“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3 NIV).
This single verse packs a lot into a short space – the many people we should remember, the extent of our identification with them, and the extent of our responsibility toward them.
It is easy to think of this scripture as applying only to those held in physical chains in prisons or dungeons, but it refers literally to all who are “bound” and this includes prisoners who are so bound, as well as all who are held against their will in slavery and forced labor or simply detained, held in custody or imprisoned for their faith. In fact, the meaning extends to all who are mistreated, though again, the focus is on those suffering for their beliefs rather than those being punished for wrongdoing.
Our identification with these people is to be complete. The Greek is literally “Be reminded of the bound ones as being bound together [with them]” and encourages us to think about the actual circumstances of those for whom we pray – the conditions they suffer, the effects on their health, welfare, and families, as well as the depression and loss of hope such situations can produce.
The extent of our responsibility to these people is also stressed in various ways. The meaning is that we are to continue to remember them, rather than only occasionally, and remembering means not just “thinking about” but primarily praying for and also, by extension, doing acts of kindness to help those who are bound in some way.
This verse asks questions of all of us: How few or how many of those who are “bound” are we remembering, how deeply are we thinking about them, and what are we doing in our own lives to ease the suffering of those in “chains”?