Hebrews 13, Moral Exhortations
The author gives applications for the community of believers with a sense of urgency as if he was running out of time to add practical advice for sound living. Hebrews 13 teaches essential practical Christian morality that should help us reveal the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. In verses 1-2, he is basically re-teaching the Golden Rule of Luke 6:31, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This is something we should have learned in kindergarten or first grade. I read somewhere that it is a principle taught in all world religions. First we honor our brothers and sisters in the church, loving them as Christ loves us. Christ showed His love for us in His first coming by loving us unconditionally and sacrificially. I’m always amazed to read about Christ’s reaction to the mockers in Luke 23:34, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. These were mean unlovable people, yet Jesus loved them and sacrificed Himself for them. We hate to admit it, but there are unlovable people in our church also, but Jesus loves them, and we with forbearance transfer that love of God–even if they don’t deserve it. Believers may not have anything in common on the surface, but we have a common bond in Christ that is stronger than any bond on earth. We actually have two relationships in God’s view. We have a relationship with believers, and we have a different relationship with non-believers. We are to edify and serve each other in the church, encouraging, helping, meeting needs, giving, and serving in whatever capacity is needed.
Secondly, we have a relationship with unbelievers. Some think we are to remain separated from worldly people, but what the Scriptures say is to not get involved in all their evil worldly activity. If you live in this world you will be in contact with those who don’t know Christ, and in the great commission Jesus gave His followers we are to develop relationships with people in order to lead them to Christ. Hebrews 13:2 tells us to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers”. You just never know the far-reaching results that could come from acts of kindness. I’d like to think when we get to heaven we will find out all the times we unknowingly participated in leading people to Christ. As an example of how you just never know if you are doing something important, the author wrote, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Can you look back in your life like I can and remember mysterious strangers that made you wonder later if they had been more than human? In 2008, I was on a missionary trip to Cuba with ten guys and we got arrested for sharing the Gospel. The authorities questioned us all day, and then told us to report to the Communist party headquarters in Havana. We had to be there the next day or be arrested, so we took off in the night not knowing the way and not being able to speak Spanish. At 3:00 in the morning we drove into some unknown town exhausted and scared. We drove all over looking for a hotel, and finally just gave up and pulled over to the side of the road—six guys with luggage in one car saying “What do we do now?” There was a knock on the window, and I rolled down the window. A teenage boy speaking Spanish gestured for us to follow him on his bicycle. We followed him down dark streets and even a forbidding alley before we emerged right in front of a nice hotel. I got out to give the kid some money, but he took off—gone with the wind! I can’t prove it, but I just know it was an angel. I think the author of Hebrews is referring to the times in Scripture that angels appeared to Bible characters like Abraham in Genesis 18. Three men appeared before Abraham’s tent, and Abraham washed their feet and had them rest there with him. Abraham had a meal prepared for them, and treated them kindly. In the story we find out they are angels on the way to Sodom to destroy it. Since Abraham’s nephew Lot lives there, he begs them to spare Lot and his family, which they tried to do. Also Gideon in Judges 6 had an encounter with a man who turned out to be an angel.
Another example of following the Golden Rule is offered in Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison”. The inference is that in the first century Roman Empire many Christians were arrested and imprisoned. Just as you would wish to be remembered and visited and helped if you were persecuted, so take care of others you know as well. The Philippians gift to Paul in Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi is the perfect example. Paul was in prison in Rome for sharing the Gospel, but the Philippians sent money so he could have his own rental quarters. In Acts 28:16, Paul was allowed to have his own rental quarters if he paid for it himself. The churches gave freely, and for two years he was able to have visitors come and go, write letters, and was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness” (Acts 28:30-31).
Hebrews 13:4, Holy Matrimony
“Let marriage be held in honor among all” is very important advice for believers in the church. It seems that the one sin that invades all churches from the laymen to the head minister is sexual immorality. We simply need to put a high priority on honoring the institution of marriage. No sin affects as many people as sexual sin. It breaks up families as well as whole churches. The marriage contract made by God at the original union of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:24-25 is the prototype marriage. The woman and man were made specifically for each other, and when they came together in a union, they were like “one flesh” in God’s eyes. They were open, honest, and transparent. They had intimacy with each other and no one else. Perhaps the most convicting command against sexual immorality is found in 1 Corinthians 6:18-19, “Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?” Christians in the first century Greco/Roman world lived in a world of pagan idolatry. The idea of purity in marriage was radical stuff in that pagan context. Greek philosophy was the norm, and it taught that the material body is evil but the eternal soul is good. Therefore what the body did was irrelevant, and they typically pursued unbridled sexual fulfillment. Christians obeying God’s commandments about marriage purity would definitely be a source of wonder to their neighbors. We in the church know and have experienced the destruction that adultery has caused in the church and the break-up of families. Sexual immorality perverts theology, and we have seen even preachers having affairs and yet they keep on preaching. Typically they manufacture reasons that justify their behavior and consciously detach themselves from the truth. It never ends well!
Greed and the Lust for Money and Material Possessions, Hebrews 13:5
The natives in Africa who trap animals for zoos, use an ingenious method for catching monkeys. They cut a hole in a trap just large enough for a monkey’s hand to fit through. Then they put the monkey’s favorite food in the trap. The monkey reaches in and grabs the food, but then can’t get his clenched fist out of the trap. His lust for the treat causes him to get caught in the trap. In the same way, our lust for money and stuff is like getting caught in a trap. We can never get enough, and it consumes our life so that we are distracted from what is really important. Greed follows the law of increasing desire and decreasing satisfaction. Trust in money is distrust in God. Hebrews 13:5 says to “Keep your life free from the love of money”. In First John 2:15 we read, “Do not love the world or the things of the world, if anyone loves the world the love of God is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money”, because they exclude each other. Just think of the choice we have between the temporary nature of stuff versus the permanent nature of God’s love. Consider the ancient Pharaoh Tutankhamen who was buried with a storehouse of gold in his tomb for the afterlife. Hundreds of years later, do you know how much of the gold was still in the tomb? All of it remained when the various tomb raiders discovered his tomb. Do you know how much they took—all of it! Keep in mind there is nothing wrong with having a lot of money, in fact consider it a blessing from God. All the various Scriptures make it clear that the LOVE of money and stuff is the problem. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul wrote “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith”. Paul said in Philippians 4:11-12 that he had been rich and he had been poor, but the secret was to be content in whatever circumstance God places you in, and to realize it is always about trusting God to help you be humble when you are rich, and trusting God to meet your needs when you are poor.
Hebrews 13:7-9, Honor Your Spiritual Leaders and Don’t Fall Away From the Truth
Those who led us to Christ and taught us the truth from God’s Word were solid and unchanging because the truth does not change, and Jesus never changes. How many of the Ten Commandments have changed? Not a single word has changed. How much of Jesus’ teaching has changed? Not a single word! The fallen world we live in is constantly changing and coming up with false doctrines, and it is a sad thing for a Christian to get sucked into false doctrine because they become ineffective for the Lord. In Ephesians 4:14, Paul warned the church at Ephesus to “no longer be children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…Rather speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ”. Probably the best known verse in Hebrews is v.8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” What a contrast to fickle human nature here on earth–Human morals and philosophy change with the wind, but God’s truth does not change—it is the anchor for our souls!