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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 13

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Verses 1-6

Love and Confidence

This concluding chapter contains a number of exhortations for the Christian life. They fit in the sphere of the whole letter, for that is indeed about the path of the Christian on earth. The main theme of this chapter is the theme of love. It directly starts with the brotherly love, which is followed by love for strangers, for prisoners and in marriage.

Although the word ‘love’ is not mentioned anymore thereafter, you can taste that in the following section it is also about love, like the love for the Lord Jesus and for God and for the leaders in the midst of believers and for all saints. If you imagine that in chapter 11 it is about faith, in chapter 12 it is about hope and in this chapter it is about love, then you will surely discover in these concluding chapters the great riches for the life of the Christian.

Hebrews 13:1. At the end of the previous chapter your focus is on an everlasting ‘unshakable kingdom’ (Hebrews 12:28). That’s something to look forward to. But there is one more thing that remains unshakable to eternity and that is “love of the brethren”. That is what the writer starts his exhortations with here. The reason why the writer exhorts to do that, may be because of the disappearing of the brotherly love.

The company of believers to whom he was writing, was constantly living under pressure. Each of them felt the pressure personally. That can ultimately be that burdensome that one may feel to be left alone. In such a case you feel no solidarity anymore with your fellow believers. In that case it is important not to accuse your brothers of unwillingness to help you. They might be facing hardships just like you. Just continue to love your brothers and sisters in that case. If they cannot give you what you would love to have, then perhaps you may give them what they need.

Hebrews 13:2. The next form of love is “hospitality”. ‘Hospitality’ literally means ‘love for strangers’. Brotherly love is love that is inwardly focused, while love for strangers is love that is outwardly focused, both to believers and unbelievers. That exhortation is also needed, because in time of tribulation or need the inclination is present to withdraw. You have enough troubles yourself. What could therefore be the sense of being interested in the worries of others and yet of strangers? This could be the reason for you to withdraw. But that is not right.

Have you ever felt to be a stranger, helpless and looking for someone who cares about you? Anyway, God has cared about you in Christ. Because of that you are obligated to show love to strangers (and those are not only asylum seekers). You can do that by offering them a meal, a bed or another form of help.

In this way you possibly even accommodate angels. That’s what Abraham (Genesis 18:1-Ruth :) and even Lot (Genesis 19:1-Leviticus :) experienced. And what about the two who went to Emmaus? Of course the Lord Jesus is not an angel, but to them He at first was certainly a stranger Whom they urged to abide with them. Without knowing that they took the Lord Jesus into their house (Luke 24:29-Obadiah :). And is it not the Lord Who says that if you welcome anyone who belongs to Him, He acknowledges that as though you have welcomed Him (Matthew 25:35; Matthew 25:40)? Hospitality is an attitude, a spiritual mind that more often adorns women than men.

It should make no difference whom we welcome. In the world people often want to welcome others for their own benefit. It may deliver you some regard when you welcome somebody in your home who has a high status or a person of influence. But our love should be expressed to people whom we do not know and who are in need of help. That applies in a general sense and certainly also to those who went forth for the sake of the Name of the Lord Jesus (3 John 1:5-Ruth :). We can also apply that to strangers who step into the church. How do we welcome them? Do we talk with them or do we look hazily at them? Do we want them to feel accepted and at home or does their presence make us feel uncomfortable?

Hebrews 13:3. Again a different form of love is that for prisoners. Of course it is about those who are imprisoned for the sake of the Name of the Lord Jesus. You may show your love to them by paying them a visit. In that way Onesiphorus sought Paul out when he was imprisoned in Rome. He made efforts to find Paul (2 Timothy 1:16; cf. Philippians 1:7). Such an opportunity is not reserved for everyone. What all believers surely are able to do is what is said here: to remember them. That doesn’t mean that you just occasionally pray from them, but that you try to imagine yourself in their situation. Paul also asks the Colossians to remember his imprisonment (Colossians 4:18).

In remembering those who are mistreated you go a step further. You not only remember the circumstances, but also the suffering of pain. For you to really empathize with the situation and with the suffering of another person is often difficult. You then have to put your mind to committing yourself to it. It’s about practicing what is true for the body of Christ, namely that when one member suffers, all members suffer together with him (1 Corinthians 12:26). Now we live in a time of individualism, whereby everyone lives for oneself. This should not be the case among believers. How is your confidence in your brothers and sisters? Do you allow them to get to know you? Are you open for others out of the solidarity you have with them?

Maybe your problem is not so much in this sense, but it is more the multitude of activities. Because of that you are not able to take a closer look at what others are enduring. Or you are not able to consider others, because you think that you also need some recreation. Still the command is to remember others. We receive on a regular basis reports from believers who are imprisoned and/or are mistreated. Take notice of them; try to imagine what they are going through and pray for them.

An application I would want to make, is with the view to those who are captured in a certain way of thinking. In this way they cannot truly be freed in Christ. If you encounter such people you should try to sympathize with them and stand beside them, in order to help them to get out of it together.

Hebrews 13:4. After the brotherly love and the welcoming home, the writer points at the importance of marriage. He wants marriage and all things to “be honorable among all”. It goes without saying there is no brotherly love and neither a welcoming home when marriage is a farce. Marriage being honorable means that there is faithfulness to the institution and the practice of it.

Therefore the writer focuses on the sexual intercourse. Marriage should be honorable to both married and unmarried people. To the married people this means that the bed (said in other words: the sexual intercourse) should only be shared with the man or woman a person is married to. To the unmarried people this means that there should be no sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse before marriage is fornication; sexual relation by married people outside their own marriage is adultery. Both are an abomination in the sight of God.

In the world marriage has been degraded to a form of living together. The order for you is to keep marriage in its original intention and to give it substance. You are not to adjust God’s standard to that of the world. To be able to keep God’s standard, you are to continually give it the right place in your thinking and in your heart. If you feel the inclination rise not to take it too seriously, you must judge that. Let yourself be reminded to remain clean in this and also remind others continually of it. Holding on to this institution of God brings blessing; abandoning it brings curse. Fornication and adultery often begin secretly, hidden from others. But God sees it and nobody who commits them escapes from His judgment.

Hebrews 13:5. Then a warning follows to beware of another form of love that is not of God and that is “the love of money”. Sexual covetousness often goes together with financial covetousness (Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5). The love of money is a root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

The love of money is present when you want more than the Lord gives you. That is for example the case when you participate in strikes for more wages. The order is that you are “content” with the things you have. Isn’t it often the case that you want to have the Lord Jesus together with some earthly securities, like a certain bank account balance and a well paid job? Do you really trust in the Lord alone? You are heartily invited by the writer to do so. Therefore he reminds you of the promise of the Lord that He will never desert you, nor ever forsake you.

Hebrews 13:6. Yet that promise only becomes reality when you say: ‘The Lord is my Helper.’ God is saying something on the one hand and you can say and proclaim that the Lord is your Helper. Do you dare to say that loudly to the people around you? You don’t have to seek for nice words. You can, just like it is said here, boldly testify with words that come from the Word, words that God puts in your mouth. When you are being attacked you may say what is written in God’s Word.

Still, you may often not dare to do that, because you’re afraid to be punished for your bold confession. But still it remains true. When people say: ‘Where is that God, why does He allow this in your life?’, then you can still say confidently: ’The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”

Now read Hebrews 13:1-6 again.

Reflection: Which forms of love (both positive and negative) appear in this section? What do they mean to you?

Verses 7-13

Let Us Go Out to Him

Hebrews 13:7. After the exhortations about the conduct of the Hebrews towards those who surround them and about being content with the things they have, they are being reminded of encouraging examples. Already in chapter 11 a line of examples was presented to them. Those are the believers from a distant past. Now the writer points at those who led who are neither alive among them, but whom they actually have known among them. Those are men who had spoken God’s Word to them.

They could remember these believers as people who really lived up to what they said and who died in the faith wherein they lived. The writer tells his readers that they should carefully consider the outcome of their walk. They persevered till the end. Now the Hebrews are to follow their faith. In their faith the Lord Jesus was centered.

It is also significant for you to follow the faith of people who have ministered the Word of God to you. Thereby you could think of the explanation of the Bible by believers who are now with the Lord. Because of their commentaries you have spiritually grown. Just follow their faith. It is not the intention that you should parrot or imitate them. You are not a copy. What you should follow is what was in them, their motive.

Hebrews 13:8. The ones who led who have spoken God’s Word to you may not be there anymore, but Who still is, is “Jesus Christ”. He was there yesterday. I write ‘was’, but it is said that He ‘is’ the Same yesterday and today. He is also the Same tomorrow and through all eternity (Hebrews 1:10-2 Kings :; Psalms 102:28). With ‘yesterday’ you may think of the past, of the days of the Old Testament, but also of the days that He was on earth. Just like He committed Himself ‘yesterday’ for His people, just like that He now also does and just like that He will always do.

When you will be with Him you will not encounter a Christ Who will suddenly act differently. We change, our thoughts change, but He does not change. You really do need Him Who is the unchangeable One in a society wherein everything always changes.

Hebrews 13:9. Changes also cause unrest. How good is it to have a source of rest in Somebody Who is always perfectly stable in the midst of all those changes. Christ is the Rock Who remains perfectly firm and untouched through all kinds of doctrines. If your heart finds no sufficiency with Christ anymore you will open yourself for “various and strange doctrines”. You will be carried about with them, which may result that you are more and more separated from the Rock. Finally you will lose every connection with Christ and therefore without any hold become a victim of false teachings. The end will be horrible.

Wrong teachings are teachings that are strange to the new things that has come in Christ. They are there in many varieties. Those are errors or traditions that are attractive to the flesh (Mark 7:3-Ruth :) and with which people can achieve honor. In such teaching Christ is indeed good, but not sufficient. Christ alone is then too limited, too little. Isn’t life much broader with many interesting things?

If this reasoning takes a grip on you, you will get carried away from the steadfastness that you have in Christ. You may open yourself for new forms of faith experience that is led by mainly or only emotions. What you actually need is that your “heart is being established by grace”. If you are deeply aware of that, it is a great liberation from each own effort. If you think that it is about the experience in itself, the kick that you get out of it will not make your heart be established. In this way you are only satisfying your religious emotions. It really is not easy to be dependent on grace alone.

Grace means that nothing is expected from you, but that you expect everything from God. Is that too meager, too easy or meaningless to you, then you will seek your salvation in “foods”. ‘Foods’ stand for things that will perish (1 Corinthians 6:13), what only has a temporal and no permanent value. Here it is about walking in foods and is therefore a reference to the Jewish tangible, temporal worship service. This worship service had brought no profit at all. That’s what became clear from this letter. It didn’t bring man to God, but it has only proved stronger the distance from Him.

Hebrews 13:10. If I clearly understand this verse, you may read it like this: We, Christians, have a place of worship service where we are allowed to approach God to have fellowship with Him, while those who still think that they have to serve God according to Jewish tradition, are totally excluded from that. Here it is about ‘eating from the altar’. ‘Eating’ is a symbol of having fellowship. The ‘altar’ is a picture of Christ. Those, who hold on to the Old Testament worship service, have no part in Christ and therefore have no right to ‘eat from the altar’.

Hebrews 13:11. In this verse we find the explanation for that. The writer points at a ritual that these Hebrews were familiar with. When they were still Jewish, they were entirely involved with this ritual. This ritual was yearly being performed before their eyes on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:27). Now they actually are thoroughly taught by the writer through this letter about the reality of the sacrifice of Christ that they definitely understood that he now also speaks about Christ.

What happened on the Day of Atonement with the blood and the body of the offering animals, shows what happened to Christ. First of all the blood was brought into the sanctuary for the purgation of sins. Christ Himself entered the sanctuary with His blood (Hebrews 9:12). As a result of that the access to the sanctuary has also been opened for both Hebrews and Christians and now for you and they and you are allowed to enter it freely (Hebrews 10:19). Something also happened to “bodies” of the animals. Those were “burned outside the camp”.

Hebrews 13:12. The writer gives the explanation of that now. The burning of the bodies of the animals outside the camp indicates what happened to the Lord Jesus outside the gate, that is the gate of Jerusalem.

It might have been quite shocking to the readers to see this. They must have realized that what the writer showed, makes a murderers’ city of Jerusalem. They were still having difficulties with separating themselves from that city. It still had such a great place in their thinking. Now they understood that it was that very city that cast its King outside and killed Him. That means that that city means nothing anymore to God and it should also be like that for the them.

At the same time that place “outside the gate”, is the place where Christ has sanctified the people “through His own blood”. Therefore that place has a double meaning. It shows what people (and especially religious people) did to the Lord and that in that place God’s counsel, concerning His people, has been fulfilled (cf. Acts 2:23).

Hebrews 13:13. And just like the shedding of the blood of Jesus had the consequence that the way to the sanctuary was made open for His people (Hebrews 10:19), the blood of Jesus that He shed outside the gate also has consequences for His people. Those consequences are sounding in the call: “So, let us go out to Him outside the camp.” You show true respect for the work of the Lord Jesus when you, on the one hand enter the sanctuary to draw near to God and when you, on the other hand take the place of reproach on earth.

To go outside the camp (or outside the gate), means outside an organized system of religion. Formerly the camp was the place where God was dwelling and where He ordained everything in the laws and commandments. But when Christ came there, they casted Him out. He who now wants to belong to Him cannot stay in a religious system that is established after an Old Testament model. This is strongly characterized in the roman-catholic church.

The call also implies a warning not to allow anything in the Christian worship service that, by outward rituals, gives the appearance of a better way of drawing near to God. There is an essential difference between the Christian worship service and the way God was being served in the Old Testament according to His commands. That difference is caused by the fact that the Lord Jesus is now in heaven and the Holy Spirit dwells in the church on earth. Ever since the Holy Spirit dwells on earth the Christian worship service is not characterized by an earthly place and earthly means of praise, but by worshipping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-Jeremiah :).

The outward fuss that is still found in protestantism has no right of existence. However, the reality is that more and more elements of the Jewish religion are reintroduced in the Christian worship service. Therefore the call to go out outside the camp should sound louder. Bearing the reproach of Christ goes together with abandoning the organized Christianity after the Old Testament model.

In Christianity at large you are irrelevant if you do not cooperate with them. But is there a better place on earth than with the Lord Jesus, even if it is a place of reproach? Asaph puts it this way: “Whom have I in heaven [but You]? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth” (Psalms 73:25). If you want to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven then you will surely want to be with Him on earth also.

Now read Hebrews 13:7-13 again.

Reflection: Have you gone forth to Him outside the camp?

Verses 14-25

Exhortations, Blessings and Greetings

Hebrews 13:14. The writer substantiates the call to go out to Him by pointing again at the aim of their pilgrimage. The Hebrews didn’t have to consider it as a loss when they turned their back on the earthly Jerusalem and the whole religion that was performed there. It had all come to an end because of the rejection of the Lord Jesus. Every desire for it was wrong. Jerusalem was not a permanent city. The city was soon to be destroyed (Luke 21:20). That was also the case with the temple (Matthew 24:1-Exodus :).

They should not look back, but had to look forward (Hebrews 11:15-Nehemiah :). They were seeking the future city. That was what they continually had to look forward to wholeheartedly, even though it seemed so far away and even though the way was that difficult. If they would let themselves be distracted by what they left, they would go astray.

Hebrews 13:15. When the writer has drawn their attention on the right aim again he gives them a wonderful exhortation. Were they thinking that their unbelieving fellow countrymen were better off with an offering service with literal offering animals? Then that thought had to be corrected. In fact it was a great privilege for them not to, just now and then with special occasions, bring offerings to God, but they were able to do that “continually”. And it had nothing to do with tangible offerings at all, but they were allowed to bring “praise to God”, that is “the fruit of lips”. That goes much deeper, it comes out of the heart and goes to the heart of God.

This is all because of Christ and His work. Through Him you also are able to praise and worship God. That doesn’t happen with outward appearance, but by speaking out about what you have found in the Lord Jesus. God loves to see you coming to Him to tell Him something about His Son. He loves it when you confess His Name to the people in the world, but it is an exceptional joy for His heart when you continually praise Him with the fruit of your lips which is meant for Him.

Hebrews 13:16. God also loves it when you think of others. Beside spiritual offerings He also wants you to bring material offerings. You may bring the spiritual offerings to Him, the material offerings to others. “Doing good” is to provide somebody with something good, to do a good deed. That is not only giving goods, but it can also be a gesture or a word. “Sharing” has the meaning of sharing your goods with others who are in need of them.

It is actually doing good in a general sense and sharing everything with one another. You see that wonderfully in practice with the first Christians (Acts 2:44; Acts 4:34). I am afraid that that state of mind is hardly to be found now, but God still finds pleasure in it. In that way earthly possessions get such a rich meaning and a deep satisfaction. If you are willing to do these sacrifices, you yourself will be refreshed (Proverbs 11:25). God is a giving God. Isn’t it a privilege to follow Him, regarding this?

Hebrews 13:17. Thus, with regard to giving, you may follow God. On earth there are people you should follow, that means whom you should obey. Those are the ones who lead you. Do you see that it is in plural sense? Therefore it is not about a pastor, a person who is theologically trained or somebody who makes himself a leader. It is about mature, spiritual believers who are taught and formed by God and whom He has given to His church. Those are the ones you should obey when they explain to you, based on God’s Word, how things should happen. Then they will not do their work “with grief”, but “with joy”. You are to submit yourself to them. Although this is not in line with the current world, it is fully biblical and it brings blessing.

Many Christian families are reflecting the spirit of this age. Children do not obey anymore and being submissive is out of the question. Instead of obeying, children are negotiating with the parents. That possibly delivers the child the result it had wanted, but it is an enormous loss for the parents. In most cases it also becomes clear in future that such a relationship with each other is an obstacle for a radical conversion of the child. On the contrary, the call to obey and to be submissive is actually not an order to exert rigid discipline.

Thank God for the brothers who lead you. That will make it easier for you to obey them. If you do not listen to them, it is “unprofitable” for you, and it will be harmful for you.

Hebrews 13:18. Pray for leaders whom you know. They need your intercession. When those who rule ask for intercession, they can only do that when they are confident that they “have a good conscience”. For if they do not have a good conscience they cannot stand right before God and they can therefore be of no help to others. They must first take away the burden from their conscience. Regarding the writer, this was not the case.

Hebrews 13:19. He desired to meet the believers to whom he wrote this letter. He also knew the power of intercession, for he exhorts them to intercede abundantly, so that he may be able to be with them the sooner.

Hebrews 13:20. The writer comes to his conclusion. He guides your attention to “the God of peace”. A wonderful, soothing expression: the God of peace. He has perfect peace and provides this peace anyone who trusts in Him. There is nothing that confuses Him. His peace can be your peace, He wants to give that to you (Philippians 4:7; John 14:27). Through the work of the Lord Jesus He is able to give peace to all who believe in His Son. That peace is everlasting. It is also the peace that will be all over the world in the millennial kingdom of peace. The letter was written with this kingdom of peace in prospect.

Here at the end of the letter you read once more about the basis of that kingdom. That basis is that God “brought up from the dead … the Lord Jesus”. In that way a new covenant could be made, which also is everlasting. It cannot possibly fail, because it is based on the blood of Christ, which eternally holds its value.

Isn’t it beautiful to read about the Lord that He is “the great Shepherd of the sheep? As ‘the great Shepherd’ He was raised from the dead and guides His flock through the world, on the way to that other world, where He already is. It has become His flock, because He has been for them “the good Shepherd”, Who gave His life for them (John 10:11). And when He comes to establish the millennial kingdom of peace, He will do that as the “chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4).

Note that the writer speaks about the Lord Jesus as “our Lord Jesus”. Therein you taste his love for Him, a love that he also assumes to be with the readers by the word ‘our’.

Hebrews 13:21. The wish of the writer is that the God of peace will “equip you [the believers] in every good thing to do His [this is God’s] will”. Nothing less will satisfy him because you cannot ascribe less to God. You are on earth to do good in such a way that nothing is lacking. That will be the case when you are executing God’s will. God’s will is that you are on earth to His honor. He wants you to be with Him in glory. On your way to that He wants you as a sheep of His flock to stay close to the flock and with the Shepherd.

In the light of the letter His will has got to do with bringing into practice what you have become, namely a son and a priest. He wants you to behave like a son and that you honor Him as priest.

I can imagine that you may ask yourself how to do that, for you will not succeed, will you? That’s how I feel too. God knows about that question. He also has the answer to it. That answer consists of the promise of His help. He is “working in us that which is pleasing in His sight” (cf. Philippians 2:12-1 Chronicles :)! Therefore you only have to open yourself to Him and fill your heart with His Word. Then it will become full of Christ and He will work in you what is well pleasing in God’s sight. When everything of yourself has disappeared to the background in that way and God and Christ are great before you, you cannot but only shout: “To whom [be] the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Hebrews 13:22. In the light of that shout the remark of the writer is to be put, that he wrote “briefly”. Although the letter is quite a long one, he dealt with items that are inexhaustible. He could only touch lightly on all his items (cf. Hebrews 11:32). Only the essential ones were addressed, which was needed for the Hebrews and for us too. We may discover more and more in them.

The total of what he has written, has the form of an exhortation. He exhorts them or encourages them to bear with it. The bearing with the exhortation is important when you want to grow spiritually. It doesn’t mean that you just listen to it in a friendly way and then do nothing about it, but that you take the exhortation to heart.

Hebrews 13:23. The writer also has news about Timothy. He knew that they were interested in him and that they would be delighted if he would come together with him. It is nice to inform your brothers and sisters about other believers because you know that they are interested.

Hebrews 13:24. The bond of the writer with the company to whom he writes, also is expressed in his greetings. He asks his readers to greet the “leaders and all the saints”. The bond of the believers has no borders, but is international.

From Italy the believers greet their fellow believers in Israel through the writer. The connection is through the Lord Jesus; through Him all believers are a unity, a family.

Hebrews 13:25. The writer says goodbye with the wish that grace be with them all. Only by grace it is possible to finish the path of faith.

Now read Hebrews 13:14-25 again.

Reflection: What is the will of God for your life? How can you learn to know that will?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Hebrews 13". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/hebrews-13.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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