THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE VARIOUS EXHORTATIONS OF HEBREWS 13 TO THE MAIN ARGUMENT OF HEBREWS.
There is a school of thought which holds that these exhortations in the last chapter of Hebrews are rather detached injunctions by the writer which have little or no direct relationship with the teaching of the rest of the epistle. These injunctions, so it is held, could very well have been appended to any other letter which, for example, Paul had written to the church at Rome.
It may be well to give a brief survey of these various injunctions which we find in Hebrews 13. We will itemize them as follows:
1. Christian brotherly love, including showing hospitality to the wayfaring stranger, and to those who are evilly entreated, vss. 1-3.
2. The honorableness and chastity of holy wedlock in distinction from the impurity of whoremongers and adulterers, vs. 4.
3. The sin of covetousness as contrasted with childlike trust in the Lord God of Israel, vss. 5, 6.
4. The injunction to imitate the godly walk and teaching of the apostles and teachers, giving heed to their triumphant end, vss. 7, 8.
5. An admonition not to be led astray by Jewish doctrines and observances, but rather to be edified by God’s grace, vss. 9-15.
6. An exhortation that we do good and communicate to others, vs. 16.
7. An exhortation to be obedient to the leaders, the elders in the church, vs. 17.
8. An exhortation and petition that the writer be remembered in the prayers of the saints to be restored 10 them the sooner, vss. 18, 19.
9. A beautiful prayer for the blessing of the congregation by the God Who raised up Christ from the dead; vss. 20, 21.
10. An appeal that the congregation receive the chief admonition of this letter in the fear of the Lord, vs. 22.
11. An expression of the writer’s hope to visit the Hebrew Christians with Timothy at an early date, vs. 23.
12. The salutation and apostolic benediction.
When we study all these exhortations carefully and analyze them, we find that we must disagree with the aforementioned position that these exhortations are not the outflow and application of the teachings of this letter proper.
Some of these exhortations stand in direct relationship with the great exhortation to the Hebrews that they be not moved from the hope of the gospel, nor depart from the living God as He reveals Himself in Mt. Zion, the city of the living God in Christ the Messiah. (Heb. 12-14) And we add that this is true of some of these exhortations on the very surface of them. Thus it is the case in vss. 9-15 of this chapter, where the Hebrews are warned against being led astray by the Jewish teaching concerning meats; they must not be carried about with diverse and strange doctrines, which have not profited those who were occupied therein. This is a direct reiteration of the main theme of this letter. Even the allusion to the acceptable sacrifices spoken of in vs. 16 indicates that the writer is still thinking of this main theme here, and would drive this point home. Likewise this is reflected in the exhortation that the believers of the Hebrews imitate the walk and teaching of those who had been their instructors, the apostles and evangelists. They have to consider their departure out of this world, triumphantly in faith and hope and love. This is a very direct repetition of what the writer had already written in Hebrews 2:1-4.
Although the former paragraph rather conclusively proves our position, we would still add that there are other of these exhortations which flow from the great principle of a better covenant, which is based upon better promises, to wit, that the law is now, written not simply on tables of stone but upon the tables of the heart. (Heb. 8:10-12) We now have the promise of the Lord, spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is the law written in the heart, which was a better covenant, based upon better promises. (Jer. 31:31-34) This is the great, central teaching of the letter to the Hebrews. All is “better” now. And we may add to this that there are also exhortations here which are very much implied in this basic and central teaching of Hebrews. Thus the matter of chastity in and outside of wedlock is the teaching that we have been saved from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb. 6:1; Heb. 9:14) We must purge our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
And, lastly we see this in the various exhortations which. underscore brotherly love. In this the love of God, which is written in our hearts in the new and better covenant, reveals itself. It belongs to the grace necessary in our lives to make our calling and election sure. (II Peter 1:5-10) And when we read that beautiful benediction prayer in vss. 20, 21, we see that all we have is through the “blood of the everlasting covenant.” This refers to the blood of the Mediator, Jesus, Whose blood speaks better things than that of Abel.
All this indicates that these exhortations are very germane to the total argument here in this epistle, and not some loosely appended afterthought injunctions.
THE NEED OF ABIDING BROTHERLY LOVE (Hebrews 13:1-3)
The writer enjoins brotherly love. Writes he, “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them, and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves in the body.”
Basically this “brotherly love” (philadelphia) is the love of God in our hearts, which we have to all the saints. (Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4) It is not a so-called love of the brotherhood of man as advocated by all who love to speak of the “fatherhood of God” over all men. Such is the stand of all unbelief, and in the highest sense of the anti-Christ himself. And the world is full of this in its philanthropic works, which are not rooted in the love of God. This brotherly love here is very uniquely a love which a fellow-Christian has for his brethren in the Lord. Wherefore the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 1:15, 16 that he does not cease to give thanks unto the Lord for these saints, whereas he has “heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and of their love to all the saints.” This is indeed a living faith, which shows itself in works. (James 2:14-26) Paul writes in the same vein in Eph. 3:17, 18, where he speaks of Christ so dwelling by His Spirit in our inner man that we may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length, the depth and height of the love of Christ. This is the love by which faith is wrought in our hearts. (Gal. 5:6) There is a “brotherhood” in the world to which we belong as Christians; a certain suffering is fulfilled in the midst of these saints. And we know ourselves akin to them in their life and sufferings. (I Peter 5:9) Such is this brotherly love in its nature and operation. It knows of a unique ministering to the saints as the fulfillment of the law of Christ, the fulfillment of the law and prophets, the golden rule as taught by Jesus in Matthew 7:12. This is the fulfillment of the very Magna Carta of the kingdom of heaven, both in the Old and New Testaments.
Now this brotherly love must “remain.” This refers to the exercise of this love in the midst of the saints in all its dimension. The law of the Lord is very wide. We must owe no man anything save that we owe him ever and abiding love. It is a debt which is paid, but never paid up in full. It is the law of heaven and earth. And this love must not wax cold and inoperative. There is a danger that such it might become in these saints. Had not the apostle written in Hebrews 10:24, 25 concerning the necessity of giving heed to each other and to good works? And must they not do so much the more as they see the day approaching? There was therefore danger of their faith not being strong, their hope not lively, and their love waxing lukewarm and indifferent in the midst of trials and persecutions for the Lord’s sake.
Yes, they must not be as those in whom the seed is sown in stony ground, nor as that which is sown among the thorns. The former are those who are enthused for a little while, but have no depth of earth; and when persecution comes, they are offended. And the latter are those in whom the cares of life and the deceit of riches choke the Word, and they bear no fruit of the gospel in their lives. (Matt. 13:20, 21) This is an ever present peril to the saints in every age, and it was so to these Hebrews Christians. But God works grace through His admonitions of the gospel, and thus, He keeps His own elect from falling into the sin of not walking in brotherly love.
This brotherly love must reveal itself continuously in the very concrete situation of the Hebrew Christians as they live as those suffering for Christ’s sake. Some of these brethren are homeless; they are lonely wayfarers, and must travel from place to place. They are not welcome in the Jewish community or by those of the unbelieving Gentile world. They must therefore experience the communion of the saints by being received into their homes. Had not Jesus said in Matt. 25:44, 45 that what we do to one of these little ones of Him, we do it unto Him, even if it be but a cup of water? The believers in Thessalonica have been commended that they had shown that they were taught of God (theodaktos) in their showing brotherly kindness and love to all who were in Macedonia. (I Thess. 4:9, 10) And is not being taught of God the grace of those who have come to Jesus because the heavenly Father has drawn them by irresistible grace? (John 6:45) And in the marvelous providence of our heavenly Father He brings such “strangers” to our door, that we may show them love. And without knowing, we show kindness to those who are even more precious than angels. We show kindness to those concerning whom the angels rejoice before the throne of God, when one such sinner repents. Abraham indeed showed hospitality to angels unawares. Yes, he showed kindness to the Angel of the Lord, the Christ in the Old Testament dispensation as He visited His people. And Lot also showed kindness to and entertained angels unawares. (Gen. 18:3; Gen. 19:13) Well may we heed this added incentive to this exhortation that brotherly love continue.