“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” This admonition comes to us from the writer of Hebrews who writes from Italy to the Hebrew Christians. It is likely that the writer himself is in bonds while he writes. In Chapter 10 of Hebrews he encourages those who “became companions of them that were so used” and “had compassion of me in my bonds”.
The past number of years here in America have been unusual in the history of the church. For the most part, attitudes of tolerance and acceptance, even appreciation, have prevailed toward those who sincerely seek to walk in an obedient faith toward God. This has greatly enhanced our comforts in this life, but has not always been to our spiritual well being. Complacency, lukewarmness, and backsliding have been evident many times. The lack of a struggle against opposing forces has often produced in us a diminished appetite for truth and lessened our ability to properly discern the issues of life in light of eternity. It has been easy for us to begin to compromise and to seek the approval of those who do not attempt to live a life of faith above the approval of our Lord in Heaven. Perhaps this apathetic atmosphere has even contributed to our tendency to fall into carnal quarrelling among ourselves. There are indications that even our evangelism and mission work have sometimes been somewhat self centered efforts perhaps more than being a result of the work of God in hearts.
We are not called to seek for adversity- to live and practice our faith in fleshly ways- inviting the adversarial responses of the unbeliever to our own immaturity and inconsistency. We are to “pray for all who are in authority” and “if it be possible, as much as lieth in you” to seek to “live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty”. Neither are we called to try legislate a standard of morality on society- to carnally impose Bible truths on those whose hearts have not been awakened to seek after God- thus inviting a wicked response from sin-hardened hearts.
The saints are clearly called to follow the example of our Lord and the early apostles: to “walk as children of light”, to “follow after righteousness”, to “shine as lights in the world” by “holding forth the Word of Life” lovingly, clearly, and unashamedly. This often brings conflict in a world that does not know (perhaps does not even desire to know) our God.
The writer to the Hebrews is concerned that the church would not neglect to remember and to minister to those who are in bonds or adversity because of a commitment to uphold the testimony of Jesus and live with a clear conscience before God. Evidently he considers it a normal work of church life that we are to accept and endeavor to fulfill as an expression of our own faith in God.
He calls us to remember and to empathize- that is to relate to those who are in bonds or adversity as if we were the one who was in bonds or adversity. Recently I had the experience of a having minor eye surgery in one eye to try to eliminate my need to wear eye glasses. During the recovery time, it was difficult for me to tell which eye had had the surgery because the other eye was hurting almost as much as the one that had been cut. Perhaps this is an example of the sensitivity we are called to have with and for those who are facing the afflictions of the gospel. We should not take for granted that they are strong and will be able to continue to stand without our support and prayer. We are to communicate this care to them by seeking to meet their needs and the needs of their families at home as God enables us. We are not to be “ashamed of their chain”. This kind of oneness in relationship is also a reflection of the relationship the Persons of the triune Godhead share.
Our brothers or sisters who are called to suffer are not perfect in the sense that God’s work is finished in their lives. The experiences God calls them to face purify and deepen their own understanding and walk with the Lord.