Chapter 9: Strangers and Prisoners
“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same (Matthew 5:47, NAS)?”
“Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body…(Hebrews 13:1-3).”
Do you remember the question, “who is my neighbor?” Well, here it is again. Not only are we cautioned to love our brothers (which can often feel virtually impossible), but here we are encouraged to do the same with those outside our brethren. Are we who are extending love to those within the body only doing so at the least possible level, or are we pushing ourselves to go beyond our borders and love those without? We never know to whom we are showing kindness or hostility; we don’t know who may be an angel among us.
And more than that, what if they’re not an angel? What if they’re just some random person who needs kindness, a comforting word, or God’s love expressed to them? We are not to choose whether or not we love our brothers or love our neighbors or strangers or prisoners; we are to love all people at all times, even when admonishing someone.
I love the line in Hebrews 13: “…since you yourselves also are in the body.” Prisoners are a passion of mine because I recognize the undisputed fact I too could be behind physical bars if I had remained married to my first ex-husband. Someone was going to get hurt somewhere along the line! I could have been pushed to do something untoward given the demonic nature in which he operated. Any number of things and circumstances could have led me down the wrong path and caused me to do something prison-worthy. No one knows of what we are capable until a situation arises.
Furthermore, there are people not behind physical bars but behind internal bars, chains, and other barriers. “Remember the prisoners as though in prison with them” states Hebrews 13. We are in the body therefore we could do something stupid at any moment should the flesh get the better of us. In this, we must all be compassionate toward those who most folks deem unsavory. We would be wise to remember how our flesh acted prior to surrendering to Christ. I am painfully aware I must surrender the nature of my flesh daily. Just because I live in a fleshly shell doesn’t mean I need to be driven by it, though it genuinely wants to take the wheel of my life.
Those who are externally or internally imprisoned are so because, somewhere along the line, the flesh got the better of them. Neither you nor I are exempt. Have compassion. Have mercy. Lend prayer. We never know what stranger or prisoner may be an angel in disguise, but don’t be motivated to kindness because of that as if to think, “I don’t want to mess with an angel!” Perceive everyone as someone in need of the same love Christ extended to us in our time of need.
Chapter 8: Prayer and Encouragement
Accompanying kindness, compassion and the other attributes of the Spirit are prayer and encouragement. If we are correcting a brother and we are not encouraging them back to spiritual wellness, we are not operating under the directive of the King. The entire written Word of God is based 100% on compassion. Even in the Old Testament when God would annihilate entire cities and tribes, it’s because they would not relent in their wickedness and they, by their own actions, forced God’s hand so as to protect His righteous seed. It is never God’s desire for anyone to perish (I Peter 3:9).
This life should only be a pre-cursor to better things to come, not worse. Blatantly or inadvertently, most people purpose to cause this life to be the “best” through worldly lusts of the flesh (sin); as a result, only hell to follow. This life is temporary and we must approach it as such or we will be consumed by the evil one. Sin is death and it is our command as Kingdom citizens of Heaven to cause those in darkness to most earnestly desire the Light. In this mindset, we will devote ourselves to prayer; prayer for the lost, the dying, the sick, the poor, the haughty, the wicked, the righteous, and so on. Prayer is encouraging, both for the one for whom we pray and for the one praying. I’m always encouraged when I stand before the throne of Grace regardless of the reason. We must encourage one another and pray that the faith of our brethren not fail in the hard times. We are to be people builders, not people destroyers.
Not Destined for Wrath:
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing (I Thessalonians 5:9-11).”
We can look at these verses two ways:
- we are not designed for God’s wrath against us, but for His love to consume us
- we are not designed for wrath against other people, but for His love to come through us so as to turn others toward the Kingdom of God
When I hear of or witness firsthand a “Christian” extending wrath against any other human being, I am saddened because I know it saddens the heart of God. For example, recently Joy Beher of the TV show The View referred to Mike Pence, the current VP of the USA, as one having a “mental illness” because of his faith in Jesus Christ. The multitude of the Christians of the land was ready to lynch her at high noon for such disrespect.
Let us recall Psalm 119:165 mentioned earlier: “Great peace have they who love Thy law and nothing shall offend them.” Christians, different from authentic followers of Christ, are quick to offense and quick to criticize the world when they say foolish things against God. She later apologized to the Vice President and, as one would imagine, Christians were once again offended because her apology was a day late, a dollar short, and altogether insincere, allegedly.
When will people of God recognize that the world will speak and act as the world, as the one running the world’s system? His name is Satan, the devil, Beelzebub, Lucifer, etc. When the peace of God rules in our hearts, we will be able to extend love and honor to those in and of the world. We will begin to have a Kingdom perspective instead of an earthly, fleshly, limited view.
Prayer is required in such situations, not criticism. It’s equated to being mad at a baby for screaming for not getting their way when what is required is discipline and instruction, not anger and wrath. Worldly people, aka those not of Christ, are like those babies. They don’t know any better. The only way to spiritually handle it with efficacy is to encourage those in Christ so as to not combat the wrong entity or in the wrong way.
People are not the enemy, Satan and his legion of demons are. The war is between Heaven and Earth, between God and the devil. We mere mortals are caught in the crosshairs. When mere mortals surrender to Christ, we become something more than mortal; we transition into the supernatural strangers and aliens from Heaven sent to Earth so as to pronounce and expand the Kingdom of God.
Once that transition occurs in an individual’s life, we no longer see, think, act, walk or talk as our old nature. We are no longer to function in the “tit-for-tat” mentality. We are no longer to be offended by the foolish deeds of darkness. Joy Behar, for example, is a person whom God loves and for whom He gave His life. Our human enemies of this life are people for whom Christ died. Pray for them. Stay away from them if the situation warrants, but do not retaliate in a manner of hatred and wrath. Do everything offense-free and with a heart to turn them toward the heart of God.
“but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:32, NAS).”
“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer…(Acts 1:14, NAS).”
“For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother (Philemon 1:7, NAS).”
“Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ (Philemon 1:20, NAS).”
Chapter 5: Honor All People
“Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (I Peter 2:17, NAS).”
We see the command “honor all people.” That’s a big one! Even when we do not agree, we are to honor people, all people, which is a seriously tall order. Always, in the face of a dispute, pause and think, “Is what I’m about to say or do going to honor or dishonor this person?” It’s a rule of thumb by which I purpose to live. I fail from time to time, of course but, when I fail, I make it right as soon as possible. The better way, most certainly, is to have as few failures as possible so that our actions do not require apologies. The right path is always the best path with which to begin. This is to eliminate backtracking from a mess initially having done things the wrong way.
We read in the last chapter, “all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.” This is a theme throughout the Word of God and it is rarely obeyed. I cannot convey enough how lacking love is among the brethren, the people of God. Such unresolved animosity and hatred are running rampant among those who claim to be among citizens of God’s Kingdom. I can scarcely understand it, yet it is a fact. We must ask ourselves, “What must we do about it? What must I do about it?”
First, the common sense approach is to begin to seek God’s love, how it looks, how it functions, and how we are to take God’s mantle of love and apply it to ourselves. Secondly, once applied to our own lives, learn how to apply it to the brethren (neighbors). Thirdly, and this is crucial, learn how to apply it to non-brethren. If we do not follow this basic and biblical pattern, we will continuously fail ourselves, our family and friends, strangers, and enemies. We have a compulsory standard to love from Heaven and its King:
- Love God (Mark 12:30)
- Love ourselves (Mark 12:31)
- Love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31)
- Love our enemies (Luke 6:27-36)
Some people in the body of Christ comprehend loving their brethren, yet can’t muster enough love so as to love their neighbor who is not within the body of Christ. They hate their neighbor (literal or metaphoric) who is Muslim, gay, an adulterer, philanderer, gambler, liar, and so on. We tend to view “those people” as our enemy and, therefore, justify our hatred against them.
God does not, cannot, and will not condone such behavior. No one can love God and hate their neighbor. There are plenty of folks with whom we do not agree and, furthermore, do not like. The problem with that is, we are not called by God to “like” anyone. We are called to a higher instruction of eternal, heavenly, Kingdom love.
I recently had a meeting at Sophia’s (my teenage daughter) school with the powers that be concerning her education given the fact she’s been so sick. Because of the chronic illness, she has been unable to attend regularly; hence requiring homebound assistance. At this meeting, tempers began to flare between the head of the committee and myself. She was talking about Sophia as though she were a delinquent and I a derelict mother. I don’t care about her opinion of me, but mess with my kids and the scenario becomes much more intense.
My response to her was in a loud tone and very aggressive as was hers. I had prayed before I entered the meeting because I know how they can be; they don’t see Sophia as a person, but merely a number on a schedule to which they must attend and admonish. She was deemed as a problem they must solve. With that prayer, I released to Holy Spirit my tongue, attitude and heart. As a result of that prayer, I said no unkind words and I did not blow up or thrust accusations against them. I simply spoke what was necessary (though aggressively at moments) and moved on. That could only have occurred because I had put on the love of God as armor.
I tell this story because there was a follow-up meeting two weeks later with the superintendent. She, as you may suspect, was present in this meeting. Between the two meetings, I reminded myself that she, the head of the homebound committee, was still just a person. She is a person (of God or of the world, I do not know) who was trying to do her job just as I, a mom, was doing mine. The love of God compelled me to look beyond my aggravation so as to approach her the second time with respect regardless of how I deemed her inaccuracy in Sophia’s assessment as a delinquent.
When I saw her at the start of the meeting, she did not make eye contact with me as she was aware of her misconduct. Notwithstanding, I purposefully greeted her so as to put her at ease. As one can imagine, at the close of the first meeting, I was riled and wouldn’t have minded telling her off; in this I must be honest and candid. As I continually close in with the Savior of all people, I was quickly reminded that I must honor her, despite our differences.
The Scripture in II Peter at the top of the chapter reads, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” Notice God distinguishes separately “honor all people” and “love the brotherhood”. They are two entirely different matters. There is first, how we entreat anyone and everyone, brother or not, and secondly, how we treat our brethren. The distinction is made so as to not justify loving only the brethren but all of mankind. Furthermore, it states thirdly, “fear God” which alone would compel us to extend love and honor to all people and, fourthly, “honor the king (president or other rulers).” The gamut is covered as to whom we are to love and honor.
Chapter 4: Hatred vs. Love
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (I John 3:15, NAS).”
We are commanded, “Do not hate your brother.” I don’t know how much more I can say that isn’t mentioned in the Bible. The contention, fighting and bickering must cease. There must be a better, more Kingdom-productive way to communicate and resolve issues with the brethren than what we’re currently doing. The divisiveness within the confines of our selfish, fleshly nature is fragmenting God’s Kingdom. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. We must inquire of ourselves the following:
- “Is there a brother I hate?
- What am I going to do about it?
- How can I change my attitude, perspective and approach so as to resolve the matter between us?
- How can I bring unity in the midst of disunity?”
These simple questions, when answered honestly, will bring about God’s will. We need to regularly reevaluate where we are in the Spirit. If we caused and/or perpetuated hatred on any level, resolve the matter. Repent and go and sin no more. Through prayer and supplication, we will do what is righteous whatever it takes.
“And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (I John 4:21, NAS).”
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:19, NAS).”
“and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love (II Peter 1:7, NAS).”
These texts instruct what to do: do love your brother. God never tells us the incorrect without directing us into what is holy in His sight. I especially favor the last few verses above in I and II Peter. The emphasis is on kindness and love which could possibly sound redundant, yet there is a purpose for the repetition. The words kindness, love, harmonious, sympathetic, humble in spirit and devoted are, technically, the same at the root which is Kingdom love. Nevertheless, they are marked individually so as to add emphasis to the necessity of love and all it encompasses.
We live in a treacherous, vile, depraved world as no one could dispute this sad state of affairs. It’s been this way since the fall of man when Satan’s reign was reestablished. Lucifer originally ran the earthly realm until deceit and corruption were found in him. He was dethroned and, eventually, Adam was given charge over the Earth. Once Adam fell prey to the wiles of the enemy, Satan once again took his seat of authority which Adam foolishly relinquished to him.
The ruler of this present Earth is the devil; therefore, we ought not be surprised that the days are wicked. With this fact made clear, we can better understand why God’s Word gave such prominence as to how to conduct ourselves as strangers from Heaven in a peculiar land called Earth. The days are evil; we, God’s people, aka the brethren, must learn how to overcome through the blood of the Lamb, how to live and abide as overcomers instead of having to succumb to the ways of the devil. We must become more aware of the spirit realm, Satan’s and God’s, so as to recognize the danger of not loving the brethren lest we fall into his trap just as did Adam and Eve.
Let us, Kingdom heirs, purposefully become kind, loving, forgiving, selfless, humble, godly, holy, righteous, devoted to one another, and much more of the like toward our brethren.
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (I John 4:20, NAS).”
“But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes (I John 2:11, NAS).”
“By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother (I John 3:10, NAS).”
“The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him (I John 2:9-10, NAS).’