THIS WEEK'S LESSON

LET BROTHERLY LOVE CONTINUE

 

Hebrews 13 presents the apostle’s concluding admonition, “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1).  He has affirmed throughout the epistle that we are of the household of the King – High Priest, Jesus, His brothers and sisters.  The author does not conceive of the audience as only a group of individuals who work on their salvation in a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, but as a family, or household, saved together.  Paul has characterized the work of Jesus for us as “brotherly love.”  He was not “ashamed to call hem brothers” (Hebrews 2:11).  Thus, believers should do for one another what Jesus did for them.

Throughout the letter, brotherly love involved “exhorting one another” so that no one would fall short of the grace of God.  In chapter 13, it involves numerous elements: hospitality, visiting and supporting prisoners and those who have been mistreated, honoring marriage, avoiding covetousness, remembering and obeying the leaders of the church, and praying for the author himself.

Caring for God’s People -Christianity was a wandering movement that often depended on the hospitality of both Christians and non-Christians.  The instruction to “not forget” to show hospitality probably does not simply refer to the failure to think about taking someone in but about willful neglect.

Paul does not have in mind hospitality only for fellow believers.  He reminds his readers that by entertaining strangers some have unwittingly entertained angels.  He probably had in mind the visit of the three men to Abraham and Sarah.  Offering hospitality implies sharing possessions with other people and suffering with them, which is what Jesus did for us.

Brotherly love toward those in prison implied not only that believers remembered prisoners in their prayers but also that believers provided relief through material and emotional support.  Here was a risk of willful neglect for prisoners.  Those who provided material and emotional support to those condemned by society identified themselves with them. In some sense, the became “partners” with them and mad themselves vulnerable to social abuse.

Paul’s exhortation uses images and language to encourage the readers in regard to prisoners.  First, the author evokes the readers’ own support for their incarcerated brethren in the past.  They had become “companions” or “partners” to those who had been “publicly exposed to reproach and affliction.”  Second, the language of “mistreatment” echoes the example of Moses, who chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).  Finally, Paul captures the ideal of brotherly love.  He reminds the readers that they “also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).  They share the same human condition and should treat others as they would like to be treated if hey were in the same circumstances; that is, in prison.  The people should, then, provide material and emotional support to prisoners, showing them that they are not abandoned.

Covetousness and Sexual Immorality – Paul warns the readers against sexual immorality and greed because hey are two grave threats to brotherly love.  In fact, New Testament authors and ancient moralists noted a connection between them.

Paul’s call to honor marriage implied the avoidance of anything that would belittle it.  This avoidance included abstaining both from violation of the marriage oath and from unwarranted divorces.  The exhortation to keep the marriage bed undefiled refers to avoiding the profanation of marriage through sexual relationships outside of marriage.  The expression “fornicators” in the New Testament refers to every form of sexual immorality.  In addition, Greco-Roman society was lax in regard to sexual ethics.  A double standard was common; this allowed men license in their sexual relationships as long as they were discreet.  Paul warns, however, that God will judge adulterers. Believers should not let social conventions establish their own ethical standards.

“Love of money” was one of the main categories of vices in the Greco-Roman world.  In fact, in another letter, Paul referred to “love of money” as the source of all evils.

The defense against this vice is an attitude that Paul encourages in several epistles.  First, they should “be content” with the things they had.  Furthermore, Christians should believe and embrace God’s promise that He would “never leave nor forsake” them.  This promise was given in several places and moments to His people and is available to us today.  Believers, then, are invited to respond to God’s promise with the words of Psalm 118:6, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?”  This reference to Psalm 118 is appropriate because the psalmist expressed there his confidence in God, despite the suffering inflicted upon him by unbelievers.

Remember Your Leaders- Hebrews 3-17 contains an exhortation to respect and obey the leaders of the congregation.  It begins with an invitation to “remember” those leaders of the past who spoke the Word of God to them, and it closes with a call to “obey” the leaders in the present. The leaders of the past are most likely those who first preached the Word and founded the congregation.  The call to “remember” them does not simply refer to a mental exercise of recollection or to an external tribute honoring them.  Paul explains that they are to “remember” them by considering the outcome of their conduct and by imitating their faith.

For Paul, the greatest act of remembrance and praise is emulation.  In this way, Paul has added the founding leaders of the congregation to the list of faithful heroes whom believers should carefully consider.  This list includes the heroes of faith of Hebrews 11, and Jesus, the consummate Example of faith in Hebrews 12.  The author further notes that Jesus is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  He stands in stark contrast to false teachers who change with time and whose teachings become “various” and “strange” (Hebrews 13:9).

The call to remember the leaders in Hebrews 13:7 is restated in more forceful terms at the end of the section.  Believers are exhorted to obey he leaders, because they watch out for their souls.  The leaders are described here as pastors who are in charge of the spiritual well-being of the congregation, their flock, and who will give an account to God for their spiritual state.  Certainly, too, the idea should apply to all our church leaders, as well as at all levels of the denomination today.

The context also suggests that these leaders are undershepherds who serve under Jesus, “the great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20).  The combination of care and faithfulness from the leaders and obedience or trust from the members will result in joy.  This may mean that the leaders will be able to serve the congregation with “joy,” or that they will give an account of the congregation to God with joy and not with grief.

Beware of Diverse and Strange Teachings – The relationship between false teachings and foods, touched on in Hebrews 13:9, probably does not refer to the distinction between clean and unclean foods.

Why?

First, Paul does not seem concerned in the epistle with the distinction between clean and unclean foods.  We know from Acts 15 that the early Christian church affirmed both that believers are saved by grace and that they should continue to observe some food regulations.  The distinction between clean and unclean foods and other biblical regulations are not opposed to grace.  In fact, Paul argues that the new covenant has put the law in the heart. What the author makes very clear, however, is that animal sacrifices and the Levitical priestly mediation in he sanctuary have been superseded by the superior sacrifice and priestly mediation of Jesus.

Second, the context suggests that Paul is criticizing he audience not for abstaining from certain foods but for partaking of them with the hope of somehow obtaining grace or merit.  He is probably warning against participating in Jewish ritual or cultic meals that were celebrated as an extension of he animal sacrifices in the temple and which were supposed to provide spiritual benefits, or grace.  But grace is not mediated through these meals; grace comes only through the sacrifice and priestly mediation of Jesus Christ.  Believers “have an altar,” the cross of Christ, from which they can eat.

In Hebrews, “grace” comes form the throne of God.  This grace, mediated through Christ, is an “anchor,” “sure and steadfast,” that is fastened to God’s throne itself.  It is this grace, which we receive through the sacrifice of Christ, that provides stability and assurance in our hearts.  When the heart has been “established” in this way, it will not be “carried about” by new doctrines, nor will it “drift away” from God (Hebrews 2:1).

Go to Jesus Outside the Camp – Read Hebrews 13:10-14, Mark 8:34, Matthew 10:38, Luke 14:27, and Galatians 2:20.  What does it mean to go to Jesus outside the camp?

The place outside the gate was the most impure of the whole camp.  The carcasses of the sacrificial animals were burned there.  Lepers were also excluded from the camp, and blasphemers and other criminals were executed there.  These regulations presupposed that the presence of God was within the camp.  Anything that was impure was cast outside because God was unwilling to see any “unclean” or “indecent” thin in it.

Jesus suffered on the cross outside of Jerusalem.  This emphasizes the shame hat was cast upon Him.  He was officially condemned as one who had “blasphemed the name” and, therefore, was repudiated by Israel and executed outside the wall.  Jesus was cast outside the camp as a “shameful,” “unclean,” or “indecent” thing.  Paul, however, exhorts believers to follow Jesus outside the gate, enduing the shame that He endured.  This was also he path Moses followed, who chose to bear “the reproach of Christ” instead of the treasures of Egypt.

Paradoxically, however, Hebrews suggests that God’s presence is now outside the camp.  The action of following Jesus outside the camp means not only “bearing His reproach,” or shame, but also “going forth to Him” just as those Israelites who “sought the Lord” went outside the camp after the golden-calf controversy.  This account suggests that the rejection of Jesus by unbelievers also implied the rejection of God as Israel did in the golden-calf apostasy.  Thus, the path of suffering and shame is also the path to God.

Paul invites readers to follow Jesus as “the author and finisher” of their faith, implicitly inviting them also to consider their present sufferings a momentary discipline that will yield “he peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).  They are leaving behind a corrupted city, or camp, in search of “the city that is to come,” whose architect is God.

QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT

What more can we do for those in prison, whether church members or not?

What are the ways that contemporary society undermines sexual purity and, at the same time, feeds the human love of money?  What practical ways can we use to strengthen our defenses against these two dangerous vices?

Why is the idea of anything we do “adding” to Christ’s sacrifice contrary to the gospel and the grace found in Christ Jesus?

Christian life is often considered to be a personal, individual relationship between Jesus and the believer.  This is, however, only one aspect of Christian life.  Why is it important to remember that God is leading us as a group? 

If church leadership has been abused under certain circumstances, or in parts of the world in which political regimes make church governance difficult, how can we find the harmony between leaders and members that Hebrews talks about?

Why is there so much aversion to authority in some cultures?

Should leadership be followed only if a person agrees with he leader?  Why or why not?

What criteria does Paul give us in Hebrews 13 for following leaders?