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Concluding Exhortations June 13, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 13.

Summary: The author begins by exhorting his readers to continue seeking the best interests of their fellow believers. In particular, they should:

  • honor and have regard for strangers
  • care for, be compassionate toward and visit Christ’s prisoners.

The author then exhorts his readers to:

  • not defile the honorable state of marriage
  • be without covetousness; to support this point, he quotes from Deuteronomy 31:6, where God assures them of His presence and His help, and so they can respond as the psalmist does in Psalm 118:6-7, where the person and work of God is contrasted with the person and work of man
  • remember all who had spoken or preached the Word of God to them and follow their example.

They should be encouraged in heeding his exhortations by the fact that Christ does not change.

Now the author reminds his readers that grace is the only way for one to become spiritually strong; this cannot occur by foods. Indeed, true believers have Christ alone and His sacrifice as their altar; in contrast, those who are ministering at the temple cannot participate in this altar.

The author then asserts that Christ:

  • left the city and church-state of the Jews
  • put an end to all sacrificing in the city and temple as far as that would be accepted by God
  • declared that His sacrifice and its attendant benefits were extended to the whole world
  • declared that His death and suffering were a punishment for sin.

Thus, the author exhorts his readers to relinquish all the privileges of the city and church-state of the Jews for the sake of Christ. Indeed, the city and church-state of the Jews does not endure forever; in contrast, the heavenly state of rest and glory does endure forever, and they anticipate it.

Now the author exhorts his readers to:

  • be grateful for Christ and having grace through Him – as the appointed seasons require; this entails acknowledging the love of God in the redemption of the church in Christ
  • have a gracious propensity and readiness to do good to everyone; moreover, they should embrace all occasions and opportunities to show loving-kindness on the earth.

The author also exhorts his readers to obey all who had spoken or preached the Word of God to them; indeed, these pastors exhibit watchfulness with the greatest care and diligence, since Christ has entrusted them with their souls. Obedience to their pastors would allow them to go on to maturity – and so their pastors would thank Christ for the work of His spirit and grace among them. In contrast, disobedience would allow them to fall into sinful ways – and so their pastors would mourn with grief and sorrow.

Now the author requests prayer from his readers. In particular, he asks them to pray that he would be able to come to them again.

The author then prays for his readers; he prays that God – who raised Christ as the king, priest and prophet of the church from the dead – would make them fit and able for every good deed.

The author tells his readers to bear with the truth and teaching of the Gospel that he has applied for building them up; this stems from the fact that he has given them a compressed summary of the teaching of the law and the Gospel. He tells them the good news of Timothy’s release, and he encourages them to convey his kindness and affection to their pastors; indeed, the believers in Italy have conveyed their kindness and affection to them. The author concludes by praying that the whole goodwill of God through Jesus Christ and all of its attendant blessings would be with them.

Thoughts: In verse 13, the author exhorts his readers to relinquish the Old Testament covenant and embrace the New Testament covenant. Owen offers some insights on this point:

The main point the apostle makes here is that a moral and religious purpose is served by going from this camp. These Hebrews valued nothing so highly as their moral and religious life and their citizenship in Israel. They could not understand how all the glorious privileges given of old to that church and people should stop so that they had to forsake them…All the privileges and advantages, whatever they were, were to be renounced. Anything that was inconsistent with having Christ and participating in him must be forsaken.

While most modern-day believers are not of Jewish descent – and so we do not connect with the primary application of this letter – we can still learn from the secondary application of this letter. In particular, believers occasionally fall into the trap of placing their ultimate worth in external things, including:

  • their nationality – especially when their country of origin plays a prominent role in global affairs
  • their ethnicity – especially when they attend a church that is dominated by members of their ethnic group
  • their income and level of education.

We must remember to constantly return to Christ and find our ultimate identity in Him. In this way we will learn to lose our temporal lives and gain our eternal lives.

An interesting aspect of Owen’s commentary is his conclusion that Paul is the anonymous author of this letter. Of course, the authorship of this letter is still an open question, and so I am certainly curious as to how Owen arrived at his conclusion. Was he influenced by verse 23, where the author refers to Timothy? Was he influenced by verse 24, where the author refers to believers in Italy (since we know that Paul served two prison terms in Rome)? If Paul is the anonymous author of this letter, then this would have to be reconciled with the fact – as presented in verse 19 – that the author previously spent time with the Hebrews. Now I think that the name of the author did appear at the beginning of the original letter, yet that part of the letter was subsequently lost to posterity. I certainly hope to meet the author of this letter in the next life…

Now that I have completed my stroll through Hebrews, I am reminded of the major theme of this letter: Christ and the covenant that He has sealed are superior to all other things; thus, we must respond to Him with faith and obedience. While this experience has not made the task of responding to the Gospel message with faith and obedience significantly easier, I would say that I have been spurred to renew my daily focus on Christ in the midst of this rapidly changing world. This stroll has both reminded me of the dangers of seeking temporal pleasures – thereby “sinking into the world” – and encouraged me to “rise above the world” on a daily basis. I also hope to be able to spur other believers on in their quest to “rise above the world” on a daily basis; perhaps these blog posts will be an encouragement to them in this regard.

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