Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
In chapter 12, the author contrasted Moses’ experience at Mount Sinai (12:18-21) with what we can expect to experience at Mount Zion—the city of the living God—the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22-24).
Then he counseled his readers “not to refuse him who speaks” (12:25a)—and not to be like the ancient Israelites who offended God by their repeated disobedience. God punished them for their unfaithfulness.
He warned, “For if they didn’t escape when they refused him who warned on the earth (Moses and Aaron), how much more will we not escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven” (Jesus) (12:25b).
Given that his readers had inherited a kingdom that could’nt be shaken, he called them to “have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe” (12:28).
In chapter 13, he exhorts his readers to uphold certain values so that God will be pleased with them.
HEBREWS 13:1-6. LET BROTHERLY LOVE CONTINUE
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you are also in the body. 4Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled: but God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers.
5 Be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have, for he has said, “I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.” 6 So that with good courage we say, “The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
“Let brotherly love (Greek: philadelphia) continue” (v. 1). The word philadelphia combines two Greek words: (1) phileo (to love) and adelphos (brother). The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is therefore known as the City of Brotherly Love.
This is the first of a series of exhortations in these verses. It is appropriate that it should be first, because the person who loves brother and sister (broadly defined) will be hospitable, will remember those in need, will honor marriage, and will love people instead of money.
With the word “continue,” the author reveals his assumption that his readers already manifest brotherly love for one another. He tells them to keep up the good work.
“Don’t forget to show hospitality (Greek: philoxenia) to strangers” (v. 2a). Note the similarity between Philadelphia (brotherly love) and philoxenia (translated hospitality here). Philoxenia also combines two words, philos (to love) and xenos (stranger). Thus, philoxenia literally means “love the stranger or the foreigner.” In practical terms, that means showing hospitality to strangers.
The opposite of philoxenia is xenophobia, which is a fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners. The Israelites were often xenophobic, and part of that was God-inspired. God told the Israelites to slay particular populations lest the foreigners tempt Israel to worship foreign gods (Exodus 23:23-24; Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 20:16-18; Joshua 3:10; 9:24; 1 Samuel 15:2-3).
That happened. As one example, Solomon, in his later years, loved many foreign women who enticed him to worship their gods. Therefore God raised up adversaries against Solomon, who were disruptive both for Solomon and for Israel (1 Kings 11).
On the other hand, Jewish law required Israelites to treat resident aliens with kindness (Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19; 14:28; 16:10-11; 24:19).
Hospitality blesses both the one who gives and the one who receives.
“for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it” (v. 2b). This alludes to the story of Abraham and Sarah who provided hospitality to three strangers—who turned out to be messengers from God (i.e. angels) bearing the message that Sarah would have a son in her old age (Exodus 18; see also the story of Lot in Genesis 19:1-22).
“Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you are also in the body” (v. 3). These are two groups of especially vulnerable people—those in bonds and those who are ill-treated.
The author appeals to his readers based on the common humanity that they share with the vulnerable person. We have all been vulnerable at some point, and we can expect to be vulnerable again.
Consider the prayer requests that surface at many congregations during morning prayers. We hear of illnesses, death, loneliness, financial difficulties, and the like. No matter whether we are rich or poor, black or white, young or old, we are vulnerable. It is appropriate then, as Christians, that we demonstrate our brotherly/sisterly love by reaching out to others who are vulnerable.
“Let marriage be held in honor among all” (v. 4a). We are to honor marriage—both our own marriage and the marriages of neighbors and co-workers. This means honoring the vows that we made at our wedding—and the vows that our neighbors made at their weddings. It means treating our spouse with respect. It means avoiding the temptation to have sex with someone other than our husband or wife.
Just consider what a different world it would be if people would honor marriage. Husbands and wives would not have to fear that their spouse was committing adultery. There would be far fewer broken hearts and broken marriages. More children would have both a father and a mother in their home. There would be less poverty, because divorce divides assets and impoverishes both parties.
But some people will protest that this would take all the fun out of life. No doubt, adultery can be pleasurable for the moment—but its’ long-term effects are more likely to be heartbreak, poverty, and less than ideal parenting.
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled” (v. 4b). Jews went to great lengths to avoid ritual defilement—in particular by avoiding contact with anything unclean. People could also be defiled by adultery, idolatry, unfaithfulness to God, and unethical behavior in general.
Keeping the marriage bed undefiled means avoiding sexual intercourse with persons other than our spouse. However, it also means treating our spouse with respect and consideration both in and out of bed. It means giving as well as receiving pleasure—and not demanding anything that our spouse would find repugnant.
“but God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers” (v. 4c). The word “judge” in this context equates to condemnation.
“Be free from the love of money (Greek: aphilargyros), content with such things as you have, for he has said, ‘I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you'” (v. 5). The word aphilargyros breaks down into three parts. The alpha (a) at the beginning reverses the meaning of what follows. Phil equates to philos, which is brotherly love. Argyros is money. So aphilargyros means “Don’t love money.”
Jesus said, “You aren’t able to serve God and Mammon” (Luke 16:13). Paul says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). Greedy people also pierce others through with many sorrows.
“content with such things as you have” (v. 5). Paul said that he had learned to be content with what he had (Philippians 4:11). That is a prescription for happiness. Love of money and material things is a prescription for life on a treadmill—fearing the day that we will stumble. It’s also a prescription for spending one’s life climbing a ladder that proves, at the end, to be leaning against the wrong wall. The person who always wants more can never be satisfied.
“So that with good courage we say, ‘The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?'” (v. 6). He is quoting Psalm 118:6, “Yahweh is on my side. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Paul expressed the same idea: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). In other words, “If God is for us, what does it matter who is against us?” One person plus God equals a majority.
HEBREWS 13:7-8. REMEMBER YOUR LEADERS
7 Remember your leaders, men who spoke to you the word of God, and considering the results of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
“Remember your leaders, men who spoke to you the word of God” (v. 7a). The author has mentioned a number of the historic giants of the faith:
• Moses (3:5).
• Joshua (4:8).
• Abel (11:4).
• Enoch (11:5).
• Noah (11:7)
• Abraham (11:8, 17).
• Sarah (11:11).
• Isaac (11:20).
• Jacob (11:21).
• Joseph (11:22).
• Moses (11:23-29).
• Rahab (11:31).
• Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets (11:32-35).
• Women who received their dead by resurrection (11:35).
• Others who were tortured, tempted, and slain (11:36-38).
Those were men and women of faith whose faith is worthy of emulation.
“and considering the results of their conduct, imitate their faith” (v. 7b).
However, there are other leaders that these believers should respect and emulate. These are the leaders who shared the Gospel with them in the first place—and who continue in leadership roles in the church.
To be sure, not all church leaders are worthy of emulation. Not all are faithful. We need to use discretion—to consider the results of their conduct. But men and women of honest faith whose lives reflect that faith are worthy of respect, support, and emulation.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (v. 8). Other leaders come and go—live and die—but Jesus Christ was in the beginning (John 1:1), was born in human form to minister to us, and ascended to his throne in heaven, where he reigns today. He has been the same throughout that journey, and will be the same throughout eternity.
HEBREWS 13:9-14. DON’T BE CARRIED AWAY BY STRANGE TEACHINGS
9 Don’t be carried away by various and strange teachings, for it is good that the heart be established by grace, not by food, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.
10 We have an altar from which those who serve the holy 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 of the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside of the gate. 13 Let us therefore go out to him outside of the camp, bearing his reproach. 14 For we don’t have here an enduring city, but we seek that which is to come.
These verses are not part of the lectionary reading, but the preacher needs to be aware of them.
HEBREWS 13:15-16. OFFER A SACRIFICE OF PRAISE TO GOD CONTINUALLY
15 Through him, then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which proclaim allegiance to his name. 16 But don’t forget to be doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
When asked “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus responded, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Verse 15 tells us how love for God needs to manifest itself. Verse 16 tells us how love for neighbor needs to manifest itself.
“Through him, then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which proclaim allegiance to his name” (v. 15). Jewish law required animal sacrifices as an expression of devotion to God. That was a God-given mandate, so we have no quarrel with that. However, the author of Hebrews offers an even more powerful way of expressing our devotion to God. He calls it “a sacrifice of praise to God,” and says that it should be a continual sacrifice rather than something that is offered only occasionally.
He further clarifies his meaning by telling us that the sacrifice involves “the fruit of lips which proclaim allegiance to his name.”
“But don’t forget to be doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (v. 16). In the beginning of this chapter, the author said, “Let brotherly love continue. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers…. Remember those who are in bonds…. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled…. Be free from the love of money” (13:1-5).
We noted above that brotherly love is rightly the first in this list, because brotherly love will prompt all the other virtues, such as hospitality to strangers and visiting those in prison.
“Be free from the love of money” might seem that it doesn’t fit here, but it does. The lover of money will find it difficult to make the sacrifices involved in helping those in need. He/she will want to sacrifice neither the time nor the money to help the other person.
Interestingly enough, poor people are often more considerate of people in need than well-to-do people, because they have experienced hardship, know its pain, and feel a heartfelt compassion for the other person in need.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2016, Richard Niell Donovan