Hebrews 13. Practical Instructions.
Key Notes: Love and leadership are spelled out. We are outsiders.
Hebrews 13 gives us practical lessons. It is typical of New Testament letters to give the theory (theology) in the first part of the book and the practice (ethics) in the second. In Hebrews, the theology and its direct application take up most of the book. General Christian practice is given only a little space. In I Corinthians, practically the entire book deals with practical instructions. The concept shown by this 1–2 approach is important: what we do depends on what we believe.
There are twelve short instructions given in chapter 13.
1) Continue to be loving toward each other. 13:1
2) Do not neglect hospitality. 13:2
3) Care for members in prison or in trouble. 13:3
4) Hold marriage in high esteem. 13:4
5) Depend on the Lord, not your money. 13:5
6) Imitate leaders who taught you about God. Jesus is the only one who is changeless. 13:7–8
7) Don't be seduced by unusual teachings. 13:9
8) Don't be obsessed with diets and food. 13:9
9) Jesus suffered outside the camp. Like him, we are in a sense outcasts. Our day is yet future. 13:10–14
10) Offer to God the sacrifice of praise, your testimony. 13:15
11) Obey your present leaders and do not make them miserable. They are responsible for you. 13:17
12) Pray for the writer that he may do good in every circumstance. 13:18
A second look at the chapter shows a useful outline, perhaps a palindrome. Biblical palindromes (ABCBA) typically put the main topic in the middle.
13:1–6 Love and care
13:7–9 Leaders past
13:10–15 Recap of chapters 3–10
13: 17–19 Leaders present; leaders absent
13:‘-25 Love and care
Think of it as a sandwich. Love and care are the bread and butter.
Leadership is the mustard and pickles.
The center is the meat reprocessed from the heart of the book.
13:1–6 In these six verses on loving and caring, three words with the root for “love” (Gr.”philia”) and a word for bonding are used.
13:1 Let brotherly love (“philadelphia”) continue.
13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers. (Greek “philoxenia” is more intense than hospitality, and means love of strangers.) “Love the stranger (sojourner) therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deut.10:19)
Hospitality is vital. Abraham entertained angels and God (JHWH) Himself, without knowing at first who they were. Gen.18
13:3 “Look after” (the Greek word means to bond with) members in prison or trouble. Timothy was one of the prisoners. 13:23
13:4 Hold marriage in high esteem. When he says God will judge the immoral and adulterous, one wonders if he intends that we should not judge them. We need to regain the holiness of marriage in ceremony and daily life.
13:5–6 Depend on the Lord, not your money. To be free from the love of money is “a-phil-argyros”, not loving silver. Your security is in Him. “He will never fail you or forsake you.” (Deut.31:6) “With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psa.118:6)
13:7–9 deals with past leaders.
13:7 “Remember your leaders. Consider the outcome of their faith….” suggests that they have already died, perhaps martyred like Stephen and James. “Imitate their faith.” (6:12; IIThes.3:7)
13:8 Jesus is the constant in leadership. “...Thou art the same and Thy years will never end.” (1:10–12)
13:9 We should avoid strange teachings and food fads. Paul associates food restrictions with “human precepts and doctrines” in Col.2:21–22.
13:10–15 Using the theme of food, he moves into a brief review of the main topic of the book. We have better food, a better altar, a better sacrifice, a better city, a greater praise.
13:10 We feed on Christ (Jn.6:53), as the priests of the tabernacle literally fed on the sacrifices that were brought to them to be offered to God.
13:11 The slaughtered bull and goat on the Day of Atonement were burned outside the camp. (Lev.16:27). Christ also was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem (“near the city” Jn.19:20) and we are likewise outsiders. We are “aliens and exiles” (Heb.11:13; IPet.2:1l) in the land of our birth.
13:14 “We seek the city which is to come”. “He (Abraham) looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb.11:10)
13:15 The sacrifice of praise is the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name, that give testimony to God’s attributes.
13:16 He returns to the theme of caring and sharing. Sharing what you have is a sacrifice pleasing to God. Paul also spoke of a love-gift from the Philippians as a sacrifice to God. (Phil.4:18)
13:17 He mentions their present leaders, who should be obeyed. Submission to leadership comes strange to the modern ear. We should respond cheerfully so that they are not unduly burdened.
13:18 Then he speaks of their absent leaders, including the writer, sounding much like Paul. He requests prayer for a clear conscience and honorable behavior in all situations.
There is a wonderful prayer/benediction to close the book. It summarizes the work of God in Hebrews.
"The God of peace who brought again from the dead
Our Lord Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the Sheep,
By the blood of the everlasting covenant,
Equip you with everything good that you may do His will,
Working in you that which is pleasing in His sight through
To Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.".
These words give the core of the dynamic required by the whole book; May God equip you to do his will. Apostasy is the concern. Will we fail as others have? We are all concerned about the possibility of not being able to stay true to the Lord, not running the race well, or even of having periods of sickening doubt and relapsing into sin. The writer prays, assuring us that God will do the work--He will equip us, supplying us with the right stuff, working in us so that what we do pleases Him. We cannot live the Christian life by ourselves and we are not supposed to. God was able to raise Christ from the dead---and He raised us from among the dead too, remember?
In the end, may Christ be glorified by our lives. Amen