A Gentle Answer

 

As the unknown author of 1 Kings summarized Solomon’s great wisdom, he said that it surpassed that of all the sons of the east (1 Kgs. 4:30).  Then in 1 Kgs. 4:32 he said, “He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.”  The book that we call Proverbs very likely contains most, if not all, of his wise sayings.  Most of Solomon’s proverbs are short statements that compare the benefits of wisdom with the consequences of foolishness.  The primary theme of this collection is to seek and to retain wisdom.  Those who are not willing to do so are characterized as fools and are warned of the danger of such folly.

Some of the proverbs are difficult for us to comprehend because they are steeped in the culture and the practices of the ancient Hebrews.  Others, however, are easily understood in any generation and in any place.  One of these timeless proverbs is found in Prov. 15:1.  Solomon said, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up strife.”  This is a theme that resonates with us because most of us have actually witnessed the truth of this statement.

How often has a simple misunderstanding or a minor disagreement escalated into a raging argument because the individuals involved spoke harshly to one another?  Such things have happened often enough in most people’s experience that we are not surprised when they do.  Too many times we allow our hurt feelings or our pride to spark angry words that just make the situation worse.  A Cold War-era cartoon perfectly captures what so often happens.  It showed a figure in a fireman’s suit spraying liquid on flames.  The caption said, “Again the Russian fireman rushes to the scene.  In his eyes, determination.  In his hose, pure gasoline!”

We generally expect that most people are going to respond in kind to any slight committed against them.  Although we expect it, we all know that it isn’t the best way.  We even have an adage to the effect that one can draw more flies with honey than with vinegar.  Even so, many people are unwilling to let such things go.  We think we must get our licks in, as it were, in our own defense, if nothing more.  The wise man Solomon would shake his head in wonder at our foolishness.

The counsel of the wise man is that we should respond in gentleness in order to avoid further unpleasantness.  This, too, is something most of us have experienced.  We have watched in awe as an angry situation is diffused by a calm and gentle response.  We have gone away from such incidents impressed with the wisdom and humility which kept things from getting out of control.

While all people can appreciate this principle at work, those of us who are Christians have an obligation to practice it.  We must do so, not only because it is the wise way of handling conflict, but also because of the example of our Lord.  Many times during the course of His ministry His enemies made scathing accusations against Him.  In none of these cases did the Lord lower Himself to the kind of slanderous words that were spoken against Him.  Instead, He always remained in control, and responded with words that made His opponents, and the people who witnessed these confrontations, think about what they had said and done.

The Lord could have called twelve legions of angels to His defense as He hung on the cross.  Instead, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34).  If the Lord could give a gentle answer as He was being crucified, surely we can give a gentle answer in all our petty conflicts.

The Golden Rule

 

The largest single collection of the Lord’s teachings is found in the gospel of Matthew.  In chapters 5-7 Matthew recorded what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  In chapter 5 the Lord contrasted the standards which He expected His disciples to live up to with what they had heard from their teachers.  In every case His disciples were called to a higher standard than the common practices of first century Judaism.  In chapter 6 the Lord called upon His disciples to practice their faith sincerely, and to not be consumed with worry about their daily needs.  In chapter 7 the Lord exhorted His disciples to correct their own sins before correcting others.  He urged them to enter the narrow gate that leads to life, rather than following the crowds traveling down the broad way that leads to destruction.  He also taught them how to recognize false teachers, and warned them that only those who do the Father’s will are going to enter heaven.

In the midst of chapter 7 is one of the most basic principles of the Christian faith.  In Mt. 7:12 the Lord said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (NASB)  In this simple command the Lord revealed the core of what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  In Mt. 22:35-40 the Lord said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind.  The second most important, He said, was to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

We call Mt. 7:12 the Golden Rule, a term that apparently was coined by Anglican theologians in the 17th century.  Skeptics sometimes point out that Jesus was not the first to express such a philosophy, but in so doing they ignore the fact that all other expressions of this principle come from a negative perspective.  For example, Confucius said, “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”  In the first century B.C. Rabbi Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.”  The Greek philosopher Sextus said, “What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either.”

Although all of these statements predate the Lord’s ministry on the earth, they all fall far short of the standard to which the Lord called His disciples.  Followers of Christ are commanded to be proactive in a positive way toward others.  We are to do to them, and for them, what we would like done for ourselves.  By treating others with the love, kindness, courtesy, respect, and goodness that we desire for ourselves, we follow the Lord’s own example and honor Him by our obedience.  At the same time, our actions may draw the lost to salvation in Christ, which is the best thing we can do for anyone.

Nearly everyone is aware of the Golden Rule.  Very few, it seems, actually live by it.  We should not be surprised that unbelievers do not live by it.  After all, they are still in their sins, and have no concept of the kind of sacrificial living to which Christians have been called.  Even so, the Lord requires His disciples to follow this principle in their dealings with everyone, whether they are believers or not.

This being the case, how much more so ought Christians to live by the Golden Rule when dealing with each other?  In Gal. 6:10 Paul said, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”  We cannot be acceptable to our Lord if we do not treat others in the way that we would have them treat us.  We can be doctrinally correct in every detail, but if we do not live by the Golden Rule, it means nothing.  Therefore, let us be “golden” in all our relationships.

To Serve Or To Be Served

 

As the Lord taught and preached in the first century, He was the living fulfillment of all the prophecies regarding the Messiah who would redeem mankind.  Even though His many miraculous works testified to this truth, many people refused to believe in Him because He did not meet their expectations of what the Messiah should be.  He came from humble origins and sought none of the trappings of power which were common in that time, and which were the core of the Jews’ expectations regarding the Savior.

Even the twelve men chosen by the Lord to be His apostles struggled with these things.  On more than one occasion the Lord scolded them because they were vying among themselves to see who would be number one.  In Mk. 10:35-41 James and John asked Jesus to elevate them to positions of importance, one on His left hand and one on His right, in His glory.  This made the other ten men angry and they became indignant with James and John.

In response to this incident, the Lord told them that they were acting just like the rulers of the Gentiles.  The world’s way was to strive for prominence, but it would not be this way among His disciples.  He told them that the one who wanted to be first among them must be the slave of all.  Then, in Mk. 10:45 the Lord said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  It took a long time for the twelve to learn this lesson, but they eventually got the message.  After the Lord’s ascension into heaven, they did indeed become servants and, with the exception of Judas, spent the remainder of their lives living up to the Lord’s admonition.

This is a principle that is often lost on modern believers.  Too many today treat the church as though it were a religious version of the “Make A Wish Foundation”.  They shop for a church with a laundry list of services that they want the church to provide for them.  They enter the worship assembly expecting to have their every desire fulfilled, like patrons in a restaurant.  They listen to the sermon, not to be encouraged toward righteous living, but in hopes of being entertained so they will feel good when they leave.  If the church doesn’t meet their expectations, they move on to the next one, and the next, until they find what they want.

The Lord’s teaching and example, however, stand in stark contrast to this attitude.  True believers do not come to Christ in order to be served.  They are moved by what the Lord did for them by shedding His blood on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins.  As a result, they know that they must serve Him.  They do this by serving each other, and by doing all within their abilities to help the church.  A true believer comes to the church with an eye toward what he or she may do to facilitate the church’s work.

In order to be the kind of disciple the Lord intends us to be we must take a different view of the church than most do.  To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, we must ask not what the church can do for us, but ask what we can do for the church.  Instead of expecting the church to wait on us hand and foot, we should be looking for the ways in which we may serve the needs of the church.  We must do this because the church is us, and it can only do what we ourselves do.

The Lord said that to be great in the kingdom we must become servants.  When we humble ourselves and serve rather than being served, we honor our Lord, and we fulfill His expectations for us as disciples.

Salt & Light

 

The largest single collection of the Lord’s teachings is what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  It is recorded in great detail in Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7.  In this great discourse the Lord laid the foundation of what would be required of His disciples.  Very early in His discussion the Lord used two important images to illustrate the effect He expected His disciples to have on the world.  These images are salt and light.

In Mt. 5:13-16 the Lord said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

The imagery of salt and light are powerful illustrations because of what they do and how they work.  Salt essentially has three effects.  First, it is a preservative.  It has long been used to cure meat where there is no means of refrigerating or freezing it.  Second, it enhances the flavor of the foods on which it is applied.  Many foods, like eggs and potatoes, taste much better with a little salt on them.  Third, salt causes thirst.  Anyone who has eaten a salty snack food knows this is true.  The reason salt has these effects is because it is chemically different from the items on which it is placed.  If it were of the same composition as these foods, it would make no difference in them.

Light is just as powerful an imagery.  Light enables us to see in situations in which we would otherwise be unable to see.  Light facilitates and sustains life on the earth.  Without light, life on earth would be impossible.  Light also lifts our spirits and often takes away our fears.  It has this effect because light dispels darkness.  It does so because it is the exact opposite of darkness.  Where light shines there can be no darkness, and darkness can only exist where there is no light.  The two are mutually exclusive.

When these images are applied to Christians, we can easily see why the Lord used them to refer to His disciples.  We are different from the world because our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ (Acts 22:16).  Like salt, we are a preserving agent in the world.  God spares the world because of His people, who are trying to lead the lost to salvation.  We also enhance the world by our presence in it because of our godly examples.  Our godly way of life leads others to thirst for God’s truth, and the salvation that may only be obtained in Christ.  We make the world a better place by being salt in it.

In a similar way, as light we shine the good news of Jesus Christ and His salvation into the darkness that has enveloped the world.  As we reflect the light of our Lord by our godly lives, we expose sin for what it is, and we show the way to eternal life through Jesus our Lord.  We show those who are stumbling in the darkness the narrow path that leads to life.  In these ways we make the world a better place by being light in it.

When the Lord used the imagery of salt and light to describe His disciples He didn’t say that he hoped we would be salt and light.  Neither did He say we ought to be salt and light.  He said we are salt and light.  By virtue of having been purchased by His blood we have been made into salt and light by the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  This is what we are, and this is what we must be in order to please Him.

(Note:  The picture above is a salt shaker with an LED light inside it.  My son made this to portray the imagery of salt and light)

Courageously Committed

 

The period of the Judges was the most chaotic era in the history of Israel.  The atmosphere of this time is summarized in the final words of the book of Judges.  In Jdg. 21:25 the scripture says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  During this time Israel would rebel against God and suffer punishment from Him at the hands of a neighboring nation.  Then they would cry out for help and God would deliver them by means of a judge who would then lead Israel in a period of peace.

One of the most fascinating events in this period was when God called Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianites.  The record of this incident is found in Jdg. 6-8.  When Gideon accepted God’s commission, he called the people of Israel to fight against the Midianites.  32,000 men responded to his call, but God told Gideon that this was too many people.  In Jdg. 7:1-7 God put Israel through several tests in order to show them that He alone would deliver them.

The first test was a simple one.  God told Gideon to tell everyone who was afraid to go home, and 22,000 men departed.  This was still too many people, so God told Gideon to take the remaining 10,000 men to water.  As the men drank water, God selected 300 who drank by cupping water in their hands and lapping it from there.  All the others were sent home.  God then instructed Gideon to arm the 300 men with trumpets, torches, and empty pitchers.  These would be the weapons by which Midian would be defeated.  The end of the story is that God brought about a great victory and Israel enjoyed forty years of peace thereafter.

This incident is a study in levels of commitment.  All 32,000 men who initially responded to Gideon’s call were committed enough to answer the call.  However, 22,000 of them were cowardly in their commitment.  That is, they were so fearful that the Lord could not use them.  The 10,000 who remained after the fearful went home were more committed than they, but 9,700 of them were carelessly committed.  That is, when they went for a drink of water they threw caution to the wind as they drank.  These men literally stuck their faces in the water as they drank and were therefore unprepared if an enemy should attack them.  Their careless commitment made them unusable for the Lord’s purposes.

The 300 who remained were the most committed of all who answered Gideon’s call.  They were courageously committed.  We know this because they were willing to go into battle carrying nothing but a trumpet, a torch, and an empty pitcher.  In other words, they trusted God to the point that they would put their lives on the line to fight in the manner He prescribed.  Thus they became tools in God’s hand to win the victory that brought peace back to Israel.

In application, the same levels of commitment that marked Gideon’s army are found within the body of Christ today.  All Christians have shown that they are committed to the Lord by virtue of their obedience to the gospel.  However, some are cowardly in their commitment.  They are fearful of offending unbelieving family and friends and their service to the Lord suffers because of it.  Others are carelessly committed, letting their spiritual guard down, leaving themselves vulnerable to the temptations of the devil.  Neither of these is particularly useful in the Lord’s service.  Those who are like Gideon’s 300, however, are courageously committed.  They are unafraid to stand up for the truth, and they are willing to serve the Lord with the tools, and according to the commands, that He has provided.  By their courageous commitment the Lord continues to win victory after victory over Satan and his minions.  Let us all, therefore, strive to be as committed as Gideon’s 300.

With No One’s Regret

 

Someone once said that we should live our lives with a view toward who will cry at our funeral.  The point of this statement is that our conduct should be such that our family, friends, and acquaintances will be sorry that we have passed from this life.  It seems inconceivable that a person could be so mean, or so evil, that no one was sorry to see him die, but we know that some have come very close to this dubious distinction.  In modern times, men such as Adolf Hitler, or Josef Stalin, or serial killers such as Ted Bundy, passed from this life with very little sorrow at their passing.

In ancient times there may have also been men like these, whose passing brought few tears, but the scriptures identify one man whose death was met with absolutely no sorrow.  This man was Jehoram and he was the king of Judah after his father, Jehoshaphat, died.  In 2 Chr. 21:20 the scripture says of him, “He was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years; and he departed with no one’s regret, and they buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.”

Jehoram was despised by the people of Judah, but what made him so?  In 2 Chr. 21:4 the scripture says that when he ascended to the throne he immediately killed all of his brothers, and even some of the rulers who had served his father.  This was an unprecedented act in Judah, but had been routinely practiced by the kings of Israel, the northern kingdom.  A second thing that made Jehoram despised is that he followed the example of the kings of Israel in leading Judah away from God.  He did this because he was married to a daughter of wicked king Ahab of Israel (2 Chr. 21:6).  Although he only reigned for eight years in Judah, Jehoram’s evil influence was so great that even the reforms of good kings Josiah, Uzziah, and Hezekiah were unable to keep Judah from being punished by God.

Considering the evil impact that Jehoram had on his nation, and their utter disregard for him at the time of his death, what can we learn from his life?  First, we learn that the things we do, whether good or bad, can have a powerful effect on many people.  The things we do can even affect those we may never know.  If we live in rebellion to God’s law, we must be prepared for the consequences of doing so, not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of our children and grandchildren, as well as neighbors, friends, acquaintances, and many others.  On the other hand, if we live righteously, our positive influence can lead these same people to eternal life.

Secondly, we learn from Jehoram that how we treat others greatly affects their opinion of us.  It seems certain that Jehoram treated his people so badly that they were happy to see him gone.  If we follow his example, we may expect the same kind of reaction when we die.  We may also expect to be called to account for the wreckage we left behind because of our evil influence.

Jesus said we should treat others in the same way we would have them treat us (Mt. 7:12).  This means that we must consider what effect our actions will have on the lives of others.  If we follow the Lord’s command, we will do all within our power to live righteously.  If we do so, we may indeed expect our family, friends, and acquaintances to shed sincere tears when we pass from life.  We can also expect to receive a reward in heaven at the end of time.  Jehoram’s sad epitaph was that he departed with no one’s regret.  May we so lead our lives that this cannot be said of any of us.

Freedom Is Not Free

 

Each year on July 4th our nation celebrates its independence, which was first declared by the Continental Congress on this date in 1776.  The freedoms we enjoy as Americans are special in the history of the world, for no other people have had such personal control of their own lives, and of their national destiny, as we do.  Many act as though these freedoms are just inherently ours, like the air we breathe.  And, like the air we breathe, they treat these freedoms as though they cost nothing.  A cursory survey of our nation’s history shows that this is not the case.

When the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence they pledged their lives, their wealth, and their sacred honor in pursuit of freeing the colonies from the domination of the British.  Most of them lost much, if not all, of their wealth during the course of the eight years it took to win our independence.  Since that time, our freedoms have cost us dearly in the lives that have been lost in defense of them.

Since the Revolutionary War, U.S. military deaths have totaled more than 1.3 million.  More than 1.5 million have been wounded in action, and over 38,000 are still listed as missing in action.  These numbers may seem unreal to some of us, but to those whose loved ones are among the dead, they are more real than anyone else can imagine.  Ongoing conflicts around the world continue to add to these numbers.  The bottom line is that freedom is not free.  It is a costly pursuit, perhaps the most costly pursuit in human endeavors.

In Gal. 5:1 Paul said, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”  The yoke of slavery to which Paul referred was the Old Testament Law, which was nailed to the cross by our Lord (Col. 2:14).  The freedom of which he spoke is the freedom from the bondage and consequences of sin.  When one is baptized into Christ, he clothes himself with Christ, and is made a son of God, a descendant of Abraham, and an heir according to promise (Gal. 3:26-29).

Being set free from the bondage of sin, the Christian no longer struggles under its weight and burden.  Some Christians, however, like those Americans who forget the price paid for their freedoms, treat their newly found spiritual freedom as though it cost nothing.  Consequently, they abuse it.  Paul anticipated such an attitude and warned the churches of Galatia not to go there.  In Gal. 5:13 he said, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”  Our freedom in Christ lays great responsibility upon us, and that responsibility is directly related to the cost that was paid for it.

Our spiritual freedom was purchased with the most precious price that has ever been paid in the history of the world.  It was paid for by the blood of the one and only Son of God, who sacrificed His life in order to atone for our sins.  Had this price not been paid, we would still be in our sins, and we would have no hope for eternity.  It is because this price is so dear that we must honor it by obeying God’s will.

We often say that the value of an item may be determined by its cost.  In this case, our freedom from sin is the most valuable commodity that man has ever known.  Therefore, let us show respect for the price that has been paid for our salvation by obeying the gospel and by serving the Lord faithfully until He comes again.  Let us show by our obedience that we understand that freedom is not free.

A Small Fire

 

Each year in the state of California firefighters are on edge as the last days of summer transition toward fall.  This is one of the warmest times of year in the Golden State, made so by the frequent occurrence of what they call “Santa Ana winds”.  These are hot winds that blow in from the desert, driving down the humidity and creating an environment that is perfect for wildfires.  These wildfires often begin in rugged areas of the foothills and quickly spread, often burning thousands of acres before they are contained.

Some of these fires are started by lightning strikes, or a traffic accident in which a vehicle catches fire, but many erupt from incredibly small points of ignition.  Sometimes a campfire that has been left smoldering will trigger a wildfire.  Other times a blaze will begin from something as small as a cigarette being thrown from a passing car.  The point is that it doesn’t take a large source to create an inferno that causes a massive amount of destruction.

This phenomenon is a living example of the warning James gave regarding the use of our tongue.  In Jas. 3:1-12 the Lord’s brother spoke of the dangers associated with our speech.  He began by warning that not many should become teachers because they will receive stricter judgment.  This warning has to do with the content of what one teaches.  If one’s teaching leads others astray, he will pay dearly in eternity for having done so.

Much of the rest of James’ warning has to do with the kinds of things we may say to each other that create discord and conflict.  In Jas. 3:5-6 he said, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.  See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.”

Many of us grew up hearing and saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  As much as we might like to believe this saying, the unvarnished truth is that words do hurt.  They often hurt far worse, and for much longer, than any physical injury.  Families and friendships have been irrevocably torn apart because of things that people have said to or about each other.  In such cases, James’ words are literally proven to be true.  The small fire of a hurtful statement results in a forest fire of destruction in that relationship.

None of us appreciates having hurtful things said to us or about us.  When this happens we carry the hurt with us for a long time.  Sometimes, in spite of our most noble desires or intentions, we never get over it.  Yet, how often are we guilty of doing the same thing to another?  The hurt we feel when we are on the receiving end of such comments should remind us to be more careful when we speak.

This is where the simplest principles of Christian living should apply.  In Mt. 7:12 Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people in the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  In Col. 3:17 Paul said, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  To speak or act in the name of the Lord Jesus means to do those things in a way that is consistent with everything He taught.  Saying hurtful things to others neither treats them as we would like to be treated, nor is it consistent with the Lord’s will.

If we live according to these principles, we will honor our Lord in everything we say and do, and our souls will be secure.  If we live by these principles, we will keep our tongues in check, and we will not be guilty of starting any forest fires among our family, friends, and acquaintances.  Surely, we can all agree that living like this will make for a much better world.

Show Hospitality

 

The book of Hebrews is a treatise on the superiority of Christ.  This superiority is summarized in the opening words of this letter.  In Heb. 1:1-2 the scripture says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”  Throughout this letter the inspired writer expounds on this superiority.  He shows the Lord to be superior to the angels, superior to Moses, and superior to all the prophets who preceded Him.  The capper to this argument is the superiority of the Lord’s sacrifice, and the superiority of His covenant to the Law of Moses.

The purpose of this letter was to encourage Jewish Christians to not go back to the trappings of the Law of Moses.  They had been liberated from that law when they obeyed the gospel, and they needed to be growing in the faith in Christ in order to become mature.  At the end of this letter the writer offers a variety of exhortations.  Each of these exhortations underscores the superiority of Christ and the higher standard to which Christians have been called.  One of the first exhortations of Chapter 13 is particularly interesting, and is worthy of our consideration because we are generally not living up to it today.

In Heb. 13:2 the scripture says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  Like much of what is written in the book of Hebrews, this statement has an Old Testament reference underlying it.  In Gen. 18, Abraham entertained three men who happened to pass by his tent.  These men were very likely God the Father, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit, who were on their way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  In other instances, Gideon was visited by an angel of the Lord (Jdg. 6), as were Manoah and his wife (Jdg. 13).  In each case the visitors were invited to wait while a meal was prepared for them.  After serving the meal, the visitors went on their way, after delivering God’s message for that particular occasion.

This Old Testament antecedent is the basis for the exhortation to “show hospitality to strangers” in Heb. 13:2.  The Greek word that is rendered “hospitality” in this verse literally means love of strangers.  We who are Christians are commanded to demonstrate this kind of love because of whose we are.  Of course many of us consider ourselves to be hospitable because we are friendly, and we warmly greet visitors to our worship assemblies.  However, hospitality is much more than this.  It is not coincidental that in each of the Old Testament precedents for hospitality a meal was prepared and served to the strangers.

Unfortunately, few of us today are as accommodating to strangers as in these Old Testament examples.  The sad truth is that we rarely host our friends for a meal, much less complete strangers.  The key, however, is in v. 1 where the scripture says, “Let love of the brethren continue.”  Brothers and sisters in Christ may be strangers, but because they are fellow Christians, we should show our love for them.  In the context of Heb. 13, this means inviting them for a meal, at the very least.

If we begin to show this kind of hospitality, we will become much closer as a body of believers in our local church, and we will also be an encouragement to fellow Christians with whom we are not yet acquainted.  The superiority of our Savior, the superiority of His sacrifice, and the superiority of His covenant, requires a higher response from us. Therefore, we must not neglect to show hospitality.

The Oracles of God

 

The responsibility of teaching God’s word must not be taken lightly.  It is serious business and must be thoughtfully and humbly considered before we engage in it.  James, the brother of the Lord, warned his readers that not everyone should become a teacher.  In Jas. 1:3 he said, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”  His point was that teachers will come under greater scrutiny from God because of the influence they wield over their students.  This truth was graphically illustrated by the Lord in one of His criticisms of the Pharisees.  In Mt. 15:14 the Lord said of them, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Nevertheless, we are commanded to teach each other.  This is the divinely inspired prescription for the propagation of God’s word and it must not be ignored.  In 2 Tim. 2:2 Paul told Timothy, “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  As we consider what Paul commanded, we can see God’s wisdom at work.  Knowledge of His word is perpetuated by teaching it from one person to the next, and from one generation to the next, until the end of time.  If we obey this command, there will never again rise a generation that does not know God or the great things He has done (cf. Jdg. 2:10).

The second aspect of God’s wisdom is seen in the first clause of Paul’s command.  He told Timothy to teach the things he had heard from Paul himself.  Timothy was not free to teach whatever he thought was best.  He was constrained to teach only what Paul had proclaimed.  He was also constrained to teach everything that Paul had proclaimed (cf. Acts 20:27).  This is a limitation that has often been ignored or overlooked by those who stand to teach others.  This flaw in human character is why James warned that teachers will incur a stricter judgment.

Peter addressed this issue in 1 Pet. 4:7-10.  He said, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.  Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.  As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace; whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.” (ESV)

The bottom line is that any time one stands up to teach or preach, he must do so as one who is conveying the very words of God.  The Greek term translated “oracles” in v. 11 is a word that is often used to refer to the scriptures or to words that God Himself has spoken.  So then, when one stands to teach he must teach the very words of God.  He is not at liberty to alter or omit or add to anything found in the scriptures.  He is not at liberty to bind his opinions on others, but must faithfully proclaim only that which is found in God’s word.

In the Old Testament, the phrase “Thus says the Lord, appears more than 2,000 times.  In each case the prophet then relayed exactly what God had commanded him to speak.  Prophets who failed to do so fell under condemnation.  If God was so particular with these men, who served under the old covenant that was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14), how much more so will He be with those who serve under the covenant of Christ?  Therefore, let us speak only the oracles of God in all we preach and teach.