56. Hiking in Hebrews: Empathy and Purity

The closest I’ve come to being in prison was a stint in juvenile detention—actually, two, almost back to back—both related to running away from home at 14. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. Perhaps the worst aspect of juvie was the complete lack of communication. No one told me how long I’d be incarcerated or if anyone was doing anything on my behalf. Juvies like me didn’t get lawyers. No one on the inside expressed an iota of concern or sympathy. I think that was an intentional part of the punishment: making me feel utterly abandoned and misjudged.

I’m talking about prison because of our next relationship instruction in Hebrews 13:

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Verse 3)

I don’t personally know any Christians who are in jail for their faith, though I’m aware that in some parts of the world, disciples are still imprisoned. I need to pray for those faceless brothers and sisters, though I confess I usually don’t. Likewise, for those who are mistreated in any way because of their commitment to Christ.

When I lived in India and Africa, where intense persecution still takes place, I knew individuals who suffered greatly at the hands of family members who opposed their conversion. Paradoxically, the faith of these disciples always seemed strongest when persecution was an present reality.

But whether we live in place where Christians are persecuted or merely mocked or ignored, there’s a profound principle in this short verse. We are called to deeply empathize with our brothers and sisters, to feel their pain as if it were our own, and to pray for them as if for our own comfort and deliverance.

I’ve gotten worse at this over the years, instead of better. I can remember weeping often as a young Christian, my heart in shreds over the suffering of a sister or brother in Christ. I deeply related to the words of Paul, describing himself as he wrote them in great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears (2 Cor.2:4). I haven’t wept like that in a long time. Part of this is that I’m simply less emotional than I used to be—and whether that’s a good thing is debatable. On the plus side, I feel more shielded in my faith, more confident in God’s love and sovereignty, and less tossed and tormented by my emotions. But the other side is not being as deeply involved in the lives of others as I used to be, made all the worse since Covid precautions have taken hold. I’m living in a safe little bubble, as advised by our health authorities, but it’s a bubble that comes at a cost.

So here I’m preaching to myself. I know I need to pray more, love more, reach out more, and always ask God to show me the true condition of my heart. Just because I can’t physically be with my fellow disciples doesn’t mean I can’t love and feel deeply for them. After all, Paul was in prison when he wrote most of his pastoral letters, cut off from physical fellowship, yet achingly bonded to his spiritual family—those he knew, and those he’d never met. And he continued to love and pray and yearn for all the churches, even when he was forgotten in prison by the very people he’d help convert, strengthen, and teach (see 2 Tim.4:9-16).

So there’s a timeless role model.

The next commandment concerns marriage and sexual purity:

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed be kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (He.13:4)

The New Testament contains 36 verses about sexual immorality (not to mention many Old Testament examples—like 24.000 dying in a single day because of immorality–Numbers 25). Perhaps this verse in Hebrews is most succinct. Any sexual activity outside of marriage is sin. And regardless of how we may view various forms of immorality—is homosexuality or adultery  worse in God’s eyes than sex before marriage?—it all comes down to the same thing: rebellion against God’s holiness and commandments.

It’s strange to me that some Christians are so vocally opposed to some forms of immorality, yet condone unmarried couples having sex, as long as they’re ‘planning on getting married’.

And something else to ponder: keeping the marriage bed pure. Put this verse next to the issue of pornography and draw your own conclusions. Just because you’re married doesn’t exempt you from the continual call to purity and holiness. Even—and especially—if you and your spouse are both indulging in pornography.

These teachings aren’t popular today, but when have they ever been? The world is drowning in immorality, and I doubt that it’s ever been different. What’s different is how socially acceptable it’s become, and how ubiquitous in the world of  TV, film, song lyrics, literature—you name it. But God’s judgement hasn’t changed. All the sexually immoral will be judged.

Do you need to grow in your empathy or purity? If these areas aren’t challenging you, our next post talks about the love of money…

1 reply »

  1. Thank you Marilyn. As always you “hit the nail on the head”.
    A publication called “Voice of the Martyrs ” highlights some suffering for their faith in today’s world.
    On the purity note, it’s hard to find movies at all that don’t indulge in immortality…

    Like

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