TOUCHED WITH THE FEELING OF THOSE IN PRISON (Hebrews 13:3)
It is none other than Jesus Christ Himself Who is a faithful and merciful High Priest in the things which pertain to God. Mercy is God’s reaching out to help the helpless, and this mercy is very rich. (Heb. 2:17, 18; Eph. 2:4) And when we have tasted this mercy and have experienced that God is good (I Peter 2:3; Ps. 34:9), then we also become merciful. We then can be appealed to by the “tender mercies of the Lord.” (Rom. 12:1) We have a Savior in heaven, Who was tempted in all things just as we are, Who is the great sympathizer. He suffers with us. We fill up the measure of His sufferings in the flesh. (Heb. 4:14-16; Col. 1:24, 25)
The Hebrew Christians are admonished to demonstrate in their brotherly love that they have the law written in their hearts, that they are taught of God, drawn in irresistible grace out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. They must remember their brother and sister who are imprisoned for Christ’s sake, for righteousness’ sake. There are they who are not ashamed of the name of Christ. They confessed Christ before men, and they are confessed by Christ before the face of God in heaven. They are the excellent of all the earth, of whom the world is not worthy. (Heb. 11:28) And these imprisoned ones must not be forgotten. This is a far cry from all social agencies and much evangelization in “jails” in our modern day. This was not an attempt at social betterment; but it was showing the tender mercies of Christ, by one member of the body of Christ to the other.
The motivation given for remembering those imprisoned is that we must feel that we are in the same “prison” with them. The form of the participle sundesdemenoi is a perfect passive. We have been imprisoned with these imprisoned ones up till the present moment. All the way through their imprisonment we so lived along with them, so felt their imprisonment that we lived, in our mind, as a fellow prisoner. That is what Jesus does in heaven. He is touched with the feeling of the infirmities of these prisoners. What a blessed thought! How much room there is for this injunction to the saints, both as to its content and its motivation. We, who are so often calloused and indifferent to the lot of our brother as he suffers for Christ’s sake and is treated as an evil-doer, simply because he confesses that Christ is the Son of God, Who died for his sins, heed this injunction. Was not John banished to the island of Patmos for the sake of the testimony of Jesus Christ? (Rev. 1:9)
There is a deep cry in the heart of those who are thus imprisoned. It is a deep cry for compassionate remembrance. Think of a Joseph m-prison in Egypt because of the lies of Potiphar’s wife and the sordid envy of his own brothers, the patriarchs. Was it not a great “toil” both of body and soul for Joseph to be in prison? Is this not what is uttered in the name “Manasseh,” whereas God had made him forget all this toil and his father’s house? Was not Jeremiah cast into prison and into the dungeon because he spoke the Word of God? (Jer. 37:21; Jer. 38:13, 28; Jer. 39:14, 15) Was not John the Baptist imprisoned by Herod and later beheaded because he spoke the Word of God to the king? (Mark 1:14; Matt. 4:12; Matt. 14:3-8) What about Peter? Was his imprisonment for the Lord not foretold by Jesus Himself? (John 18, 19) Often prisoners of the Lord became eventually martyrs of the Lord. Think of all the imprisonments of Paul. Writes he, “. . . in imprisonments often.” He is the prisoner of the Lord. (Eph. 3:1; Eph. 4:1) He requests of the saints to remember him .as an ambassador in bonds, that he may have boldness to speak the word of God. (Eph. 6:20) And the last sentence in Paul’s letter to the Colossians is, “Remember my bonds.” (Col. 4:18) Truly, this represents a deep cry from prison. And well may we remember such, even in our day. And the time may come when this will again be very actual. Satan deceives the nations and stokes his fires hot!
THE EVILLY ENTREATED ALSO TO BE REMEMBERED (Hebrews 13:3)
It is not clear whether the brethren and sisters who are classified in the text as “those evil entreated” are the same as those who are imprisoned. There can be, no doubt that those who are imprisoned are indeed ill-treated; they suffer adversity. If these are the same group, then this is merely a further explanation of what it meant to be imprisoned. It would seem that the definite article in both cases (toon desmoon and toon kakouchoumenoon) points to a definite group of people, each in its own right. If so, then the writer possibly has a larger group in mind in the case of the ill-treated than those imprisoned.
This suffering of adversity is adversity for Christ’s sake, and not simply the general adversity which is ours due to the curse of God upon the earth, bringing forth children in sorrow, and eating bread in the sweat of our brow. This is evident from the meaning of the term kakouchoumenoi. The term kakou always means “to do hurt, to maltreat, to cause injury.” Thus it is used in Classical Greek of Homer, Iliad, 11, 690. It is used in Acts 7:16, 19 of the sufferings in Egypt of the children of Israel; it is used of the sufferings of the Christian community under Jewish persecutions (Acts 12:1; Acts 14:2) and of the danger of an attack on Paul which God averts. (Acts 18:10) (Compare Kittel’s Theological Dictionary, Grundmann) The term, therefore, refers to those who suffer adversity and evil for Christ’s sake according to the beatitude of Christ in Matthew 5:11, 12. These are in the class of those who preached the Word of God of old, prophets.
Our attitude concerning these, too, must be one of being touched with the feeling of their infirmities and persecutions, both as to the reason for such persecution and the evil character, the hellish intent, of those who do harm and injury to God’s saints. In this instance of the Hebrew Christians it seems that the ill-treatment of evil intent came from the side of the Jewish community, of whom Paul writes the scathing denouncement in I Thess. 2:14-16, “For ye have suffered like things of your countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who have both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and persecuted us; and they pleased not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” That is a rather exact and comprehensive description of the ill-treatment which the saints received from the Jewish community which would trample under foot the Son of God, and do despite to the Spirit of grace. (Heb. 10:29)
We are to remember such ill-treated ones from the motivation that we are “still in (the) body.” We are such ourselves. We are still in this world where men can kill the body. (Matt. 10:28) There is a school of thought which holds that the writer here is speaking of the “church” when he says “body.” The writer would then mean that we are members of one another. (I Cor. 12:26) Such is the interpretation of Calvin. The Kantteekening of the Staten-Vertaling differs from Calvin and writes: “Dat is, in dit lichamelijk leven, dat aan veel verdrukkingen onderworpen is.” Translated this reads, “That is, in this bodily life, which is subject to many afflictions.” It seems to me that one does not need to choose here absolutely between these two. The fact is that we sympathize with those afflicted as in some way subject to all the abuse which is heaped upon the ill-treated Christians. These ill-treated Christians were, no doubt, the leaders in the congregations. Now if we remember that we are really in the same condition with them in their ill-treatment, we will remember them with our prayers, support in a material way, granting all the support and help we may. That is the exercise of the communion of saints in an evil world. That is the real Philadelphia which must not be forgotten. If each saint was allowed to stand and fall by himself, the church would surely succumb.
THE HONORABLENESS OF MARRIAGE IN THE LORD (Hebrews 13:4)
There cannot be much question whether the Holy Spirit intends to speak in this passage of marriage “in the Lord.” Paul writes in I Cor. 7:39 concerning the question of the legitimacy of marriage for Christians. A woman whose husband has died can be remarried to whom she will, provided this is “in the Lord.” A man or woman is not to marry as did Esau, who was a profane and adulterous man. He married outside of the Lord, taking Canaanitish women, to the grief and sorrow of his parents, Isaac and Rebekah. (Heb. 12:16, 17; Gen. 26:25; Gen. 27:46; Gen. 28:8, 9) The writer here refers to marriages which are according to the original marriage ordinance of God’s creation, and as this ordinance was sanctified and enriched by the suffering and death of Christ. (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-8; Eph. 5:22-33)
What is placed very emphatically on the foreground is that marriage is “honorable” (timios). Perhaps this was denied by the Jewish zealots of that time, who were attempting to live a life of “holiness” in an ascetic way. Theologically the Jewish faith, which denies Christ, cannot hold to the sanctity of marriage. In the times of Jesus this was a moot question in the schools of Shammai and Hillel, respectively. The former took the strict view of divorce for the sake of adultery alone, “while the latter took the more liberal and popular view of easy divorce for any passing whim if the husband saw a prettier woman, or burnt his biscuits for breakfast.” (Robertson’s Word Pictures on Matthew) In the midst of such whimsical and evil legalism the life in the congregation must be such that they “cease from dead works to serve the living God.” (Heb. 9:14) Marriage must be held in honor in a good and free conscience, in which we fight against sin, the devil, and the world, in order finally to be the Bride without spot or blemish in the marriage-feast of the Lamb.
Hence, marriage is to be held in high esteem in the community of the saints. It is a precious gift of God to His children in the midst of this world. Besides, Scripture teaches us that marriage itself in its divine meaning and import is a “great mystery.” It somehow fits in with “Great is the mystery of godliness. God is manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” (I Tim. 3:16) It is for this very reason that marriage is held in such low esteem in the so-called Christian world, which is apostate from faith. This the Holy Spirit expressly says. (I Tim. 4:1-3)