Bible Book Studies: Hebrews 13 (The Final Chapter!)

When I set out writing the posts for this bible study of Hebrews (back in January) I did not intend to take quite this long. It has been longer between posts than I had planned, but it couldn’t be helped. Perhaps my next study will be a little more efficient!

I have contended throughout this study that the author (in my opinion, though far from certain) is Paul, and that the intended primary audience are “seeking” Jews who are open to the idea that Jesus is the promised Messiah. However, there was a definite shift in Chapter 10 (discussed in this blog earlier) to obviously addressing those who are now believers in Jesus. Now, Chapter 13 is a concluding passage of exhortation and encouragement for those believers.

1 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?” 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

The beginning of this section is an exhortation to right and clean Christian living. The author starts with brotherly love. The apostle John records in his gospel these words of Jesus (John 13:33-34): “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” A key identifier of Christ living in the heart of the believer is the evident love that believer will have for other believers. John also wrote in one of his letters (1 John 3:11-18): “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that awe have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” The way in which we deal with each other as fellow believers should be apparent to non-believers and should distinguish us from the way non-believers would act.

Verse 2 continues this thought, but extends it now to non-believers (strangers). The emphasis here is on hospitality. An online dictionary defines it as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. Synonyms include friendliness, hospitableness, welcome, warm reception, helpfulness, neighborliness, warmth, warm-heartedness, kindness, kind-heartedness, congeniality, geniality, sociability, conviviality, cordiality, amicability, amenability, generosity, liberality, bountifulness, open-handedness.

Verse 3 returns to our ministry to fellow believers, but focuses particularly on those who are being persecuted for their faith or undergoing other hardships. It uses the same imagery of being one as the body of Christ that Paul frequently used in his letters. Specifically in 1 Corinthians 12:26, Paul states, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” We are to bear one another’s burdens and help each other through difficult times, and celebrate each other’s successes.

Marriage is to be honored by all, according to verse 4, along with keeping the marriage bed undefiled. The New Testament consistently teaches that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, and is supposed to present a metaphor or picture of the relationship between Jesus and His church. It is very important that Christians maintain a high view of marriage and work to keep it right and pure according to biblical standards.

In verse 5, the author says to “keep your life free from the love of money” and then goes on to define that as continual trust in God’s provision and care, quoting Joshua 1:5, Psalm 118:6, and Psalm 56:11 for support. Finally, the author encourages readers to “remember your leaders”, referring to those responsible for introducing them to and nurturing them in their growing knowledge of Jesus and Christianity.

Next, the author turns to a reminder of the old covenant sacrificial practices and contrasts that with the new covenant.

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

These verses are essentially an argument against the Judaizers of the day. These were Jewish “believers” who would try to convince other Jewish Christians that Christ was only a part of the new covenant. The sacrificial system and requirements of the old covenant were, in their opinion, still in effect. Paul strongly argued against this view in Galatians –  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-8) I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. (Galatians 5:10)

16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. 18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Returning to his encouragement toward right Christian living, the author now reminds the reader that the sacrifices God desires is for our hearts to be led by him in doing things that please him. Hosea 6:6 says “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” He also returns, in verse 17, to the admonishment to “remember your leaders” that he made in verse 7. We are to remember, obey and submit to our leaders. The word “leaders” here is specifically referring to those who are our spiritual leaders. The author also requests prayer that he would be restored to them sooner. This indicates the author’s plan and desire to visit the recipients of this letter.

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. 22 I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.

In conclusion, the author simply reminds the readers of the crucial facts about Jesus – that he is risen from the dead, he is head of the church, and his atoning sacrifice ushered in an eternal covenant with God. Jesus is also active in shaping (equiping) us for the good works he desires from us. Timothy, who was a frequent companion of Paul’s, has apparently been in prison and has been recently released. The author plans to accompany him to visit the recipients of this letter.

Thank you for reading my thoughts and commentary on Hebrews. It is a wonderful book for laying out the case for Jesus as being the promised Messiah and High Priest. May God bless you in your own study through this and the rest of Scripture!

 

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