Written by 1:46 pm Bible Studies, Hebrews

Hebrews 13:1-19 | Final Instructions

We have finally arrived in the last chapter of Hebrews. This journey has been rewarding and over the next two articles, I know the treasures will continue to come forth. Chapter thirteen represents the start of the author’s final thoughts. If there is an argument for Pauline authorship, this chapter is the strongest. He inserted a bucketload of final admonitions, much in the same way Paul did in some of his other letters.

However, this bucketload of instruction also gives rise to a different thought. It is possible that chapter thirteen was a later addition in its entirety. I must admit, I feel that. Having given such close attention to the text for the last year, I feel like I’m reading a different letter. Hebrews 12:18-28 feels like an appropriate end to a masterful sermon. I did a brief search to see if there’s any scholarship about this, but only found one, and it was only a brief mention in part of a larger work (which consequently didn’t offer a citation, so neither will I).

Therefore, I’m only able to offer you my feelings on the matter. Chapter thirteen feels like a later addon by the author. If that’s the case, it plays nicely with the idea that Hebrews was a sermon that became circulated as a letter, and chapter thirteen serves as a lengthy postscript that allows the author to convey a few more things and conclude with a doxology and some final remarks.

I won’t die for those thoughts, but I do think they make sense. If I’m right or wrong, the authority of chapter thirteen remains unchanged. Let’s begin.

Five Admonitions

1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
– Hebrews 13:1-6 (ESV)

Verses one through six contain five rapid fire admonitions.

  • Let brotherly love continue
  • Show hospitality to stranger
  • Remember prisoners and the mistreate
  • Honor marriage
  • Don’t love money, be content

Let brotherly love continue. While this one may seem the simplest, I’m sure it’s the one that suffers the most neglect. By neglect, I mean that brotherly love is something that we’re faced with consistently, so it suffers from familiarity, and, therefore, drift.

It’s easy to become so familiar with our faith communities that we assume that they know that we love them. Those assumptions don’t have much staying power. I’ve learned the hard way that though I am not someone who needs ongoing affirmation, many are. By that, I don’t mean these individuals are always needing someone to remind them that they’re smart, kind, and beautiful. I just mean they thrive when they feel affirmed. That’s not a character flaw, it’s just the way some personalities function. For them, more than myself, they need to hear heartfelt love and gratitude from the people they love.

If we fail in this, we’re not letting brotherly love continue. And this is only one manifestation of brotherly love. In the end, we all need to experience affirming words. We all need to be served. We all need an embrace. We all need to give and receive these gifts of grace to one another. This is how brotherly love continues.

Show hospitality to strangers. Isn’t it interesting that the author didn’t point to Jesus? He didn’t say, “Show hospitality to strangers because of the mercy and grace you’ve received in Christ Jesus.” Instead, he told us that when we show hospitality to strangers, we might be entertaining angels without knowing it. Why this instead of that? Without doubt, the mercy and grace we’ve been shown is reason enough. But through the author, the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that, at times, angels are indeed sent to, I believe, test us and learn from us. The testing isn’t hard to understand. It’s a part of the LORD’s refinement of our character. The learning comes from 1 Peter 1:12. Angels long to understand the grace of God given to us in Christ. If our hospitality is indeed rooted in the grace and mercy we’ve received, then it becomes an action lesson for the angels who are sent.

Remember prisoners and the mistreated. This is a reference to other Christians who were imprisoned and mistreated because the author concluded this sentence with, “since you also are the body.” Also, these Jewish believers have already been reminded of the suffering and mistreatment that they, too, suffered (Hebrews 10:32-34). It is reminiscent of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:26 that if one part of the body suffers, the whole body shares in that suffering. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice. This is a spiritual skill that we all could improve. The skill of entering into another’s suffering seems to be lacking. Weep with those who weep isn’t a display of empathetic tears but sympathetic ones. We enter in because we, too, have suffered and can come alongside and weep with them.

Honor marriage. What a simple yet largely ignored command. What does it mean to honor marriage? It means to hold it in high esteem. Give honor to those who enter into it because they’re making a life-long commitment to be real-life examples of the love between Christ and His Church. It’s no small feat. It shouldn’t be entered into recklessly, nor should it be delayed out of fear.

The author said husbands and wives honor their marriage by keeping the marriage bed undefiled. There’s so much to say about this, but little time. For sure, an undefiled marriage bed is one where there’s no adultery. That would include no pornography. But the marriage bed can be defiled by more than adultery. It can be defiled by reducing sex to something that’s self-serving. It can be defiled by coercion. It can be defiled by using sex as a weapon. It can be defiled by loose lips. The marriage bed must remain undefiled because it is the place of highest vulnerability between a husband and wife. If that sacred place is defiled, the entire marriage is affected because trust has been violated where it hurts the most.

Don’t love money, be content. This is perhaps the trickiest. Money is a necessity for survival. It was then, it is today, and it will continue to be in the future. It presents an apparent solution for most problems you encounter. Let’s be honest about it. Money is a help. We need it, we work for it, we become destitute without it. The Bible never calls money evil, but rather the love of money is the root of many evils (1 Timothy 6:10).

So, believers must cultivate a healthy relationship with money. It is a tool, nothing more. It’s not your savior. It’s not the fix-all. It’s not the aim of our pursuits. When God is gracious and provides money, our gratitude is to Him for giving us the tools we need for flourishing. Our responsibility with money is wisdom. Use it the same way you would any gift from the LORD. Multiply it for building His kingdom, not yours. Find your contentment in Christ, and you’ll be able to flourish in little or in much.

Honor Your Leaders

I must confess, as a pastor, I’m never comfortable teaching the section that follows. It feels self-serving, but since the LORD called me to teach, I don’t have the liberty to skip things that make me uncomfortable. The author’s final urging has to do with honoring your leaders by remembering and obeying them.

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 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.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
– Hebrews 13:7-17 (ESV)

Verses 7-16 actually contain two lines of thought, but the latter flows from the former. First, remember your leaders. This is similar to Paul’s admonitions in other letters to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). This imitation isn’t a carte blanch imitation. We only mimic our leaders’ insomuch as they are faithfully following Jesus. And even then, it’s not a call to copy catting all aspects of how they minister. Each person the LORD calls to lead does so with their own unique personality. If you’re an introvert and your leader(s) is an extrovert, the call isn’t to become extroverted. We mimic their patterns and practices, not precisely how they’re personality manifests in those things.

But this is a double-edged sword. The call for believers to imitate their leaders is also a call for leaders to live in a way that can and should be mimicked. Too many “leaders” build a following with a platform that allows them to live lives that aren’t copy-worthy. Leaders shouldn’t live above the means of their sheep. Leaders should be among the sheep, living with the sheep, smelling like the sheep they’ve been charged to shepherd. Does that mean leaders can’t be wealthy? Not at all. Wise management of money is a good thing. But the wisdom applied in managing money includes how it is flaunted. A shepherd with means does himself no favors by living at a standard above his flock’s.

I didn’t mean for that to become about money, but it’s an appropriate tangent. Shepherds should live their lives in ways that the practice of their faith is accessible to the sheep they tend. If I ever inherit a large sum of money (which is the only way I’m ever going to be financially wealthy), I will be compelled by the Word and Spirit to use it in a way that is copy-worthy. But forget being wealthy. I’m compelled now with the small means that I do have to use it in such a way that can and should be imitated.

Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

{enter conviction}

The second line of thought that arises from the first begins with one of my favorite verses. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This flows from the author’s admonition to imitate the faith of their leaders. These believing Jews had been following elders in their church who embraced this tenet. Keep following them. This Jesus, greater than the angels, greater than Moses, greater than the sacrifices, greater than the Temple was the same in the past. He was this great, as Noah built the ark, as Abraham packed up his family, even as Moses came down off Mount Sinai with the Law. He is that great in the present moment, so don’t return to a belief that is lesser than what Jesus has fulfilled. And He’ll be that great tomorrow and forever! This is who your leaders have believed in, so keep imitating their faith.

When the author said don’t be led astray by strange and diverse teachings, he had his sights planted on the Judaizers. How do we know that? Because the second half of verse nine targeted the old priesthood.

for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

The law allowed them to eat from the sacrifices (Leviticus 6:24-26). The old sacrifices no longer benefit anyone. Rather, our hearts are to be strengthened by the grace of God, not sacrificial meat that benefits no one. From here the author segues to one final plea. Let us go outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured. The only sacrifice that matters anymore was made by Jesus, outside the city, where His body was broken for you and me. The only sacrifice we eat is that of His body when we remember Him in the LORD’s Supper.

Therefore we continually offer up a sacrifice of praise and good works. The author says these are the sacrifices that please the LORD. It’s the fruit of our lips in praise, and the works of our hands in action. Why do we get this so mixed up when the Word seems so clear? I think in our efforts to avoid a works-based salvation, many have stopped working altogether. No! There is work to do. Not to save us, but to demonstrate our salvation!

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
– Matthew 5:16 (ESV)

But don’t stop at God-glorifying works, but offer praise Him praise that is worthy of His greatness!

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout unto God with a voice of triumph.
-Psalm 47:1 (ESV)

This is what pleases the LORD’s heart: joyful praise AND God-glorifying works together as a living, breathing sacrifice each day (Romans 12:1).

Verse 17 doubles my discomfortable. Obey your leaders. I have never once demanded that anyone obey me. If I have to play that card, I’ve already lost. Obedience never comes from a command. It arises from elsewhere. If a leader is worthy of imitation, then it follows that he is also worthy of obedience. Obedience, when it comes to church leaders, isn’t demanded. It’s earned. It’s the natural response to Kingdom greatness. The greatest among you will be a servant (Matthew 23:11). I’ve been in the church for a long time and in this regard, consistently, the men and women who serve well tend to become leaders. Not always, but often. Don’t submit yourselves to any leader who isn’t serving right alongside everyone else. Yes, leadership comes with its own unique responsibilities that requires time away from serving tables. But you will still find servant leaders serving tables at every opportunity they can afford.

Yet there’s one final way you can honor your leaders.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.
– Hebrews 13:18-19 (ESV)

Pray for them. One of the greatest gifts I receive as an elder and pastor is the prayers of the people I help shepherd. No compliment, no at-a-boy, nothing is more encouraging to my soul that knowing that people are praying for me. Now, please don’t be offended by what I’m about to say. There are people who say the words, praying for you, and there are people who text me to let me know that they prayed for me this morning. There are those who pray generally, then there are those who pray specifically. Here me, I’m grateful for both and in no way am I saying that one is less meaningful than the other. If you are giving thanks for your meal, and remember before the end, “Oh, and be with Pastor Shane, in Jesus’ name, amen,” I’m tickled. But the fact that I know there are some people who pray, “Lord Jesus, help Shane be a better father today. Help Him be a better husband, and lead his household well so that he can be a better shepherd of Your flock,” is what helps me walk with boldness. Because I know people are praying like that, it gives me confidence that I’m clearly hearing from the LORD as I prepare a teaching. Specificity in prayer like a rifle shot. You can fire a shotgun at a 100 yard target and the spray may hit the target, but a rifle shot is the better choice.

The author is asking for prayer for something specific. He hopes that their prayers will make their reunion sooner. Apparently, the author is prevented from being with them for one reason or the other. He doesn’t say what hinders their reunion, but he hopes that prayer will make it happen sooner. Here we have another feather in the cap for Pauline authorship. It may well be that the author is in prison, and that correlates with what we know about Paul’s ministry. He wrote several letters from prison. It could be that this is one of them. That, combined with his relationship to Timothy (Hebrews 13:23) makes Paul a good candidate. However it isn’t conclusive. Many early church leaders suffered imprisonment at one time or another. Plus, there’s nothing in the text to insist that imprisonment is that actual cause for their delayed reunion. It’s just a possibility that fits, and it’s a good one. If it is Paul, we know that in his letters he asked for prayers on seven other occasions. If Paul wrote Hebrews, this would be number eight.

This will be my final word on Paul and Hebrews, and for this article. This chapter really feels like Paul, but the chapters prior do not. I don’t know how to resolve that. No possibility (even the mention of Timothy in the final few verses) makes me one hundred percent sure that Paul wrote this. If I were to balance out the evidence, the overwhelming first twelve chapters outweighs the final one, but the character and style of the final one feels loud and clear. It’s probably why for 2000 years people continue to say we can’t be sure. You pick your favorite candidate, and we’ll find out when we get there.

Friends, only one more article to go. I’m both excited and sad for the end of a journey. But, it’s only the first journey. LORD willing, many more will follow. Until next time, grace and peace.

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Last modified: February 20, 2024