My Bible tells me to ‘remember’ the prisoners, and that is a fair translation. But, of course, the author did not intend his readers merely to think about them.
And the prisoners did not only want people to visit them for friendship. They needed food, warm clothes (2 Timothy 4:13), and perhaps medicine. They needed people to look after their families while they were in prison.
Christians help all people, whether they are Christians or not. But, here and in Hebrews 10:34, the meaning is especially Christian prisoners who did not deserve any punishment. They were in prison because their enemies had accused them unfairly. Really, those Christians were suffering because they trusted God, and for no other reason.
There is a popular Christian song called ‘Bind us together, Lord.’ It is a prayer that the Lord (God) will join Christians by means of love. To ‘bind’ means to attach people or things together. In prison, the guards would bind chains to the prisoners’ feet so that they could not escape. In Acts 12:6, the guards attached Peter to two soldiers in this manner. But more usually, they attached a prisoner to other prisoners.
The author of Hebrews uses that idea as a word-picture. There is a link between the Christians who are in prison and the other Christians. A person would look after his relatives if they were in prison. Christians are sons and daughters of God, so they should behave like brothers and sisters. It is as if a chain joins the free Christians to those in prison.
During our lives on earth, we all sometimes suffer. That is just part of the nature of the human body. So we should help Christians who suffer because of their relationship with Christ. Our lives are like theirs. And their enemies may, in the future, be cruel to us, too.
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© 2013, Keith Simons.