John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another”
Our text – Hebrews 13:1-25
Theme – “The godly life demonstrates practical love”
As the writer finishes the Book of Hebrews, the author wants his readers to see the importance of a faith that functions for the good of others and not just for themselves. Someone once said there are two types of people in the world, “those who come into a room and say, ‘Here I am!’ and those who come in and say, ‘Ah, there you are!’” How different are those two approaches! One says, “Look at me! I need attention”; the other says, “Tell me about yourself.” One says, “I’m important”; the other says, “You are important.” One says, “The world revolves around me”; the other says, “I’m here to serve you.”
Wouldn’t it be great to be known as that second kind of person; someone others love to have around? Someone who displays the love of Christ openly and unashamedly? The New Testament gives us some practical suggestions about becoming the kind of person who demonstrates Christ’s love. We are told to:
(1) Give preference to one another (Romans 12:10),
(2) Edify one another (Romans 14:19),
(3) Care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25),
(4) Serve one another (Galatians 5:13),
(5) Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2),
(6) Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13),
(7) Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11, and
(8) Pray for one another (James 5:16).
My beloved, people with a heart for God have a heart for people. So, what type are you?
An Appeal to LOVE
Hebrews 11 focused on FAITH, Hebrews 12 encourages HOPE, and now we come to the last chapter, Hebrews 13, which closes the book with an appeal to LOVE. The love here is not just a warm emotion; it is helpful love in action throughout life. As the readers were struggling with trials, they needed to remember, just as we must today, that God uses the church and people to help those who are needy and struggling.
In his Prison Fellowship newsletter, Chuck Colson tells of a pastor who was putting the final touches on his sermon early one Sunday morning when he heard a knock on his study door. There stood three ragged boys who had received gifts from church members. Their home was ravaged by drugs and prostitution. They had never been in a church before and wanted to look around. So the pastor gave them a quick “tour.”
Fifteen minutes later they were back, asking what time the service started. “Can people come to your church if their socks don’t match?” asked the oldest. The pastor assured them they could. “What if they don’t have any socks?” Again, the pastor reassured them. “That’s good,” said the boy, “because my socks don’t match, and my little brother doesn’t have any.” That morning those boys came to church and were warmly welcomed. Since then the church has helped the entire family.
Just as the gospel is open to everyone, everyone should feel welcome in our churches. Wealthy and poor, child and aged, police officer and ex-con, handicapped and athlete are all objects of Christ’s love. They are all potential members of His body. There shouldn’t be any barriers in our churches nor in our hearts toward anyone! Furthermore, as we cultivate love in our relationships, we can meet the practical needs of others because love develops in us the heart of humility, commitment, and obedience, which is essential to sustain us in the face of difficulties. The writer began his challenge by focusing on the expression of love within the areas of Relationships, Contentment or Humility, Commitment and Obedience:
1. Relationships – (Hebrews 13:1-4)
When individuals put their faith and trust in the risen Savior, Jesus Christ, they become children of God, and brothers and sisters in God’s eternal family. Hebrews 13:1 begins with “keep on loving each other as brothers”.
This shouldn’t surprise us at all because Jesus, in the Upper Room, wanted to drive home one very important message to His disciples as He washed their feet in John 13 and especially what He said to them? “Beloved, love one another as I have loved you. A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” The love command and especially the command for love to the brethren were central to the teachings of Jesus Christ. And as the author of Hebrews gets to the point of telling you and me what it means to live a life that’s a sacrifice of praise, he begins with love.
The writer urged the readers not to limit their love to their local congregation alone but to reach out to all who belong to God’s family and not to forget “to entertain strangers through the gift of hospitality” (Hebrews 13:2). In the first century, hospitality was a practical virtue because inns were both dangerous and immoral places. There were no Ramada Inns, Motel 6, or Best Western.
Although our circumstances are different, (paying attention to the stranger), remains a vital demonstration of love in the form of hospitality. The writer reminds us that when we are hospitable, we too receive rewards because we may be entertaining “angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Perhaps the writer was thinking about when Abraham hosted two angels and the Lord Himself (Genesis 18) or Gideon found in (Judges 6).
Furthermore, the Hebrews were to extend loving or affectionate help to those whom others normally overlooked (Hebrews 13:3). Among those unfortunate people were PRISONERS, who in the Roman world could suffer for months or even years before their release. Those who were suffering financial and physical, including BROTHERS and SISTERS in the Lord, could easily fall through the cracks.
The key to loving those who are overlooked by others is identifying with them on a personal level. In the family of God, when one person suffers, all suffer. When one person is in bonds, all are in bonds. Love grows when we put ourselves in someone else’s place and start to express genuine concern for them. Hurting brothers and sisters in Christ may be out of our sight, but they should never be out of our minds or our hearts.
It’s like the loving father who goes to the hospital, day after day, often with flowers in his hand. He would sit beside the bed of his comatose 6 year-old daughter, talking to her about the wonderful world outside her hospital window. Sometimes he would tell her a story, but in her unconscious state, the only sound she ever made was her labored breathing. One day her nurse, touched by the father’s unrewarded faithfulness and love, ventured to say, “It must be hard giving so much love when she’s like this.” He quickly responded, “I’m going to keep on coming and bringing flowers and telling her stories even if she’s oblivious to it because I love her whether or not she loves me back.”
What a tender and moving picture of God’s love! Patiently, tirelessly, He is in love with us. We may be unaware of His presence, as though we are spiritually comatose, but we don’t have to be that way. What our loving Lord said to the church of Laodicea He says to each of us: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20).
Today, as always, God is reaching out to you. Respond now to the love that won’t quit loving. The God of the Bible is merciful and gracious; slow to anger, and abounding in mercy, grace and love. His love has no limit; His grace has no measure, His power has no boundary known unto men; for out of His infinite riches in Jesus; He giveth and giveth and giveth again.
In verse 4 the challenge to marital purity may seem at first glance out of place in this context. However, it is an important aspect of Christian love in relationships. Furthermore, some religious groups in New Testament times elevated celibacy above marriage, and that strange doctrine needed correction. Marriage is honorable, and sexual intimacy within the marriage bond is pure in God’s eyes.
God created marriage, a lifelong, monogamous relationship between a man and a woman. Obviously His design serves the best interest of human beings. On the other hand, sexual intimacy outside of marriage brings God’s judgment. The readers, which especially includes, the readers of today needed to remember that if they succumbed to sexual temptation they would fall under God’s judgment for their sin.
As Christians endure the challenges of life, they need to keep in mind that God uses people to help people in need. By cultivating love in the congregation, hospitality to the wider circle of Christians, consideration for those who are overlooked, and intimacy within the marital bonds, Christians can draw mutual support and encouragement for the tough times of life.
2. Contentment, Humility & Pride – (Hebrews 13:5-9)
Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” – we are to put on and exercise “HUMILITY and CONTENTMENT”
Humility is the opposite of pride. Everyone can recognize pride in another; however, we aren’t so good at spotting it in ourselves. Consequently, humility is easier to talk about than to practice. Humility is anchored in an accurate understanding of our own worth. It stems from understanding that we have received everything from Christ.
It is recognizing that anything we accomplish has been through His work in us. Humility comes when we understand our own sinfulness in light of His magnificent mercy. Humility is not belittling things we do well, its remembering that we do them well because Christ works in and through us. We have no basis for pride, but rather we have every reason for humble gratitude.
Historian Stephen E. Ambrose believes that heroes made the United States “the best and greatest country that ever was.” He attributes its greatness to presidents like Washington and Jefferson and to explorers like Lewis and Clark. Ambrose wrote, “God had nothing to do with it. It was people that made it.” That view centers on the noteworthy contributions of men and women, yet it fails to recognize that behind the scenes, God guides and controls, the rise and fall of all nations.
While preparing this lesson my thoughts turned to King Nebuchadnezzar who thought he was responsible for building his great kingdom. He boasted, “is not this great Babylon, that I have built … by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). Those words were still in his mouth when God humbled him so he became like an animal and ate the grass of the field.
Seven years later he declared, “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Daniel 4:35). So let’s not be deceived by our own accomplishments because it is God working in us, and giving us the desire to obey Him and the power to do His will (Philippians 2:13). The Lord is the One who is worthy of praise and He deserves the credit.
The Bible commands contentment and the qualities found in Colossians 3:12-14. Those “who are rich in this present age,” who have more than is needed, should “be rich in good works, ready to give, and willing to share”. Contentment and generosity are the opposite of greed. We must humbly acknowledge God as the source of all that we have, and share willingly and generously with others who are less fortunate. Such generosity has eternal value.
After all, if God has already sacrificed His only begotten Son for us, how will He not also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32). As trials enter a person’s life many times those trials turn individuals away from the proper spiritual pathway, which they have known. In order to stay true to their spiritual compass, the Hebrews needed (as we do also) to remember the examples of their and our past Christian leaders (Hebrews 13:7). Those faithful believers who had taught the Word of God by their lips and through their lives and had left a clear pattern for the Hebrews to follow.
God’s grace nourishes our lives so that we have strength both to live for Him and to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. By humbly living according to God’s truth in Christ, and by drawing our strength and stability from Jesus Christ, for He never changes (Hebrews 13:8), we are able to be what God wants us to be and to do what He has prepared us to do.
The Book of Hebrews was written by an anonymous author under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to a group of Jewish Christians who appear at the time of the letter’s composition to be weakening in their commitment to Christ, because of persecution, social pressures, and were contemplating a return to Judaism. The author is well aware of the disastrous consequences of that course of action, and so he writes a passionate letter to persuade these wavering believers to stay united to Jesus Christ.
The argument of the entire letter is that Jesus Christ is superior to angels, to the prophets, to the Law, the sacrifices, the temple, and the priesthood. He argues that all those Old Covenant principles and ceremonies were only instituted temporarily by God to point to the coming redemptive work of Jesus Christ. They never were intended to be permanent, but were temporary until the fulfillment of a better way through the blood of Christ. The letter argues not to exchange the superior for the inferior or the eternal for the temporal.
Unlike the previous 12 chapters, the author gets to the point with words to encourage specific behavioral changes in his readers. He reminds them that marriage is honorable and that the immoral person is accountable to God’s judgment. He admonishes them to treat or care for strangers hospitably, because Abram and Lot by doing so were actually entertaining angels unawares.
He requests their prayers, reminds them of the blessings of the eternal covenant which we have inherited by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, warns them to tolerate no false doctrine, and encourages them to respect and honor those who are over them as teachers of the Word of God.
There shouldn’t be any barriers in our churches nor in our hearts toward anyone! As we cultivate love in our relationships, we can meet the practical needs of others because love develops in us the heart of humility, commitment, and obedience, which are essential to sustain us in our walk and service to Christ. The writer began his challenge by focusing on the expression of love within the areas of Relationships, Contentment or Humility. Now we will look at the areas of Commitment and Obedience:
3. Commitment or (Steadfastness, Faithfulness or Dedication)
Like Abraham (Hebrews 11:9-10), the readers needed to realize that in this world, God’s people do not have the security and stability of a continuing city (Hebrews 13:14). They were pilgrims on their way to Heaven, the city that God had prepared from them. Like the patriarch, they needed to set their hope on what will last, not on the comforts of the day. By faith they could place their trust in God’s future blessing, not in what they could see and experience.
We should praise God verbally with Thanksgiving for His goodness, mercy, grace and our ministry to one another, because He delights in practical demonstrations of love within His family. Kind and loving action among believers is an essential part of our worship.
I’m reminded of the book of Ruth and many times the best-known words of Ruth are sometimes heard at weddings. Even though they were spoken by a grieving young widow to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth said, “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth had no legal or cultural responsibility to Naomi, who also was a widow and had no means of support. No one would have blamed Ruth for staying with her own people in Moab where the chances of remarriage were greater. Naomi even urged Ruth to stay, but Ruth was unwavering and committed to go with her to Judah, and to follow her God.
Ruth’s unselfish devotion was considered worthy of praise. Boaz, Ruth’s future husband, told her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband …. The LORD repay your work” (Ruth 2:11-12).
Promises spoken at a wedding are full of hope and meaning. However, Ruth’s words have survived the centuries because of her unwavering commitment to God and a person in need. She points us to the value of loving sacrifice for the Lord, and to His rich blessing on all who give themselves unselfishly to others. Someone has said, “A life filled with love for the LORD and for others is a fulfilling life.
Hebrews 13:15-16, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased”. In these two verses, the author of Hebrews encourages believers to a lifestyle of offering praise to God; and the praise that is acceptable—or which pleases God—is that sacrificial praise that begins with appreciation for His blessings and results in actions that glorify Him.
The warning begins in verse 15 with a command for believers to make praising God an essential component of their Christian lives. “Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God,” he says. Praising God should not just be an hour-long, Sunday activity. We can’t catalog praise, and restrict it to a once-a-week optional exercise. Praise of the believer is too important for that.
Genuine, acceptable, God-honoring praise is by opening our mouths and singing, and praying, and speaking highly of His name, which is above all names. However, acceptable praise begins with a grateful heart and is vocalized in joyous song and word; and its ultimate end is a life of self-offering which is manifested in actions that glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sincere praise demands, believers in Christ, not to just talk the talk, but to walk the walk, which means putting our money, and for that matter all that we are and have, where our mouth is. In view of all of God’s mercies, we are to present our body as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which is the only reasonable response to all God has done for us. Romans 12:1. The author of Hebrews puts it this way, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
4. Obedience – (Hebrews 13:17-25)
In the last few verses of the book, the writer wanted to leave his readers with some essential instructions and encouragement. He linked love and obedience together. Those who love God obey His commandments. Believers in Christ who live in love obey the leaders whom God has placed over them. Hebrews 13:7 tell us, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” The writer implied that some of the Hebrews who were drifting away from the truth of Christ were also resisting and not being obedient to the leaders who were teaching them the truth from God’s Word.
There are many Biblical examples of individuals being obedient to the Lord. Noah saved humanity from destruction because of his obedience; Abraham’s faith built a great nation of whom we are all descendants; Joseph’s diligence saved his family from starvation and preserved the line from which Jesus would be a descendant, and Jesus Christ obedience’s to the Father resulted in salvation for the entire human race.
It takes only one obedient individual to bring about God’s amazing power for this generation. The lesson for us today is very clear. When Jesus speaks, we must take His Word to heart because He spoke about our heart in Matthew 6:19-21, 12:34, 22:37-40; Romans 10:10. It’s very important that our heart hasn’t grown cold and dull to the voice of His indwelling Spirit. How dangerously easy it is to neglect our heart. If we become callous we find no joy in living or serving; and life at best seems empty. However, when our heart is tender toward God, our understanding and gratefulness, flow through us to others because of our love and obedience to His Word.
The Hebrews needed to humble themselves, confirm their commitment to God’s truth in Christ, and submit to their leaders (as we do today). There is a twofold responsibility in the church:
(1) The leaders must watch over the people and give an account to God for them, and
(2 The congregation must be obedient to the leaders God has given them.
I’m mindful of the Apostle Paul who suffered persecution from those who opposed the cause of Christ, but he still labored on. He served the Lord with great humility and warned the people against false teachers. Can you imagine not being persuaded, not having confidence in a leader like Paul who possessed such a passion for the Lord and His people?
Moreover, the key is not what Paul possessed, but Who possessed Paul. The Lord had such a firm grip on Paul’s heart that he yearned to share with others the Word of God and the joy, salvation, forgiveness, and mercy of His Savior. Paul was not an authority – He was a vessel. A vessel of God’s grace and mercy.
The writer also asked for his readers’ support in prayer for his life and ministry (Hebrews 13:18-19). He had a clear conscience, but he was aware of how easily spiritual blind spots can occur. He desired to live honestly and to be a good example to others. In addition, he wanted to return to see those believers again. His written message to them was true and important, but he desired to minister personally to them.
In verses 20 and 21 the writer offered a benediction, a prayer of blessing for the Hebrews. This prayer tied together several important themes of the sermon. He mentioned “the everlasting covenant,” referring to the new and better covenant Christ has mediated (Hebrews 8:6, 8). He asked God, Who resurrected the Lord Jesus, to make them perfect in every good work to do His will. God had started a good work in them, but they needed to continue to grow in godliness, which is the ultimate effect of the new covenant that God has established through Christ.
The last words of the book encouraged the readers to heed this letter, or word of exhortation (Hebrews 13:22). This message was designed to change their behavior, not just to give them information. This was a letter that well deserved the readers’ time and attention. The Hebrews needed to hear and obey what the writer was conveying to them (as we do today).
I will conclude with the following illustration entitled “The Real Thing”
A church in Naperville, Illinois, is basking in excitement about its brand-new bells in the belfry above its sanctuary. When the church was built many years ago, they didn’t have the money to purchase bells. However, for its 25th anniversary they were able to raise the funds to hang three bells in the vacant space. Even though they are stunning, there is one problem: the congregation will never hear the bells ring. Although they look real, they are artificial.
The apostle John wrote his first epistle to encourage believers not to just look like real Christians, but to prove they are genuine by how they live. The evidence that a person’s faith is real isn’t found in some mystical experience with God. The proof that people truly know and love Him is found in submitting to His authority and to His Word.
John writes, “But whoever keeps His Word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:5-6). We claim that we have been transformed by the gospel and intimately know and love God; we should validate it by our love and obedience to His Eternal Word.
Obedience to God is an expression of our love for God.