HEBREWS AND THE FOUR WAYS, PART 1

The "way of holiness" goes in one direction. Unlike some of the crazy road signs you'll find in your travels!

THE WAY OF HOLINESS, 13:1—7

The first 12 chapters of this letter to the Hebrews make up the author’s main argument. Chapter 13 is different; its tone is different and its theme is different. It seems almost like an add-on which deals with a number of practical points.

The life of faith is all about the pursuit of holiness, and the consequences of failing in that pursuit are final and devastating. The book of Acts gives us the prime example of two people who didn’t take the pursuit of holiness seriously. Their names were Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife whose tragic story is found in Acts 5. You’ll recall that they, like others in the early church, sold some personal property, supposedly with the purpose of donating the proceeds of the sale to the church. In the case of this couple, instead of donating 100% of the proceeds like other members did, they donated some but pocketed the rest. Now, there was no commandment that any member needed to sell any of their property let alone donate all their money to the church. Apparently many did.

The problem with what Ananias and Sapphira did was not that they kept back some of the money, it was theirs to do with as they pleased after all. No, the sin was that they pretended to give the whole amount; the lied to the whole church; they were hypocrites. When confronted with the lie, Ananias responded to the charge by dropping dead, and later when Sapphira was asked about the lie, she also dropped dead. The result was that the whole church experienced a special kind of reverence for God. It was clear to all of them that God was not pleased with the actions of Ananias and Sapphira.

God was not happy that this couple abandoned their pursuit of holiness. They succumbed to the world’s attitudes toward money and self-esteem: they were greedy and they coveted the praise of man.

When we pursue holiness, it will necessarily affect how we treat God, how we live our lives, and how we treat others. When we make the pursuit of holiness our ultimate goal in life, we will demonstrate actions, attitudes, practices, ethics and morality that please God.

1. Love toward other believers, 13:1

Keep on loving each other as brothers.

Where the Spirit of Christ is, there is brotherly love. Under no circumstances are Christians to let the love they have for the Body of Christ grow cold. In Greek, “philadelphia” is not the name of city founded by William Penn. In fact, “philadelphia” is an expression of love—the kind of good fellowship, common bond, and cheerful associations that ought to characterize a church family. This “brotherly love” is to “keep on.” In other words, it is to be cultivated diligently.

2. Be kind to strangers, 13:2

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

This verse says more than is apparent in its English translation. The same word for love used in the previous verse, “philia,” combined with “brothers” is now used here linked with “zenos,” or “strangers.” Christians are not to let the warmth of their love for one another turn into an exclusive, cliquish thing. By showing hospitality to strangers, some believers have actually entertained angles with even knowing it. This is not to say we should go out of our way to live recklessly in this regard. Not every stranger is an angel. The point the author of this letter is a simple one. Our kindness toward people we don’t may not reveal them to be angels, but may go a long way in helping them to become saints.

3. Compassion toward those suffering, 13:3

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Our letter-writer goes one step further. From fellow believers, to strangers, now to prisoners. Believers are to go out of their way to remember those “in bonds.” In the context of this letter, people in real, brick and mortar prison cells are who the author has in mind. It’s not that people in prison are all innocent of their crimes, but rather they are all needy, lonely, and probably depressed by their self-made isolation from the rest of society. We are to remember and pray for them.

But then, there are other kinds of prisons; prisons of sickness, prisons of failure, prisons of loneliness. We are to be considerate of anybody in any kind of adversity. But these aren’t crocodile tears we should be shedding. The great apostle himself expressed the same sentiment in 1 Corinthians 12:26—

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Compassion should be an essential part of the Christian life. Some of us are blessed and well off, others may not be so but one one thing is certain: life’s circumstances can change in a moment. Sometimes Christians are supernaturally protected from harm and danger, sometimes not, but nobody is immune from disease or exempt from suffering. So let’s lets sow seeds of love and compassion because someday we need to reap those very things ourselves.

4. Remember to practice God’s morality, 13:4

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

We move from those who are suffering to those who are married. Hopefully, they are separate and distinct groups!

The way this is worded in the Greek suggests an imperative statement: “Let marriage be held in honor by everybody.” This seems like a strange sentence; of course marriage is honorable, we may think. And yet, not everybody holds marriage is high esteem. In New Testament days, some thought very little of marriage. Today the marriage union means so little that over half of all Christian marriages end in divorce and certain segments of the church condone same-sex marriages! No wonder the writer urged his readers to make sure marriage is honored by all people.

What is an honorable marriage? It is one that has been undefiled by unfaithfulness. God will judge the adulterer, but Christians who have honorable marriages will never have to worry about that judgment; God has not called us to immorality but to purity. As we live in faithfulness to our spouses, we will demonstrating to all people what an honorable marriage looks like.

5. Don’t get hung up with money, 13:5, 6

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

It’s not that Christians should be free from money. There is nothing good about being broke. Rather, we are to be free from “the love” of money. Greed should not be something in our lives. Greed is a malignancy of the soul; it is something believers need to be on guard against and to steer clear from at all costs.

Greed and restless desires are incompatible with the pursuit of holiness. How can you pursue holiness if you are pursuing money and the things it can buy?

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

No Christian ever needs to worry about money or the lack of money because the Lord is their Provider. Despondency and depression over finances should be foreign to Christians. We should live with the ever-present confidence that no matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in—whether in plenty or in want—God is there to help us. With the great Helper at our sides, we need never fear.

6. Remember your leaders, 13:7

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

What leaders is the writer thinking of here? From the context, he must be thinking about religious leaders; those preachers and Bible teachers who first introduced us to the Word of God. They may be gone, but by their teachings and example, they have left us firmly grounding in the faith.

Of these leaders, we are to do three things:

a. Remember them. As we remember them, we remember their teachings.

b. Consider the outcome of their way of life. Actually, the Greek verb translated “consider” really means “to look at again and again” with the sense of “observing carefully.” What the writer is telling us to do is to look at the whole of their lives; observe how they lived, pay attention to their pursuit of holiness. This is a powerful verse that not only urges the readers to do something, but it also puts the pressure on would-be church leaders! What an obligation we have to live right! Church leaders, from pastors to elders and deacons to Sunday School teachers must be ever mindful that they are being watched!

c. Imitate their faith. Leaders of the church are not unlike the heroes of the faith in chapter 11. We are to follow in their footsteps; live as they lived; testify for God as they did. It’s not martyrdom that we should pursue, but rather their lives and their deeds of faith.

The risen Christ gave great gifts to the Church:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:11, 12)

We are to remember those people; they have been placed in positions of leadership by God Himself.

Our world is always changing. In fact, in recent years the pace of changes seems to be accelerating at breakneck speed! Nothing seems to be as dependable as it used to be. Leaders come and leaders go. Teachings pass in and out of favor. But true Christians need to remember who and what led them to faith in Christ and to never let it go.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd
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