besides being for pro-creation and for pleasure, are also to be an act of worship.  When a person rightly has sexual relations with his one spouse, God is worshiped in the wonder of His creation   Marriage and its ensuing intimacy are to be a holy union between one man and one woman.  This union is compared with Jesus and His Church, “This mystery [marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, ESV).

            Just as bringing any form of idolatry into the Church ruptures the union between Christ and His people, so bringing any form of sexual immorality into the marriage union – and into the marriage bed – ruptures the union between the man and his wife.

            Just as we are designed to worship the One True God, we are designed to be united to one man or one woman in marriage.  That union is not to be shared with another human or another fantasy.

            Just as it was wrong to think that a person can worship God and something or someone else and not be damaged by it, it is wrong to think that a person can bring others into the marriage bed and think that they won’t be damaged by it.

            I have a friend whose husband – now ex-husband – brought pornography into the marriage “to make their relations better.”  Eventually it evolved into bringing other people into the marriage bed.  They are now divorced – and scarred mentally from their sin.

            Some people wonder, if a man and a woman are in love and committed to each other, “what difference does a piece of paper make?”  They are right in the sense that there is no law in the Bible saying that we must have a marriage licence, but we are commanded to obey the laws of man where we live, and we require the marriage license to be legally married.

            If a man truly loves a woman and respects her, he will marry her.  And if a woman truly loves a man and respects him, she will marry him.  It is through that commitment to each other, witness by man and God, that a promise of love and unity with each other is made. 

            And let us remember what we looked at a few weeks ago – where the author of Hebrews is commanding us not to commit adultery, he is speaking about lust as well.  We are not to lust after someone who is not our legal husband or wife.

            If you are legally married, do you only have loving thoughts and actions towards your husband or your wife – and no other?

            If you are not legally married, are you engaging in sexual immorality?  Adultery?  Lust?  God is very angry with us for our sexual sins.

            And in twenty-first century America – and even in the Church – the cry goes out, “It’s my body!”  No, it’s not.  Especially if you are a Christian – it is not: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:19b-20, ESV).  If we are Christians, we have been bought – body, mind, heart, and soul – by the Blood of Jesus Christ, we have no authority over our bodies, except as God has given us permission.

            One of the greatest sins of the early Church was sexual immorality and adultery – you see it throughout the New Testament – the sacred writers and Jesus saying, “True love is only shown sexually in the bounds of one man and one woman in legal marriage.”

            If we are to truly love our spouses, we need to cleave to them only.  We need to be intimate with them only.  We need to do everything we can – relying on the help of God the Holy Spirit – to rid our minds of others who would cause us to profane the marriage bed.

            Do you love your spouse?  Do you want to love your future spouse?  Train yourself and do everything possible that you and your spouse are the only people – in heart, mind, soul, and body – in your bed with each other.

            Third, we are to be content in God.

            “Keep you 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?’”

            Augur wrote, “The leech has two daughters; ‘Give’ and ‘Give,’ they cry.  Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’: Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough’” (Proverbs 30:15-16, ESV).

            “And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24, ESV).

            And Paul wrote, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, and into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires than plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (I Timothy 6:6-10, ESV).

            Now listen: it is not sinful to be rich.   It is not sinful to be poor.  It is not sinful to have a middle income.  If God has blessed you with much, or some, or very little – God has blessed you – it is not sin to be blessed by God.

            However, to lust after money, to love money, to desire it for the sake of just having it and filling up your bank account – it is not wrong to be wise with the money you have or to save for the future – but, if we hunger after more and more just because others have more, if we realize we are unable to give in response to the Gospel, if we are not content with what God has provided us with, you love money – and you are sinning.

            The issue is not how much money you have – if you have gotten it honestly – it is a blessing from God – no matter how much it is.  The issue is if, at the end of the day, you look at others and feel short-changed, or if you feel like you’ll die without a TV in every room, or if you shake your fist at God and tell Him He has been unfair to you, you love money – and you are sinning.

            The culture we live in now is one of “I want it bigger and better and now.”  You might know people like that.  Many of them may look back at you in the bathroom mirror every morning. 

            Are you satisfied?  Not, can you imagine having more and how much you would enjoy it, and, oh, all the things you would do – but are you content?  Do you have enough to exist – as Paul said – do you have food and clothes – and are you thankful for that?  Is that enough for you?

            I don’t think it is for many of us.  I don’t think many of us are satisfied. 

            Do you trust God?

            Paul wrote, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me, but you had no opportunity.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV).

            And some of us may be thinking, “Well, why wouldn’t he be content – he was a missionary pastor, he was traveling from place to place, living in other peoples’ homes, eating their food, he didn’t have a family to support...”

            He was imprisoned, beaten countless times, “... often near death.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (II Corinthians 11:23b-28, ESV).

            “In any and all circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12b-13, ESV).                           

            Do you want to learn the secret of satisfaction – of contentment?  Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” We can be content with what we have and our circumstances – whatever they may be – because we have Jesus Christ – His Gospel – His salvation.  Jesus guides us, He gives us spiritual strength through His Grace, we – as His adopted brothers and sisters – are victorious over Hell and death and the world, we have hope of actual deliverance from our trials – and hope of eternal deliverance in the Kingdom, and we have the hope that Jesus will keep His promise and crush His and all our enemies under His feet – making them His footstool.

 Don’t be confused – being content – satisfied – does not always mean we will be happy.  Jesus has promised His people suffering – and we are not called to enjoy suffering – but we are called for the sake of Christ to endure it and know that it is worth it – it glorifies our God and Savior when we suffer for His Sake – it glorifies our God and Savior when we are truly content – in every circumstance – knowing that our Heavenly Father will not allow a sparrow to fall without His Hand, and He loves us more than many sparrows.

            The author of Hebrews quotes the Psalmist, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

            Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28, ESV).

            The first century Christians were being tortured and killed for their faith – Jesus told them not to be afraid – God was with them – God was their helper – all that humans can do is torture and kill you – they cannot kill your soul – and God will raise the body – stand strong, endure, be content with your lot if God has chosen you to suffer death for His Sake.

            There are Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, India, China, and other places around the world that are suffering like that now – and God is comforting them, giving them His Grace, assuring them that the worst that man can do to them cannot separate them from Jesus and His salvation – and they are content in their faith – not happy to be suffering – but content in Jesus Christ.

            What about you?  What horrible injustice has been done to us that we cannot be content in Jesus and His Salvation?

            Consider Who Christ is and what He has done, and let us be content with whatever God’s Hand providentially brings us – No!  Let us rejoice, because out of all the people in the world who hated God and deserved nothing but His Wrath, He chose to save us by Himself and for Himself and to His Glory – we are rich!

            Let us learn to love others and to show our love to them.

            Let us deny our sinful flesh and show love in our homes by keeping the marriage bed honored and undefiled.

            Let us not love money, but be content because we have Christ, so humans can do nothing to us.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, You have made us in Your Image and called us to love.  We ask that You would help us to love with holy love – that we would turn away from sinful love and love as You love.  Help us to seek out ways to love others, to love our spouses, and to love You by being satisfied with the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of You, our Savior.  For from You and through You and to You are all things.  To You be glory forever.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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