HONORABLE LIVES Hebrews 13
“We are sure that we have a clear conscience and a desire to live honorably in every way” (Heb. 13:18).Exhortations to honorable living grow naturally out of the most exalted doctrine.
The writer closes with exhortations (13:1–19), with one of the most powerful doxologies in Scripture (vv. 20–21), and with personal greetings (vv. 22–25).
Understanding the Text
“Keep on loving each other as brothers” Heb. 13:1. Nearly every New Testament letter contains an exhortation to love. This is only appropriate, as the night before His crucifixion Jesus emphasized his “new commandment” (John 13:33–34). Christ’s followers are to love one another as Jesus loved them. This verse, however, has a distinctive emphasis. “Keep on” loving. The emphasis is important. As we come to know others better and better, more and more of their flaws are likely to appear. How many a gal has come home, excited over meeting “the” man, only to become disenchanted a few weeks or months later. We Christians, however, don’t have the liberty of disenchantment. Or of disengagement. Someone born to my parents is my sister or my brother, not by my choice, but by virtue of shared parentage. We may choose our mates, but we don’t choose brothers and sisters. And somehow, despite everything, in most families siblings learn not only to get along, but to love each other as well. It’s like this in God’s family. We are family, not by our choice, but by God’s. We have the same Father, and so we all belong. Period. We can become disenchanted. But we can’t withdraw, or reject someone whom God has accepted. And so Hebrews 13:1 sets a distinctive challenge before us. “Keep on” loving. How good to know that, as we keep on loving, love will find a way. Through love we will be a blessing, and find blessing. “Do not forget to entertain strangers” Heb. 13:2–3. Hospitality was one of the most important of ancient virtues. No hotels or motels dotted the first-century countryside. Tired and hungry people often appeared in town or at one’s door, hoping for a place to stay. There are distinct aspects to the Christian’s relationships with others. We are to keep on loving Christian brothers. And we are to entertain strangers. Whether the people we meet are in or out of God’s family, we are to show loving concern. The writer went even further. The believer is to “remember those in prison.” A person in prison isn’t free to come to your church. He’s not free to knock on your door. You have to take the initiative and search out the person in jail. What’s more, it is uncomfortable to take that initiative. When someone comes to your house, you’re on your own turf. You are relatively secure. When you go beyond the places you normally frequent, you feel uncertain and unsure. There you can’t insulate yourself from others’ suffering. It’s unpleasant at the very least. But if we remember all that Hebrews tells about what God has done for us in Christ, we understand why we need to relate to brothers, strangers, and prisoners. Christ’s gift of redemption is a love gift offered to every man. Christ’s blood was shed for the stranger and the outcast as well as the brother. We need to go where Christ would go if He were here. “Keep your lives free from the love of money” Heb. 13:4–6. It’s easy to say. But how do we find contentment, when everything in our society shouts at us, insisting that we desire more? The answer is, remember that in God you already possess everything. The stock market can fall, and you will lose everything. Thieves can break in, and your possessions will disappear. The economy can crash and interest rates rise. In this world there simply is no security in wealth, or the things that money can buy. But when God is with you, and when you have His promise, “Never will I leave you,” you enjoy the ultimate security. God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Owner of the cattle on a thousand hills, is your helper. There is nothing that can threaten the man or woman who walks hand in hand with the Lord. “Remember your leaders” Heb. 13:7. What a fascinating way to put this. The writer didn’t say, “Remember what your leaders taught.” He didn’t say “Remember what your leaders told you to do,” even though they “spoke the Word of God to you.” What the writer said was, “Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” We are to remember them, for their example teaches us something that their words cannot. As we consider the faith they live by, we learn to live by faith. “Our hearts to be strengthened by grace” Heb. 13:9–14. The ceremonial foods on Old Testament altars symbolized God’s sustaining grace. You and I, however, have no need of symbols. We have Christ Himself, who suffered to make us holy. Going “outside the camp” indicates breaking out of Old Testament faith and ritual. There is nothing left for us inside them, for with their symbolism fulfilled in Christ, they are now empty shells. And so the author said, “Let us then go to Him.” If you want your heart to be strengthened by grace, follow this prescription. Go directly to Him. “A sacrifice of praise” Heb. 13:15. Let’s not come empty-handed to the Lord. And let’s not rush into His presence, shouting out our needs and demanding attention without first paying attention to Him. What we bring Christ as our sacrifice today is praise. And He is worthy to be praised. Perhaps it’s not surprising, but even in this we find that God thinks of us, even as He asks us to consider Him. When we do focus our attention on the Lord, and praise Him for His great attributes, we pray with much greater confidence. Rehearsing His praises strengthens our faith, and faith is essential to answered prayer. “We have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way” Heb. 13:18. If this is true of us, and reflects our heart’s desire, we will do more than praise God. Our lives will bring Him praises. “The God of peace” Heb. 13:20–21. These verses contain one of the most beautiful benedictions in the Old or New Testaments. It is a “must memorize”: a passage that can bring confidence as well as focus to your life.
Let Yourself Be Led(Heb. 13:17)
It’s almost hidden, tucked in with a number of other exhortations that the writer of Hebrews hurried to add as he closed his epistle. Most who do notice it seem to take it wrongly, as if the writer were encouraging a hierarchy of leaders, who had the right to demand obedience. I don’t believe the first readers had that impression for several reasons. In the Greek the phrase reads peithesthe tois hegoumenois hyman kain hypeikete. The Greek work peithesthe means, “Let yourselves be persuaded, or convinced.” A fair English paraphrase would be, “Open your hearts to the persuasion of your leaders.” The word translated “leaders” here is used for rulers and princes, but originally meant “to lead or guide.” The idea seems to be that spiritual leaders are to be those who have traveled the road of faith (see v. 7), and thus can serve as guides for others. The single word hypeikete is rendered by the English phrase, “Submit to their authority.” Originally it was used in classical Greek to describe soft and yielding substances. The root idea is not “give in,” but “be disposed to yielding.” Putting this together the instruction focuses on the attitude that you and I are to maintain as we travel the Jesus road, led by others who have traveled on farther than we. What the first readers would have understood is this charge: “In your relationship with those who are your leaders and guides to godliness, be sure you maintain a yielding disposition, and remain open to their persuasion.” It’s an approprirate exhortation here at the close of Hebrews. In Jesus we have a superior revelation, a superior High Priest, a better covenant, and a better faith. And we are called by God to experience, through faith, every blessing provided by the Son of God. How important, as we travel the Jesus road with others, to choose as leaders those who have gone on ahead—and to let ourselves be led.
Though responsible for your own choices in life, remain open, and let yourself be led by godly men and women.
“The question, ‘Who ought to be the boss?’ is like asking, ‘Who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?’ Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.”—Henry Ford