“The Power of Awareness”
April 28, 2002
Remembering a few key principles can help you live out what you believe.
I. Remember to care (Hebrews 13:1-3)
II. Remember who you depend on (Hebrews 13:4-6)
III. Remember those who have crossed the finish line (Hebrews 13:7-8)
MessageIts been fifteen years since I left Exxon and started my own company, writing and selling a mechanical engineering computer program called CodeCalc. We introduced it at a conference in Chicago. Our family was smaller then, but so was our mini-van - too small for us, the computers, manuals, software, the chocolate chip cookies and all our camping gear. So we borrowed a sheet metal car top carrier from friends. We filled it with camping gear and CodeCalc manuals and headed north.
The convention was at the McCormick center on the Chicago lakefront, and parking was naturally in a parking garage. But I forgot that with the car top carrier my mini-van was something more than seven feet nine inches tall, so I drove with confidence right into the concrete above the garage entrance. The impact stripped the carrier off the top of the car and it ended up hanging from the back. But it was so well made that except for a sharp crease in the front where it hit, it wasnt damaged, and our adrenalin was so high we just threw it back on the car and did the next thing.
I did learn a lesson though: when youre driving something larger than youre used to, you have to be very aware of that fact. That lesson came in handy a few years later as we moved from seminary to Houston. We rented a 24 foot truck, and that size truck is fully ten feet tall. Not tall enough to have trouble with highways or bridges, but tall enough to hit overhangs, garage doors, gas station signs. So, as I pulled off the highway, Id say over and over Im a ten foot truck. Im a ten foot truck. Im a ten foot truck. I may have looked foolish to passers-by - but I didnt hit anything.
Awareness is a key issue not only in driving, but in life, especially in the Christian life. As we near the end of Hebrews, the author gives several quick exhortations. He reminds these Hebrew believers that to succeed in the Christian life they need to be aware of a few simple things on a daily basis. Hebrews 13:1-8 says that remembering a few key principles can help you live out what you believe.
If I called for a show of hands this morning, I think most would agree that its hard to live the Christian life with integrity on a day to day basis. We know what we believe, and we know whats right, but if were honest with ourselves we admit we often dont do whats right, dont live the way Jesus wants us to live. We fall back into old sins we thought wed left behind; we become reluctant to do the acts of caring God desires in our homes and churches; we give up on change and growth and holiness and settle for the status quo. Its hard to keep living the Christian life. Should we despair? No - our text in Hebrews teaches us instead to remember. Awareness, remembering a few key principles, can make a huge difference to how well we live out what we believe, that is, how we do in the Christian life.
I. Remember to care (Hebrews 13:1-3)
The first verses of our text answer the question What am I supposed to be doing? Loving and caring. Hebrews 13:1-3. Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
The author of Hebrews has a few more things to say before he closes his treatise on the superiority of Jesus and the need for persevering faith. In staccato fashion he raps out a series of commands intended to help his readers live out persevering faith in daily life. First, he says, faith is lived by brotherly love. The word is philadelphia, like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the city of brotherly love. It is a word is used several times in Scripture. Paul says in Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Peter says Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. John says We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.
So were expected to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. But sometimes we lose sight of this simple truth. We get bogged down in the things we need to do, the directions life pulls us, its stresses and cares, and we forget that were supposed to be loving one another, as Jesus commanded. Its not complicated. But it is difficult. Its difficult because of the awareness issue and its difficult because our brothers and sisters are sometimes hard to love. It is hard to know how, hard to get through, hard to persist in brotherly love despite obstacles and set-backs.
The story is told of a storm that raged off the coast of Scotland. Far out in the black angry waters a ship had foundered. A lifeboat risked disaster to set out from shore for a rescue, but it returned with all the ship's crew except one that they just couldnt fit. As they reached shore the leader said, "There's another man! We need volunteers for his rescue." Among those stepping forward was a strong young Scotchman. His white_haired mother put her arms about him and said, "Don't go, John; years ago your father perished in a storm at sea. Just last year your brother William went to sea and never came back, and I guess he, too, must have gone down. John, you are the only one left, and if you should perish what would I do?" He took her arms from about his neck and said, "Mother, I must go; a man is in peril and I would be a coward not to help." He kissed her cheek and sprang into the boat.
Every minute the fury of the storm increased. The elements seemed to vie with each other to see which could do the worst. The boat was gone for more than an hour, and finally they were distantly seen beating their way back. As they came within hailing distance someone from the shore cried, "Have you found the man?" Standing in the bow of the boat John shouted back, "Yes, we've saved him, and tell my dear old mother it's my brother William!" Brotherly love sometimes requires great effort.
Verse 2 reminds us that one of the practical ways to express love is through hospitality. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Notice the emphasis on awareness. We are to continue in love, we are not to forget strangers. Love expressed starts with love aware when you remember the answer to the question: What am I supposed to be doing?
Its interesting that the word for entertaining strangers is based on the same root as the previous command to love brothers. The two are philadelpha and philozenia - love brothers - love strangers. Same love, directed differently. In Greek the concept of loving strangers came to be associated with hospitality. Sometimes those Greeks were pretty practical: you can say you love strangers all day long, but if you show hospitality to people you do not yet know, thats a practical expression of your love.
For Christians in the first century, hospitality was crucial. There was no Motel 6 keeping the lights on, and the few inns were infested by fleas, thieves and prostitutes. And they would often turn away a Christian: believers had no place to go except to one another to find shelter, which is what Paul did in Acts. But such arrangements depended on the hospitality of the believers, and that hospitality could easily be abused. One second century satirical writer created a character who grew rich by mooching off the hospitality of Christians. As a result some Christians may have noticeably cooled in their hospitality, and needed this word of encouragement.
In our own day there are also barriers to hospitality. The big one is probably busyness, which makes it difficult to even find time to have people over for dinner - especially if we allow our schedules to make us inflexible. The second is the isolation in which we live, so that we often dont know who could use hospitality and caring. The third is the standards we set for hospitality, so that we feel our homes are not good enough, clean enough, put together enough to open.
Nonetheless, hospitality is still one of the best ways we have to show love for strangers, We need to remember this call and allow ourselves to be encouraged by the authors comment that in this way some have entertained angels without knowing it. Im sure this isnt common - the reference goes way back to a visit angels made to Abraham and Sarah. But it can happen. The fact that our hospitality could have some tremendous unseen value should motivate us.
Finally, verse 3 tells us to seek out those in need. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Notice that remember is used again in this verse. Were supposed to be aware of the needs of those around us. Whether these are prisoners or those suffering in other ways, we are to feel about them as we would feel about ourselves in similar circumstances.
The early church, of course, had a lot of experience with persecution and imprisonment. In those prisons, as in some third world prisons today, friends or relatives had to provide everything for the prisoner. The early church had a remarkable reputation for caring for its own. One pagan observer described it this way: If they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him. If there is among them a man that is poor or needy and they have not abundance they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with food.
This call to practical caring continues today. Though we may not have anyone from our fellowship in prison, we do know many people whose situations make them needy - emotionally and spiritually as well as physically. Our response to these needs could be anything from writing an encouraging note to bringing a meal, to providing counsel and comfort, to taking care of kids, to giving funds for a tight spot, to praying with somebody when they are burdened. The details of our caring will vary but the fact of that caring must not change.
II. Remember who you depend on (Hebrews 13:4-6)
So weve seen that we are called to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, to practice hospitality, to care for those in need. But you and I might look at our busyness, weakness, stress, and say How am I supposed to do that? I cant even keep myself from temptation and sin and all kinds of selfishness: how am I supposed to love and care for others? The middle verses help us remember that it is only by dependance on God. Hebrews 13:4-6 4Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." 6So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
This section starts with exhortation about two common sins that plague believers - sexual sin and financial sin. But these are only examples of sins believers fall into, and the key to the strength needed not only to avoid sins but to love and care for others is simple dependance on the God who says I will never leave you or forsake you.
The author encourages a very positive view of marriage even as he recognizes the dangers of sexual sin. He says marriage should be honored by all, held in high esteem, respected, promoted and protected. In every age, including our own, marriage has been distorted in some way by popular culture. In the early church, marriage was seen as a barrier to spirituality. Celibacy was the ideal, and both monks and priests were taught that marriage disqualified you for spiritual leadership. For nearly 2000 years that position has created sin problems in the Catholic church, and the current prominence of sexual sin among priests is equaled by similar sins throughout the centuries. Marriage is to be honored, not avoided.
In Europe, prior to the reformation, marriage was dishonored in another way. It was common in those days to make a separation between the wife who bore your heirs and the mistress you actually loved. In this scenario love was something you found outside marriage. It was the reformers and the Puritans, who reinvented the link between marriage and love. They restored the affection of the heart to the marriage relationship and taught that marriage was to be enjoyed and held in honor.
Recently, marriage has been dishonored both by the sexual revolution of the sixties, which said that sexual relationships were OK between any two people and by the feminist movement which said that marriage was only one choice and not necessarily a good choice for a woman to make. Marriage was to be balanced with career and self fulfilment. All this has been accompanied by the highest divorce rates in history. We really need to hear Hebrews say to us, Marriage should be honored by all.
When I think of marriage being honored, topics that could take weeks to examine fill my head. Honoring marriage means putting your spouse first over other people, but also over commitments and activities that would tend to drive you apart. Honoring marriage means putting real time and energy into a relationship with your spouse. Honoring marriage means not being a threat to other peoples marriages. It means being careful how you spend time with people of the opposite sex, because emotional contact and physical togetherness are the formula for sexual involvement.
Honoring marriage, the author says, means keeping the marriage bed pure. The sexual relationship is intended for the joy and pleasure of a man and woman joined in marriage. No matter what our culture may try to say that is the only place such a relationship is blessed. Elsewhere, the text says, it is judged. Adultery isnt the only danger. Sexual immorality includes sins that take place in the mind and imagination and through pornography in all its forms. Anything that puts your attention on something or someone other than your spouse is detrimental to your marriage.
The other category of sin mentioned is the love of money. The pursuit of possessions and of security and pleasure are all symptoms of the delusion that happiness can be found in material things. But this delusion is so widespread as to have become the definition of sanity. Our culture truly believes, and many of us practically believe that having just a little more would really be the answer to most of our problems. Anyone, therefore, who gives up money for something else is by definition, insane. Twelve years ago when I gave up a fairly successful business to go to seminary, I had people in church, in my family, and many of my business contacts tell me I was crazy. It was said as a joke but you knew there was an element of truthfulness.
Jesus, therefore, was crazy by modern standards, when he said Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.
Jesus said Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The question is, at a heart level, do you believe the craziness of Jesus, or the so-called sanity of our culture? In practice are you pursuing Jesus, or depending on things to satisfy you.
These two sin issues - sexual sin and materialism - are specific examples of sins you and I may be struggling with this morning. Both are instances of the larger sin we call selfishness: they put personal pleasure or personal gain above the needs of others and the service of God. Selfishness can take many forms. Maybe you struggle directly with being focused on yourself and thoughtless toward others. Maybe you struggle with anger. Maybe you struggle with control, trying to make others meet the needs you feel inside. Maybe you are in rebellion against the traps life seems to have snared you in to keep you from happiness and satisfaction.
Sometimes as believers we want to say Lord, how can you expect me to care for others when I cant even get my own act together or keep this sin under control? The answer given in this text is simple. Be aware of your dependance on God. Verse 5 says be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" God says to you and me I will never leave you or forsake you. He said this through Moses to the people of Israel. He said it to Joshua. Jesus said I am with you always even to the end of the age.
Gods constant promise throughout Scripture is that we will be his people and he himself will be with us and be our God. His presence is sufficient for us - we dont really need anything else. The Psalmist Asaph said it best: Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge. God is sufficient. His nearness is our good, no matter how difficult our situation may be.
More than that, we find the strength to do good through dependence on him. The classic example is Pauls thorn in the flesh, which taught him to depend on God alone. 2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
Another important way of putting this is that any strength we experience to overcome sin, to do good, to love others, all comes from Gods Holy Spirit. Paul says in Romans 7 that in his own strength he cannot do what is right. He wants to, but he cant.
But in Romans 8 he explains that those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Victory over sin is only found in the power of the Spirit. The heart to love others is the fruit of the Spirit: his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. So this dependence on God which is key to the Christian life is really dependence on the Holy Spirit. As we become more dependant on him we begin to say with confidence The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? If God is for us, who can be against us? God himself strengthens us to face difficulties, guards us from temptation, motivates us to love and care.
III. Remember those who have crossed the finish line (Hebrews 13:7-8)
Maybe youre in a cynical mood, and youll say Give me one example of someone who really had that kind of attitude? Actually, youd probably never ask that because you know there are many in Scripture who lived by grace. Paul did. Peter learned how to. Abraham walked by faith. Daniel did it. The author of Hebrews focuses on just two examples as he closes. Hebrews 13:7-8 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
The readers of Hebrews had faithful leaders who were an example to them. They were the ones who taught the Word of God to these believers. Furthermore they had lives worth imitating - the outcome of their way of living was commendable, just like the Old Testament heroes of chapter 11. They lived by faith, and their faith is what is supposed to be imitated - the trust by which they had the strength to persevere. Its not a bad idea to look around you, back at your own history, and think of people who might qualify for a Hebrews 11 type roll call of faith.
Ive imitated the faith and practice of several people in the course of my Christian life. Ive mentioned them before. In college I was discipled by a math professor named Varoujan Mazmanian, who instilled in me and my peers a love of the Word, an enthusiasm for evangelism and missions, and a commitment to serving Jesus. He taught these things by modeling them with energy, integrity, and enthusiasm. And he is still there, doing the same thing, discipling young men a quarter of a century later. Mike Rice, who is now in seminary, is a product of that same ministry.
Later, after Exxon moved me to Texas, I learned a lot under the teaching of a pastor named Gary Stubblefield. Some of you will remember that Gary preached at my ordination a number of years back. Gary called me this week, to check up on me as he often does, and to ask me to call a couple who had moved into this area from California. In the course of that brief conversation he found a chance to exhort me to keep on with the expositional preaching of the Word, and I said that I sure would, because I had learned it at his feet. His is a faith I have definitely imitated.
And of course, most of you know how I felt about Paul Christiansen. Pauls was a living faith that carried over into every aspect of his life. He had a love for the word, a love for Gods people and an unwavering desire to serve Jesus. He showed me over the course of many years what it meant to handle lifes problems with integrity, as a trusting believer. He lived that way up to the moment the Lord took him home.
So when the road gets tough and you feel like stepping sideways into sin, or stopping short of the goal of Christlike caring for others, remember the people around you who have modeled a Christlike faith. But finally remember Jesus himself. You may not have many personal friends who have walked the talk for the long haul. But you cant deny the integrity of Jesus. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
That truth is one of those Biblical concepts that is larger than its context. It means first that he is unchanging. This one whose presence we depend on will never change his mind about being there for us, never leave us. It also means that Jesus Christ is just like God the Father. Psalms 90 and 102 and Isaiah 40 teach the unchanging nature of the Father - and Jesus is just like him. Finally, we remember that yesterday Jesus was faithful to take up the cross and offer himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Today he lives and intercedes for us before the Fathers throne. And tomorrow he is coming back to rescue us, to transform us, to complete the process now begun of transforming us into his image, so that we will be with him forever.
When life as a believer gets difficult, a key skill is awareness. Weve talked about three awareness questions you can ask yourself daily. First, what am I supposed to be doing? Remember that you are called to love your brothers and sisters in Christ, to love strangers by showing hospitality, to meet the needs those who are burdened. Inevitably, especially at times when youre discouraged over your own sin, you will ask yourself the second question how am I supposed to do that? Then you need to remember that God will never leave you or forsake you. He has named himself your helper: there is no help he cannot give to the one who trusts in him. Finally, you can ask who is up to this task?, so that you remember those who have walked in faith before you, and especially Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of throne of God.
One of my favorite phrases in Scripture occurs in the parable of the prodigal son. There he was starving as he slopped the fat pigs, having blown everything, abandoned his father and lost his fortune. But, Jesus says, when he came to his senses he thought of what his father could and would provide. A renewed awareness of our purpose in Christ and of Gods provision for us is like coming to our senses, its like waking up from a bad dream, like opening our eyes and discovering its not really dark after all. My prayer for myself and for you is that daily we will remember what were here for, who we depend on, and who has gone before us. Its as we remind ourselves of these things that we can live out what we believe.