“No one has a more legitimate claim on our concern than severely-persecuted Christians, wherever they may be found. They are especially precious in the Lord’s sight, and they suffer the greatest injustice. With them in mind, Scripture says the world is not worthy of them (Heb 11.38). And what could be more unjust than violence against others just because they love God and His Son, Jesus Christ?”
Do we care about persecuted Christians around the world? I mean really care—so that we think of them often, feel for them, pray for them, and do what we can to alleviate their suffering. Unquestionably, it is God’s will that we should.
Many in the USA are ignorant and apathetic about international concerns generally. Materialism and narcissism, to name just two perverse aspects of our culture, conspire to rivet our attention to our own physical and psychological needs and desires. We are prone to become terribly selfish and frivolous in our daily routine.
When news of persecuted Christians does occasionally penetrate our protective cocoon, we may wince for a moment, but we find that dwelling on such things is too uncomfortable to indulge for very long. So we quickly dismiss them and return to our private world.
Before the fall of man, Adam and Eve loved one another perfectly. Those two composed the whole human family in those days. They lived as one, joined together in mutual service and concern. He looked out for her best interests, and she, for his. It was the way things ought to be.
After they sinned, their unselfish love was ruined, and malice made its early and disturbing appearance in their sons. Cain rose up and killed his brother Abel. When confronted by God, Cain impudently said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” as if he had no moral responsibility to promote his brother’s best interests. All Adam and Eve’s children ever since, naturally conceived, have suffered the same depravity.
Enter the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we believe it, we know that God has renewed our hearts and begun transforming us into the brother-lovers we were meant to be. Our capacity and actual practice of love is progressively restored. This is one of the clearest signs of a real Christian. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13.35).
That means we discover true and deep feelings of compassionate concern for the welfare of other people, especially our fellow Christians. This is more than the remnant of natural humanity which is found to some degree even in unbelievers. For the sake of Christ our Lord, and because He loves them, our hearts yearn that sinners might be saved and saints might be blessed. This ethical yearning prompts us to redemptive and compassionate action on their behalf.
No one has a more legitimate claim on our concern than severely-persecuted Christians, wherever they may be found. They are especially precious in the Lord’s sight, and they suffer the greatest injustice. With them in mind, Scripture says the world is not worthy of them (Heb 11.38). And what could be more unjust than violence against others just because they love God and His Son, Jesus Christ? These sheep led to slaughter are treading in the steps of the blessed Savior, the Just One crucified for our sins. They are the excellent ones of the earth.
Consider the counsel of our text about our relationship with them.
“Remember them that are in bonds,” or, “Remember those who are in prison” (ESV). This exhortation stands opposed to our natural forgetfulness.
The context constrains us to understand this as referring especially to persecuted Christians. Both the historical situation of the original readers (i.e., somewhat persecuted, cf. 12.4) and the immediate context (11.1 ff.; cf. 13.1-2, 5-6) justify this interpretation. To “remember” them here is not just to think of them, but to “give careful consideration to,” “care for, be concerned about.” The same Greek word is used in the same way in Gen 30.22 (LXX) and Luke 23.42. It couples loving consideration with practical action, the inevitable fruit of sincere concern (Jas 2.15-16). 1 John 3.14-19 powerfully insists on the linkage between true Christian love and good works.
Sometimes all we can do for some is to pray, but how can we do less than pray? And we should seriously consider what else we might do.
Relate to Them
The rest of Hebrews 13.3 stresses our need for empathy and solidarity with our suffering brethren. Its parallelism helps interpretation. Remember:
them that are in bonds, as bound with them
them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves in the body
They are “in bonds” and thus “suffer adversity.” You are to remember them with the same compassion and concern as if you were right there with them, for, after all, like them, you are “in the body.” The likely idea is that in this life, you are vulnerable to the same kind of suffering, so theirs should be a matter of special concern to you. “Remember those who are in prison as if you were their fellow prisoner, and those who are ill-treated, since you also are liable to bodily sufferings” (ANT). Our remaining sin makes us less concerned for others, so we need to put ourselves, mentally, in their place. When we are deeply touched like this, we will be more faithful to remember our brethren with a compassionate response, and be more like Christ. Amen.