Hebrews chapter thirteen presents us with several practical exhortations to Godly living. Those exhortations are delivered in a rapid-fire manner over the first seventeen verses of this chapter before closing with a benediction and a few personal comments. The following commentary offers a brief overview of Hebrews 13 that will help prepare us to enter the final section of this great Biblical book…
“This final chapter is a composite of admonitions which covers a wide range of topics. The author has finished the main thrust of the epistle. In chapter 13 he focuses upon the particular needs and problems of those to whom he is writing. These admonitions cluster around the basic topics of love, leadership, and last words” (1).
So, the last chapter of Hebrews opens with a word of encouragement in verse one: “Let brotherly love continue.” This familiar reference to brotherly love is expressed by the word philadelphia in the original language of this verse. Several other Biblical passages render this word in a similar manner, including Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:9 and 1 Peter 3:8.
“Philadelphia” is subsequently derived from the ancient Greek word phileo. “Phileo” is a word that conveys several related meanings, including…
- To approve of.
- To like.
- To treat affectionately or kindly.
- To welcome or befriend. (2)
Phileo describes the kind of love that is found among those who share common interests. For instance, this type of love reflects the affection, acceptance, fondness, and camaraderie that exists among a close group of friends who gather for a time of social interaction. Other words that help define this idea include fraternity, community, and brotherhood, among others.
These definitions take on added significance when we consider the following insight from the Biblical epistle of 1 John…
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
Finally, we can look to the attributes of love that are recorded for us in the Biblical epistle of 1 Corinthians for guidance in putting this exhortation into practice…
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV).
(1) Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, eds., KJV Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 2580.
(2) G5368 phileo Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g5368
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 13:1 NIV).
In addition to the characteristics of love that are given to us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, the Scriptures also provide us with several other elements that should guide our understanding of Hebrews 13:1. For instance…
“Be humble and gentle in every way. Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other. Through the peace that ties you together, do your best to maintain the unity that the Spirit gives” (Ephesians 4:2-3 GW).
“Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 Phillips).
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9 NIV).
Together with these Scriptural precepts, we can also say that love is a quality that seeks another person’s highest good from a Biblical perspective. Taken together, these insights can help us put this directive from Hebrews 13:1 into practice.
These distinctions are important, for some expressions of “love” may be driven by physical attraction, emotional need, or a desire for self-gratification. Nevertheless, we can express genuine love whenever we “…give preference to one another in honor” (NASB) as we’re told in Romans 12:10.
Jesus was also quoted as saying, “…the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 TLB). While external displays of affection may signal the presence of love, the reality may be far different. Instead, we will find a far more reliable indicator of authentic love in the actions we choose to take on behalf of others. The following commentators encourage us to adopt a mature definition of love that goes beyond the mere external…
“We may not like all the brethren, but there is something in each of them that Christ loves. Let us try to discover it, or love them for His sake. We can love people with our mind and think for them, or with our strength and serve them, even though the heart is somewhat reluctant.” (1)
“You must have fervent charity towards the saints, but you will find very much about the best of them which will try your patience; for, like yourself, they are imperfect, and they will not always turn their best side towards you, but sometimes sadly exhibit their infirmities. Be prepared, therefore, to contend with ‘all things’ in them.” (2)
(1) Meyer, Frederick Brotherton. “Commentary on Hebrews 13”. “F. B. Meyer’s ‘Through the Bible’ Commentary”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbm/hebrews-13.html. 1914.
(2) Charles. H. Spurgeon, Love’s Labours (1881) https://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons27.iv_1.html
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2).
Earlier in verse one, the author of Hebrews instructed his audience to “Let brotherly love continue.” He will now move forward with a few strategies to implement that directive beginning in the following verse: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…” (ESV).
While some may associate this reference to “entertaining strangers” with the modern-day hospitality industry, such amenities were unavailable to the original audience for this epistle. In fact, there were few good options for overnight accommodations during that era, for the “inns” of that time were not like the professionally managed lodging places of today.
You see, the inns of the first century were often undesirable places to stay. One source tells us, “Well-to-do Romans avoided inns if possible, and either set up their own tents or stayed with friends. Roman writers… uniformly criticized inns for their adulterated wine, filthy sleeping quarters, extortionate innkeepers, gamblers, thieves, and prostitutes.” (1) In addition, road conditions were typically poor during that time and travelers were often faced with the dangers posed by thieves and predatory animals.
Because of this, local hospitality was something that was very important from a cultural standpoint. Since many first-century Christians had been deprived of their homes and livelihoods through persecution, hospitality involved more than simply entertaining guests at a social function. Therefore, traveling ministers and Christians who were fleeing oppression often had to rely on help from other Godly men and women who lived where they stopped for the night.
However, hospitality could also be abused. The Old Testament book of Proverbs touches upon this subject in a straightforward manner: “Don’t set foot too frequently in your neighbor’s house, lest he become weary of you and hate you” (Proverbs 25:17 ESV). First-century audiences also received some common-sense instruction on this subject from an early document known as the Didache. That commentary was written to provide the ancient church with ethical direction concerning various aspects of the Christian life. A portion of that work applies to our discussion of this passage…
“Let every apostle, when he cometh to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet. And when he departeth let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he findeth shelter; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.” (2)
(1) Edwin M. Yamauchi, On the Road with Paul, Christian History magazine, Issue 47 “Paul and His Times.”
(2) See Didache 11.4-6
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).
The act of extending hospitality to strangers offers another potential benefit that goes beyond simple courtesy: “…by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it” (CEB). One Biblical example involves Abraham, the Old Testament patriarch. Abraham once entertained three men (who turned out to be God, accompanied by two angelic beings) when they unexpectedly arrived at his place of residence (see Genesis 18:1-33).
Later on, those same two angelic beings appeared to Abraham’s nephew Lot. Since Lot resided in the infamous town of Sodom, he pressed his visitors to remain within his home rather than face the dangerous prospect of an overnight stay in the town square. That approach was commendable but not successful, and Lot soon learned that his angelic guests were considerably more than they appeared.
One author provides some additional insight concerning this passage and its reference to angels…
“Though angels are normally invisible, they can nevertheless appear as men (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:26; John 20:12). Their resemblance to men can be so realistic, in fact, that they are actually taken to be human beings (Hebrews 13:2). Recall from the Old Testament that Abraham welcomed three ‘men’ in the plains of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8). These ‘men’ walked, talked, sat down, and ate -just like normal men- but they were not men; they were angels (see Genesis 18:22; 19:1).
Now, we have no scriptural evidence that angels need food for sustenance. But apparently they can appear as men and eat like men during the course of fulfilling their assigned task in the realm of humanity. Thus, it is altogether possible that a particular person who helped you during a time of need in your past was actually an angel who appeared as a human. There is no reason to suggest that such appearances cannot occur today just as they did in biblical times.” (1)
Nevertheless, we should guard against the tendency to view every stranger as a potential angel in disguise. One source encourages us to take a reasoned view of this passage that allows for a natural interpretation: “He is not necessarily encouraging his readers to expect that those whom they entertain will turn out to be supernatural beings travelling incognito; he is assuring them that some of their visitors will prove to be true messengers of God to them, bringing a greater blessing than they receive.” (2)
(1) Rhodes, Ron, Angels Among Us Copyright © 1994 by Harvest House Publishers [pp. 79-80]
(2) The New International Commentary On The New Testament – The Epistle To The Hebrews, F. F. Bruce, General Editor © Copyright 1964, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan [pg. 391]
“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them–those who are mistreated–since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3).
As mentioned earlier in our study of Hebrews chapter ten, the penitentiaries of the New Testament era were not like the prisons that exist in many modern-day societies. A prison of that time did not typically serve as a place of criminal incarceration. Instead, prisons were generally used to confine the accused before they were executed or put on trial.
These penal institutions were usually cold, damp, and dirty. There were no windows, beds, toilets, showers, or meals offered there. The only amenities given to a prisoner were those that were brought by others who came to visit- if there were any. This meant that prisoners who had no external means of support often faced the prospect of death unless someone provided for their needs.
The observations made by the following source regarding these conditions are worth repeating…
“Prisoners who had no means of their own were liable to starve unless their friends brought them food and whatever other form of help they required; throughout the whole age of imperial persecution of the Church the visiting of their friends who were in prison was a regular, though dangerous, duty of Christian charity.” (1)
Given the worsening political climate that existed for Christians of that era, it was dangerous to be recognized as a known associate of a prisoner. Therefore, these Hebrew Christians took a substantial risk in visiting those who had been incarcerated. Nevertheless, if we can imagine the prospect of sitting alone in a cold, damp prison cell for an extended period, we can appreciate this exhortation.
Finally, one author encourages us to consider this passage in a broader sense…
“The second example of brotherly love is to visit those in prison. Prison is an ugly place today; it was far uglier then. We naturally try not to think about prisoners. It takes discipline to visit saints who are in prison. When the faithful Ethiopian Ebed-Melech visited Jeremiah in prison, he had to go to a pit. Ebed-Melech interceded for Jeremiah, and the prophet was rescued before he expired (Jeremiah 37–38).
Faithful believers in prison need our prayers, but they also need the encouragement of visits. We have other ‘prisons’ today. Convalescent homes and hospitals are two examples. To some extent such institutions are necessary. But how easy it is for us to forget the people who are there. Often they feel imprisoned. The author of Hebrews enjoins us to visit them. It is our chance to play the role of ‘angels’ for other people.” (2)
(1) The New International Commentary On The New Testament – The Epistle To The Hebrews, F. F. Bruce, General Editor © Copyright 1964, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan [pg. 270]
(2) Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Ligonier Ministries.
“Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).
In considering our text from Hebrews 13:4, it’s important to note what this passage says, as well as what it doesn’t say. Let’s take the phrase “Marriage is honorable among all…” This tells us that marriage is a reputable institution and should be held in esteem by everyone. In fact, marriage is the oldest human institution, having its origin in the Garden of Eden.
It was there that, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone…’” (Genesis 2:18 NIV). Genesis 2:22 then goes on to tell us how God addressed that deficiency: “…the LORD God made a woman… and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22 NIV). Therefore, we can say that the institution of marriage is not a human construct. Instead, marriage is something that was initiated and ordained by God for the benefit of His creation.
That benefit is identified in Genesis 2:24: “…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (NIV). Jesus reaffirmed that message in the following teaching from the Gospel of Mark…
“…at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” (Mark 10:6-9 NIV).
So Jesus drew our attention to God’s initiative in establishing the marital union. He also established the framework for sexual relationships by way of these quotations from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24. Those parameters involve a God-initiated, monogamous relationship between one genetic male and one genetic female who have joined in marriage as husband and wife.
The term “one flesh” expresses the fulfillment, satisfaction, intimacy, pleasure, enjoyment, and unity that reflects God’s intent for marital relationships. That intent is further reflected in our passage from Hebrews 13:5: “…the bed [is] undefiled.” Since “the bed” serves as a euphemism for the sexual relationship between a husband and wife, this passage offers Scriptural support for the physical intimacy that should exist within marriage.
That brings us to what our passage from Hebrews 13:4 doesn’t say. Notice that “the bed” is undefiled, but only within the context of a marital relationship. When a physical relationship occurs outside that framework, God no longer accepts it as honorable.
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4 NIV).
By endorsing the physical aspect of a marriage relationship, Hebrews 13:4 addresses those who believe that sensuality -in and of itself- is incompatible with Biblical spirituality. This portion of Scripture thus confirms that sexual intimacy is pure and honorable before God within a Biblically valid marital partnership.
This portion of Scripture also serves to protect that aspect of a marriage relationship from the belief that it is somehow more spiritual for husbands and wives to abstain from physical intimacies. Instead, the New Testament epistle of 1 Corinthians endorses the opposite approach: “The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs” (1 Corinthians 7:3 NLT).
The only exception is given to us in 1 Corinthians 7:5: “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” In light of this, we can say that each marriage partner should provide for the others’ needs except as noted above.
Unfortunately, we may become so engaged in the demands of everyday life that we sometimes fail to prioritize such needs. While family concerns, employment obligations, and other responsibilities often permit less time for sexual intimacy than we may desire, each marriage partner should make a genuine effort to recognize his or her spouse’s physical and emotional needs and work to fulfill them.
We can also look to an effective Biblical principle from Romans 14:23 for guidance in this area: “…whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (ESV). This Biblical precept is useful for governing all that takes place within the marriage bed, subject to the couple’s prayerful and mutual consent. As another translation renders that passage, “…whatever is done without a conviction of its approval by God is sinful” (AMPC).
A couple who finds common ground in this area can often avoid misunderstandings that limit their satisfaction and enjoyment. The husband or wife who is prayerfully willing to study, learn, and accommodate the needs of his or her spouse will surely reap the benefit of a fulfilling and satisfying relationship over time. Since this portion of Scripture assures us that the marriage bed is undefiled, husbands and wives should seek to enjoy God’s gracious provision in this area.
“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 AMP).
The creation account from the Biblical book of Genesis expresses God’s intent for marriage relationships by establishing a “one man – one woman” benchmark (see Genesis 2:22). That portion of Scripture thus confirms monogamy as God’s standard and eliminates the possibility of pre-marital, extra-marital, polygamous, or polyamorous physical relationships as legitimate options for a man or woman of God.
Nevertheless, some may validate their decision to engage in those relationships with an appeal to their belief that such partnerships “feel right.” However, “feelings” are a notoriously poor foundation for good decision-making, and it is possible to feel right about something that is far outside the will of God.
In addition to what we read here in Hebrews 13:4, the Scriptures offer several admonitions regarding these types of relationships (see Leviticus 18:20, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Ephesians 5:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, and Revelation 21:8 for some examples). While these alternative relationships fall short of God’s design for marriage, there is another reason to avoid engaging in such behaviors: “Sexual activity in a marriage is pure, but any sexual activity outside marriage brings one under divine judgment” (1)
Therefore, we would be wise to subject our feelings to these Biblical tenets instead of the other way around. This leads us into a look at the word “immoral” from this passage. That word is a form of the word porneia in the original language of this verse and refers to any type of sexual relationship that takes place outside a Biblically sanctioned marriage partnership. Jesus expanded upon that definition to include internal expressions of sexual immorality as well…
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Therefore, the physical aspect of a male/female relationship is reserved exclusively for a man and a woman who have each made a permanent commitment to one other. That commitment is expressed by the act of marriage, where each marital partner publicly vows to forsake all others in favor of one. Since “Marriage is honorable among all” (GNV), it is important to support and encourage this institution, even among those who do not recognize or accept the God of the Scriptures.
(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Heb 13:4.
“Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers” (Hebrews 13:4 HCSB).
The Scriptures define an honorable marriage as a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman, who are legally and exclusively committed to one another as husband and wife. But why are sexual expressions in other types of relationships wrong from a Biblical perspective?
To address that question, let’s consider the example of two singles who live and/or sleep together but remain unmarried. If the couple in our scenario is reluctant to commit to one another in marriage, the question becomes, why? One possible answer is that one or both partners are seeking to determine if they are sexually compatible before they commit to one another in marriage.
In this instance, it seems fair to ask how many “tests” will be necessary in order for the couple to reach a conclusion regarding their compatibility. A related question involves the length of time their “research project” will last. And what if one partner finds another person who appears to be sexually preferable during that period? What then?
Of course, those who are engaged in such relationships may like the fact that they are unencumbered by a marriage commitment. They may appreciate the advantage of a sexual relationship without the obligations and responsibilities that go along with a marriage vow. Others many simply enjoy the convenience that accompanies a “friend with benefits.” Unfortunately, those realities unmask a sobering truth that often lies below the surface of such relationships.
Even if one or both partners believe they are in love with one another, those who adopt such attitudes are really engaged in more of a business arrangement. Much like an unwritten understanding between two business entities, the couple may stay together as long as it serves their mutual benefit. At worst, one or both partners may simply be using the other for various reasons.
While many 21st century cultures recognize and accept these types of domestic partnerships, Hebrews 13:4 takes a decidedly different view. This explains why the author of Hebrews reminded his audience that they will be held accountable for their choices in this area. Paul the Apostle issued a similar reminder to the churches of Galatia regarding such behaviors as well: “…Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21 NLT).
“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
“Covetousness” is a word that encompasses a wide variety of inappropriate desires. Covetousness is closely associated with the word “greed” and conveys an intense desire to possess someone or something that belongs to someone else. It may also contain an element of exploitation (see 2 Peter 2:1-3).
A person who is driven by a covetous desire to accumulate wealth and possessions is usually motivated to make inappropriate choices that are consistent with that goal. This is why Hebrews 13:5 cautions us to guard against this attitude. This admonition is closely aligned with the Tenth Commandment, and as we’re reminded in the New Testament book of Ephesians, “For this you know, that no… covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).
Jesus also provided us with some specific warnings regarding covetousness. Those warnings address the misguided philosophies that often motivate our desire to accumulate wealth and/or possessions:
“…’Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’” (Luke 12:15).
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33-34 NIV).
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13 NIV).
Finally, one commentator offers some practical counsel in this area…
“Christians are not to be covetous. They are not to be greedy. They are not to be anxious (double-minded) worrying over food, clothing and shelter (Matt. 6:25-34). They are to remember they brought nothing into the world neither can they carry anything out and so be content with food and clothing (I Tim. 6:6-10).
They are not to set their hopes on uncertain riches, but to do good, be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous (I Tim. 6:17-18). Christians are to provide necessities for their own families (I Tim. 5:8). The Lord expects Christians to maintain their personal lives financially and materially in such sufficiency as permits them to minister to Christ’s kingdom and the needy to the best of their capabilities (I1 Cor. 9: 8-1 3).”(1)
(1) Paul T. Butler. The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In Second Corinthians (College Press) [p. 285] Copyright ® 1988 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesSecondCorinthians/132Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“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’” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV).
One of the primary concerns related to the love of money involves idolatry. While idolatry may take many forms, we can associate an idol with anything we love, fear, or depend on more than God. When something takes the place of God in our lives, that thing (whatever it is) effectively becomes an idol. Since the accumulation of financial wealth represents the most important thing in life for many, this may help to explain the admonition we find here in Hebrews 13:5.
In addition to its idolatrous nature, the love of money is much like a race with an illusionary finish line. No matter how much money we make, there is always more to be gained- if we are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to procure it. Those sacrifices demonstrate our true priorities, for we generally make choices that align with the things we desire most.
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes points to another concern regarding the love of money- we can’t take it with us when we go…
“Once again I saw that nothing on earth makes sense. For example, some people don’t have friends or family. But they are never satisfied with what they own, and they never stop working to get more. They should ask themselves, ‘Why am I always working to have more? Who will get what I leave behind?’ What a senseless and miserable life!” (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8 CEV).
One commentator ties these thoughts together…
“The love of money springs from sinful discontent with one’s status in life, his possessions, the extent of his luxuries and comforts, or his lack of the power money might bring; but there is a corollary of that discontent, namely, a lack of trust in the providence of God. …In the last analysis, covetousness, or the love of money, is idolatry (Col. 3:5). It makes ourselves, or what may be accumulated by us, to be the center of trust, and not the Lord, thus supplanting him in the very center of one’s affections.” (1)
If we adopt a temporal perspective without regard for God or the afterlife, then our financial priorities will reflect that mindset. If we embrace an eternal perspective that acknowledges God’s provision for our financial success, then our pursuit of monetary riches will find its proper place. That leads us into the subject of consumerism, a topic that we will consider next.
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Hebrews 13”. “Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hebrews-13.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999
“Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6 NET).
Two sources offer a helpful perspective on the subject of consumerism that relate to our passage from Hebrews 13:5-6…
“Consumerism, for the purpose of this article, is a preoccupation with consuming more and more goods, merchandise, and services. Consumerism’s focus is on having the latest, buying the best, and getting the most. It discards last year’s model in favor of the newest, fanciest, and shiniest. It’s the attitude behind the statement ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’
Consumerism goes beyond maintaining a healthy economy, which depends upon active trade and the production and consumption of new goods, and enters the realm of materialism. Because a consumerist mentality can lead to chronic dissatisfaction and covetousness, Christians should beware its spiritual impact. (1)
…God wants us to have a balanced perspective on money. The Bible does not condemn possessions or riches per se. It is not a sin to be wealthy. (Some very godly people in the Bible -Abraham and Job, for example- were quite wealthy.) Rather, God condemns a love of possessions or riches (Luke 16:13; 1Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5). A love of material things is a sign that a person is living according to a temporal perspective, not an eternal perspective.” (2)
With these insights in mind, our text from Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us that God will never abandon (GW) or desert (CEV) us. The original language of this passage emphasizes these assurances, thus providing the security that allows us to escape the love of money. Finally, we can meditate upon the following verses to help promote a God-honoring mindset in this area…
“…If riches increase, Do not set your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10).
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6-8 NIV).
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).
(1) GotQuestions.org, “What does the Bible say about consumerism?” Retrieved 22 June, 2023 from https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-consumerism.html
(2) Ron Rhodes, The Complete Book Of Bible Answers, Copyright © 1997 Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon [pg. 347]
“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Hebrews 13:7).
Hebrews 13:7 exhorts us to remember and consider the conduct of church leaders. Depending on the author’s intent, there are several ways we might understand and apply this passage. For instance, Hebrews 13:7 might serve as a reference to departed ministers, including those who may have perished as a result of persecution. The Good News Bible adopts this perspective in its translation of this passage…
“Remember your former leaders, who spoke God’s message to you. Think back on how they lived and died, and imitate their faith.”
If such was the case, then these leaders served to exemplify our author’s reference to Abel in Hebrews 11:4: “…even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith” (CSB).
Another possibility is that our author had active, living members of the church leadership in view. If so, then Hebrews 13:7 offers several standards we can apply today. First, we can say that good leaders are synonymous with those who speak the Word of God. In short, good leaders teach God’s Word. In light of this, we should be alert to those who substitute their interests, agendas, or opinions for the expository study of God’s Word.
Sermons that routinely stray from a Biblical text (or feature no Biblical text), should thus serve as warnings. In the words of one commentator, “…There are various ways to use the word of God deceitfully, or to tamper with it. Using a Bible text to preach a ‘sermon’ that has little or nothing to do with the Bible is one of the common ways of doing it.” (1)
Then we have the admonition to consider “the outcome of their conduct.” In every relationship, there are those who lead by example and teach us what to do. There are others who also lead by example and teach us what not to do. The vast majority of us teach both lessons. Therefore, we should emulate those leaders who serve as good role models. But if a leader’s conduct has been poor in certain areas, then we must consider the outcome of their conduct and avoid repeating it.
We should temper this approach with a look at the men whom Jesus chose as His apostles. Those individuals were fallible human beings who made significant mistakes in certain instances. Would they be the type of people you might choose to represent you if you were in Jesus’ position? Perhaps not. But Jesus did.
The same is true for those who rule over us within the church. We might not select certain individuals for leadership positions if given the choice. But Jesus has. Therefore, we should seek to be charitable and gracious as we learn from their successes and failures.
(1) Paul T. Butler, The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In Second Corinthians (College Press) [p. 93] Copyright © 1988 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesSecondCorinthians/132Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
An old maxim tells us that change is the only constant in life. For example, it is often surprising to see how people change over time. If we happen to meet someone we’ve lost touch with, we may be surprised to find that he or she has grown to become someone who looks and acts differently from the person we once knew. Such examples serve to remind us of the impermanence of life.
There are those who seek to fulfill their longing for permanence in a person or thing. For instance, we might attempt to fulfill that desire through a relationship, a home, a tradition, or a philanthropic endeavor. While such things are often good in themselves, the problem is that relationships eventually end, homes and traditions grow obsolete, and philanthropies inevitably run out of money.
With these things in mind, let’s consider this reference to Jesus from Hebrews 13:8: “…[He is] the same yesterday, today, and forever.” As mentioned earlier, we use the word “immutable” to define this characteristic. This passage thus testifies to Jesus’ eternal, unchanging nature and serves as the foundation for the following insight…
“The great difference between God and us is that we are mutable and he is immutable. In other words, we change, but he does not. How do we change? We grow older, for one thing. We have changing emotions, and we must learn new skills to grow intellectually. But God does not change. He has no weaknesses or defects that demand improvement or lead to decay. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever…” (1)
In His divine nature, Jesus is unchanging; therefore, He is entirely dependable. We need never be concerned that Jesus will grow tired of us or change His mind about us. He is completely reliable, trustworthy, and will always be gracious, loving, and compassionate to those who accept Him. And since Jesus’ divine, unchanging nature resides with His human nature, He is completely familiar with the struggles and challenges associated with the human condition.
Thus, as we read earlier in Hebrews 4:14-16…
“We have a great high priest, who has gone into heaven, and he is Jesus the Son of God… Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved grace, and we will find help” (CEV).
(1) Sproul, R. C. (1992). Before the face of God: Book 1: A daily guide for living from the book of Romans (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries. Page 25.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 ESV).
While the people, places, and things that bring us happiness may pass from the scene, our hope for the future is anchored to the immutable Christ. Nevertheless, this passage has important implications for our understanding of Jesus’ divinity. You see, the fact that Jesus “…is the same yesterday and today and forever” identifies Him as God by necessity.
For example, some believe that Jesus was a man who became a god. Other groups teach that Jesus was an angel, or a created being. But if any of those beliefs were true, then Jesus could not be “…the same yesterday and today and for all time” (Mounce). The idea that a person “becomes” something implies that he or she has changed. Therefore, if Jesus became a god, or lived as an angel, or came into existence at some point, then He cannot be the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Instead, Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus was, is, and will always be God. One commentator expands upon this idea with the following observations…
“The unchanging nature (which theologians call immutability) of Jesus Christ could be inferred from His deity, even if it were not explicitly stated. God doesn’t change over the ages, so neither does Jesus, who is God.” (1)
Another source adds…
“The fundamental declaration of Scripture about God is that God cannot change. He is immutable, changeless. He cannot change. As James puts it, ‘with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,’ (Jam 1:17 KJV)… If you have a being who can change, then you do not have a God at all. That is what the pagans discovered, and why the pagan world is always a world of uncertainty, doubt and fear. Changelessness is fundamental to the idea of a God who is truly God.” (2)
Our final commentator links this quality with God’s character…
“When James adds that there is no ‘shadow of turning’ with God, it is not enough to understand this merely in terms of God’s unchanging or immutable being. This reference is also to God’s character. Not only is God altogether good, He is consistently good… God’s goodness refers both to His character and His behavior. His actions proceed from and flow out of His being. He acts according to what He is. Just as a corrupt tree cannot bear incorrupt fruit, neither can an incorrupt God produce corrupt fruit.” (3)
So if Jesus is truly “…the same yesterday and today and forever,” then He must be God as a matter of necessity.
(1) Guzik, David, Hebrews 13 – Living A Positive Christian Life [13:8] © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/hebrews-13/
(2) Excerpted with permission from The Unthinkable Thought © 1967 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org
(3) Sproul, R. C. (1992). Essential truths of the Christian faith. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House. [pp 34-35]
“Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them” (Hebrews 13:9).
This cautionary reference to “…various and strange doctrines” is just as relevant today as it was when this warning first appeared. In fact, this message takes on greater significance today, for those who promote such doctrines have the benefit of 21st century technology to market their teachings to a broader audience.
A similar admonition appears in the Biblical epistle of 1 Timothy…
“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work–which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4 NIV).
We can identify such doctrines by measuring them against the New Testament Scriptures. For instance, if the doctrine in question…
- Was not taught by Jesus within the Gospels,
- Was not practiced by the early church as seen in the book of Acts,
- Is not referenced by the authors of the New Testament Epistles,
…then we would be wise to exercise caution before we accept it.
Hebrews 13:9 also provides valuable guidance when addressing non-essential elements of the Christian faith. There are many areas where Christians of good conscience may reach different (but Biblically valid) conclusions on peripheral aspects of belief and practice. Unfortunately, a non-essential doctrine may effectively become an essential element of the faith for those who are heavily invested in their particular subject of interest.
Those differences may devolve into contentious online criticisms where others with different views are ostracized and portrayed as dangers to the Christian community. Sadly, those who engage in such tactics provide an excellent venue for outsiders to mock and disparage the church. That leads us to an important reminder here in Hebrews 13:9: “…it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace” (KJV).
While the context of that reminder involves religious dietary restrictions, we can apply this principle to other non-essential elements of the Christian faith as well. For example, before we “like” or re-post a disparaging criticism, we would be well-advised to ask two questions…
- Does the speaker demonstrate grace toward other Christians who disagree?
- Does the speaker display the fruit of the Spirit in evaluating another Christian’s view regarding a non-essential element of the Christian faith?
As we’re told in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
“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” (Hebrews 13:9 ESV).
One commentator offers a helpful synopsis of the issue raised in Hebrews 13:9…
“Evidently one of the ‘strange’ teachings, prevalent when this letter originated, was that eating certain foods, or abstinence from certain foods, resulted in greater godliness (cf. Col. 2:16; 1 Tim. 4:1-5). This was, of course, what Judaism taught too. Judaism taught that eating food ‘strengthened the heart,’ in the sense that when the Jews ate, they also gave thanks to God, and thus brought Him into their experience (cf. Ps. 104:14-15). [a] However, Jesus’ death on the cross is the source of both the saving, and the sustaining, ‘grace of God,’ by which we experience strengthening.” (1)
Paul the Apostle also addressed this subject in the Biblical book of 1 Corinthians…
“But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Corinthians 8:8).
We should also note our author’s subtle aside in this passage: “…those who obey these rules have not been helped by them” (GNT). Jesus explained why those who adhered to such restrictions failed to receive a benefit from them…
“‘The food that you put into your mouth doesn’t make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean.’
After Jesus and his disciples had left the crowd and gone into the house, they asked him what these sayings meant. He answered, ‘Don’t you know what I am talking about by now? You surely know that the food you put into your mouth cannot make you unclean. It doesn’t go into your heart, but into your stomach, and then out of your body.” By saying this, Jesus meant that all foods were fit to eat.
Then Jesus said: ‘What comes from your heart is what makes you unclean. Out of your heart come evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride, and foolishness. All of these come from your heart, and they are what make you unfit to worship God’” (Mark 7:15-23 CEV).
Our final commentary ties these ideas together…
“Legislation concerning clean and unclean foods was designed to produce ritual cleanness. But this is not the same thing as inward holiness. A man might be ceremonially clean and yet be filled with hatred and hypocrisy. Only God’s grace can inspire and empower believers to live holy lives. Love for the Savior who died on account of our sins motivates us to ‘live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age’ (Tit 2:12). After all, endless rules concerning foods and drinks have not profited their adherents.” (2)
(1) [a] William L. Lane, Word Biblical Commentary series. Dallas: Word Books, 1991, Hebrews 9—13, pp. 533-36, quoted in, Constable, Thomas. DD, Notes on Hebrews 2023 Edition “Instructions regarding religious duties 13:7-19” [13:9] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad, Thomas Nelson Publishers [13:9]
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:10-11).
Our text from Hebrews 13:10-11 reminds us that the book of Hebrews was originally written for the benefit of a Jewish audience. That audience was undoubtedly familiar with the imagery given to us in the passage quoted above, and it serves as a foundation for the application that follows in verses twelve and thirteen.
For those who do not share that same cultural heritage, the Old Testament book of Leviticus identifies two conditions where the remains of a sacrificial offering were to be taken outside the community for disposal…
- If a spiritual leader committed an unintentional sin.
- If the community at large engaged in an unintentional sin.
Under those conditions, the remains of the offering were removed to a ceremonially clean area where they were incinerated on an ash heap. So how does this apply to Jesus’ sacrifice? Well, first we’re told, “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” This tells us that those who seek to get right with God by following a set of rules and regulations no longer have a place at God’s table under the New Covenant.
In addition, this reference to an altar points to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. Those who approach God by that altar have abandoned their efforts to make their own sacrificial offerings. Instead, they recognize and accept the fact that an offering has been made once for all through Jesus’ death on the cross.
Finally, we should remember that Israel’s spiritual leadership had rejected Jesus, along with a large percentage of the first-century Jewish populace. Much like the sacrificial offering detailed in Leviticus chapter four, Jesus had been put “outside the camp” by those individuals, so to speak. Therefore, anyone who sought to follow Jesus had to join Him there.
Those who had been ostracized for their decision to follow Christ might also recognize this reference to “outside the camp” as an allusion to Jesus’ message from John 12:25-26: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”
The same is true for us today. Much like the original audience for this epistle, we must also be willing to “go outside the camp” of this world and its values if we seek to follow Christ.
“We have an altar that those who serve in the tabernacle have no right to eat from. For the bodies of those animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:10-11 NET).
Hebrews chapter nine featured a lengthy discussion regarding the tabernacle and those who served there. That discussion culminated in the conclusion we read in the opening verses of chapter ten…
“The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.
If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4 NLT).
Our text from Hebrews 13:10-11 returns to that imagery to make some important points. First, “The priests who officiated over various sacrifices were entitled to eat the portion of that sacrifice designated for the priests (Lev 6:14–30).” (1) However, those who continued to serve in the Old Testament sacrificial system (represented by the Tabernacle) sought to approach God through their offerings and not through Jesus’ sacrifice. Therefore, “Those still under the Old Covenant (‘who serve the tabernacle’) had ‘no right’ to partake of Him for spiritual sustenance and fellowship with God, since their confidence (faith) was still in the Old Covenant.” (2)
However, this is not to say that we have no altar under the New Covenant. As mentioned previously, that altar is the cross of Christ, where Jesus’ sacrifice was made. (3) In light of this, “We have no need of the temple altar for we have an altar, that on which Christ offered himself, to which those who cling to the tabernacle service have no right. Christ’s altar implies the abolition of the tabernacle and the old covenant. Those who cling to these show their lack of faith in Christ.” (4)
Hebrews 13:10-13 represents the last time our author will turn to the Old Testament sacrificial system to illustrate the superior nature of the New Covenant. Having served its purpose in that regard, our author will make one final point before moving to some practical instructions and personal asides to close this letter.
(1) John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Heb 13:10.
(2) Constable, Thomas. DD, Notes on Hebrews 2023 Edition “Instructions regarding religious duties 13:7-19” [13:10] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
(3) See G2379 thysiasterion https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g2379/kjv/tr/0-1/
(4) Johnson, B. W., The People’s New Testament [Hebrews 13:10]. Public Domain https://www.ccel.org/j/johnson_bw/pnt/PNT19-13.HTM
“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:12-13).
Much like the concrete blocks that establish a sturdy foundation, this portion of Scripture makes use of several block-like elements that build towards a wide-ranging application.
Our first building block returns us to chapter four of the Old Testament book of Leviticus. That portion of Scripture tells us that the remains of a sin offering were carried beyond the perimeter of Israel’s encampment (Leviticus 4:21). In like manner, John 19:17-18 records Jesus’ own experience in that regard: “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.”
“Outside the camp” (or outside the city limits of Jerusalem, in this instance) represented the place of rejection, separation, and exclusion. Thus, as one source concludes, “…just as the body of the sacrificial animal, slain on the Day of Atonement, was taken outside the camp and burned, so Jesus was taken outside the city gate to suffer for and sanctify His people by His death (11-12).” (1)
That leads to our next building block: “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp…” Then, as now, Jesus’ followers should be willing to join Him in that place of rejection and separation wherever it may be. As Jesus Himself once said to His followers…
“Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names! But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all” (Matthew 10:24-26 NLT).
Finally, we can be secure in the knowledge we have an eternal home that awaits us. That promise enables us to join with Christ and bear His reproach, as we’re told here in Hebrews 13:13. In the words of 2 Peter 3:13, “…we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Our author will explore that promise at greater length next.
(1) New International Bible Commentary general editor G. C. D. Howley, consulting editors F. F. Bruce, H. L. Ellison. Copyright© 1979 by Pickering &Inglis Ltd [pp. 1530-31].
“For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
Despite its brevity, Hebrews 13:14 offers a hidden wealth of practical application. With this in mind, today’s message marks the beginning of a four-part miniseries that will examine various aspects of this verse.
We can begin with the prevailing theme of this passage: the people of God are citizens of another realm. Although God’s people live and work within this world, they are citizens of heaven as represented by this reference to “…the city that is still to come” (CEB). This corresponds to what we read earlier in Hebrews 11:10 concerning “…the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
Thus, “Christians should be characterized by looking forward to the future. We should not be attached to this world, because all that we are and have here is temporary. We should not love our present home so much that we lose sight of God’s future blessing.” (1) However, we should also consider the possibility that there was a far more immediate concern behind this reference to “…no continuing city.”
As mentioned earlier, the ancient Roman army marched upon the city of Jerusalem shortly after the Epistle to the Hebrews was completed. A contingent of 30,000 soldiers took part in that campaign in an effort to eliminate the remaining pockets of resistance to Roman governance. That five-month military operation began in A.D. 69 and continued into A.D. 70 as Roman military units leveled the city of Jerusalem, along with the Temple and every other major building within that area. That offensive also resulted in the estimated loss of one million lives.
It’s likely that the Epistle to the Hebrews had started to enter into circulation around the time when this incursion took place. Those who subsequently read this epistle in the late first and early second centuries were thus reminded of a graphic event within their lifetimes that served to illustrate this idea of “no continuing city“.
Much like our author’s earlier reference to “…those things that are being shaken” in Hebrews 12:27, the destruction of Jerusalem offered a vivid depiction of our author’s premise. In the words of one commentary, “Here is a foreboding of Jerusalem’s imminent destruction. Even if there was no prophetic intent within the author’s statement, God is about to remove the temptation for Jewish Christians to return to the sacrificial ritual of the Jerusalem temple.” (2)
(1) Life Application Study Bible NKJV [Hebrews 13:14] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers
(2) Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, eds., KJV Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 2582.
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14 ESV).
In addition to what we read here in Hebrews 13:14, the New Testament book of Philippians offers the following reminder: “…our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). We also have Jesus’ promise of an eternal place in heaven as well…
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
As we seek to represent Jesus faithfully over the course of our daily lives, it’s important to recognize that Christians are sojourners (1 Peter 2:11) in a world that has little use for Christ. Thus, we should prioritize our relationships, occupations, and material possessions with a view towards eternity. Consider Jesus’ counsel in this regard…
“If you want to be My disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison–your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26 NLT).
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
We can illustrate the alternative in another of Jesus’ parables…
“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’
But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21 NIV).
“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come” (Hebrews 13:14 NLT).
The Scriptures record an event in the life of Jacob, the famous Old Testament patriarch, that serves to illustrate our text from Hebrews 13:14. When Jacob’s son Joseph brought him to meet Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, Genesis chapter forty-seven details a portion of the conversation that took place between them…
“Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob and set him before Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Jacob, ‘How old are you?’ And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.’ So Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh” (Genesis 47:7-10).
When Pharaoh inquired about Jacob’s age, we should notice that Jacob began his response by saying, “The years of my pilgrimage…” or, “The years of my sojourning…” (ESV). Those words convey the image of a traveler. This indicates that Jacob viewed himself as someone who was on a journey through life. In other words, he viewed the days and years of his earthly existence as a pilgrimage on the way to his future destination. That leads us to some important questions: “Where was Jacob headed on that pilgrimage and what was his ultimate destination?”
Well, Jacob’s ultimate destination was an eternal home with the God who had spoken with him before he entered Egypt (see Genesis chapter 46). His place was with the God who appeared to him in a dream according to Genesis 28:10-19. Jacob’s eternal residence was with the One who once wrestled with him throughout the night in Genesis 32:24-30.
Jacob was destined to travel to Egypt, but his future was not there. Instead, Jacob’s future was with the God who had protected him, blessed him, and provided for him throughout the various stages of his life. This explains why Jacob saw himself as someone who was on a journey through life- and what was true for Jacob is also true for us as well.
At the risk of sounding pedantic, our lives are also like roads we travel. That journey begins at conception and concludes with our physical death, or the end of our material existence in respect to this life. We’ll complete our look at this concept in the conclusion of this miniseries next.
“For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14 NIV).
Hebrews 13:14 serves as a reminder that encourages us to reflect upon the road we are traveling in life and where that road ultimately ends. Consider Jesus’ famous counsel from the Gospel of Matthew…
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
The problem is that it is often challenging to travel a road that honors God in this life. Because of this, many prefer to take the path of least resistance and postpone any real consideration of their destination in the afterlife. Unfortunately, there are many “broad ways” in life that eventually lead to destinations where the bridge is out, so to speak (see Galatians 5:19-21).
Because of this, it is important to remember that every human being is someone who is passing through life on the way to another place. Everyone is a sojourner, a traveler, or a pilgrim in this sense. While the road of Christ is not necessarily an easy one, it is the right road that leads to the right destination.
This may explain why the Scriptures often make use of the word “walk” as a figure of speech to refers to our general conduct or behavior. The best known example of that imagery might be found in the Psalm 1:1-2 where we read, “Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.”
“Walking” implies movement, progression, and advancement in a literal or figurative sense. As these passages remind us, we can walk in the counsel of the Godly, or we can go in another direction. We can walk in the path of sinners, or we can walk in the path of the righteous. We can travel the broad way that leads to destruction, or we can enter by the narrow gate.
Thus, two different roads present themselves to us, each leading to its own destination. One road is narrow and ultimately leads to an enduring city that is yet to come. The other road is broad and ultimately leads to ruin and destruction.
“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15).
We can often tell if someone is living a Christ-oriented life by examining the fruit of their words and actions. Just as we can tell the differences between fruit trees by the type of fruit they produce, we can often discern much about others by considering the “fruit” their words and/or deeds produce in their lives and the lives of others.
For instance, a person who seeks to honor God is someone who should be thankful for His daily blessings, for a thankful attitude is one that bears good fruit. Unlike those who seemingly look for areas of criticism or complaint, we should instead look to God in thankfulness for the blessings He extends to us each day.
This is not to say that the problems we experience are not real. Nor can we say that it is wrong to grieve at the tragedies and painful experiences we endure. However, we should note that praise to God is something that often represents a sacrifice, just as we read here in Hebrews 13:15. Thus, we offer “the sacrifice of praise to God,” even in the adversities, misfortunes, frustrations, and annoyances of daily life.
In such circumstances, we do not praise God because we feel like it. We praise God because He is worthy of it. Consider the following commentary on King David’s sinful experience with Bathsheba…
“After David sinned with Bathsheba and was confronted with his sin and repented, he prayed, ‘You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart’ (Ps. 51 :16, 17). God is interested in our praise, but He wants it to be from the heart. This is why our praise for God is a sacrifice.
Often I don’t feel like praising God. Oh, there are certainly times when praise for God just overflows from my life, and I can hardly contain it. But there are other times when praise is difficult. It is especially important that I praise God in those times, from the heart. You see, He doesn’t need anything from us. But praise is something that He wants from us. What an incredible privilege to be able to give something to God that He really wants! The sacrifices of praise.” (1)
(1) Chuck Smith, The Word For Today Bible, study note on Hebrews 13:15, pg. 1629
“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15 ESV).
The following commentary on Hebrews 13:5 offers several important insights that are worthy of a lengthy excerpt…
“Hebrews 13:15 says, ‘Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.’ The terms sacrifice and praise might seem to be opposites. We think of sacrifice as offering something at great cost to ourselves. Praise, on the other hand, sounds joyful as it bubbles from a grateful heart. However, in the spiritual realm, sacrifice and praise are intertwined.
Praise does not always cost us something. We praise our dogs for fetching the ball and people for a job well done. Praise is often our response to some action that directly benefits us, and we feel generous because we extend it. We often find it easy to praise God from the same motivation. When He has blessed us, helped us, and protected us, we feel generous toward Him. We can sing, worship, and talk about how good He is because we can see it. That kind of praise, although worthwhile, does not cost us anything. It is not a sacrifice.
Then there are those times when God did not come through the way we thought He would. The medical test comes back positive. The spouse wants a divorce. A child is wayward. The mortgage company calls in the loan. God seems very far away, and praise is the last thing to bubble up from our hearts. We can’t see His goodness, and circumstances scream that He has forgotten us.
To praise God in those times requires personal sacrifice. It takes an act of the will to lay our all on the altar before a God we don’t understand. When we bring a ‘sacrifice of praise,’ we choose to believe that, even though life is not going as we think it should, God is still good and can be trusted (Psalm 135:2; Nahum 1:7). When we choose to praise God in spite of the storms, He is honored, and our faith grows deeper (Malachi 3:13-17; Job 13:15).
The command in Hebrews 13:15 says that this sacrifice is to be offered ‘continually.’ …Real praise continues regardless of circumstances. It flows continually from a worshiping heart in good times and bad (Acts 16:23-25).” (1)
(1) GotQuestions.org, “What does it mean to give a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15)?” Retrieved 08 July, 2023 from https://www.gotquestions.org/sacrifice-of-praise.html
“But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
The need to do good and share with others is one of the first things a good parent seeks to teach a young child. Such lessons are important, for even small children can exhibit the characteristic qualities of greed, selfishness, or envy. Unfortunately, those attributes do not fade away in the lives of those who fail to learn such lessons. They simply become more sophisticated in disguising them as they grow older.
Thus, we have this reminder from Hebrews 13:16: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have…” (ESV). This directive aligns with a similar passage from 3 John 1:11 where we are told, “He who does good is of God…” It also corresponds with another portion of Scripture in Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
In addition, Hebrews 13:16 illustrates the realistic nature of the Scriptures when it comes to various aspects of human nature. For instance, this passage clearly acknowledges the fact that doing good and sharing may involve a sacrifice. Nevertheless, we can take comfort in knowing that such sacrifices are pleasing to God. We should also note that Jesus leads by example in this area, as illustrated by His teaching from the Beatitudes…
“But I tell you this: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way you show that you are children of your Father in heaven. He makes his sun rise on people whether they are good or evil. He lets rain fall on them whether they are just or unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45 GW).
Finally, the Biblical book of 1 Peter identifies the practical effect of these qualities on a specific group of individuals: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:14 ESV). One source offers the following insight in commenting on a related concept from Galatians 6:10…
“Christians have a measure of responsibility to all people to do good, when the occasions arise. When Jesus fed the 5,000, both saved and unsaved participated. So the benevolence of Christians should not be restricted, except that believers are to have the priority. As in a home, family needs are met first, then those of the neighbors.
This passage then speaks clearly about Christian social responsibility, but it should be noted that it is addressed to individual believers. The church is not an agency for social work, though individual Christians are charged to minister in this way as they are able and have opportunity (cf. Rom_12:17-21)” (1)
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [p.610]
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Hebrews 13:17 is a passage that requires careful and thoughtful consideration. For instance, a dishonorable or misguided leader might use this admonition to “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive” as a means of silencing those who raise legitimate doctrinal or behavioral concerns. Therefore, it is important to exercise discernment as we look to apply this verse in our interactions with spiritual leaders and others within the church.
We can begin by examining some of the primary leadership responsibilities that God has entrusted to His people…
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).
The following verse explains why God has established these leadership positions…
“for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
With these responsibilities in mind, we can say that obedience and submission to spiritual authorities presumes they are acting in accord with these verses from the book of Ephesians. Since a church leader is responsible to build, strengthen, and prepare others to perform the work that God has given them to do, we are thus responsible to follow such leaders as they teach and speak on the authority of His Word.
Therefore, we can say that the words and actions of a good spiritual leader should go hand-in-hand with the accurate communication of God’s Word. We should also recognize that good spiritual leaders are those who prepare others to submit to God first. Jesus saved some of His harshest criticism for the religious authorities of His day who abandoned that concept…
“For Moses commanded, ‘Respect your father and your mother,’ and, ‘If you curse your father or your mother, you are to be put to death.’ But you teach that if people have something they could use to help their father or mother, but say, ‘This is Corban’ (which means, it belongs to God), they are excused from helping their father or mother. In this way the teaching you pass on to others cancels out the word of God. And there are many other things like this that you do” (Mark 7:10-13 GW).
In light of this, we should affirm the authority of those who rule over us as they lead in harmony with God’s Word.
“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” (Hebrews 13:17 ESV).
From the perspective of a church leader, Hebrews 13:17 carries special importance in light of the following reminder: “They keep watch over you as men who must give an account” (NIV). This accountability is something that lays heavily upon an honorable minister.
One day God will call every spiritual leader to account for his or her life and ministry. That accounting will involve an examination of the minister’s teaching, doctrine, finances, and lifestyle. God will also examine every leader’s use of their time, ministry endeavors, and interactions with those who were entrusted to their care. Those responsibilities are clearly reflected in the following Biblical passages…
“And now beware! Be sure that you feed and shepherd God’s flock– his church, purchased with his blood– for the Holy Spirit is holding you responsible as overseers” (Acts 20:28 TLB).
“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).
“Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Timothy 4:16 NET).
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3 NIV).
For these reasons, we should recognize the burden that Pastoral ministers carry. For instance, a Godly minister must live with the knowledge that even sincere and well-meaning leaders can cause spiritual and/or emotional damage in the lives of others. One indiscretion, one moment of frustration, or one poorly worded response, no matter how small, may serve to discredit years of productive ministry.
In addition. Pastoral leaders are often on call 24 hours a day to provide spiritual and emotional support to others. They must respond graciously to the criticisms of those who hold unrealistic or unattainable expectations, as well as the personal attacks that often accompany an online presence. In light of the great accountability that accompanies a leadership position within the church, there is a mutual responsibility that exists between congregations and their leaders. We’ll examine that mutual responsibility in greater detail next.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaints, for this would be no advantage for you” (Hebrews 13:17 NET).
The faith and love displayed by the New Testament-era churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Colossae led Paul the Apostle to express his thankfulness to God for them. Paul’s attitude toward those congregations captured the spirit of our text from Hebrews 13:17: “Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (NLT).
Modern-day readers of this epistle also possess the ability to inspire others to maintain an attitude of thankfulness to God. For instance, we can motivate others to thank God by the way we live and the choices that we make. Therefore, we should prayerfully seek to become the kind of people who inspire others to say, “Thank God for him/her” whenever they think of us.
While the world may be filled with those who do little to inspire others to thank God, we can be different. Much like those who attended the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Colossae, we should strive to inspire others to thank God for the impact we make upon their lives.
This leads us back to our passage from Hebrews 13:17. While problems and disagreements are inevitable, every Christian carries a general obligation to act courteously and respectfully when interacting with those in positions of spiritual leadership. This does not mean that we cannot be realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of such leaders, nor does it mean that we are obligated to blindly and unquestionably follow others in positions of authority. However, it does mean that we should seek to maintain a gracious attitude that minimizes the potential for strife, division, or gossip.
One source helps us strike the proper balance in this regard…
“This word of encouragement to submit to Christian leaders is much needed in our day of disrespect for authority of any kind, and an overemphasis on the rights and powers of the individual. God has placed some as leaders among His people (note Num. 16:3-5). We honor them because of their call, training, commitment, and service.
However, there is an opposite ‘ditch.’ God’s calling has been abused by some authoritarian personalities. There must be a balance, a mutual respect, a co-operative spirit between God’s people and God’s leaders. All believers are called to be subject to one another out of respect for Christ (cf. Eph. 5:21).” (1)
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, Hebrews 13 [13:17] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International https://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL10/VOL10_13.html
“Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (Hebrews 13:17 NLT).
In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, Paul the Apostle wrote the following message to the New Testament-era church at Corinth: “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (NIV).
In one sense, the imagery employed by Paul within that passage is reminiscent of a manager. Just as a manager is responsible for supervising others, Paul saw his ministry as a stewardship that was entrusted to him by Christ. That responsibility involved overseeing, and caring for the church, the household of God (1 Timothy 3:15).
A modern-day pastoral minister is similarly accountable for overseeing those who are entrusted to his care. While every Christian is individually responsible to manage his or her God-given talents, skills, and opportunities, these spiritual leaders are tasked with the added responsibility to oversee others as well as themselves. With this in mind, we would do well to reflect upon the the kind of accounting that our spiritual leaders offer to God concerning us. To borrow a phrase from our text in Hebrews 13:17, will they do so with joy, or with sorrow?
That obligation represents a weighty responsibility for any Pastoral leader. Thus, our awareness of that responsibility is one that should influence our relationship with these congregational ministers. Consider the realistic, common-sense counsel offered by the following commentator on this subject…
“In the end, obediently submitting to our leaders by living lives of faithful graciousness in the church is a commitment of faith in God because He has placed these leaders in your church. By submitting to God-appointed authorities, we submit to God. No, the pastor isn’t perfect. No, he doesn’t always get things right. Yes, he too is a sinner—just like you. But when we know this and submit anyway, we give God glory and our pastor grace. This is good for us. We may not be immediately interested in our leaders’ joy, but if we are interested in our own spiritual advantage, we will repent of our selfishness and seek our leaders’ joy.” (1)
(1) Jarad C. Wilson, “Encourage Leaders With Faithful Graciousness” Tabletalk Magazine, May, 2014 [pg. 67]
“Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner” (Hebrews 13:18-19).
As the author of Hebrews approaches the end of this letter, his inspired pen will turn to subjects of a more personal nature. First among those subjects is a prayer request. As we consider this passage, it’s interesting to note that our author began with a plural reference: “Pray for us…”. While there may be some uncertainty regarding our author’s location during this time, we do know one thing: he was not alone.
It’s equally interesting to observe our author’s transition back to a singular reference as he expressed what he hoped to achieve through their prayers: “…that I may be restored to you the sooner.” Whether our author was on a journey (or perhaps incarcerated), this likely tells us two things…
- The author of Hebrews was in the company of those who did not share a personal acquaintance with the recipients of this letter.
- He had a personal connection with the members of his original audience and held a deep desire to be reunited with them.
Thus, our author may have been an exile in exile. Not only was he an earthly sojourner who was “looking forward to a home yet to come” (Hebrews 13:14 NLT), he was also among other companions who were unknown to the circle of friends he left behind.
This exhortation to prayer also reminds us of three important qualities that we should ask of God as we seek His provision for our daily lives…
- Wisdom (or knowing what to do in response to the realities of daily life).
- Perception (a truthful assessment of a given situation, or an accurate understanding of how others perceive us).
- Discernment (or the ability to see and understand things as they really are).
These qualities can help us make good, God-honoring choices. They can also help us identify those areas where our words and actions may have an unintended (or negative) effect. Therefore, we would be well-advised to seek God’s provision for these qualities in prayer each day.
Finally, we should note our author’s firm belief in the efficacy (or effectiveness) of prayer. The author of Hebrews genuinely believed that the prayers of his audience would prompt God to enable his speedy return. This passage thus serves as another Biblical example that should encourage to seek God in prayer regarding the circumstances and situations we encounter (see Romans 15:30-32. 2 Corinthians 1:10-11, Philippians 1:19, and Philemon 1:22 for some additional examples).
“Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
After respectfully exhorting the members of his audience to pray on his behalf, the author of Hebrews led by example in praying for his readers here in the passage quoted above…
“In a lovely benediction which captures a number of the major themes of the epistle (e.g., peace, blood, covenant, Resurrection, Shepherd, equip), the writer expressed confidence in our Lord Jesus as the Great Shepherd of New-Covenant people, through whom God was able to effect His will (equip is katartisai, ‘to prepare, make ready for use’; cf. Eph 4:12) in the readers and in himself. This indeed is what he prayed for his readers.” (1)
In addition to this reference in Hebrews 13:20, the New Testament Scriptures identify God as the “God of Peace” on several other occasions (see Romans 15:33. Philippians 4:9, and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 for additional examples). That list includes the following quote from Romans 16:20…
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (CEB).
For some, these references to the “God of peace” coupled with the act of crushing an enemy, may seem inconsistent. Here is how one source addresses that objection…
“Skeptics often object that God cannot be a ‘God of peace’ since the OT portrays Him as a God of war who ordered people to be killed. These characteristics, however, are not incompatible. The Lord loves peace, but He also combats unrighteousness and those who act contrary to His purposes. People can be the same way—peaceful by nature but willing to fight when times call for it.” (2)
Finally, this portion of Hebrews also contains the only direct mention of Jesus’ death and resurrection within this epistle. While our author has alluded to Jesus’ sacrificial death at several points within this letter, this explicit reference serves as a final reminder to his audience to persevere in the face of adversity. Then, as now, the God of peace who can raise the Lord Jesus from the dead is certainly capable of acting on behalf of those who face opposition in its various forms.
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [p.812]
(2) Ted Cabal et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1838.
“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, 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” (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV).
This reference to the “…Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep” recalls Jesus’ famous self-designation from the New Testament Gospel of John…
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15).
In addition to these references to Jesus as “the good shepherd” in John 10:11, and “the great shepherd of the sheep” here in Hebrews 13:20, 1 Peter 5:4 identifies Jesus as “the Chief Shepherd” as well. One source ties each of these descriptions together for our benefit…
“As the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ died for the sheep (John 10:11). As the Great Shepherd, He lives for the sheep in heaven today, working on their behalf. As the Chief Shepherd, He will come for the sheep at His return (1 Peter 5:4). Our Shepherd cares for His own in the past, present, and future. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!” (1)
These references also allow us to contrast the differences between those who emulate Jesus’ self-sacrificial example and those who don’t. For instance…
- A good shepherd feeds the flock. A poor shepherd fleeces the flock.
- A good shepherd works for the benefit of the flock. A poor shepherd believes the flock works for the benefit of the shepherd.
- A good shepherd leads the flock. A poor shepherd drives the flock.
- A good shepherd seeks to give the flock his best. A poor shepherd pursues self-interested priorities.
- A good shepherd gives to the flock. A poor shepherd takes from the flock.
Thus, we should seek to follow Jesus’ good example in our lives and look for leaders who do so as well. As Jesus Himself concluded in John 10:17, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life…”
(1) Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. 2 vols., 2:330, Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1989, quoted in, Constable, Thomas. DD, Notes on Hebrews 2023 Edition “Doxology 13:20-21” [13:20] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
“May the God of peace provide you with every good thing you need in order to do his will, and may he, through Jesus Christ, do in us what pleases him. And to Christ be the glory forever and ever! Amen” (Hebrews 13:21 GNB).
There is something about the restoration process that seems to hold a great deal of appeal for many. For instance, there are video and television shows, “how to” guides, and dedicated organizations that focus upon the restoration of homes, automobiles, electronics, furniture, appliances, farming equipment, timepieces, and practically anything else imaginable. If someone built it in the past, the odds are good that someone is probably interested in collecting and restoring it today.
As mentioned earlier, there is an inherent appeal in taking an object that has ceased to function and returning it to a state where it can serve its intended purpose once more. There is also a great deal of satisfaction for the restorer when he or she takes something that is seemingly beyond all hope of recovery and refurbishes it to a point where it is just as good, or better, than new.
That brings us to a question related to our text from Hebrews 13:21. If human beings take pleasure in recovering and restoring such things, is it implausible to consider the possibility that God takes similar pleasure in recovering and restoring human beings who are created in His image? Perhaps this is what Hebrews 13:21 is referencing when it speaks of the One who can “Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight” (KJV).
But perhaps even more significant from a human perspective is the opportunity for God’s people to participate in this restoration process. The following paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 discusses that privilege…
“All these new things are from God who brought us back to himself through what Christ Jesus did. God has given us the privilege of urging everyone to come into his favor and be reconciled to him. For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors…” (TLB).
Thus we can say along with the following commentary, “The prayer, then, is that the people addressed may be spiritually equipped for every form of good work, and thus fulfill God’s will as He operates in them ‘both to will and to work, for his good pleasure’, as Paul would put it (Phil. 2: 13).” (1)
(1) The New International Commentary On The New Testament – The Epistle To The Hebrews, F. F. Bruce, General Editor © Copyright 1964, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan [pg. 412]
“And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words” (Hebrews 13:22).
There may be a bit of humor to be found here in this exhortation from Hebrews 13:22. Having already penned more than six thousand words within this epistle, our author now concludes by saying, “…I’ve only written a short letter to you!” (CEB). But then again, considering the nature of the subjects he has addressed throughout this letter, he surely could have written more.
In fact, the constraints of time have weighed upon our author at various points throughout this epistle. For instance…
“Above the Ark were the cherubim of divine glory, whose wings stretched out over the Ark’s cover, the place of atonement. But we cannot explain these things in detail now” (Hebrews 9:5 NLT).
“And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 CSB).
Nevertheless, those who have studied this letter have learned a great deal, especially concerning the person and work of Christ. For instance…
- Chapter one: Jesus is superior to any angelic being.
- Chapter two: “in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
- Chapter three: We should not repeat the mistake that Old Testament Israel made in turning away from God in unbelief.
- Chapter four: “…the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” Hebrews 4:12).
- Chapter five: Jesus is our High Priest who represents us before God.
- Chapter six: The importance of spiritual growth.
- Chapter seven: The superior characteristics of Jesus’ priesthood.
- Chapter eight: The New Covenant.
- Chapter nine: Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant.
- Chapter ten: The just shall live by faith.
- Chapter eleven: The faith “Hall Of Fame.”
- Chapter twelve: The importance of spiritual discipline.
- Chapter thirteen: Exhortations to Godly living.
So, if (as some commentators believe), the Epistle to the Hebrews was originally a sermon that was adapted for the benefit of our author’s original audience, the previous verse marks the end of the author’s homily while this portion of Scripture begins his personal remarks.
“Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly” (Hebrews 13:23).
The author of Hebrews continued his closing remarks to his audience with some information regarding their mutual friend Timothy. Timothy was certainly an important figure within the early church as evidenced by the fact that his name appears at least two dozen times within the pages of the New Testament.
Based on what we know from the Biblical book of Acts, it appears that Timothy was a native of a town named Lystra, a village that was located within the modern-day country of Turkey. He presumably became a Christian through Paul’s evangelistic efforts and later went on to accompany him on his second missionary journey.
Timothy also served as a kind of troubleshooting emissary for Paul at various points throughout his ministry. For instance, Paul sent Timothy to work with the church at Corinth with the following recommendation: “…I have sent Timothy to you, who is my dear and faithful son in the Lord. He will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17 NET). Paul also sent Timothy to assist the churches of Macedonia (Acts 19:21-22), the church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2) and may have sent him to work with the church in the ancient city of Philippi as well (Philippians 2:19).
So this brief update offers some clues regarding the author of this letter. First, Timothy was obviously someone who was known to both the sender and the recipients of this letter. He likely was (or had been) a companion of the author. However, it seems they were separated by a considerable distance during this time, as indicated by our author’s pending travel plans: “If [Timothy] comes here soon, I will bring him with me to see you” (NLT).
For these reasons, many believe that Paul the Apostle is the author of this letter to the Hebrews. Since Paul mentioned Timothy in most of his New Testament letters, this view has widespread support. However, that conclusion is hardly definitive, for Timothy undoubtedly knew many leaders within the early church.
With these things in mind, one source offers a possible scenario: “Because Timothy was recently freed (Heb_13:23) and the work was apparently written from Italy (Heb_13:24), we may assume that Timothy was arrested in Rome during the Neronian persecution (probably shortly after he came to see Paul—2Ti_4:21) and freed when Nero (and his policy) died in A.D. 68.” (1)
(1) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, [Hebrews- Introduction] Copyright © 1993
“Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Grace be with you all. Amen” (Hebrews 13:24-25).
The author of Hebrews closes his letter with the following salutation: “Those from Italy greet you.” While commentators differ greatly in their interpretation of this passage, it seems reasonable to assume that the members of his original audience must have lived somewhere other than the country of Italy. Of course, this might also imply that the author was in Italy at the time of this letter as well.
Nevertheless, one source counsels us to avoid reading too much into this brief remark in seeking to determine the author of this letter…
“Both Vincent and Expositor’s say that it is wrong to determine the location of the writing of the letter by the words ‘They of Italy salute you.’ Expositor’s quotes Winer as saying ‘A critical argument as to the place at which the Epistle was written should never have been founded on these words.’ Vincent says the expression, ‘They of Italy’ may mean ‘those who are in Italy send greeting from Italy,’ or, ‘those of Italy (Italian Christians with the writer at the time) send greeting from the place at which the letter was written.’ He says, ‘The phrase affords no reliable indication as to the residence of the persons addressed.’” (1)
Another commentary offers a similar cautionary message regarding the authorship of the epistle…
“The letter closes with the words ‘Grace be with you all’ (Hebrews 13:25), which is the same closing found in each of Paul’s known letters (see Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 16:23; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 6:18; Ephesians 6:24; Philippians 4:23; Colossians 4:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:18; 1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:22; Titus 3:15; and Philemon 25). However, it should be noted that Peter (1 Peter 5:14; 2 Peter 3:18) used similar—though not identical—closings. It is also possible that it was simply customary to close letters like this with the words ‘Grace be with you all’ during this time period.” (2)
Thus, we end our look at this great epistle with the following summary…
“The book of Hebrews teaches us that we have a better covenant, a better Mediator, a better hope, better promises, a better homeland, a better priesthood, and better possessions-better than the best that Judaism could offer. It assures us that we have eternal redemption, eternal salvation, an eternal covenant, and an eternal inheritance… The Epistle to the Hebrews encourages true Christians to walk by faith and not by sight because this is the life that pleases Christ. It also encourages us to bear up steadfastly under sufferings, trials, and persecutions in order that we might receive the promised reward.” (3)
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [Hebrews 13:24-25] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) GotQuestions.org, Who wrote the Book of Hebrews? Who was the author of Hebrews? Retrieved 24 July, 2023 from https://www.gotquestions.org/author-Hebrews.html
(3) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers p.2294