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Hebrews: Some Final Exhortations (13:1-19)

The overall aim of this letter was to encourage a Jewish community of believers to remain faithful to Jesus. Jesus is the divine Son of God who fully took on humanity. He is the mediator of a new covenant as well as the high priest and atoning sacrifice of that covenant. Jesus is in every way superior to the old covenant. A covenant that was but a shadow of the reality that is to be found in Jesus. Now, as the author nears the end of his letter, he takes some time to provide some final exhortations to his audience concerning life as believers.

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

Keep on Loving

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:1-3 NIV

Loving as Brothers and Sisters

This is a simple directive. But one that is so important. We are not just dues-paying members of a civic organization, bound together by a common interest. Instead, we are members together of one body, the body of Christ. We are called to be of one mind, love, and spirit (Phil. 2:2). The more united we are in this life, the more effective we can be in furthering the kingdom’s work.

The word used here for love is the Greek word philadelphia. It has a meaning similar to brotherly love, a mutual love for each other. I think the choice of this word rather than agapaō is significant. Implied in philadelphia is that we like each other. We enjoy being in each other’s company, hanging out together. It is the love that we experience being members of a healthy human family.

Show Hospitality

Hospitality is an idea that has changed dramatically over the centuries. Today, at least in the United States, we tend to think of hospitality as being thoughtful to visitors. But it was quite different in the first century. Inns were not common. And many of them had a bad reputation. So it was common for people to open their homes to strangers in town. Providing them with a place to stay and meals to eat, possibly for an extended time. Showing hospitality was a costly endeavor.

The author of Hebrews encourages his listeners to be hospitable to strangers. When someone knocks on their door looking for a place to stay, be willing to take them in. We rightly struggle with doing that today because it can be very dangerous. And there are plenty of reputable hotels and restaurants to take care of the traveler’s needs.

But the thought behind it is still true. Be willing to help care for the needs of those you encounter if you have the means and ability to do so. Show hospitality to strangers. You never know when that stranger might be a messenger of God (Gen. 18).

Remember Those Who Suffer for Christ

The believers that this letter was addressed to had suffered for their faith, including imprisonment (Heb. 10:32-34). And it appears that some were still suffering in a similar fashion. The encouragement here is to not forget them. Prisons of that day were not for long-term punishment like we have today. Instead, prisoners were held until they could be tried for their crimes. After their trial, they would either be declared innocent and released or guilty and face appropriate punishment. Paul’s recorded imprisonments all reflect this. He was held awaiting his trial and the disposition of his case.

Prisons of the day did not generally provide much for the prisoners. It was up to family and friends to provide them with basic necessities, like food. So the believers here are encouraged to visit their brothers and sisters who were suffering in prison, helping them in their need and encouraging them to remain faithful. Associating with those in prison for their faith could be dangerous. But to it anyway.

Whatever You Do for One of the Least

What the author has expressed here, especially about hospitality and visiting those in prison tracks very closely to Jesus’ final parable in Matthew, the parable of the sheep and goats.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 NIV

Avoid Sexual Immorality

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

Hebrews 12:4 NIV

This echos an earlier exhortation in Hebrews 12:16 concerning sexual immorality. Here though he narrows it down to sexual immorality within marriage. It is important to remember that this is written to believers, not to the culture at large. While sexual immorality is always wrong, it is especially so for those who have been washed clean by the blood of Christ. Adultery happening within the body of Christ is destructive to the harmony of the body. And that makes this doubly bad. Not only are you violating your marriage vows, but you are also causing division within the body and damaging the reputation of our Lord.

Be Content with What You Have

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 12:5-6 NIV

I live in a culture that seems to glorify discontent with what you have. Advertisers constantly bombard us with ads touting how much better our life would be if only we had their product or service. And all too often they claim that what they are selling is something that I really need. But do I?

This instruction flies in the face of that type of advertising. Rather than looking for bigger and better, be content with what you have. It is OK to own a home and car, to have decent furnishings in your house, and other possessions. What we are warned against here is the felt need to constantly upgrade what you have. To replace what works well with something that is newer and shinier.

Be content with what you have. Instead of spending your money on upgrades, use it to help those who are less fortunate. To help spread the gospel. Invest it in God’s kingdom.

Honor Past Leaders

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

Hebrews 12:7 NIV

We are told here to remember our leaders. But it does not seem to be current leadership. Rather the author is referring to those who are gone now. To those who have joined the heroes of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11. They may be gone, but don’t forget them and what they did for you. They spoke the word of God to you, leading you to faith in Christ and to growth in maturity.

Consider the outcome of their way of life. They were faithful. And they have now received the crown of life. It is always good to remember those who endured to the end and have joined the saints above. And not just remembering them in our thoughts. But also imitating their way of life so that we will be able to join them.

Always the Same

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 12:8 NIV

Our author has gone to great lengths to teach us about who Jesus is, what he has done for us, and what he is doing now. And that never changes. The next verse warns us about those bringing strange teaching to us. Things that are contrary to what their founding leaders had taught them. And contrary to what the author has been expressing through this letter.

Jesus never changes. He remains the Son of God, fully divine and fully human. His atoning sacrifice for us is still sufficient for our salvation and is the only way to find forgiveness. And he continues to be our high priest making intercession for us before the Father. Regardless of what anyone else might teach, Jesus has not changed.

Strange Teachings

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Hebrews 12:9-10 NIV

This would seem to be directed at teachers who are proclaiming some form of hybrid between worship under the Law and the worship of Christ. And that would have to be very appealing to this audience, allowing them to layer Jesus on top of their existing practice.

But Jesus, and the new covenant he established, make the old covenant obsolete. Leave the old behind and be devoted to the new. Let your heart be strengthened by grace, not by observing the rituals of the Law. While few of us today are coming from a Jewish background, it is still tempting to find comfort in ritual and tradition. There is nothing inherently wrong with those. Until they begin to take our focus from God’s grace given us in Christ Jesus. When tradition, ritual, and actions come to be the focus of our faith rather than the grace of God, we have taken our eyes off of Jesus. And, when that happens, we are in danger of failing to enter into God’s rest.

Don’t let anything come between you and the grace of God. Not even those things that might seem good, but redirect our focus. What he has for us is vastly greater than anything in this world. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ and the prize that awaits us.

Outside the Camp

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Hebrews 13:11-14 NIV

Leviticus 4:1-12 describes the sin offering for a person who sins unintentionally. After the animal is killed, some of its blood is sprinkled before the Lord inside the Tabernacle. The rest of the blood is poured out and the fat and internal organs are burnt on the altar. But the rest of the animal is taken outside the camp and burned up. This would have also applied to the sacrifice of atonement since it was a sin offering.

Outside the Camp

When Leviticus described the sin offering, the camp was where Israel was located. Later that would become the city of Jerusalem. The author of Hebrews notes that, just as the body of the sin offering was taken outside the camp, so Jesus suffered and died outside of Jerusalem. And then he encourages us to go to Jesus outside the camp, bearing his disgrace.

By going outside the camp, the author is encouraging his listeners to leave behind the practices of the old covenant. Leave that all behind. Go outside the camp of old covenant Judaism. Proudly identify with the one who bore the shame of hanging on a cross, sharing that shame with him.

The idea of an enduring city harkens back to Hebrews 11:13-16. These heroes of the faith were foreigners and strangers on earth, looking forward to a heavenly city. A city that God has prepared for them. And this is the same city that we are looking forward to today. Not a physical city on the earth. But the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9-10).

Pleasing Sacrifices

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13:15-16 NIV

Sacrifice

It is common among Christians today to believe that the days of sacrifice are over. Jesus’ sacrifice of himself o the cross was the final sacrifice and the Old Testament sacrificial system is no more. And it is true that we no longer offer animal sacrifices on an altar. But that was not the end of sacrifice.

The word translated here for sacrifice also means offering. When we put money into the offering plate, or collection box, as a part of our worship practice, we are directly imitating some of the sacrifices under the Old Covenant. Many of the sacrifices were in reality offerings that were made to sustain the priests, Levites, and the Temple. They offered animals and produce because that is what they had. We offer money instead, but it is for the same purpose.

It is unfortunate that all too often we associate sacrifice with giving up something. But the focus should not be what I am giving up as much as it is that I am making an offering to God. An offering made to honor him as our sovereign Lord. And made from a loving and generous heart.

A Sacrifice of Praise

The author of Hebrews mentions two sacrifices, or offerings, that we should make. The first of these is praise. What is praise? We use the term to refer to what we do when we sing during a worship service. Or any other time we express how great and awesome God is. But the author here adds a twist to this idea of praise.

He describes praise as the fruit of lips that openly profess God’s name. When I announce to the world around me that I serve God and that Jesus is my Lord, that is considered praise. Don’t be reluctant to confess that you are a Christ-follower. Be proud of that and let everyone know.

The Sacrifices of Doing Good and Sharing

This echos what was said at the beginning of this chapter, Hebrews 13:1-3. The earlier passage was directed at careing for those who were suffering for their faith while here it is a general instruction to do good and share with other people. As the earlier passage was, so this one also reflects the parable of the sheep and goats from Matthew 25:31-46.

When I help someone out who is in need, whether with my time or possessions, it is an offering to the Lord. And it is one that he is well pleased with. Be generous to those around you, especially those within the body of Christ. Give freely to the Lord, and experience his abundant blessing.

Submit to Your Leaders

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Hebrews 13:17 NIV

Earlier we were told to remember our former leaders and to follow the example they set for us. Here the focus is on the current leadership in the church. He tells us to have confidence in them and submit to their authority. This assumes that those leading you are godly men who are directing the church’s affairs well (1 Tim. 3:1-7, 5:17). Humans are inclined to question authority and frequently second guess their leading. But we should not do that. Trust them to lead us as God leads them.

The author then reminds us that our leaders are not accountable to us. Instead, they will have to give an account to God for how they have led us. This is really the same for all believers. Each of us will give an account of our stewardship of the gifts God has entrusted us with. But because our leaders have a much greater responsibility for nurturing other believers, as well as the potential for greater harm, their judgment will be greater (Jam. 3:1-2).

Be supportive of your leaders so that their service among us will be joyful. When we support and uplift them, we make their job easier. And that allows them to be more effective in their service. And that in turn, benefits all of the rest of the body.

A Request for Prayer

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

Hebrews 13:18-19 NIV

At the end of his exhortations to the church, he requests prayer for himself. It is obvious from this that he is one of them, but has been separated for a while. We do not know the details of the separation, or what has prevented him from returning. But it would not seem to be a forced separation like prison would be. He does express later that if Timothy is released from his imprisonment, the two of them would journey together to see them.

The author also expresses to them that he is confident in his own faithful walk with the Lord. That his conscience is clear and that his life has reflected well on the Lord. And on the church he is a part of.

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The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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2 thoughts on “Hebrews: Some Final Exhortations (13:1-19)”

  1. Awesome Post. God used this to speak to me. He touched, me into reopening doors that I almost shut.

    God’s blessings be upon you.

    Reply

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