Today: [Hebrews 13:] Maintaining Right Relationships: In chapter 13 the writer admonishes us to have right relationships to one another and to Christian leadership. There are two mentions of Christian leaders as having “rule” over our lives. Do you see your pastor or Christian leader as having a position of authority or “rule” over you? If not why not? In other words – outside the church walls – is there a pastor or minister that speaks with any authority whatsoever into your personal life in ways that compel you to capitulate to their discipling influence? If not then what do we do with the commands in this chapter that we do otherwise?
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[Heb 13:1-25 KJV] 1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; [and] them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. 4 Marriage [is] honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. 5 [Let your] conversation [be] without covetousness; [and be] content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. 6 So that we may boldly say, The Lord [is] my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. 7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of [their] conversation. 8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. 9 Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For [it is] a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. 10 We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. 11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. 12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. 14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. 15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of [our] lips giving thanks to his name. 16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. 17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that [is] unprofitable for you. 18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. 19 But I beseech [you] the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner. 20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen. 22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words. 23 Know ye that [our] brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you. 24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you. 25 Grace [be] with you all. Amen.
Chapter 13 concludes the letter to the Hebrews with an amalgamation of warnings to the recipients. The first mention is to let brotherly love continue. Jewish converts to Christ were under severe persecution from their countrymen. The temptation surely was to concern themselves only with their own personal affairs. They are reminded that strangers in their midst could very well be angels in disguise. There is no doubt a backstory here anecdotally among the early Christians that angelic visitations were not unknown to them and even today we hear such stories.
We are urged to remember those imprisoned for their faith. Christianity was an oppressed faith. Both Jewish and Roman authorities often sought pretexts to detain fellow believers. The reminder is as others suffer so we might also one day; therefore, we should do what we can to support them in their deprivations and their families as well.
There is mention of the estate of marriage, and even a reference to sexual propriety among married partners. Would you entertain the suggestion that a Christian leader might knock at your door to have a conversation with you about your sexual habits and practices? Even at this early date, two extremes were in evidence in the church – that of those choosing celibacy and condemning those otherwise minded – and those who cast off all restraint alleging that in Christ the constraints of fidelity did not apply, and such madness is not unknown today. Christian divorce rates are very high, and polls tell us that 35 percent of professing Christians prefer living together outside of marriage. One in two marriages in Christian culture is affected by divorce.
The writer (v. 5) admonishes us against covetousness and what we would call consumerism or lifestyles of conspicuous consumption. The reason given is if Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us that we need not seek solace in materialism because the Lord is our helper; thus we need not fear what man might do to us. As it is today in ancient times the wealthy could buy justice with their resources whereas the less fortunate choked the courts unable to defend themselves from a predatory judiciary. If you want to discuss social justice here is a high priority and a very high profile issue that is seldom if ever addressed by the church.
Verse 7 goes on to command us to obey those who have rule over us. This is not just speaking about civil government for there is mention of those who are over us as those that teach us the word of God. We are to obey them considering the quality of their own behavior or conversation. The question might be asked have you ever considered any situation that might come up where you would hold yourself accountable to obey your pastor or another Christian minister in ANY area of your life?
Submission to Christian leadership is not a part of the believer’s thinking today. We tend more to see leaders as those who offer us teachings and counsel whereby we go on our way either acting or not acting on their words without any consequences or consideration that they are real authorities in our lives from God’s point of view. We might think that submission to spiritual authority was only necessary for the ancient culture to whom these remarks were addressed, but the predicating declaration for so admonishing us is the fact that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. We quote this verse relating it to our belief that God still heals and performs miracles today, but the context is given in a command for us not to be lawless but rather submissive to the Christian leadership structure in our lives that in reality at that level this kind of spiritual leadership and authority is non-existent as it applies to our personal lives outside the church walls.
The passage goes on to warn us not to be carried about by strange doctrines relating to fanciful interpretations of scripture that result in bizarre dietary or other lifestyle restrictions. Different religious groups come up with these twisted belief systems as a way of maintaining a strict hold upon their followers. Prolonged fasting and enforced social isolation are classic cult-like activities that the enemy uses to delegitimize wholesome Christian leadership structures.
In v. 13 the writer summarizes the general message of Hebrews being that of coming out of the prevailing religious system – coming out of the camp – unto Jesus, bearing His reproach. Are you willing to come out – all the way out – of Christianity as it is commonly defined if such an action was necessary to so determine your relationship to Christ? Would you give up Christian culture and social identification to the point that you were no longer accepted by others – if necessary – in pursuit of Christ?
Why would this question be asked? Because (v. 14) here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. Even movements and Christian groups that were once white-hot for God eventually over time fall away into declension having more in common with the cold formalized institutions they came out of than they would care to realize. The Assemblies of God is a perfect example of this. They were birthed in the throes of the Pentecostal outpouring in the early 1900s but now the number of people who in A/G churches that believe and practice speaking in tongues or operation of the gifts of the spirit has declined at meteoric rates. Thus this once great organization has more in common with the cessationist denominations it emerged from in the early 1900s than it does its former character as a people that embraced the move of the Spirit and encouraged the operation and ministration of the gifts and ministries of the Holy Ghost.
In verse 17 we find a repeated command to obey and submit to those who have the rule over us. Question – do you see your pastor or Christian minister as “having rule over” you? I dare say there is not one believer in 1000 who would scarcely even entertain such a proposition. We readily expect leaders to be accountable to the congregation, but our ideation is that they serve us; we do not serve them. This is a particularly modern convention arising from the turn of events by which institutional churches became ruled by majority voting by a formal membership. We would do well to reconsider this because God holds us accountable to leadership whether we entertain such a thought ourselves. If our leaders are praying people the verse continues, and they give an account to God with grief resulting from their connection to us – God will see to it that this will be unprofitable to us. Submission to authority has consequences both negatively and positively which may very well be an explanation as to why our lives experience struggle in some ways that might be different if we reconsidered our leadership roles both as leaders and as those who ought to submit to leadership.
In v. 21 the writer concludes the letter with an amen but then adds a postscript imploring the readers not to reject the message as written to them. The writer intends to show up personally in a short time to go over all these things again face to face. For us, we do not have the benefit even of knowing who wrote the letter, but we can be thankful it found its way anonymously into the canon as one of the most compelling and profound exhortations speaking directly into our lives in a most personal way.
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