"People are noticing, people are talking, I wonder what they are saying about us?!"
Read Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16
This passage is headed "The Marks of the Christian Life’ in one translation, and it’s not a bad list, if for no other reason that it was so influential when it came to evangelism in the early Church.
You may not realise it, but people notice how Christians behave outside the four walls that they worship within, and are not averse to pointing out our faults quite loudly to anyone who might listen!
The writer of Hebrews lists five essential qualities that we are to aim for.
Firstly, there’s what he calls "brotherly" (or "sisterly" to be PC) love - which we probably think of as how well we get on with others within our fellowship. But this was a fairly new concept at the time, because in pre-Christian times, brotherly love was thought of as an expression of affection within the family.
We know from very early writers that what impressed those who came into contact with the fledgling Christian Church was how this family love expressed itself within the community of faith. It was actually potent weapon of evangelism!
So what were they seeing that was so unexpected?
Well, what does your "ideal family of the church" look like?
It would probably be one where there the members not only "get on" OK with each other, but help each other, want the best for each other and are not judgemental or envious.
For the early church it would have been easy to fall out as it tried to agree what the basic doctrines of the faith might be. It was important for them to have a clear message to preach and share in mission, but it was also important not to be judgemental and deal harshly with those whose views were considered slightly wrong or plainly heretical!
Throwing them out would not help the cause.
Loving them and praying for them certainly would.
So, brotherly (and sisterly) love is a good witness. So, says the writer is displaying hospitality – welcoming people, looking after them and even feeding them if that’s needed!
We need to look at the context in which this was written. The Church was growing, and sending out missionaries over quite long distances. They needed somewhere to rest their heads in the evening in the absence of a 1st century Premier Inn or Travel Lodge! The equivalent of the day was not somewhere you would want to stay.
The Inns were notoriously filthy and very expensive. In an early Greek play, the characters are discussing lodgings and one asks another if he knows where there are the fewest fleas! Sometimes travellers were held to ransom by inn-keepers, and they were associated with brothels.
Premier Inns may be basic, but they’re a whole lot better than that available to the first Christian missionaries!
So for the Christian travelling on God’s work, the ability to stop off at another Christian’s house en route was wonderful, and the willingness to have an open-door policy in your house for those in need was considered a real blessing. In fact the writer says that some may well have even entertained angels in their house without realising (what a lovely picture he paints!)
So, we are to show family love and practice hospitality.
Now the writer adds to this by extending the loving care to those who are in need or trouble, even in prison (this would be mainly those imprisoned for their faith or because they were in debt, as Christians generally were not wealthy people in those days).
A pagan writer said of these Christians, "If they hear that any of their members is imprisoned or in distress for the sake of their Christ’s name, they all render aid in his necessity and, if he can be redeemed, they set him free."
It would seem that in the early days no Christian who found him or herself in trouble for their faith was ever neglected by their fellow Christians.
Another thing that marked the Church out as different from the prevailing culture was its attitude to marriage and sex, because they lived in very liberal times where anything went, and morals were very loose indeed. Marriage is to be respected and honoured, he says, with all that this entails regarding sexual immorality.
Again, those outside the Church were impressed by what they saw, and talked about the way that the Christians lived and loved.
Lastly, our writer talks about contentment, about being content with what we have and not constantly craving that which others have. It’s about living in the knowledge that God will provide enough for our needs.
Back in the days of Trajan the Roman Emperor, Pliny, the governor of Bithynia was trying to dig up enough evidence that would enable them to act against the Christians and condemn them, but even he had to admit that at their Lord’s Day meeting, "They bound themselves by an oath not for any criminal end but to avoid theft or robbery or adultery, never to break their word nor repudiate a deposit when called upon to refund it."
In the early days, the Church was examined closely and proved itself to be a good witness to the faith it professed and lived.
There’s the challenge for today, of course - to look at ourselves as a fellowship of believers and ask if we would pass the same level of scrutiny and come through with flying colours as they did.
People are noticing, people are talking, I wonder what they are saying about us?!