THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
From Comments and Notes Discussed in Bible Classes and Compiled by F. M. Perry, 1978 Through 1998.
CHAPTERS 12 AND 13 - CHRIST EXPECTS BETTER SERVICES OF HIS DISCIPLES.
We now begin that last section of the Hebrew letter which says that, not only has Christ provided something better for Christians, He expects more from Christians than from His people of the old covenant.
"(1) Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2. NASV.
Anyone who would want to disregard the very sight of the Messiah now and go back to the old covenant, tries to set at naught the faith of the great people of old. The heros of old believed in the new covenant and the Messiah when they could not see them wi th their own eyes. You Hebrew Christians have seen the fulfillment of their faith. Do you want to return to the old covenant? At the time of the old covenant, the great blessing received through it was faith in God's future action to fulfill the old covenant. Now that God has fulfilled the old covenant, you have received the substance of the things hoped for. If you go back to the old covenant, God will not bless you with faith anymore for the old faith has now been replaced by sight. You would reject something better God has provided for you, and you would show that you have no faith in God at all for you do not accept His fulfillment of faith.
Because of their faith, the souls of these people of old have been preserved by God. And from their vantage point in "paradise" of the "unseen world," they now see through spiritual eyes the Christ and His great new covenant in operation. In their day they laid aside every encumbrance and ran with endurance the race set before them. "Therefore," says verse 1 of chapter 12, "since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." This great cloud of witnesses is "alive" today in the greatest sense of the word "alive." Their spirits and souls and bodies are preserved, without blame, and are looking in faith with us to still greater things, to "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:23).
Brethren, we Christians are in great company, the company of those whose faith does not waiver anymore. The eyes of their souls are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, and that is where our eyes of faith must also be fixed.
The Hebrew writer then admonishes the Hebrew Christians, and us today, as well, in verses 3 through 11 of chapter 12, to bear the trials and afflictions of this life with patience.
"(3) For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. (4) You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; (5) and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons , 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord. Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; (6) for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom Be receives. (7) It is not for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (8) But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illigetimate children and not sons. (9) Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? (10) For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. (11) All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness." Hebrews 12:3-11. NASV.
As Christians there are some things to consider, says the Hebrew writer.
1. In verse 3, consider the hostility of sinners which Jesus endured, even to the shedding of His blood on the cross;
2. In verse 4, consider that "you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood, in your striving against sin"; and
3. Consider that the things you are called upon to endure are but the discipline of God for your good.
As proof of this last point, the author quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12 and from Psalm 119. The author is explaining that the simple act of God's correcting them was evidence of His love and care for them; that he was in fact dealing with them as His own beloved children. (He quotes from Deut. 8:5 and from 2 Sam. 7:14 for this thought.)
The Hebrew writer goes on in verses 9 and 10 to remind the Hebrew Christians that they had respected their earthly fathers for disciplining them when they were growing up on earth even though a father might have erred in his discipline. But God never errs. He corrects His children with infinite wisdom and love, for the purpose of bringing them up to "share His holiness."
In verse 11 the writer says, "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."
"(12) Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, (13) and make straight paths for your feet so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed." Hebrews 12:12-13. NASV.
The writer here quotes from Isaiah 35:3 and Proverbs 4:26, and says, in effect, take fresh courage, remove obstacles from the way of each other; strengthen each other and save those who even now are about to perish through apostasy.
Notice that the Hebrew writer is writing as to individuals within a group. He is certainly speaking to individual Christians who are in fellowship with other Christians in the Body of Christ, the church. Remember, the most specific admonition he has given to the Hebrew Christians in this letter is to not forsake their own assembling together, but to encourage one another (Heb.10:25).
"Pursue peace with all men, and after the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14. NASV.
This comes pretty close to saying - if you can't get along with your brethren in the church on earth, you won't be with them to see the Lord in heaven. Nothing un-sanctified will ever come into the presence of the glorified Lord. We must pursue sanctification so that we can "see the Lord!' This verse links the pursuit of sanctification with the pursuit of peace with all men. And the reason peace with men and sanctification are linked, as far as our actions are concerned, is because we, each of us, need all the help we can get. Verses 15-17 explain.
"(15) See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by it many be defiled; (16) that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold hi9s own birthright for a single meal. (17) For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears." Hebrews 12:15-17. NASV.
If we actively pursue peace with all members of the church, and actively see to it that no one in the church comes short of the grace of God, then through His grace God will sanctify us each and every one and we will all together see the Lord. But there is nothing here about going off by oneself and seeing the Lord and there is clear implication, that forsaking the assembly, one will not see the Lord when He comes.
The Lord's Body is a spiritual actuality upon the earth today as it was in the first century. We, being members of it, must be active and healthy in it to the edification of the whole Body. No member of the Body will be allowed to drag the whole Body down or cause the defiling of others in the Body.
Together we must help each other keep from becoming a "root of bitterness springing up (to) cause trouble" in the Body. Remember the words of John the Baptist, speaking in this same figure, "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matt. 3:10).
In another figure used here in verses 16 and 17 we are told that each of us in the family of God has a God given birthright which each received when he was born spiritually into the family. This birthright is the right to see and draw near to the Lord when He comes. We foolishly sell our birthright when we sin, for in sin we cannot partake of that right to be with the Lord. The tragedy of Esau was that he found no place for repentance, for through repentance he might have received back his birthright. The way we help each other in the assembly of the family of God to retain our birthright is to help each other repent. For our great privilege as children of God, though we sin, is to repent and pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22). And, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9). We must encourage each other to confess our sins, to the Lord first of all, so that we can be cleansed by the Lord.
I am so apt to call attention to how this letter applies to us today, but we must remember that it applied first to the Hebrew Christians of Judea to whom it was written in the first century. Of course, in principle it applied and still applies to all Christians who were born into the Kingdom after that first sermon on Pentecost after the resurrection and ascension of Christ. And the Hebrew Christians of the first century must have been impressed, and convinced I think, when the author implied that their tendency toward apostasy was very much like Esau in his throwing away of his birthright.
Then comes in verses 18 through 29 of chapter 12 a passage which I consider to be a climax of the entire letter. Up to this point in the letter, the author of Hebrews has confronted the wavering Hebrew Christians with incontrovertible and incontestable proof from the Old Testament scriptures that the new covenant is God's fulfillment of the old covenant, and that the Christ of the new covenant is a better one (indeed the perfect one) to bring them God's word than angels were in days of old; that Christ is a better apostle to them from God than was Moses; that Christ is a better high priest than any of the high priests of Judaism; and that Christ is the guarantee of a better covenant providing a better sacrifice for sins and better blessings throughout life.
Then, beginning with verse 18 of chapter 12, the author makes one more grand comparison contrasting the old covenant with the new. He turns the readers minds back with word pictures to the occasion when God brought the Children of Israel to Mount Sinai and inaugurated the old covenant through Moses. He reminds them how terrible and frightening it was for a sinful people to even be near the mountain on which the righteous God had descended. There was thunder and lightening and a thick cloud around the top of the mountain and a trumpet sound that made the people tremble. When the Lord came down upon the mountain it was as though fire had settled on the mountain. Smoke ascended like smoke of a furnace and the whole mountain quaked violently. Now, no unsanctified, unholy person can ever come near God and be allowed to live, so the Lord told Moses to warn the people "lest they break through and gaze, and many of them perish." If even one of the cattle should touch the mountain it was to be killed. This was the awesome giving of the old covenant.
Then the author of Hebrews, beginning in verse 22 of chapter 12, turns the minds of the Hebrew Christians to the spiritual fulfillment of the old covenant as the spiritual mountain to which God's people have been brought to receive the new covenant. Instead of Mount Sinai in the desert, you have come to spiritual Mount Zion; you have come to heavenly Jerusalem, even greater and better than earthly Jerusalem in the time of Solomon. In addition to being earthly beings you are now in a Kingdom with heavenly angels. You have come to a place now where the inner man is taken care of - the souls are enrolled in heaven, and the spirits are made perfect. And Jesus is here and His blood has been sprinkled on you and that is why your inner man is cleansed and able to come into the presence of God.
"(18) For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, (19) and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. (20) For they could not bear the command, 'If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.' (21) And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, 'I am full of fear and trembling.' (22) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, (23) to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, (23) and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. (25) See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. (26) And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised saying, 'Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.' (27) And this expression, 'Yet once more,' denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (28) Therefore, since we received a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; (29) for our God is a consuming fire." Hebrews 12:18-29. NASV.
Note that Christians, with whom God has a new covenant, have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken. Many people in the world are confused about this. First of all there is confusion concerning the church which belongs to Christ and the kingdom which belongs to Him. Many do not understand that those who are in the church are also in the kingdom, that the church and the kingdom are different figures for the same thing. We see around us in the world many different churches, and a lot of people are content for it to be so. However, I have never heard anyone say there are many kingdoms. Men of the world are content for the Lord to have many churches, but most would not claim that He must also, then, have many kingdoms. The church (or many churches) are here now, but the kingdom is not here yet, say many. Some say the kingdom will only come on earth some day in the future when the Lord will come and reign on the earth for 1,000 years. Others just connect the kingdom with heaven, after we depart from this earth.
But the Hebrew letter clearly says that under the new covenant Christians (even Hebrew Christians of the first century AD) have received the "kingdom which cannot be shaken." The Bible clearly shows that this kingdom is the same as the church, against which Jesus said the gates of Hades shall not prevail (Matt. 16:18).
As we go into this final chapter of the Hebrew letter, we note that the writer has accomplished his main purpose in the writing of this letter. He has one more strong argument in this last chapter to show that it would be folly for the Hebrew Christians to abandon the new covenant and try to go back to the old covenant. Using the Old Testament scriptures and the known facts concerning the Christ (who lived on earth, was crucified and buried, was resurrected and exalted to God's right hand), he has shown the infinite superiority of Christianity over Judaism. He has shown how Christ is the author of a New covenant, is a better messenger from God, is a better apostle to the Jews and to the world, is a better high priest, has provided a better covenant with better blessing, and expects better service of His people.
The better blessings include the blessing of having the whole person cleansed from the guilt of sin. For the first time, under the new covenant, the inner person, which is the part of the person really guilty of sin, has actually been cleansed. This opens the way for the better service, for now, for the first time the cleansed inner person, the soul and spirit, can draw near to God through the Holy Spirit of God who is within the person. And God's Holy Spirit then actually can lead the person to serve God daily according to His will. This was not possible under the old covenant.
So now with these tremendous truths and blessings called to the attention of the Hebrew Christians, these parting exhortations take on fuller meaning than they might otherwise. They are based on the truths already revealed in the letter.
"Let love of the brethren continue." Hebrews 13:1. NASV.
Some translations say, "Let brotherly love continue." The Greek word for "brotherly love" used here is PHILADELPHIA; love that grows up among brothers and sisters in a family. Of course, the word is applied here to Christ's spiritual family composed of all those in the church of Christ. So, in this connection in the New Testament, this word PHILADELPHIA is a higher kind of love than those without Christ can know.
This is not the Greek word AGAPE that is used here. This is not the charity for all that Christians are commanded to have. Of course, Christians are to have AGAPE love. We must learn AGAPE love from God and then we must "will" to put it into action in our lives. AGAPE love does not call for exercise of the emotions. It is not emotionally driven. But PHILADELPHIA love is a brotherly or sisterly attachment as for one of our own, one who has the same aims and goals in life, one with whom we are living and working. PHILADELPHIA does have emotional attachment. We say that it is the kind of love exhibited between members of a family because family members usually develop emotional attachments for each other. We may have the emotional attachments of PHILADELPHIA for anyone and such attachments especially grow up among members of a family. Such attachments are not wrong. They do not have sexual overtones. They may rightfully develop between men, between women, and between men and women. This kind of love is a strong friendship.
When the writer of Hebrews said, "Let brotherly love continue," he was writing to Christians who had already been commanded by Christ to have AGAPE love for each other. They had been commanded to have the utmost charity and concern for other Christians (as well as all other people). Having such AGAPE love for others in the church, as God has for each of us, then the highest form of PHILADELPHIA love grows up among brethren in the family of God, the church.
How does this work? How is it achieved, this highest form of brotherly love? First of all we must have AGAPE love. We must "will", or we must exercise of our own volition, a full measure of concern for each other whether or not we have any emotional attachments. As we practice this AGAPE love for each other, emotional attachments grow up and we then have the highest form of PHILADELPHIA love for each other because it is founded, not just on things of the world, but on God's love for us. So PHILADELPHIA love is recommended by the Hebrew writer to all the brethren, and it certainly will grow among brethren who are practicing AGAPE love.
So this brotherly love among members of the church is a distinguishing characteristic of the church of our Lord. Jesus Himself said in John 13:35, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." The love Jesus spoke of here is PHILADELPHIA, brotherly love. It will grow up among the Lord's people if they give themselves to the Lord. Then it becomes a distinguishing mark of His people.
James Burton Coffman has commented that we may develop PHILADELPHIA love toward all men because every person on earth, if he is not a brother in Christ, is a brother in Adam and one for whom Christ died. Christ's AGAPE love for all men grew into PHILADELPHIA love as well when Christ became flesh. Our love must extend to all men just as Christ's love did. It is God's desire that no one should perish, but that all brethren in Adam would become brethren in the family of God.
This phrase, "show hospitality to strangers" could also be translated "show love to strangers." The basis for this other possible translation is the Greek word which is translated here as "hospitality." The Greek word is PHILOXENIZO. This word has the same "PHILO" part as the word "PHILADELPHIA", and this part means "love." In other words, we are to have a "love" for strangers in our midst that will be exhibited in "hospitality" to them. This hospitality will not only be a blessing to the strangers, but will be a blessing to the host as well. Example: Abraham, in Genesis 18 and 19 showed hospitality to strangers who appeared near his tent, and found later that they were angels on a mission for God.
"Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body." Hebrews 13:3. NASV.
This reference seems to be to people who have been imprisoned because they are Christians. However, it probably extends also to prisoners of all kinds. As long as we are subject to the limitations of the flesh, the misfortune that causes one to be imprisoned can come to us also. If it was sin that caused one to be imprisoned, who is to say that his sin was greater in the sight of God than the sins of those not in prison. Sin, any sin, separates one from God whether or not one is sent to prison for it. And, of course, many are sent to prison and mistreated in many countries today who are innocent and undeserving of punishment.
"Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for fornicators and adulterers God will judge." Hebrews 13:4. NASV.
In this day and age, this admonition needs to be made known to the world. It fits with what the writer has just been speaking of the Christian's contact with people of the world in order to lead them to Christ.
Some counselors today practice what they call "situation ethics" which says that there are no hard and fast rules of conduct. Only the situation, they say, governs whether a thing is right or wrong. And some even hold that fornication and adultery may at times be good and not wrong! And, of course, by their conduct, we note that many, many people simply do not think that fornication is wrong, anyway. The Hebrew writer lets us know plainly, however, that fornication and adultery are wrong and will reap the wrath of God in judgment.
Now just after the Hebrew writer has mentioned the importance of brotherly love (verse 1), which allows the emotions to be involved in brotherly and sisterly relationships, the writer mentions fornication and adultery (verse 4) which take personal attachments far beyond the limits of God ordained personal and emotional behavior. It was probably true in that first century, as well as in our day, that some people misunderstood and misused the various kinds of personal relationships (or kinds of love) with which God has blessed mankind. The "marriage bed" refers to that kind of love expressed by the Greek word EROS. The Greek word EROS is not used here but it is clear that this kind of love, which God intended only for married couples, is referenced here. When this kind of love, normally for the "marriage bed", is expressed outside the "marriage bed", it becomes fornication or adultery. Fornication and adultery are sins that will be punished under the judgment of God.
I suspect that the lack of knowledge about God's purpose for mankind, and the lust for emotional fulfillment in the world of mankind, lead people to engage in fornication and adultery. For example, two men may feel an emotional attachment for each other. If this is simply an expression of the meaning of PHILADELPHIA love without sexual overtones, it is good and is recommended by God's word. But some men do not know the difference between a brotherly love attachment and an erotic attachment, and they are led into homosexual acts. The fact that we who use the English language think of only one word (the word love) which we use indiscriminately to express all forms of personal attachment, some good, some bad, does not help the situation. And the philosophies such as "situation ethics", do not help but also hinder proper understanding. All of these worldly ideas to which we are exposed by Satan, lead some men and women to commit fornication and adultery, and some people of the same sex to commit fornication in homosexual acts. The statements of the Hebrew writer, arranged as they are in the first part of chapter 13, seem to be purposely intimating that it is not true that personal emotional attachments should lead to sexual attachments. Outside of marriage, erotic love is fornication or adultery. PHILADELPHIA love does not have sexual overtones. Brotherly love is good and is recommended among brothers and sisters in Christ.
"(5) Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,' (6) so that we confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I shall not be afraid. What shall man do to me?'" Hebrews 13:5-6. NASV.
Paul declared in 1 Tim. 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The love of money springs from sinful discontent with one's status in life. The attempt to rely on money as the answer to the problems of life comes about because we fail to trust in the providence of God. Even among Christians, who should know the Lord better than others, many mistakenly suppose that they may be able to supply all that is needed or desired through the means of accumulating money, hoping to acquire security and confidence in this life. Experience will teach us that money cannot give us confidence in this life, and often the pursuit of money puts us into such condition that we have no confidence or security beyond this life at all. We are eternal spiritual beings and money is just a medium for this material world, not for our spiritual life beyond this world. The only security and confidence we can have, and it will be totally sufficient, is in the Lord. The Lord is our helper in this life on earth as well as in the eternal life beyond. Money is something to be used in the Lord's service, not something to be used selfishly.
"(7) Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. (8) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever." Hebrews 13:7-8. NASV.
This reminds us of much that has been said earlier in the Hebrew letter. And, of course, the writer is here making final practical admonitions to the Hebrew Christians based on all that he has said before. The letter began with the revelation that God, in these last days, has spoken to us in His Son. Then in chapter 2, the writer told how the word, that God has spoken in His Son, has reached the Hebrew Christians. He said, "Those who heard the word of God, and with whom God has borne witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, have spoken it to you." These, then, were the ones who led you and spoke the word of God to you. It was spoken in Christ Jesus who is shown in chapter 1 to be a member of the Godhead, to have taken part in creation, to be the One who runs the universe by His power, and to be sitting even now at the right hand of the Majesty on high. When we remember the one who spoke the word of God to us and led us, thereby, to God, then we should remember this eternal Jesus Christ in whom the word was spoken in these last days.
The writer says, imitate the faith of those who led you. In addition to Jesus Christ, he probably is referring to those great leaders of God's people in olden days, who were our heros of faith (chapter 11).
"(9) Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefitted. (10) We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. (11) For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the Holy Place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. (12) Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. (13) Hence, let us out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. (14) For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come." Hebrews 13:9-14. NASV.
Here is stressed again the fact that it is the inner man, the spiritual man, with whom we should be concerned now under the new covenant, rather than the fleshly, material man. The Hebrew Christians were being pressured to return to Judaism. And Judaism tried to strengthen men by fleshly things such as food -- abstaining from certain food, and eating certain foods at certain times. Those who gave themselves only to these kind of services and who forgot the need for the heart to be strengthened by the grace of God, were not profited.
Of course, to leave out the strengthening of the heart by the grace of God was a varied and strange doctrine even under the
old covenant. The Lord has always taught, under any and all of His covenants with mankind, that only His grace can save
anyone. The old covenant Israelite was to look forward to the coming Messiah through whom the heart could be cleansed.
Now, that the Messiah has come and established the new covenant, the heart (the soul that sinned) can actually be cleansed
in the blood of Christ and strengthened by God's grace.
Of course, those who served the tabernacle (the priests of the old covenant) had a right to eat of the meat of the animals offered in sacrifice, except the meat of those animals offered in the sin offerings. These animals were considered unclean because of the sins heaped upon them, so they were burned outside the camp (at that time outside the city of Jerusalem).
Now the Hebrew writer's final argument against the Judaizers was this. You Christian Jews who want to go back to the old covenant and to eat according to the rules of the old covenant, think about this - the priests of the tabernacle would not eat the meat of the animals killed in the sin offering. This meat was burned outside the gate of the city. Now the true sin offering is Christ. He, in anti-type to the animal sin offerings, was killed outside the camp (actually outside the gate of the city which was equivalent to the camp). They of the old covenant had no right to eat of the sacrifice that was burned outside the camp. But that is where one needs to go in these last days under the new covenant, for there is where Christ was taken and, in a sense, where he is with respect to the old covenant. Only outside the camp can we partake of Christ.
Forget, then, the rules of eating under the old covenant. If you don't, these rules will make Christ unavailable to you. Instead, "Let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach." Why? Because we are no longer concerned with a material camp or a material city. Now we are concerned with a spiritual city. "Here (on earth) we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come." (Note the continuity of faith and hope among God's people down through the ages. The Hebrew writer has called attention to the fact that fifteen hundred years before he wrote, Abraham also was looking for that "city which is to come", and it is thirty five hundred years after Abraham that we look for that same city.) Through John, Christ has described that great spiritual city to us in Revelation chapters 21 and 22, the holy city. anti-type of Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from God.
There is still for us as Christians today a great question as there was for the Hebrew Christians of the first century. Where are we to live and be, where are we to dwell in this broad world, what are we to do about matters of this world, as we await the "city which is to come?" The answer is given in verses 12 and 13, "Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach." Verse 13 had for the Hebrew Christians of the first century, and for us, the Christians of the 20th and the 21st centuries, the most important admonition of the Hebrew letter. "Hence, let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing the reproach."
Should we Christians be involved in political actions to try to right some of the wrongs that exist in our country? Should we be actively working to elect to Congress men who will try to reverse the judicial decisions which allow the killing of unborn children under the misleading banner of "pro-choice?" Should we be active in trying to replace the activist judges who are destroying our freedom to express our Christianity in public schools and other public places of everyday life? Should we be active in trying to stop congress from passing laws which give special privileges to homosexuals, privileges which other citizens don't have? Should we lend our good names, and our money, and our time alongside people of the world to fight political battles with the desire to give us more freedom to live openly in a religious life of our choice? I'm not giving you my answers to these questions and I'm not asking you to voice yours right now. Just ponder them for now and dozens of others like them.
Somehow I've been placed on a lot of mailing lists. Every day I receive mail in my mailbox addressed directly to me. It says: join us by sending money to assist in impeaching this evil president; help us stop the homosexual agenda to teach the children of America that the homosexual lifestyle is legitimate; help us stop the court action to make homosexual marriages legal and to allow couples of the same sex to adopt children; sign this petition; send money; help us put a stop to and reverse the judicial actions which forbid our children to pray, to display their bibles, and to discuss their Christian principles in their public school; sign this petition; send money; help us fight the judicial order to do away with prayer and display of the 10 commandments in the courthouses of America; sign this petition; send money; help us defeat this congressman who is pro-choice and elect this one to congress who is pro-life; and on and on ...
The very way I have voiced these questions may indicate to you where I stand on some of them. But that is not the reason I raise them now. The question for us is: should we be involved directly with the world in these kind of battles at all? If so, to what extent should we be involved? Are there other involvements of higher priority than these to which we should be giving our attention? What is a Christian to do?
There was a Bible lectureship held recently during which the question of Christian priorities in the midst of such questions was to be discussed, I attended with great anticipation of learning Bible answers to my questions, The lectures were all good and Bible centered, I think, but I have forgotten the details of all the speeches except one. Randy Harris set the stage for his remarks by reading Hebrews chapter 13, verses l0 through 14, which we read just a few moments ago. "Christ suffered outside the camp", he said. "We do not have a lasting city", he said. All the problems of this world which I have raised questions about, he implied are problems of the temporary, fleshly "city." These problems rage in the "city." Then he said, "But we Christians are not supposed to be in the camp, that is, in the city! We are not in the camp or the city anyway. For we have been told to go to Jesus outside the camp, bearing His reproach." There were a few more words, but, that was it! That was the answer to my questions!
Does that answer mean that I must withdraw myself from the world. Does that relieve me of response to Christ's great commission? No, it doesn't seem to me that my spiritual withdrawal to the cross of Christ outside the gate of the city means that I must withdraw from the physical world in which my body lives. My understanding, as faulty as it is at times, is that we must speak, and act in this world as from our spirit~al stand at the shameful cross outside the gate of the figurative city of the world. From that position our Lord said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel." We dwell spiritually outside the city, but we make spiritual forays into the city to declare the gospel of the cross of Christ. And perhaps we can go near the city and speak over the walls to be heard in the city. We Christians are the modern day prophets who have the job of calling the world from doom to repentance. We are disciples of Jesus speaking the good news of salvation to people in the world, but actually living outside the gate of the world.
"Hence let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach." Of course, our voices must be heard. We must "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15). But our voices must be heard from "outside the camp." And the message must urge those who hear us to also "'Come out from their midst and be separate' says the Lord." (1 Cor 6:11; Isa. 52:11).
Instead of bearing the reproach outside the gate, do we not sometimes enter into the camp and fight politically to reduce or to take away the reproach altogether? Is it not the admonition of the Holy Spirit that Christians "bear the reproach of Christ" rather than get rid of it? Because we have all sinned there is reproach to be borne. The world is trying to get rid of the reproach by saying there really is no sin. Our job as Christians is to call the people of the world to the Christ who takes away sin!
"(15) Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (16) And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Hebrews 13:15-16. NASV.
The sacrifice of praise is perhaps another anti-type of altar sacrifice offered under the old covenant. The old covenant Jews did offer praise and thanksgiving to God. Especially do we see this expressed in the Psalms. But now, for the Jewish Christians, God has made great fulfillment of earlier promises and the Christians have even greater reason to offer praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. Praise and thanksgiving offerings were always different from sin offerings. Under the old covenant various thank offerings were made on certain days and in accordance with certain rules. But now, under the new covenant, the sacrifice of praise is to be offered "continually' and it consists of the prayers of praise and thanksgiving and confessions, always giving God the glory. These "sacrifices" may be worded as prayers directed to God, or they may be expressions used in our conversations with people which indicate that we have faith in God, depend always on God, and give all honor to Him.
Our "sacrifices" under the new covenant also take the form of doing good and sharing. God takes care of all mankind in accordance with His will. He wants to use Christians in His work. The Lord then uses Christians to "do good" and "to share." These are "sacrifices" with which the Lord is pleased and which serve to accomplish the Lord's purposes on earth.
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." Hebrews 13:17. NASV.
This is an admonition to heed the word of God. Heed, obey, and submit to the word of God as it is relayed to you from your "leaders." Those referred to as "leaders" who are to be heeded in the family of the church are the elders for they bring us the word of God. And the one whom we term "the minister" or "the preacher," for he too brings the word of God. And, it seems to me, that a "leader" might be any other Christian who leads us by bringing us the word of God. Indeed, the context of this Hebrew letter upholds the admonition that we should obey and submit to a Christian brother from the standpoint of his speaking the word which God has spoken in these last days in His son. The elders, and all who lead us to walk in Christ, do it now under the new covenant. It is done with respect to the inner man, the eternal man, with brotherly love in the spiritual family of God keeping watch over the eternal souls of each Christian.
But verse 17 in another translation says, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them." Obedience in this instance surely must mean primarily obedience and submission to the elders of the congregation. James Burton Coffman says, "That this office (that is, office of an elder, bishop, overseer, presbyter, pastor or shepherd, all being titles of the same office), controlled by the enumeration in God's word of the qualifications of those appointed to it (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9), is one of the most crucial importance in the church, is evident in the command here in the Hebrew letter that Christians must submit to it. Every society must have some kind of government; and the Lord has chosen to elevate to that responsibility in the church men of faith, ability and reputation to bear the burden of government of the church. The command is for every Christian to obey and submit to such men, who themselves must give an account to God."
James Burton Coffman goes on to say, "This is a good place to register a protest against that specimen of believer who, in every sense, is a free-lancer, considering himself a member anywhere he hangs his hat, appropriating to himself the right to free and easy criticism of the elders upon any pretext, and drifting from group to group as occasions arise in which he may draw away disciples after himself. Verse 27 is a stern reminder that there is such a thing as authority in the Church of Christ, and that one may flout it only at great risk to his soul's salvation."
On the other hand, he says, "There is nothing in this injunction (of verse 17) that for a moment would require Christians to submit to unfaithful, unsound, sinful, or deceived elders."
"(18) Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. (19) And I urge you all the more to do this, that I may be restored to you sooner. (20) Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, (21) equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (22) But I urge you brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. (23) Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I shall see you. (24) Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. (25) Grace be with you all." Hebrews 13:18-25. NASV.
In spite of all the warnings that the Hebrew writer has given to the Hebrew Christians, and despite his criticism of them as not yet being as mature in the faith as they should, he asks them to pray for him. So he still holds his readers to be bona fide Christians in covenant relationship with God. And in addition he says that he has a good conscience. This seems to indicate that he has the thought that he has done all he can do to help them escape the danger of apostasy. This matter of the conscience of the writer could only be involved if the writer felt responsible for teaching them aright as he has been doing in this letter. (Incidentally, do you know of any other great teacher of the New Testament who speaks of the importance of maintaining a good conscience other than the Apostle Paul?) Another inference here is the author's belief in the efficacy of prayers offered by many as contrasted by prayers offered by only one or a few.
The writer's statement in verse 19 that prayer will help him "be restored to you the sooner," makes some of us who read today speculate that the writer was in prison when he wrote this letter. But later in verse 23 he mentions the fact that Timothy has been released, and that he is free to accompany Timothy to go to see them (his readers). So it does not appear that the Hebrew writer is in prison as he writes this letter, or at least, as he gets ready to dispatch it. It just seems to indicate that circumstances beyond his control had hindered him until that time.
Verse 20 and 21 are like a doxology to the Hebrew letter. It is the will of the God of peace which is of the utmost importance to God and all His creation. This God of peace enlisted His human people to do His will and equipped them with every necessary tool. Not only does He equip the Christians, He works in them Himself through the Spirit of Jesus Christ to accomplish His will. He has done it in a way that not one of His creation ever imagined it would be done. He did it by bringing up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord.
Verse 22 beseeches the Hebrew brethren to not disregard or belittle the "few words" that have been written in this letter. The "few words of exhortation" refer to the entire letter from start to finish, and it covers God's plan for salvation of mankind through all the ages. With God's eternity in mind, then this letter is in "few words." How could so much have been expressed in so few words?
Verse 23 speaks of the possibility of Timothy and the Hebrew wri ter going to see the Jewish Christians to which this letter was written. It appears that Timothy may have been in prison, but that is not absolutely clear. It does seem clear that Timothy, having been freed from whatever impediment had previously hindered him, was expected by the author, who fervently hoped that his arrival would be in time to enable both of them together to travel for a personal visit with the recipients of this letter.
In verse 24 the author shows his respect for the elders (those who have the rule over you) of the congregation of these Hebrew Christians to which he was writing. If this Spirit inspired author shows his respect for the elders and members of the congregation which he has been exhorting, how much more should we be diligent to manifest such courtesy and consideration toward elders of God's congregations.
When the writer says, "They of Italy salute you," it is not clear whether the author was with brethren in Italy, or whether some Christians from Italy were with the author wherever he might have been.
Verse 25 says, "Grace be with you all. Amen." James Burton Coffman points out that this was Paul's way of concluding a letter, and he cites 13 of Paul's epistles which he closed this way. Although Paul did not sign his name as he usually did, many scholars believe that this closing is tantamount to his signature on the Hebrew letter.
The word "grace" is an all-comprehensive word of summary for the entire system of salvation provided by God for sinful mortals. So it is a most fitting word with which to end a loving letter. The grace of God is exclusive only in the sense that some shall fall short of it (Heb. 12:15), for the scriptures affirm that it has indeed appeared unto all men (Titus 2:11). The writer also uses the word "Amen" in the benediction of verse 25. And we use that word quite often to conclude prayers to God. I have always thought it meant something like "So long, Father, that's all for now." James Burton Coffman suggests that it sounds a note of consciousness that God observes and takes cognizance of the affairs of men. It is a blessed word, he says. He suggests that we pronounce it the American way, A-men and not Ah-men.