Know Your Bible

VOL. 7                           December 14, 2008                           NO. 47

Christian Entertainers

    In today's culture, we might think the above title is speaking about some musician or actor who professes faith in Jesus. You might think that, but that is not the kind of "Christian entertainer" I will be writing about today. In fact, you might be who I am writing about today!

    The writer to the Jewish Christians of the first century closed out the letter with the following admonition: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Heb. 13:2). From this, we may learn some important lessons about our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ and even an answer as to how to endure trials.

    First, we must define hospitality. The Greek word is [philoxenia], which literally means 'loving strangers'; it is a different form of the Greek word used in other places where hospitality is, in fact, commanded (cf. 1st Pet. 4:9; Rom. 12:13). When Jesus answered that the two greatest commands were loving God and loving our fellow man (cf. Matt. 22:37-40), this must, of necessity, be included as one of the means by which we can fulfill the command to love our neighbor. And when Jesus would later elevate the standard of love ("as I have loved you"; John 15:12), that only made the command all the more important to understand.

    Hospitality is not just having someone into your home for a meal [though it may be one way it is shown]; hospitality is _ first of all - an attitude of love toward those who are strangers to us, and then something we demonstrate by our actions towards them. For many, it is much easier to show love towards those we know, but an ongoing challenge to love those whom we do not know. Nevertheless, the writer teaches us to "not neglect" this duty.

    We may "neglect" this duty when we consider it unimportant, when we excuse ourselves because we are 'too busy,' or when we are just too uncomfortable - but the need still remains. Think about how a stranger feels when he is in a strange place and you understand the need for us to demonstrate our love towards him. When we remain silent and when we do nothing, he will see us as no different than the rest of the world, but when an opportunity arises where we can demonstrate hospitality, we may make a lasting impact on his life - at the very least, showing him what a real disciple does and what it means to love a stranger.

    Second, I believe it is interesting to note that the word is in the genitive case, which usually indicates possession. In effect, the writer is saying, "Let your hospitality be not neglected.," as if they already were practicing it! It also presumes that they understood hospitality was their responsibility and not someone else's. To this writer, he presumed that hospitality was already being practiced and that they understood their responsibility to practice it, and he wrote only that they "not neglect" it. Could the same be presumed about us, if someone was far away from us and writing us a letter?

    At the very least, this is something we must not simply ignore because it may be inconvenient for us; it is a command and we will be held responsible for what we do [or do not do] here on earth. As we have noted already, we are plainly commanded to show hospitality and to be hospitable, so this is just as much a means of the world knowing we are Christ's as any other demonstration of love (cf. John 13:34,35). In fact, in the Judgment scene described by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46, it seems hospitality was a major factor in the judgment of those who stood before Him. That being the case, we should not take this duty lightly, to say the least.

    Thirdly, I believe the writer is giving these Christians an answer to their troubles. He had spent the entire letter giving them reason after reason why they should not turn their backs on Christ and go back to the Old Law, but having argued that and finished his discourse, he now turns to giving them positive commands about what they should do. Don't you think it a little out of place to be talking about showing hospitality here, when he has just completed a long exhortation to endure the trials for their faith?

    Well, it shouldn't seem so out-of-place as you might think. In fact, his words are very wise! Right along with the admonition to "not neglect" their hospitality were the commands to "Remember those who are in prison and those who are mistreated" (13:3), "Remember your leaders" (v. 7), to "not neglect to do good and to share what you have" (v. 16), and to "Pray for us" (v. 18). All of these admonitions would help them to take the focus off self and their own trials and be directed at others. Doing so would also make it easier for their own troubles to disappear from their thoughts.

    One of the biggest problems of mankind is the tendency to focus on self - especially when things are not going well. When life is especially hard, we tend to complain about what is happening to me, how I have been mistreated, how difficult things are for me, and asking what someone is going to do for me. Curiously absent from all discussions when times get a little difficult is: What about someone else? We become so focused on self that the rest of the world seems to disappear and it is as if no one else exists and no one has any problems but me. So what is the solution in such times? Think about others!

    In effect, the writer to the Hebrews was gently reminding them that they needed to quit dwelling on their own trials and start doing something for someone else! It was a nice way of saying, "Quit whining and start thinking about others!" It wasn't that he did not know of their troubles, did not understand their trials, or even that he could not sympathize with their trials; I am positive that, whoever the writer was, he knew about trials. But he also knew that turning all the focus on self was not going to make them go away and would not solve anything.

    Couldn't we all use that reminder every once in awhile? Don't we all occasionally start looking at self and thinking how bad we've got it, forgetting that life is not all about me and the fact there are people in the world [probably someone we know] who could use our help - if we would just quit looking in the mirror and moaning about ourselves and notice them? This is not to say that our troubles are not real; the writer to the Hebrews acknowledged their troubles and the fact they had already endured much for the sake of their faith (cf. 10:32-34), but he also expected them to buckle down, remember who it was they served, and start thinking about someone else for a change. The admonition to "not neglect" their hospitality was one way they would forget about their trials and enable them to go on with life without wallowing in self-pity and misery.

    As disciples of Jesus Christ, there are many things we may do in His service. Many times, though, we wait for some 'big thing' to do for Him, thinking that is what He wants. It is not. He wants us to do all the little things, too. In fact, most of what we will do for the Lord may seem 'little' - but it is important to Him. Remember, He said, "And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward" (Matt. 10:42). Do a 'little' something for Him by doing something for others. In so doing, you will prove your faith by your deeds, help a brother in need, and assure your own reward.

    Have you ever wanted to be an entertainer? Now's your chance!

---Steven Harper

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