(Following are the notes for the monthly men’s breakfast lesson at Calvary Bible Church. As with other lessons, the oral presentation contains essentially the same doctrine, albeit with substantially different presentation. This year’s lessons have been on the book of Hebrews. They can be found here:
Chapter 13 seems like an appendix to the rest of Hebrews. Some commentators have argued that it is not really part of the letter and was some one page letter glued onto the back of a beautiful sermon. It certainly begins strange. After the mountain tops of rhetoric; after theology which ascends into heaven itself and uncovers the mystery of the cross, we find some brief seemingly simple commands. It seems too plain to even rightly be part of such a letter. Be kind, be generous, be faithful to your marriage, be respectful of your church leaders, pray for us.
I must confess that as I began to study for this lesson, I had trouble seeing the way in which these commands attached to the rest of the letter. And yet, as I studied and meditated and prayed the connection between the parts became clear.
I learned that rather than being an appendage to the whole, this final chapter in a manner is the point of the book. The book exists to teach us doctrine so that it can teach us how to worship. The book teaches about Jesus, so that we can glory God and enjoy him forever.
Let me show you. First, I want you to see the overall doctrinal purpose of the letter – and then how that doctrine ties into the practice. In the second part of this exhortation, I will speak with you briefly about the content and manner of our worship.
First: A Call to Worship
At the end of the fifth chapter of Hebrews, comes a section which almost seems a joke. The writer explains that he cannot go further in setting forth doctrine because those who received the letter “had become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:11-12). Can this be serious?
Hebrews contains perhaps the most difficult doctrine in the entire Bible. Here we read of the divinity and humanity of Jesus, his work as the true high priest, the relationship between the old and new covenants, the true purpose of the Temple, the mystery of Melchizedek, the mystery of the cross, the nature of the church, the necessity of faith, the kingdom to come. The short sermon — for it is indeed a sermon — acts like a commentary on the entire rest of the Bible. To read the book of Hebrews one must drink in the entire Scripture at a gulp. There is nothing elementary about it.
Seeing that the book contains such difficulty, many Christians will prefer to leave it alone. After all, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). And, we will not be saved by a final theology exam given at the gates of heaven. If I know the contents of a gospel tract, then I know enough to be saved.
But look back again at chapter 5. The reason why those who received the letter could not take more “solid food” is because they had not lived as God required, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
There is a motion of the Christian life: First, we learn. What we learn affects our desires. What we desire affects our conduct. Our conduct itself changes our heart and thus gives us more capacity to learn – and so the process continues like a system of gears, each which pushes on the other.
But that still leaves one with the excuse that I don’t need to learn more to be saved, and I don’t need to behave to be saved, so why bother anyway? I may not be perfect, but I am better than most people. I may not know everything about Jesus, but I know Jesus loves me. Why struggle so hard with this book?
Turn to chapter 8: verse one identifies for us the purpose of the book of Hebrews: “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, and the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Hebrews 8:1-2). There you will find the central doctrine of the book of Hebrews: Jesus is the true high priest.
As we read through chapter 8, we learn the effect of this change of high priest: It came about as part of the institution of the New Covenant. Throughout Hebrews, we learn that the Old Covenant – that is, the Old Testament – was temporary: it operated with temporary high priests, who worked in a man-made temple, and offered sacrifices repeatedly – and yet these sacrifices never saved anyone of sin, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4).
But in Jesus, the weakness of the Old Covenant passes – for Jesus is in every way superior to the Old Covenant. That old covenant was merely a picture of the true covenant to come: As Paul writes in Galatians 3:24, the old covenant – which Paul references as “the law” “was our guardian – or school master – until Christ came”. That Old Covenant could not remedy sin, but it did instruct until the true High Priest came into the world to offer the sacrifice which could redeem and reconcile us to God.
This does not mean that the law of God has vanished. In the New Covenant, the law is no longer written on tablets of stone. In the New Covenant instituted by Jesus, the law is written in us:
Hebrews 8:10–11 (ESV)
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
Hebrews 2 explains that the promise and command of the Dominion over the creation given to Adam is now fulfilled in Jesus, the one whom even angels worship. This same Jesus is also our brother and our high priest:
Hebrews 2:17–18 (ESV)
17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
You see, all the various strands, promises, problems, of the Bible finally come together in Jesus: Jesus undoes the damage of the First Adam. Jesus takes up the story of Israel and the Old Covenant and brings into the world the New Covenant which brings the law of God into the hearts and minds of those redeemed.
Since these things are true, we are called to live in a new and different way. The doctrine of the book of Hebrews is not a matter of intellectual or academic interest. It is a matter of the gravest importance:
Hebrews 10:19–22 (ESV)
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Here is a command: We are commanded to draw near to Jesus by faith. Now we can certainly not draw hear to a God whom we do not know: And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6.
And, we cannot draw near to God of surpassing holiness without seeking to come as he commands:
Hebrews 12:14–17 (ESV)
14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
This should cause the shutter and the bleeding heart. It is not to say that we are saved by works, but that there is no true saving faith unless there is obedience:
Hebrews 3:18–19 (ESV)
18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
A belief which entails no obedience is no true belief. A belief which does not draw nearer to God is not a belief which will end in salvation. We cannot live as if we were bound for hell and expect that we will end up in heaven. We cannot expect that we will be the dearest of friends with the devil upon her and the dearest of friends with the Lord in the new earth.
This letter of Hebrews was not given so that we could gain a trunk of theology to drag to heaven. This letter was given to make us fit to see the Lord. We cannot willfully ignore our God and think that he will remembers us:
Matthew 7:21–23 (ESV)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
The book of Hebrews is filled with such warnings. Now many think that such warnings are given to the unbelievers in the midst of the congregation: unbelievers certainly should take such warnings to heart. A faith which exists in one’s mouth but not in one’s hands is not a true faith.
Yet, it is only the true believer who can hear and respond to such warnings. If it takes faith to draw near to God, and if faith is a matter of head, heart and hands, then only a believer can hear the call to live as one drawing near to God and follow up that command. If a man were to come in this room and shout a command in Spanish, only those who speak Spanish could obey. If God gives a command of obedience, only those who have an obedient faith will obey.
This beautiful sermon we have as the book of Hebrews was given as a guide to bring us safely through this world to our Lord. Our Lord knows our weakness and frailty, he knows the surpassing darkness of this world and so he gave a radiant guide to show a path through that darkness. We will pass through the valley of the shadow of death – but we will pass through with Jesus.
The radiant display of the glory of Jesus, our great High Priest, must stir in us a desire and thankfulness and love to draw near to him. If we do not see Jesus as a beautiful Savior, the supreme object of our desire, worthy of all the glory and praise, then we will not have the strength to persevere until the end. As our Lord says in another place: “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).
We see all these strands of thought brought together in the final chapter of Hebrews. Beginning in verse 12 of the 13th chapter we read:
Hebrews 13:12–16 (ESV)
12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
When we read the command that we are to go to Jesus outside the camp, we may not understand what that means. It sounds very far away and foreign. Perhaps it means to be a missionary, or perhaps it means to go out of the world altogether and be with the Lord death. When we read that we are to acknowledge his name, we may think that we have done our duty when we sing the song or say a prayer and then are done.
Now certainly we are to sing and pray. It may be fitting for one to be a missionary. But we will certainly all out some day go out of this world. But in the context, the Lord calls upon us to do something much more physical and practical.
Look at the end of chapter 12, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and doesn’t let us offer to God acceptable to worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). Here is a command frightful warning. We must offer acceptable worship, worship with reverence and awe. Such worship must be given because “our God is a consuming fire.”
Chapter 13 ends with a prayer in verses 20-21:
Hebrews 13:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
This prayer tells us what the book is intended to do us and in us. The letter tells us at profound length of our Lord Jesus not so that we know about Jesus, but rather that we would know Jesus. The letter was given to “equip up with every good thing. The words “that which is pleasing in his sight” match the earlier command of 12:28 that we must offer “acceptable worship” (NASB “acceptable service”).
The purpose of all this doctrine in the book of Hebrews is that we know of Jesus so that we can offer acceptable worship to God in Jesus Christ. Earlier we spoke of the Christians who pass off the study of the Scripture and obedience by claiming that they know to be saved and so they are through with their duty. But here at the end of Hebrews we learn the answer to such people:
You must learn and obey so that you can offer acceptable worship to God in Jesus Christ. The first 12 chapters of Hebrews are a call to worship. The letter ends with a prayer that you may know God so that you may worship God.
Point Two: Love God and Man
What then is the acceptable worship? The temple no longer stands; bloody sacrifices are no longer needed. What then is our worship? How do we go to Jesus outside the camp?
That is the point of chapter 13 – in fact, in a manner, the rest of Hebrews exists so that we can receive this brief instruction.
First command: Let brotherly love continue, remain. Believers are commanded to love all persons – even our enemies. But to our brothers, we are called to special service. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
This is no ordinary command. It occurs over and again throughout Scripture. As Francis Schaeffer put it, brotherly love is the true “mark of a Christian”. In John 13:35, Jesus said that love for the brother demonstrates true faith, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Paul repeatedly commands brotherly love:
Romans 12:17 (ESV)
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
Colossians 3:12–14 (ESV)
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
1 Peter 1:21–22 (ESV)
21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
Peter also commands brotherly love in 2 Peter 1:7. Jesus, Paul, Peter, John all command brotherly love – it also commanded here in Hebrews 13:1. In fact, it stands at the head of commands in this chapter.
One way to understand the flow of the commands in the next few verses is that such commands help to flesh out the command of brotherly love: Show hospitality. Care tangibly for the persecuted brother. Flee sexual immorality – and honour your marriage. Do not be greedy; rather be content with what God provides. Be respectful of your leaders, those who teach you the Scriptures – because it is by the Scriptures that you will come to develop brotherly love.
Before I give some practical advice on how one develops brotherly love, I want you again to see the connection between the call to worship and brotherly love. True brotherly love is true worship. A sacrifice of thanksgiving is giving praise to God, but it is also showing hospitality to a stranger.
Jesus, in Matthew 25, explains that at the judgment we will be commended for showing true, tangible love to other human beings because such service to our brother is service to Christ himself:
And the King will answer them, Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. Matthew 25:40.
The call to brotherly love is not some throw away, not some addition to the Christian life. Brotherly love is the Christian life – you cannot be a Christian and not love your brother:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
(1 John 3:14-15 ESV)
Remember all the discussion of faith and obedience and salvation? Here is where that comes together. Without love there is no true faith and no true obedience. True faith necessarily produces brotherly love – and this brings us back to an earlier point: Obedience makes it possible for us to better understand the Scripture.
In the very act of loving of our brother, sacrificially, we come to know God in Jesus Christ. When I was a boy growing up in Burbank, I often wondered what I could see from the top of the mountains which mark on edge of the city. Only when I climbed up those mountains did I get the sight from those mountains. I could see things from the mountain top which I could not see elsewhere.
The same is true of obedience. Only when we love of our brother can we gain the sight of Christ which comes from that perspective.
How then does it one increase in brother love? Here are some practical steps adapted from William Gouge: Read the Scripture, a lot. Know the Scripture thoroughly. Attend to the teaching and preaching of the Scripture. Speak about the Bible, frequently. You need the Scripture read and exposited as dearly as a newborn baby needs milk.
Such knowledge of the Scripture will enflame your heart with love toward God – for it will teach you and convey to you God’s love for us. The more that we are certain of God’s love toward us, the more we will love others. Therefore, increasing our knowledge of God’s love toward us will generate our love toward brothers.
Prefer others before yourself. Always assume the best; don’t be suspicious about one-another. Such suspicion and rivalry will poison love and provoke the wrath of God.
Communion, friendship, familiarity: You cannot know brotherly love with those whom you do not know. If you are not in friendly relations with other believers, then you cannot say that you love them. When you keep separate from one-another, you bottle up the gifts of the Spirit. How can one show love or liberality or help or instruction or exhortation alone. The gifts are given to be spent for the glory of God. The servant who kept his master’s money hidden in the ground brought on his master’s anger and punishment. If we hide away our gifts and do not give our brother the space to show his gifts, then we steal from the Lord and harm those we are called to love.
Do good and receive good. Doing good shows love. Receiving good encourages love. There are some who take and never give – such persons provoke wrath and do not rightly understand love. There are others who do good to others and refuse good in return. Such persons are as proud as the first sort. No one of us is beyond the need of others. Be fervent in doing good and humble and thankful in receiving good.
Do this work and be courageous. Do not fear that you will fail. We cannot fail if God is with us. Even if we lose everything we own, if we have the Lord we are wealthy beyond believe.
Do you see how such work is counter to the world. The world says that we must protect ourselves that we must provide for ourselves. The Lord says that we must spend not merely our money but our very lives for Jesus. Brotherly love is madness – except that the world has been turned upside down because Jesus has conquered death. Go to him, outside the camp. Lay aside the wisdom of this world. Offer to the Lord acceptable worship.
We can confidently say
The Lord is my helper
I will not fear
What can man do to me?