Love One Another

Explore the Bible Series

November 26, 2006

 

Background Passage: Hebrews 13:1-25

Lesson Passage: Hebrews 13:1-8; 12-19

 

Introduction: The Lifeway lesson writer focuses his attention, in this study, on one aspect of the exhortations of Hebrews Thirteen, the responsibility of Christians to love one another.  However, even a cursory reading of the chapter reveals greater breadth and texture to the admonitions set forth.  Of course Christian love is an essential element of godliness, but our text addresses a broader range of topics, and careful Bible students will want to note the full spectrum of divine instruction on Christian living.  Our lesson writer is correct, however, in pointing out that the thread of love runs through the warp and woof of the entire text.

 

In some way, the unfortunate chapter break between Chapters Twelve and Thirteen is misleading.  Our present study simply continues the thoughts of the previous lesson.  Christian doctrine must have practical implications for godly living.  For centuries Christians have debated the relationship between grace and works.  Protestants have rightly emphasized the principle of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.  This emphasis has led evangelicals to assert that men cannot and do not receive the grace of God  by personal merit.  However, Bible students know that the Bible does have much to say about good works and Christian character.  People receive the grace of God by faith based on the merits of Christ alone; however, works do play a critical role in biblical theology.  Men are not saved by works, but they are saved through a faith that issues in good works.  This not theological hair-splitting; rather, it is an essential element of a proper doctrine of salvation.  This principle finds expression in this chapter.

 

Above all, this week’s lesson highlights the centrality of Christ to the life of believers.  Verse Eight reminds readers of the timeless relevance of the Savior.  Universally, believers have found, and do find, the center of their faith and conduct in the changeless Christ.  The ancients, in hopeful expectation of the Messiah, persevered in faith and good works, and the struggling first-century believers had to find their sufficiency in the Lord as well.  The lesson is clear.  Christ has not changed.  His salvific purposes remain the same through all generations, and they continue today.  Dear reader, Christ has not altered his agenda. His purposes remain secure and steady.  Your present hardships have not deterred him from his designs for your life.  Continue to trust him, and remain steadfast in your determination to live by his precepts.  Eternal life awaits you.  When you have endured the trial, he will bring you to glory and all will be well.

 

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way;

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

 

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   An Exhortation to Christian Love (13:1-3): Hebrews highlights the importance of loving the unwanted and neglected.

A.    “Do not forget to entertain strangers” (v. 2): In the ancient world, travelers often had great difficulty in finding safe, comfortable lodging.  Perhaps, in this environment of persecution, these professing believers found it particularly uncomfortable to have strangers in their homes. Inhospitable suspicion of strangers may have prompted them to reject those who needed lodging and food.  Hewitt remarks that he does not think this passage refers to supernatural beings; instead, he speculates that this text advocates hospitality toward Christian (human) messengers.  This position doesn’t seem to fit the context.  Does the author advocate that these believers might entertain preachers or missionaries who are traveling incognito?  That doesn’t, in my judgment, fit the argument of the text.

B.     “Remember the prisoners” (v. 3): In all probability this verse refers to imprisoned Christians; however, the meaning may extend beyond the persecuted church.  Ancient prisons were places of horrible abuse and neglect.  Hopeless despair often gripped the hearts of those consigned to the degradation of prison life.  Outside prison walls, believers might find it easy to ignore the hopelessness of these people.  Perhaps our author intended for his readers to turn their minds from their own hardships and invest their lives in the broken and desperate masses of people around them.

 

Personal note: The present trends in American evangelicalism should trouble Bible-believing people.  It seems, in my judgment, that our generation has chosen to retreat from our desperate cultural context.  God’s people should have the spirit of their master.  Identify with the outcasts and forgotten, and determine to wade chest deep into the morass of the hopeless and hurting.  That’s what Jesus did, and he calls us to a similar task.  As I study the life of Jesus, I find that he met his greatest opposition from the religious crowd that insisted on remaining distant and aloof from the hurting masses.  Modern-day Pharisees content themselves with withdrawing into their clean, self-righteous, separated lives.  The Pharisees consistently criticized Jesus for his associations with the riffraff, but the savior refused to heed their wicked counsel.  He called his disciples to radical discipleship, and he appeals to contemporary believers to follow the same example.

 

II.                Exhortations to Marital Fidelity and Freedom from the Love of Money (13:4-6)

A.    Marital fidelity (v. 4):  Christian love, of course, must begin at home.  The affection between a husband and wife takes high priority.  The writer draws a distinction between fornication and adultery.  Fornication (Greek word “pornia”) denotes any form of sexual misconduct outside the bonds of marriage.  In this context it certainly includes premarital sexual relations.  If so, then the engagement in such relations constitutes a sin against the institution of marriage.  It damages the future legitimate relations a person may enter.  “Adultery” refers to the breaking of the marriage vows by extra-marital sexual relations.

B.     Contentment with material possessions (vv. 5-6):  Sexual sin and covetousness both center on the inordinate desire for something that is not rightfully yours.  Indeed, adultery and covetousness are two rails of the same track, and the two often run together.  Hebrews calls believers to be content with what they have.  The Lord will not forsake his people, and his fidelity can be measured by his providential provision for all the needs of life (vv. 5b-6).

 

III.             An Exhortation to Follow God-ordained Church leadership (13:7-17): English theologian N.T. Wright tells of a conversation he once had with a newly appointed bishop in the Anglican Church.  In the course of their visit, Wright asked the bishop how the work was going.  The clergyman observed that leading his new charge was like “trying to take a cat for a walk.”  As a child, I heard a similar analogy.  Leading some churches is like herding squirrels!  Alas, many pastors find their work unnecessarily difficult, made difficult by unleadable parishioners.  According to Hebrews, this should not be the case. 

A.    “Remember those who rule over (lead) you” (vv. 7-8): Verse Seven carefully defines the particular leaders Christians must remember, those, “who have spoken the word of God to you.”  Mark and emulate the faith and conduct of such men. Christ has always carried out his designs through the instrumentality of human leaders (v. 7).

B.     “Do not be carried away with various and strange doctrines” (vv. 9-16):  In particular, the writer has in mind the various ceremonial and dietary laws of the Mosaic economy (See vv. 9b-11). Those who remained under the ceremonies of the Tabernacle had no place at the table of the Lord.  Christ’s work, like the Old Testament sacrifices, led the people outside of the Tabernacle (See vv. 11-12).  Certainly, faithfulness to Christ will bring the reproach of the gospel on those who identify themselves with the Savior; nevertheless, Hebrews calls upon believers to bear Christ’s reproach willfully and joyfully (See v. 13).  In fact, we must bear this reproach with praise and thanksgiving to God (See v. 15).

C.     “Obey those who rule (lead) over you” (v. 17):  believers must obey their leaders in matters that Scripture address clearly and submit to them on matters of judgment.  They, of course, should not do this blindly or foolishly, but they should note those leaders who watch out for their souls as those who just give an account.  Church members must not render their pastor’s work a tedious and unpleasant task; instead, they should bring joy to their leaders.  Brethren, too many of our churches are led by heartbroken men, and that serves neither the interests of God or man.

 

 

 

 

IV.             A Final Salutation (13:20-24)

A.    A blessing of the God of peace (vv. 20-21):  This portion of the salutation takes the form of a prayer.  The author prays for the maturity of his readers in every good work, good works that will bring glory to Christ.

B.     A final, compassionate appeal (vv. 22-25):  The author softens the sharpness of his words by assuring his readers of his loving concern for them.  Then, he sends word of the wellbeing of friend Timothy, and sends greetings from the saints in Rome.  It is possible that this reference to the saints on Rome may give indication of the place the author wrote this book, but that is not certain.