After showing how the Lord Jesus glorified His church through His ministry, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, the author goes on to encourage his readers to respond in kind by glorifying Jesus as His church. He tells them that they can do this by living holy lives and remaining faithful to Him, despite the many trials they face as Christians.
This holy lifestyle would be evident if they:
- Encouraged those among them who were weak spiritually to remain faithful.
- Avoided conflict, immorality and unseemly behavior that could cause a fellow Christian to lose faith.
- Were grateful for their secure position as those who would survive the destruction of the world at the return of Jesus.
The author ends his letter with the reminder that God always punished those who disobeyed Him, so they should be careful to heed this warning. The final verses list additional features that are found in a church that is holy.
Love the Brethren
1 Let love of the brethren continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.
This is not an appeal to begin loving one another but an encouragement that love should continue to be a common feature of their lifestyle. The Greek term (xenos philios) translated into the English word hospitality literally meant, "The love of strangers." In the first century Christian preachers and teachers travelled extensively spreading the gospel and teaching God's Word to congregations spread throughout the Roman Empire. Hosting these individuals was a very important part of the overall ministry of evangelism.
Aside from the assistance it provided to those who were planting and helping churches to grow at that time, the writer says that hospitality also afforded unforeseen benefits to those who provided it. His reference to "angels" is from Genesis 18:2 where Abraham unknowingly offered hospitality to the Lord Himself as he welcomed three strangers to his tent.
Hospitality is not simply having someone into your home, it is kindness to others who are not necessarily known to you. The author gives the example of prisoners (probably Christians who have been imprisoned for their faith). He says that his readers may not know these people and others who may also be suffering in some way, but as fellow Christians, can relate to them and perhaps even minister to them since they too are part of the body of Christ.
4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
This is a general exhortation to marital fidelity. God honors the intimacy enjoyed within marriage but will punish those who violate this and His other commands regarding proper sexual conduct.
5 Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," 6so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID, WHAT SHALL MAN DO TO ME?" 7Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
Here the writer establishes the goal and attitude for Christians regarding wealth. He says that they should be free from the love of money, not from wealth itself, because the love of money leads one to judge most matters based on personal profit and the acquiring of things. People like this are always afraid that they will not have enough and if they don't acquire, they will be destitute. The author encourages them to seek contentment or satisfaction (filled up, unafraid) with what they already have whether great or small.
Satisfaction is not based on what we manage to acquire but on the assurance that God gives to His people. The promise is that He will never abandon His own and will always be there to help and defend His people. The writer says that their confidence should be based on God's promise to care for them, not on their ability to acquire money.
Warning Against Strange Doctrines - Hebrews 13:7-16
A holy church will faithfully keep the teachings of Christ. In this section he exhorts them to heed those who taught them in the past, next he refers to the various doctrinal issues they face at the moment, then he tells them to pay attention to their current teachers.
1. Remember those who brought you to faith.
7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
They need to remember their original teachers and the teachings that brought them to Christ in the first place. These people were obviously gone now, but this church was encouraged to imitate their faithful lifestyle in order to finish as faithful disciples of Christ just as their teachers did before them.
2. Consider their teaching versus the false doctrine which is swirling around you now.
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
He establishes that the first thing they were taught, the glory and supremacy of Christ, is as true now as it was then, and will always be true. Circumstances change, doctrines come and go, but Jesus always remains.
The author has reviewed how Jesus and His ministry were superior to every aspect of the Jewish religion. Now he makes one final argument showing how the Christian worship of God, offered by the disciples of Jesus, was superior to that offered by those people still trying to worship God through Judaism. One criticism of Christian worship by these people was that there was no sacrifice or no way for the individual to participate in the offering of something tangible to God. The author argues that Christians do have a sacrifice and a worship very much acceptable to God.
9a Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings;
He begins with a general warning not to be swept away by false teaching, and refers to the many incorrect teachings that centered on food. Some doctrines restricted certain foods, others held up consumption of food as worship. The general idea was that either the abstinence from or indulgence in food made you more or less acceptable to God. The author reminds them that food's purpose was to strengthen the body, not the heart (soul) of man. To strengthen the soul, one needed the grace of God, not food laws (Romans 14:17; I Corinthians 8:8).
9b for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefited.
This verse is a bridge idea leading to his main thought. There were many who were overly concerned about food issues and it did not benefit them. He refers to the ones to whom food was very important, the Jews. The specific food he targets is the meat of the sacrifice offered and eaten by the priests. The Jews were saying that because Christian worship had no animal (meat) sacrifices, their worship had no real substance.
10 We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.
In response to this the author claims that Christians do have an altar/sacrifice (uses the word "altar" to represent the entire process of sacrificial offerings in Jewish worship). He explains further that Christians share a sacrifice that the Jewish priests have no right to share in! It is interesting to note that he refers to them as the servants of the tent (tabernacle) and not the servants of God since God is no longer in the earthly temple. His conclusion is that at this point the Jewish priests are only serving the building, not God
11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp.
This is a reference to the practice of the high priests who, on the Day of Atonement, would not eat any part of the sacrifice but would take it outside of the camp and totally destroy it by fire (it was to be wholly offered to God in this way). The ashes of the sacrifice would then be mixed with water and used in purification rites. The significance of having the animal completely destroyed and removed from the camp was that the sins which they bore were also removed from the camp as well.
12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.
Here, he parallels Jesus' sacrifice to this practice by saying that this ritual in the Old Testament typified the cross of Christ. He also suffered and died outside the camp/city (Calvary was outside the city of Jerusalem) and His blood/sacrifice also purified the people from sin.
13 Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
He continues to explain that just as the people went to the priests to be purified by the ashes of the sacrifice of atonement, they now should go to Jesus for purification. He is our sacrifice/altar and, because of their disbelief, He is the sacrifice that the priests had no right to share in. However, going to Jesus for purification meant two things:
- A person had to go outside of the camp - away from Judaism.
- A person had to be ready to bear the reproach for being counted with Jesus.
Going to Jesus, outside of the camp/city, might bring one a reproach, but the camp and sacrifice that the Jews were clinging to were not going to last anyways. Leaving the old city was the only way to find the new and eternal city of God.
15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Our author finishes by encouraging them to continue worshipping God with a worship that was indeed valid, not the empty ritual of Judaism but the very real exercise of Christian worship. This included praise to God with gratitude, the doing of good works and loving encouragement for all. These things, done in the name of Christ, was true worship and superior to what the Jews were involved in at the time when this letter was written.
Obey present leaders
17Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
He has encouraged them to remember former teachers, exposed the fallacy of some of the false teachings they faced, and now charges them to obey present leaders and teachers. The leaders they now had obviously maintained the same attitude and teachings that their original leaders had promoted. These were faithful men and he exhorts the church to obey them (follow their instructions) and submit to them (acknowledge their leadership).
He also tells them why this should be their attitude. A church leader's responsibility is to watch over souls. This task should not be made more difficult than it already is by a disobedient (to the Word) and rebellious (to the leadership) church. This type of response would not profit them because it would not promote church growth and would also bring the Lord's punishment on the guilty parties.
Closing Remarks - Hebrews 13:18-25
Letters in the Hellenistic (Greek) period followed a set pattern at the beginning and end. The final words of the author of Hebrews follow this style of writing:
- Final remarks
- Greetings from the author
The author asks them to pray for him and he, in turn, offers a prayer for his readers.
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorable in all things. 19And I urge you all the more to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.
He asks that they pray that he be restored to them soon. His conscience is clear and he is sure that what he has written is correct. What he wants now is to be with them again in person.
Prayer on their behalf
20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
He prays that God will equip them with everything necessary to do His will (faith, knowledge, courage), and he is assured that they know that God's will is that through the spreading of the gospel, Jesus Christ and His church will be glorified.
2. Final remarks
22 But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I shall see you.
The writer now makes the only two personal remarks contained in this letter. First, he refers to his letter as an exhortation and hopes they will receive it kindly, even though there are some pointed references in it. Secondly, he speaks of Timothy, the evangelist, and the hope he has of being reunited with him and them soon. He also refers to Timothy's imprisonment which is the only time this is mentioned in the New Testament.
24 Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. 25Grace be with you all.
He greets two separate groups: the leaders (elders and teachers) and the saints (others in the church). He also mentions other brothers in Italy and completes the letter with a typical Christian ending that confers a blessing on his readers.
This final section can be summarized by asking and answering one question:
How does a faithful and holy church glorify its Lord?
- It encourages weak brethren to carry on faithfully.
- It avoids conflict, immorality and bad examples.
- It demonstrates love and hospitality among the brethren.
- It practices sexual purity.
- It relies on God, not money for security.
- It does not follow strange teachings and teachers, but submits to its leaders who themselves submit to Christ and His Word.
- It continually offers to God acceptable worship through prayers of thanksgiving and good works in Jesus' name.
I direct you to verse 8 in this last chapter as a final word of encouragement now that our study of this epistle is complete:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
The author of Hebrews encouraged these brethren of long ago to be faithful to Jesus until the end.
In the same way, through my own teaching of this epistle, I also encourage you to remain faithful to the glorious Jesus because He was faithful to them yesterday, is faithful to us today and will be faithful forevermore. Praise be to His name!