STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.”
Jesus forewarned us that it wouldn’t be easy being Christians (Luke 9:23). Since unbelievers persecuted Jesus, they will also persecute us on account of
our Christian beliefs (John 15:20).
While this is the harsh reality of being believers, this does not mean that we are left alone with our suffering. Besides having Jesus’ promise of always being with us (Matthew 28:20) to help us (Psalm 50:15), we also have the support of fellow believers.
As Christ-believers, we are a part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians12:12). When one member of this body suffers, we all suffer (1 Corinthians12:26)—if not in a physical way, surely in a spiritual sense and an emotional way. Having loving compassion for one another, we won’t sit idly by. Rather, Christian love will move us to be of help.
Verse 3 mentions in particular Christians suffering in prison for the faith. Throughout the New Testament era, many believers have been incarcerated because they openly bore witness to Christ. Current news tells us of Christians being persecuted through imprisonment in different parts of the world—including in some of the CLC’s own mission areas.
This verse goes on to broaden the scope of religious persecution by citing “those who are mistreated.” This mistreatment can take many forms. For example, our young people attending liberal universities can be publicly ridiculed by a professor or receive an unwarranted lesser grade for speaking out in defense of Christian beliefs. This is not an easy thing to bear, especially since it is natural for us to desire acceptance and approval from both our superiors and our peers.
What does the Word of God here exhort us to do for fellow sufferers? The verse doesn’t speak of any specifics. It merely encourages us to keep on remembering them. The Spirit-intended meaning behind this involves more than just keeping in mind persecuted Christians.
The Hebrew readers had a point of reference in this regard. In chapter 10 they were exhorted, “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains.” (Hebrews 10:32-34)
When and where we are given the opportunity, we want to visit a fellow Christian in jail or prison and share words of encouragement. If we were in chains for the faith, it would uplift our spirits to be reminded how Jesus was unjustly arrested and condemned to die by crucifixion. He willingly gave up His freedom and laid down His life for us, so that we could be set free from the shackles of sin, eternal death, and the devil. Since our Savior lovingly did this for us, would we not in turn be willing to be in chains for His name’s sake?
If it isn’t possible for us to make a prison visit, we can certainly remember to offer up an intercessory prayer. Consider the time of Peter’s imprisonment in Jerusalem when “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” (Acts 12:5) The Lord answered their prayers by miraculously delivering Peter from prison (Acts 12:7-11).
If Christians we know are persecuted, we can bolster their spirits by reminding them of Jesus. He was persecuted as their Savior so that they could be delivered from this world to live throughout eternity in heaven where there shall never be any kind of harassment.
The major message of Hebrews 13:3 is to not forget our fellow-sufferers, but rather keep on remembering to do something that will be of help to them.
Mark Gullerud is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bowdle, South Dakota, and Zion Lutheran Church in Ipswich, South Dakota.