philadelphia

Entertaining Angels

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Hebrews 13:2

“Y’all come on out and see me,” echo’ed the voice of Pastor Bill Simpson throughout the sanctuary of the Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church of Denison, Tex. “I have a credit card, and a bedroom. I’ll take you to dinner, and I’ll give you a place to sleep.”

It was the annual messenger meeting of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas, and Pastor Simpson was called upon to give the response to the welcome by the host church. Simpson had served as the pastor of Tall City Baptist Church in Midland, Tex., for as long as anyone could remember. He was well-known for his hospitality, generosity and kindness.

As pastor of Tall City, he worked to keep West Texas Baptist Institute in operation, published the Tall City Messenger, and supported missionaries worldwide. Those who had traveled through West Texas would tell you that Pastor Simpson would take in anyone who showed up at his doorstep. He loved fellowship, and he loved God’s people. Therefore, if any showed up to his door, he entertained them.

Pastor Simpson exemplified Hebrews 13:1, which says, “Let brotherly love continue,” as well as Hebrews 13:2, which says, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

When the Bible says to entertain strangers, it is commanding us to be hospitable. This thought is a continuation of the command to “let brotherly love continue.” God wants us to have a genuine affection for one another, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for everyone around us.

Pastor Simpson’s hospitality stood out in a world where we’d rather put someone up in a hotel room with a McDonald’s gift card rather than invite them in and cook them dinner, but there was a time when most Americans were as hospitable as Pastor Simpson. Hospitality is a dying courtesy in a world where we fear crime and value our privacy.

Still, if we are affectionate toward each other as scripture teaches, then we will also be hospitable.

Now, Hebrews 13:2 takes an interesting turn when it says “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

In the church where I grew up Spiritually, I was taught that this verse meant that we should be kind to everyone, because we never know when we are dealing with an angel in disguise who is checking to make sure we are showing the love of Christ to a lost and dying world. Therefore, I was always nervous when presented with a choice to give to a homeless individual, or whether to withhold out of suspicion that I was being scammed.

I have since overcome this fear by learning these three things. (1) I have learned that I will never regret generosity, (2) I have learned that if the recipient of my benevolence misuses it (if the homeless man to whom I give money uses it to buy beer), then he will be held accountable to God, not me, and (3) angels (as in the Spiritual beings) do not go around posing as homeless people in an effort to make you be more benevolent.

The context of Hebrews 13:2 is that the scriptures are teaching us to be affectionate, loving and benevolent toward each other. We are being taught how to love and interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is on that note that we are told to “entertain strangers,” that is to be hospitable to other Christians. (In the context of time, there were no Motel 6s where traveling Christians could stay. Their options were to sleep outside, stay at an inn and contract bedbugs, or stay with acquaintances or fellow Christians.)

The scripture then notes that by “entertaining strangers,” or being hospitable to Christian brothers and sisters, that some “entertained angels unawares.”

The word “angel” comes from the Greek word ang-eh-loss which simply means “messenger.” The angels who were Spiritual beings were merely messengers of God, as demonstrated in the books of Genesis, Joshua, Daniel, and Luke.

In other passages, the word “angel” is used to describe the pastor of a church, such as in Revelation 2:1, where Jesus says, “Unto the angel of the church at Ephesus, write….” That angel wasn’t a Spiritual being appointed to oversee the church at Ephesus. It was the pastor called to lead Ephesus. The message Christ dictated for John to write was intended for the pastor at Ephesus to deliver to his church.

So, given the context of Hebrews 13:2, the phrase “entertaining angels unawares” could very well be paraphrased, “you never know who you’re helping.”

While it is an interesting idea that Spiritual angels are checking in on us, a more powerful truth is that, by letting brotherly love continue and being hospitable, you may actually make a difference in someone’s life, who will in turn make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. You never know if the person you are helping will one day become a great angel (messenger) like the great Billy Graham.

So be generous. Be hospitable. Be friendly. Help those around you as you have opportunity. You will never regret loving, and you will never regret the good you do, neither in this lifetime, nor when you stand before the Lord Jesus Christ on judgment day.

Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. He is currently leading the congregation through a study of the book of Hebrews, which will conclude Sunday, Dec. 17, with a study of Chapter 13.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia_skyline_from_the_southwest_2015

Let brotherly love continue.

-Hebrews 13:1

Philadelphia. It’s probably the best known Greek word among Americans. Most know it as a city in Pennsylvania, where our founding fathers met and signed The Declaration of Independence. Others know the meaning of the name, brotherly love. Hence, Philadelphia is “The City of Brotherly Love.”

Known as the home of the Eagles, 76ers and Phillies, Philadelphia was named after a Greek word which means brotherly kindness. That word, Philadelphia, is the opening word in Hebrews 13.

Much has been made in theological circles about the different Greek words translated into “love” in the modern English language. Eros means romantic love, Phileo means brotherly love, or affection. Agape is the highest form of love. It’s the self-sacrificial love that has that redemptive quality.

Agape love is a fundamental doctrine of true Christianity. It was agape love that propelled Jesus Christ to the cross. It is agape love that a man is commanded to have toward his wife. It is agape love that Christ commanded his disciples to have toward each other. It’s agape love that we are to have toward our enemies.

This doctrine has been preached throughout the ages, from the Apostle John’s epistles to the 1st Century Christians, to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, efforts during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Agape is also a Spiritual gift, and should be a hallmark of the life of the believer in Christ. However, agape is not exclusionary. We are also to have phileo love toward one another.

Hebrews 13:1 begins with the word, philadelphia. This word is a variation of phileo. It carries the notion that brotherly love and affection is not merely a feeling, but an action. If phileo  is the feeling, then philadelphia is the action motivated by the feeling.

Scripture here commands us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only in an agape manner, but also in a phileo manner. We are to truly love and appreciate each other, and if we have the opportunity, to do good for each other. That means either helping in a time of need, or simply doing something nice for one another.

One spring day, a church member of Life Point called and asked to meet with me and my wife. Often, when these calls come, bad news will follow. The church member is leaving the church, has been offended, or there is a personal crisis happening. Not this time.

Upon meeting with this church member, she asked us if we would like to attend an upcoming “Weekend to Remember” retreat in The Woodlands, Tex. This would be a three-day weekend retreat, just the two us us, with Bible sessions, marriage improvement classes, and date nights. No kids. In fact, she volunteered to keep our kids for that weekend, which is a really big deal if you consider how many children my wife and I have.

The church member offered to pay the tuition, but hotels and meals were on us. We jumped at the chance!

She did not see us as having marital problems, nor was she trying to rescue us from a major calamity. Instead, she saw an opportunity to bless us, so she did. Her action was motivated by the fact that she not only had agape love toward us, but phileo love as well.

God smiles when we express our affection toward each other in these ways. And you don’t have to drop several hundred dollars either. Simply stopping by for a visit, taking someone out to lunch, or sending a card count as philadelphia.

Hebrews 13:1 in its entirety reads, “Let brotherly love continue.” The word “continue” comes from a Greek word which means to abide. It is a permanent presence. Brotherly love and affection should be a permanent hallmark of our lives together in Christ, and should be expressed through fellowship, benevolence and good will toward each other.

The old phrase “I love him, but I don’t like him” should never apply to our brothers in Christ.

It is with this context that we will learn new insight on Hebrews 13:2, where the Bible discusses the concept of “entertaining angels.” We’ll look at that tomorrow.

May God bless you today. Call up a brother or sister in Christ, and go spend some time together.