The Book of Hebrews was written for a Messianic Jewish community as a call to return to their first love, Jesus Christ. The book begins as a testimony to the teachings that brought them to a saving faith in their Lord and Savior. The first eleven chapters are a reminder of the revelations that brought them to faith – the teachings that revealed to them their Promised Messiah had come. For the first eleven chapters there is not one single, specific command given to this Christian community. There is no practical application of anything for eleven whole chapters. Beginning in Chapter 12, the writer takes these teachings, these truths from Divine Revelation and fleshes out practical application to their faith. The last two chapters can best be described as the climax of the epistle. First the doctrine, then comes the application to their lives and the lives of Christians until Christ returns. These last two chapters concern Christian ethics or the behavior of the believer. What does God expect out of us? What are the practical guidelines for the life of a Christian? How are we to live in the community that is Christ’s Church? How are we to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ?
The Book of Hebrews starts out as a theological treatise yet ends as a letter similar to Paul’s epistles. The first eleven chapters are an exposition of theology. The first eleven chapters are the authority that will define the application of our faith in the balance of the book. These last two chapters define the practice that is required to live out life in accord with that theology. The writer exhorts his readers to live out their life in a manner pleasing to God and to Jesus.
Paul did the same thing when he wrote the book of Romans. Romans is the most complete treatise on Christian theology. The Apostle Paul expounds the teaching of Christ in eleven chapters of doctrine; beginning in chapter 12 he tells the reader “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2
Paul continues: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:9-21
Why do both the writer of Hebrews and Paul start out their letters with doctrine and proceed to application? Why doctrine?
Essentially there can be no Christian ethics unless there is doctrine. If there is no doctrine, then there is no foundation for the ethics. The world’s situational ethics has no moral standards to evaluate life. Situational ethics tries to judge situations on the basis of man-made ideologies or movements, there is no universal law that is to be followed, just the law of love or of fairness, or of any political movement of the day. In other words, there are no standards. For Instance: A Greek word used to describe love in the Bible is “agape”. Agape is the type of love that shows concern about others, caring for them as much as one cares for oneself. Agape love is conceived as having no strings attached to it and seeking nothing in return; it is a totally unconditional love. Yet it is based on an absolute standard – it is based on God breathed Scripture. For the situational ethicist love is what he or she wants love to be at the moment.
I can’t emphasis more strongly the concept of God-breathed, inerrant Scripture. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. With defined doctrine, application to one’s Christian walk and witness is clearly defined and absolute. It is no wonder that many liberal denominations have purposely defined down the inspired aspect of the Bible. How else can they take stands that look more like the world than like Christ’s Church, the Bride of Christ.
These churches come up with doctrine that has no foundation in the Scriptures. How do they do it? Very easy, they diminish the authority and the God inspired nature of the Bible. The United Church of Christ in a pamphlet titled “The Bible and the United Church of Christ” states the following:
“We believe that the Bible is God’s own holy word passed down to us through fallible human beings. We can imagine that some of what is in the Bible was a product of a particular time and place and is not what God desires for this time and place. We tread carefully in these waters, using the tools of history and the gifts of the spirit to ask the still speaking God for a word for today.”
With this approach to God’s Word they can interpret the Bible in any fashion they desire. They can mold it, for instance, to morally support abortion rights. The United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, for instance, voted in 1970 to support a “woman’s right to choose the legal option of abortion.” In 1971, the General Synod of the UCC, the national representative body of the denomination, considered a Proposal for Action called “Freedom of Choice Concerning Abortion.” This proposal supported a woman’s right to choose abortion in the early months of pregnancy and called upon local congregations to work for the repeal of abortion laws. It passed overwhelmingly. This is possible only by ignoring the authority of Scripture.
The authority of Scripture is the bedrock of Hebrews 12 and 13. We can also ask ourselves some very pertinent questions as we approach the writer of Hebrew’s exposition on the Christian life. We need to understand Christian standards for living and what we base them on. We need to understand what are the principles of life that will make our lives a positive testimony and what we base that on. We need to understand how we are to act in the face of a world without Christ, how to bring them to Christ and how we go about that. What is it we can do to really bring glory to God? We base all of this on doctrine and the first eleven chapters of Hebrews is what the writer is basing his exhortation to Christ-like living in Chapters 12 & 13. God breathed doctrine through the agency of the Holy Spirit is what the writer is basing his exhortations to this Jewish Christian community and to all Christians until the time Christ returns. The inspired theology in the first eleven chapters is without any flaw or limitation. It is that which the writer is basing his exhortations in these last two chapters. The UCC may “tread carefully in these waters, using the tools of history and the gifts of the spirit to ask the still speaking God for a word for today” but we know that the Word of God is eternal, God breathed and complete – more than sufficient for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
In Chapter 13 the writer of Hebrews delves into the essence of the Christian’s life as they live in community within Christ’s Church.
“Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
I believe strongly this writer is addressing a struggling Church that once had a deep and abiding faith and was drawn close together by the Gospel message that had been taught to them. From the writer’s exhortations it is clear that this is not the case as he writes. In Chapter 12:22-24 he reminds them of the Glory that will be theirs if they persevere. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” This is what had been taught to them and this is how they came to a professing faith in Jesus Christ the Messiah.
There is an interval, however, between the present and when that Heavenly reward is realized. That interval is a time of struggle, a time of trial, a time of testing, a time of suffering, and I believe that the Church this letter is addressing is going through these very trying times. They are starting to question the new Covenant, maybe like Lot’s wife they are starting to look back – probably at their Jewish roots. Much of their persecution and troubles are undoubtedly being caused by the Jews. It would be so easy to turn back to Judaism and alleviate all their suffering. The writer, however tells them to persevere – “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” Hebrews 12:7-8. He is telling them to persevere through tough times, through persecution, through opposition, through social stigma. He is telling them to persevere for your reward is a Heavenly reward and not of your current condition. He tells them that your faith had been strong but is now wavering and you need to remember Christ your first love and return to that early faith.
He tells them to “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” Another translation says “Let brotherly love continue”. This Christian brotherly love is different from the love in our society today. Today societal love has become shallow and more denotes physicality. Biblical love is grounded in Christ’s sacrifice – it’s sacrificial. Total sacrifice, in our Lord’s case, and Christian love is a sacrificial love. He is telling them that all you need is Love. So, to put this in context, Christian Love is different from the love espoused by the Beatles. I think that sums it up pretty good.
John 3:16-18 says: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
The purity and the scope of Christian love is defined by the writer in this chapter. Christian love is defined in a life that is without rebuke. A life exemplified by service to those imprisoned, those who are suffering and mistreated. We are to lead an exemplary life with regard to our marriage and a life of contentment with what the Lord has provided for us.
We are to so live that when the world slanders us, the only valid slander they can make is when they slander us for doing good. If we are to be criticized for something, let us be criticized for our doing good, not for our evil. Chapter 13 tells us how to live a pure life and defines how to please God and bring Him glory in love, sex, and marriage. Now to define the Beatle’s all you need is love – that’s sex, drugs and rock and roll. There’s a distinct difference.
The writer continues to define Christian Love:
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Hebrews 13:1-3. Scriptural teaching on hospitality for the early Christian Church was very important. The Didache is a second century document, one of the earliest if not the earliest written Christian text, which is composed of some information concerning how the Christian life should be lived. And in it there is a passage to the faithful and to the churches of that time that has to do with how they should entertain people who might be visiting. And this is what it states, “And concerning the apostles and prophets, act thus according to the ordinance of the gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord.” Now, when he’s used the term “apostle,” he’s not speaking of the Twelve; but he’s speaking of anyone who is sent from one place to another. It concludes: “Let him be received in the Lord…”
The admonition to: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison….” Was also particularly important to the early Church. The prison epistles—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon—are so named because they were written by the apostle Paul during his incarceration in Rome. Two years he was imprisoned during which Epaphroditus and Onesimus visited Paul and I am sure he had many other visitors. This was to be Christian practice to those confined for their faith. This was time of much persecution and many of the early Christians were imprisoned. The persecutions also brought much suffering and the writer exhorts his listeners to remember those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Empathy, compassion, sympathy. Many Christians were placed in bonds, in prison for their faith, many suffered for their faith, many lost their livelihoods for their faith. Christian love – the love that Christ displayed for His people – that is what we are told to show – Christian love – to remember those who are mistreated as if your yourselves were suffering. The world on the other hand will say: “I’ve got troubles of my own, without getting involved in anybody elses.” That is terrible, callous, selfish indifference–the antithesis of the ethic of Christianity, which is sympathy for someone in need.
The Apostolic Constitution said this “If any Christian is condemned for Christ’s sake to the mines, by the ungodly, do not overlook him, but from the proceeds of your toil and sweat, send him something to support himself, and to reward the soldier of Christ. All money accruing from honest labor do ye appoint and apportion to the redeeming of the saints, ransoming thereby slaves and captives and prisoners, people who are sore abused, and condemned by tyrants.”
The Apostolic Confession commanded the Christians to go out and redeem slaves, buy back people from prison, spend their money for their comfort. You know it’s amazing–many people sold themselves in the early years of Christianity, sold themselves into slavery to get the money to free somebody else.
When Numidian robbers carried off their Christian friends, the Church of Carthage raised the ransom and promised more to free them. This is Christian love – this is the love of Christ.
The writer continues to exhort Christian values: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Hebrews 13:4. He is teaching this Hebrew congregation what Paul taught the Corinthians. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18. So sexual immorality is not only a sin against a Holy God, not only a sin against others, but it sin against one’s own body.
God created us male and female for a great purpose, for the means of consummating the most exciting relationship in life, a marriage in which two people become one flesh in a unity that is illustrative of the unity of the church with our Lord Jesus Christ. Every time the sexual act is committed, ideally, it should be an act in which not only is there the experience of the joy of the sexual act, but reflection upon the fact that this is illustrative of the oneness that exists between the church and Jesus Christ. So that the sexual act is a spiritual act, ideally, as well as a physical act.
Can you think of any single aspect of life that society has corrupted more than this? Can you think of any area of life that has caused more pain and suffering than this corrupted view of marriage and sex? Can you think of anything that has caused more pain and death? God in His wisdom has set aside a people for His own Glory in a fashion that is for their own betterment. I once sat through almost a year of the preaching of Leviticus. If I learned anything at all it was the Lord desired us to obey Him not only for His own glory but for our own good. Maybe society should look to the Scriptures to understand this because according to the World Health Organization 1.5 million people died of AIDS related illnesses worldwide in 2013. The report goes on to state “Expanded access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and a declining incidence of HIV infection have led to a steep fall globally in the number of adults and children dying from HIV-related causes.” I can suggest a way that will wipe out the incidents of new AIDS related illnesses entirely. In fact, the lord God devised a way of life that would have prevented these illnesses entirely, but a rebellious world just did not and will not listen. The number of sexually transmitted diseases, the number of broken marriages and families all reduced to zero except for an unbelieving world.
I quoted the Beatles now let’s hear what Hugh Hefner has to say about sex: “Sex is a function of the body–a drive which man shares with animals, like eating, drinking, and sleeping. It’s a physical demand that must be satisfied. If you don’t satisfy it, you will have all sorts of neurosis and repression psychoses. Sex is here to stay, let’s forget the prudery that makes us hide from it. Throw away those inhibitions. Find a girl who’s like‑minded and let yourself go.” Listen to God or listen to Hugh Hefner – how hard do you think that should be considering the devastation that not listening to the Lord God has brought? Yet who do you think has the most adherents in today’s society.
The results of such a philosophy are pregnancies preceding more than one‑fourth of all marriages, forcible rape in the United States every 20 minutes, hundreds and thousands of illegitimate babies. The last statistic I saw was somewhere around 30,000 illegitimate babies born to girls ages 9 to 14. Teenagers account for 40% of out‑of‑wedlock births. Teenagers!! Syphilis, gonorrhea is not only epidemic, it’s pandemic‑‑everywhere. Enough said.
Life continues and so does the writer: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6
There is so much that can be said about “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Our writer quotes a lot of Old Testament – this comes from Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” The Old Testament original language actually is better translated I will never, never leave you and never, never, never forsake you. Five times never – how emphatic!
How do we deal with this one in today’s society? Contentment – how elusive is this one. Anyone entirely content with God’s provisions? House, job, spouse, car, cell phone – total contentment anyone? I guess it is easier to understand discontent – anyone want to let God know you are not pleased with your spouse, the roof over your head, the food on your table?
Lot a ground to cover so I’ll leave each to ponder that one.
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:7-8. The leaders that are spoken of here are no longer with them. They probably are those that first spoke the Gospel message to them, that first taught them the teachings of Jesus and the twelve. They are gone but our writer tells them to remember them and their way of life and to imitate them. Remember these are those that brought them to Christ and even if they are no longer with them Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. They need to look back on that time when they answered the Gospel call and even if those teachers have passed they still have Jesus to imitate and always will. After all they were just told that Jesus will never, never, never, never, never leave them. He is telling them to remember that time when you first heard the Gospel message that salvation was of Christ – remember that time. You believed then and now you falter – you are looking back at your old faith instead of the promised salvation and everlasting life through your acceptance of Christ as your Lord and Savior.
“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” He is obviously addressing them not to return to Judaism. Since the earliest times of the Church God has had to warn His people to not be carried away by strange teachings. The Jerusalem Council of 50 AD addressed this very idea of blending Judaism with Christianity – the Old Covenant with the New. If we look at the seven Churches of Revelation all but one did not get a good review. Jesus, in Revelation, has His problems with the Church at Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” He approves of the Church at Smyrna and tells them: “ Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” To Pergamum: “I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” To Thyatira he warns them: “I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” He has nothing good to say about Sardis yet is very positive about Philadelphia and Laodicea he calls lukewarm. These admonitions are not to these local Churches alone they are warnings to all Christian Churches.
Before the end of the first century the Lord gave warnings and corrections to these seven Churches. By 1517 and the Reformation much of Christendom had fallen into apostasy. Heretical teachings were rooted out early in the Church. Adoptionism, Apollinarianism, Arianism, Docetism, Luciferians, Monarchianism, Gnosticism. Manichaeism, Antinominianism, Donatism all plagued the early Church. We have a jealous God who is jealous of His Word and the well being of His Church. In 2 Peter 2:1-3 it is written: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” But back to our Hebrew brethren.
“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.”
These Christians are obviously looking back at the Judaic roots. The writer references ceremonial foods and the tabernacle altar. He goes on to write:
“The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”
The whole principle of attaching religious value to what is eaten was against the essence of Christianity. The sacrifice of Christ was the antitype of the sacrifice offered on the great day of Atonement, and the flesh of animals slaughtered at that time was not eaten and since this sin offering was carried into the Holy of Holies it was disposed of outside the camp or outside the city and completely burned. The writer tells his readers that Jesus also was sacrificed outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore and that that sacrifice was much the greater. He reminds his readers that we as Christians have an altar from which to eat that they who minister at the tabernacle have no right to each. Those that have rejected the promised Messiah have no right to that Altar. They have no right to the sacrifice for sins accomplished by Jesus Christ. They have no right to or place in the city that is to come. Without Jesus there is no salvation for these people. So therefore we are, like our Lord, to be outside the city. We are to be outside the camp “bearing his reproach and he had borne His cross. Outside the camp or city was where Judaism did not dwell.
There was a time when Israel was so disobedient that Moses departed from the camp and erected a place of worship outside the camp to signify that God was no longer in harmony with those within the camp. These former Jews knew what the writer meant, what all this signified. God wants us separated unto Himself.
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
So we do have sacrifices. What are they? The writer mentions sacrifices that are pleasing to God. The Jew thought perhaps in the New Covenant sacrifice would be over. Well physical sacrifice was, but there were still some sacrifices to be made. Verse fifteen, the sacrifice of praise from our lips, verse sixteen, the sacrifice of a holy pure life and sharing with other people. And with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”
The leaders here are not the same as those referred to in verse 7. These were the leaders who were serving as this letter reached those in the community. The writer apparently had a high regard for these leaders.
The Lord wants not only separation unto Him, not only sacrifices made to Him, but he wants submission to Him. To this end the writer exhorts his readers: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.” In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, through divine inspiration, the guidelines were established and the provision made for Church leadership. The apostle Paul defines these men as elders, bishops or presbyters. These men were ordered through the Holy Spirit to have the rule of the church. They do not rule for themselves, they rule as under shepherds of Christ’s Flock, the Church. They are called under shepherds, and that’s really what the Elders of this Church in Hebrews are, they are under shepherds. So when in verse seventeen it says obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves, the submission here is not really to men but it is to God, as He rules, mediating His rule through these Spirit-controlled men. So there was in that assembly, as in all early local churches gifted men, chosen by the Lord, granted to the church to rule.
They were to “shepherd the flock of God … exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to [their] charge but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). Pastors and elders are under shepherds, who serve under the “Chief Shepherd” (v. 4). Just as church leaders are to rule in love and humility, those under their leadership are to submit in love and humility. “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
Remember: “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings.” God’s Word is as applicable to a Christian’s life today as it was the day He inspired it. Eleven chapters set the standards of Christian life and obedience and two told us how to apply it to our lives. We know that “We can imagine that some of what is in the Bible was a product of a particular time and place and is not what God desires for this time and place,” is exactly what the writer of Hebrews was warning against when he wrote “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings.”