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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Hebrews 13

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Living A Positive Christian Life

A. Instructions for body life.

1. (Heb 13:1-3) Express brotherly love.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them; those who are mistreated; since you yourselves are in the body also.

a. Let brotherly love continue: The writer to the Hebrews uses the ancient Greek word philadelphia here. He assumes that there is brotherly love among Christians. He simply asks that it would continue among them.

i. In the ancient Greek language the New Testament was written in, there were four words at hand that we might translate love. Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love. It refers to sexual love. Storge was a second word for love. It refers to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child, or between family members in general. Agape is another word for love. It is the most powerful word for love in the New Testament, and is often used to describe God's love towards us. It is a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected. Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given - it gives because it loves, it does not love in order to receive. Agape love isn't about feelings, it is about decisions.

ii. But the word for love used in Hebrews 13:1 is philadelphia, coming from the root philia. This ancient Greek word speaks of a brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. There should always be plenty of this kind of love among Christians, and it should continue.

b. Do not forget to entertain strangers: Hospitality is an important virtue, and often it is commanded of Christians and leaders (Romans 12:10-13; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7-8; 1 Peter 4:9). In the ancient world, "motels," where they did exist, were notorious for immorality. It was important for traveling Christians to find open homes from other Christians. This was simply a practical way to let brotherly love continue.

i. Because of the free offer of hospitality, Christians had to watch out for people just masquerading as Christians so they could leech off the generosity of God's people. As time went on, Christian leaders taught their people how to recognize these kind of deceivers.

ii. The Didache was an early church "ministry manual," written perhaps somewhere between 90 and 110 A.D. It has this to say about how to tell if a false prophet is abusing the hospitality of those in the church:

Let every apostle that comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain except one day; but if there be need, also the next; but if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread … but if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet that speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this one sin shall not be forgiven. But not everyone that speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the true prophet be known. (From The Ante-Nicean Fathers, Volume 7, page 380).

c. Strangers: The point is that we do this for other Christians who are strangers to us. If you invite your best friends over for lunch, that is wonderful - but it doesn't fulfill this command. A wonderful way to fulfill this command is to meet and befriend strangers at church, and to entertain them with hospitality.

i. The ancient Greek word for hospitality (used in passages like Romans 12:13) is literally translated, "love for strangers." Brotherly love means love for all our brothers and sisters in Jesus, not just those who are currently our friends.

d. For by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels: When we are hospitable to others, we really welcome Jesus (Matthew 25:35), and perhaps angels. Abraham (Genesis 18:1-22) and Lot (Genesis 19:1-3) are examples of those who unwittingly entertained angels.

e. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them: Prisoners here probably has first reference to those imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. But it can also be extended to all that are in prison. This is just another way to let brotherly love continue.

2. (Heb 13:4) Honor marital love.

Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

a. The bed undefiled: The Bible strictly condemns sex outside of the marriage commitment (fornicators and adulterers God will judge). But the Bible celebrates sexual love within the commitment of marriage, as in The Song of Solomon.

i. "Fornication and adultery are not synonymous in the New Testament: adultery implies unfaithfulness by either party to the marriage vow, while the word translated "fornication" covers a wide range of sexual irregularities." (Bruce)

b. Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled: Perhaps through a past of sexual sin, many people have a difficult time really believing that the marriage bed is undefiled. Guilt and sexual hang-ups are appropriate to extra-marital sex, but not in marital sex. But this is where the guilt and sexual hang-ups often exist, and where they most frequently cause trouble.

i. The enemy of our souls wants to do everything he can to encourage sex outside of the marriage bed, and he wants to do everything he can to discourage sex inside the marriage bed. We need to recognize this strategy and not give it a foothold among us.

c. Though God allows real freedom in the variety of sexual expression in marriage, all must be done with a concern for the other's needs and in love (1 Corinthians 7:2-5 and Ephesians 5:21-33).

3. (Heb 13:5-6) Learn contentment over covetousness.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"

a. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content: Covetousness is the opposite of contentment. Often covetousness and greed are excused or even admired in today's culture, and are simply called "ambition."

b. Paul had the right idea in Philippians 4:11-13: Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Contentment has much more to do with what you are on the inside rather than what you have.

i. Someone asked millionaire Bernard Baruch, "How much money does it take for a rich man to be satisfied?" Baruch answered, "Just a million more than he has."

c. So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper." Real contentment comes only when we trust in God to meet our needs and to be our security. It is amazing that we are often more likely to put security and find contentment in things far less reliable and secure than God Himself!

4. (Heb 13:7) Follow your leaders.

Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.

a. Remember those who rule over you: We are told to recognize and follow godly leadership in the body of Christ, leadership that is shown to be legitimate by faithfulness to the word of God and by godly conduct.

i. Paul advised Timothy along the same lines: Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)

b. Such leaders should be recognized (remember those) and followed. Just as much as a church needs godly leaders, it also needs godly followers.

B. Instructions in worship.

1. (Heb 13:8) The enduring principle: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

a. Jesus Christ is the same: The unchanging nature (which theologians call immutability) of Jesus Christ could be inferred from His deity, even if it were not explicitly stated. God doesn't change over the ages, so neither does Jesus, who is God.

b. His unchanging nature provides a measure for all Christian conduct, particularly in the word and in worship. We should not expect something completely "new" as if it were from a "new Jesus." The nature of Jesus as it is revealed in the Bible is the same nature of Jesus that should be seen in the church today.

2. (Heb 13:9-14) Following the rejected Jesus.

Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.

a. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines: There has never been a shortage of various and strange doctrines in the church. The ones specifically in mind here seem to deal with a return to Mosaic ceremonies and laws that were fulfilled in Jesus.

b. For it is good that the heart be established by grace: Our hearts will only be established by grace. We are established by an understanding and appropriation of God's undeserved approval of us, and not by an assumed approval gained through keeping a list of rules (not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them).

c. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat: These Jewish Christians had probably been branded as illegitimate by other Jews because they did not continue the Levitical system. But the writer to the Hebrews insists that we have an altar, and it is an altar that those who insist on clinging to the Levitical system have no right to.

i. Essentially, our altar is the cross - the centerpiece of the Christian gospel and understanding (1 Corinthians 1:18-24; 2:1-5).

d. Jesus … suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach: If our Savior was rejected and His sacrifice (performed at the cross, our altar) was branded illegitimate, what better do we expect? Identifying with Jesus often means bearing His reproach, the very thing many are quite unwilling to do.

i. Outside the camp: The camp referred to is institutional Judaism, which had rejected Jesus and Christianity. Though these Christians from Jewish backgrounds had been raised to consider everything outside the camp as unclean and evil, they must follow Jesus there.

e. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come: The difficult job of bearing His reproach is easier when we remember that the city or society we are cast out of is only temporary. We seek, and belong to, the permanent city yet to come.

3. (Heb 13:15-16) Our sacrifice.

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

a. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God: Because we do have an altar (the cross) and we do have a High Priest (Jesus), we should always offer sacrifices. But they are not the bloody sacrifices of the old covenant, but the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips.

i. The writer to the Hebrews spells out several essentials for proper praise.

- Praise that pleases God is offered by Him, that is, by Jesus Christ, on the ground of His righteousness and pleasing God.
- Praise that pleases God is offered continually, so that we are always praising Him.
- Praise that pleases God is a sacrifice of praise, in that it may be costly or inconvenient.
- Praise that pleases God is the fruit of our lips, more than just thoughts directed towards God. It is spoken out unto the Lord, either is prose or in song. "What proceeds from the lips is regarded as fruit, which reveals the character of its source, as the fruit of a tree reveals the nature of the tree." (Guthrie)

b. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased: Praise is not the only sacrifice that pleases God. We also perform sacrifice that pleases God when we do good and share. Praise and worship are important, but the Christian's obligation do not end there.

4. (Heb 13:17) Follow your leaders.

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

a. Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive: We are to be submissive to the leaders God has given us (assuming they have the character mentioned in Hebrews 13:7). We are simply told to obey those who rule over us. When speaking on the authority of God's Word, leaders do have a right to tell us how to live and walk after God.

i. Sadly, many have taken the idea of submission to leaders in the church much too far; the "Shepherding Movement" was a clear example of this kind of abuse (which many seem to welcome, wanting someone else to be responsible for their lives). "A teacher should teach us to submit to God, not to himself." (Chuck Smith)

b. As those who must give account: Why should we obey and submit to our leaders? Because God has put them in a place of responsibility and accountability over us. Of course, this does not relieve individual responsibility, but it puts an additional accountability and responsibility to leaders.

c. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you: Cooperative conduct is not only a joy to leaders, but it is profitable for the whole body. It is for our own sake that we should obey and submit to God-appointed leaders.

C. Concluding remarks.

1. (Heb 13:18-19) A request for prayer.

Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

a. Pray for us: The writer to the Hebrews considered it important that others pray for him. We all need and should welcome the prayers of others.

i. In the grammar of the ancient Greek language, pray is in the present imperative verb tense. It looks for continuous activity and implies that they had already been praying for him.

b. That I may be restored to you the sooner: There were obstacles preventing the writer from being reunited with his readers. He knew that prayer could remove those obstacles.

i. I especially urge you to do this: As far as the writer to the Hebrews is concerned, their prayers will determine if and when he is reunited with them. This shows how seriously he regarded their prayers for him.

2. (Heb 13:20-21) A blessing is pronounced.

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

a. This is a blessing in the style of the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:22-27: The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.

b. In this blessing, God is first recognized in His attributes: peace, power (brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead), loving care (that great Shepherd), and ever giving love (the blood of the everlasting covenant).

i. The idea of the everlasting covenant has been taken to express the covenant that existed before the foundation of the world between the Persons of the Godhead, working together for the salvation of man. Other passages which may speak to this everlasting covenant are Revelation 13:8, Ephesians 1:4, and 2 Timothy 1:9.

ii. Some, however, simply take the everlasting covenant as another name for the New Covenant.

c. Then, the desire for blessing is expressed: complete in every good work, God's working in you, and all through Jesus Christ.

3. (Heb 13:22-25) Conclusion to the letter to the Hebrews.

And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words. Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly. Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Grace be with you all. Amen.

a. Bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words: The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of his purpose. His desire was to write a word of exhortation, that would encourage discouraged Christians, both then and now.

i. In Acts 13:15, the phrase word of exhortation is used to refer to a sermon. Perhaps the writer to the Hebrews means in Hebrews 13:22 that he has given his readers a written sermon.

b. Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly: These final words give us a few tantalizing hints of the writer's identity. But these words only tells us that the writer knew Timothy, and that he planned to visit his readers soon. It also tells us that his readers were based in Italy (Those from Italy greet you), probably in the city of Rome.

c. Grace be with you all: This is a fitting end for a book that documents the passing of the Old Covenant and the institution of the New Covenant. Grace be with you all indeed, under what God has given through the superior Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen!

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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