1 Brotherly love must continue. 2 Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment. 4 Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers. 5 Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:1-6).2
Once I settled on the title, “Keeping the Faith,” a story quickly came to mind. This is because I read about it years ago in Readers Digest (as I recall), under the caption, “Keeping the Faith.” The story is apparently true, told by a Roman Catholic Priest. He was coming out of the church in the dark of night when he was accosted by a robber. The robber shoved a pistol into the priest’s ribs and demanded that he produce his wallet. The priest was in no position to resist, so he reached inside his coat for his wallet. As he did so, the priest’s collar became visible, and the robber was completely taken aback as he realized he was robbing a priest.
“Are you a priest?” the robber questioned? “Yes. Yes I am,” the priest replied. “Well, I don’t rob priests,” the man said. “Thanks, thanks a lot,” the priest responded gratefully. As he was drawing his hand from his inside coat pocket, it brushed against some cigars that were there, along with his wallet. “Have a cigar?” the priest offered. “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that,” said the thief, “you see, I’ve given them up for Lent.”
Now here was a devoutly religious man! He would rob nearly any vulnerable victim, but he drew the line at robbing priests and smoking cigars – at least for a few days on the cigars. We laugh at this story because it illustrates the tremendous gap that often exists between our faith and our practice. Hebrews 11 provides us with a number of Old Testament examples of faith, so that it becomes clear that all who found acceptance with God did so on the basis of faith. In chapter 12, the author exhorts his readers to run the race set before them with endurance, keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and finisher of the faith (Hebrews 12:1-4). He then proceeds to set forth the means and the motivation for endurance. When we come to chapter 13, I believe that our author is spelling out for us just what our endurance should look like – what form our endurance should take. The first six verses can be summed up by the expression “brotherly love.” We might summarize the structure of our text for this lesson in this way:
Showing hospitality to strangers (13:2)
Showing compassion to those who are suffering for the faith (13:3)
Honoring marriage (13:4)
Living a lifestyle that is free from the love of money (13:5-6)
Brotherly love must continue (Hebrews 13:1).
“This I command you – to love one another” (John 15:17).
You have purified your souls by obeying the truth in order to show sincere mutual love. So love one another earnestly from a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22).
20 If anyone says “I love God” and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And the commandment we have from him is this: that the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian too (1 John 4:20-21).
The author writes, “Brotherly love must continue,” indicating that the Hebrew saints are already practicing brotherly love. Indications of brotherly love are found in chapter 10:
32 But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. 33 At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way. 34 For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession (Hebrews 10:32-34).5
But in addition to this, the author is well aware that love can grow cold.6 And so the exhortation is to persist in practicing brotherly love.7 In other words, brotherly love is one aspect of a life of endurance in the faith.
Why is brotherly love commanded here and elsewhere? There are several reasons why brotherly love is viewed as highly important and essential to the Christian life. First of all, we must show brotherly love because this is one of the two great commandments of the Bible, Old Testament and New:8
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
9 Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality (Romans 12:8-13).
Second, loving one’s brother is an evidence of one’s faith in the Lord Jesus – of being a disciple of Jesus.
34 “I give you a new commandment – to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Third, loving one’s brother is the incentive for fulfilling all of one’s obligations to his brother:
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10).
The author of Hebrews emphasized that the high priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant. The New Covenant changed men’s hearts, so that they would fulfill the law. Love for one’s brother is one manifestation of the writing of the law on men’s hearts and, as Paul writes above, it prompts us to do those things which the law requires.
Fourth, brotherly love is commanded because it doesn’t come naturally, and in some cases, it doesn’t come easily. Not all Christians are equally “loveable.” Some are kind of prickly – like porcupines. And biblical love does not come naturally. Love sets the interests of others ahead of our own. Love gladly sacrifices for the well being of others, even to the point of death.9
Fifth, difficult times were coming, and these are times when love can grow cold.
9 “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. 10 Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, 12 and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the person who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13, emphasis mine; see also John 15:17-25).
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following:
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand – the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 ‘I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. 3 I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! (Revelation 2:1-4)
We can fairly easily understand how persecution could cause some Christians to turn against one another, as Jesus indicates in Matthew 24. But the words of our Lord to the church in Ephesus may take a little more thought for us to understand what is being said. The church at Ephesus started very well.10 Even so, Paul warned the Ephesian elders that some of them would teach error in order to gain a personal following.11 Eventually, Paul had to send Timothy to Ephesus to correct false teaching.12 By the time the church at Ephesus was addressed in Revelation 2, false teaching had been addressed, and the church was vigilant to maintain doctrinal purity.13 The problem (as a friend of mine used to put it) was that “it is not easy for a watchdog to smile.” It appears that in their zeal to maintain doctrinal purity, the saints had unknowingly lost their first love, the love that initially characterized these saints’ devotion to God and to one another.
It should be relatively easy to see that brotherly love was vitally important to these Hebrew saints. The question, then, is this: “What does brotherly love look like?” What are the practical outworkings of brotherly love in the context of the church? This is what verses 2-6 spell out for us. Brotherly love practices hospitality toward strangers, remembers those in prison and those suffering persecution for their faith, honors marriage, and maintains a lifestyle that is free from the love of money, trusting rather in God. Let’s consider each of these aspects of brotherly love in greater detail.
Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).
Let me begin by noting that our author does not speak of hospitality in general; he speaks specifically of showing hospitality to strangers. Beginning in the Book of Genesis, we see the importance of showing hospitality to strangers. Abraham welcomed three strangers when they passed his way in Genesis 18. We know that two of these “men” were angels, and the third person seems to be a pre-incarnate visitation of our Lord (see 18:17). When the two angels continued on to Sodom, Lot greeted them and offered the same kind of hospitality (Genesis 19:1ff.). (He seems to have known the danger they faced if left to themselves in this wicked place.) No doubt our author has these two incidents in mind when he writes that in showing hospitality to strangers “some have entertained angels without knowing it.” I suspect that there have been other such encounters as well, which we may not know about for certain until we reach heaven.
Later on in Genesis, we read the account of Abraham’s trusted servant in search of a wife for Isaac. When he reaches Mesopotamia, he prays this prayer for guidance in finding the right wife for Isaac:
“O Lord, God of my master Abraham, guide me today. Be faithful to my master Abraham. 13 Here I am, standing by the spring, and the daughters of the people who live in the town are coming out to draw water. 14 I will say to a young woman, ‘Please lower your jar so I may drink.’ May the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac reply, ‘Drink, and I’ll give your camels water too.’ In this way I will know that you have been faithful to my master” (Genesis 24:12-14).
Most of us probably know this story well. Rebekah arrives and does just as the servant prayed. Why was this the test that the servant devised to determine whether or not a young woman was the one God had chosen for Isaac’s wife? It was because he knew that Isaac’s wife needed to be a woman who was given to hospitality to strangers.
In Judges 19, we find the strange and troubling account of a young Levite whose concubine had fled and returned home to Bethlehem, to her father. When the Levite arrived at her father’s home, he persuaded her to return with him. But her father’s hospitality was such that the Levite had to expend considerable effort to tear himself away from this home and its hospitality to make his way back to the hill country of Ephraim. He passed by Jebus (later to be Jerusalem) because at the time it was inhabited by Jebusites and not Israelites. He did not want to risk seeking shelter among pagans. Instead, he wanted to press on to the Benjamite city of Gibeah. But when they arrived there at sunset, no one offered to take them in. Finally, an old man from the hill country of Ephraim who was staying in Gibeah took the Levite, his concubine, and the servant into his home. The Benjamites of the city then surrounded the house and demanded to have sexual relations with the Levite.
There is much more to this story, but I believe one of the reasons this account is recorded in Scripture is to show us that the Benjamites (one of the tribes of Israel) had become just as corrupt and worthy of judgment as the wicked men of Sodom (in Genesis 19). Another reason for this story is to show us that hospitality to strangers is one of the things that should set God’s people apart from others.
When the law was given to Israel, one of the commands that was repeated several times was the command to deal kindly with strangers, for the Israelites were once strangers in the land of Egypt, and thus they knew how vulnerable strangers were in a foreign land.
“You must not wrong a foreigner nor oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).
“You must not oppress a foreigner, since you know the life of a foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
“You must not pick your vineyard bare, and you must not gather up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:10).
33 “When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. 34 The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
The New Testament also provides us with instruction and examples pertaining to hospitality to strangers. Let’s begin with the words of our Lord:14
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ 46 And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46, emphasis mine).
Showing hospitality to strangers is not a work that we do in order to earn our way to heaven, but it is one of the earmarks of a true believer that sets him or her apart from others.
Then there are the examples of hospitality in the Book of Acts:
After she [Lydia] and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me to be a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us (Acts 16:15).
The jailer brought them into his house and set food before them, and he rejoiced greatly that he had come to believe in God, together with his entire household (Acts 16:34).
The importance of hospitality to strangers can be seen from Paul’s writings:
The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher (1 Timothy 3:2, emphasis mine).
6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be blameless as one entrusted with God’s work, not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain. 8 Instead he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled (Titus 1:6-8, emphasis mine).
9 No widow should be put on the list unless she is at least sixty years old, was the wife of one husband, 10 and has a reputation for good works: as one who has raised children, practiced hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, helped those in distress – as one who has exhibited all kinds of good works (1 Timothy 5:9-10, emphasis mine).
Here we learn that hospitality is one of the qualifications of an elder. I believe this is true for a couple of reasons. First, an elder is a man who needs to set an example for all believers. The command given in Hebrews 13:2 is addressed to every believer and not just church leaders. But church leaders should be examples of godly character and practice. Secondly, since elders are to protect the flock from false teachers, who better to entertain visiting preachers and teachers than elders?
In his third epistle, the Apostle John has some strong words concerning showing hospitality to strangers (or not):
5 Dear friend, you demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers (even though they are strangers). 6 They have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they have gone forth on behalf of “The Name,” accepting nothing from the pagans. 8 Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we become coworkers in cooperation with the truth.
9 I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not acknowledge us. 10 Therefore, if I come, I will call attention to the deeds he is doing – the bringing of unjustified charges against us with evil words! And not being content with that, he not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but hinders the people who want to do so and throws them out of the church! 11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is bad but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does what is bad has not seen God (3 John 5:5-11, emphasis mine).
John’s third epistle commends those who welcome strangers into their homes. These “strangers” are clearly brothers in Christ who go about preaching the gospel. Taking such strangers into one’s home and offering them hospitality furthers the gospel. Those like Diotrephes, who refuse to welcome strangers and who hinder those who would do so, are worthy of correction. We noted that immediately after coming to faith in Jesus, Lydia invited Paul and his missionary band into her home (Acts 16:15). Showing hospitality was her first recorded act as a Christian. The same is true for the Philippian jailer (16:34).
Offering hospitality to strangers is often neglected, as the author’s words in Hebrews 13:2 imply. Why would this be? In the days when Hebrews was penned, offering hospitality to strangers was risky. To invite a Christian brother into your home identified you with him and with his ministry. Where preaching Christ is a crime, offering a traveling preacher hospitality makes one an accomplice. In those days, people did not have the privacy that we experience today, and taking in a guest was quickly known to one’s neighbors.
Today, I think there are other hindrances to hospitality to strangers. One is denominational division. We tend to associate with folks who believe and practice their faith precisely as we do, and we view other genuine believers who differ with us in some non-essential way with suspicion. We tend to keep them at arm’s reach. A second reason is that we are often strongly attached to our privacy. We have our high fences, automatic garage door openers (so that we don’t even have to talk to our neighbors), our security systems. In some cases, we have our intimidating dogs to let strangers know to keep their distance. Taking in strangers is “invasive” and “inconvenient” in our culture.
Third, we often avoid hospitality because we are so busy, or so tired, that we just look the other way when a stranger who is a brother comes our way. Fourth, some people fail to show hospitality to strangers because they don’t realize the importance of hospitality. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone indicate that they “just have the gift of hospitality”15 in an almost apologetic way, as though this is really not a very important ministry.
Finally, I believe that there is one primary reason why Christians neglect showing hospitality toward strangers – we find it much more comfortable to spend our time with people we already know. A few years ago I was traveling in a different part of the country, and I made a point to attend a church in that area. Not knowing anyone in this church, I wondered how I would be greeted. Essentially, I was ignored. I am convinced that it was not intentional. It was just that these saints were having too much fun talking to one another to even notice that a stranger was among them. Nearly every week we have at least one visitor attend our church. My hope is that such visitors will be swarmed upon by members of our body who will make a deliberate effort to focus on those whom they don’t know, or don’t know well.
Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment (Hebrews 13:3).
As many of you know, for a number of years I ministered in a number of prisons around our country under the auspices of Prison Fellowship. I loved going into prisons where I would teach the Scriptures to inmates, some of whom were Christians. But I am always uneasy when our text in Hebrews 13:3 or the words of our Lord in Matthew 25:36 are used as the basis for prison evangelism. We should take the gospel to men and women, wherever they may be, but the instructions we find in our text (and in Matthew 25) are much more specific.
I am persuaded that in our text we are being instructed to remember and to visit fellow believers who have been imprisoned for the sake of the gospel. This is because it is a manifestation of brotherly love. We are to identify with them as though we were in prison with them – not for committing a murder or a robbery, but for proclaiming and practicing their faith in Jesus Christ. By the way, there is no indication given here that these “prisoners” and persecuted saints are people that we know personally. These folks may very well be “strangers” to us, but as a rule, we cannot bring them into our homes to show them hospitality. Those who are incarcerated are shown brotherly love when we visit them in prison, or at least correspond with them in prison.
So what does it mean to “remember” those in prison and those who are ill-treated? Well surely it means that we should seek to be aware of the plight of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. Some information may come to us through missionaries, or through organizations like “The Voice of the Martyrs.”16 Another means is through the Internet or by articles in Christian magazines. For example, I just read an article on the plight of the church and the people of Zimbabwe in “World Magazine.”17 Our church has partnered with another church in Illinois to pray for Sudan. In addition, we have become prayer partners with a church in Indonesia. One of their members is a Nigerian Christian who is on death row in Indonesia. It appears that his only crime was naming Christ as his Savior. Through one of our members, we have also learned about the persecuted church in Pakistan and of ministry to these saints through micro loans.18 The information is there if we but make the effort to find it, but be warned, learning of such situations places a greater burden of responsibility on us to act in some way to help and encourage our persecuted brethren. As time passes, I believe that we will see more and more persecution of the saints in our own country.
Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers (Hebrews 13:4).
In the days of these Hebrew Christians, marriage was under fire from many different directions. We know from Matthew 19:3-12 that divorce was acceptable for almost any reason to the most conservative Jews of that day. Even the disciples were shocked at Jesus’ teaching on the permanence of marriage. Some forbade marriage (1 Timothy 4:1-5), while others tolerated it but discouraged normal sexual intimacy between a husband and his wife (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5). The pagan culture had no qualms regarding prostitution (especially religious prostitution, such as was practiced in Corinth) or the keeping of courtesans. The church at Corinth tolerated a man living with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5). From what we read in 1 Peter 2:18—3:7, wives were often abused by their husbands, as were slaves. Marriage, even in the church, seemed to fall short of the standard set by our Lord in Matthew 19 or by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33.
I believe our text makes it clear that God has a much higher standard for marriage and that this standard is to be met by every Christian. To be faithful to our author’s words, marriage is to be “honored” among all. What does it mean to honor marriage, and just how is that to be done? The term rendered honor is one that means precious, expensive, or of great value:
18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed – not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19, emphasis mine).
Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire (2 Peter 1:4, emphasis mine).
The city possesses the glory of God; its brilliance is like a precious jewel, like a stone of crystal-clear jasper (Revelation 21:11, emphasis mine).
I understand the author to be instructing believers in Jesus to highly value the institution of marriage, as God first gave it to mankind (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:3-12), and as He now uses it to portray the relationship of the church (as a bride) to the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33). Thus, Christians are to highly value marriage as the union of one man and one woman, until death parts them. Any other view of marriage cheapens it, rather than honors it.
Furthermore, I believe that we honor marriage as Christians when both the husband and the wife honor (treasure) their God-given mates as a gift of great value.
28 . . . her husband also praises her:
29 “Many daughters have done valiantly,
but you surpass them all!”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting,
but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.
31 Give her credit for what she has accomplished,
and let her works praise her in the city gates (Proverbs 31:28b-31).
Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers (1 Peter 3:7, emphasis mine).19
It seems clear from Hebrews 13:4 that we honor marriage (and our spouse) by maintaining sexual purity within (and certainly before) marriage. While the pleasures of marital sex are to be enjoyed without guilt, sexual relationships outside of marriage are forbidden because they dishonor marriage, and this necessitates divine judgment.20 Notice how Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4 approach sex in marriage in a very similar fashion:
3 For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality, 4 that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God. 6 In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly. 7 For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. 8 Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, emphasis mine).
Because a Christian husband’s relationship with his wife is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, marital infidelity has profound implications. Thus, the process of sanctification in the believer’s life includes the sexual relationship of a husband and his wife. In a culture as corrupt as ours, this may have many implications.
So what does sexual purity in marriage have to do with loving our brother or sister in Christ? Our culture has managed to interchange the terms “sex” and “love” so that immoral and illicit sexual intimacy is called “making love.” Sexual union within marriage is a beautiful thing, but sex outside of marriage is not brotherly love for any of the parties involved. True love requires sexual purity, as we see in Ephesians 5:
1 Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children 2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. 4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting – all of which are out of character – but rather thanksgiving. 5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them, 8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light – (Ephesians 5:1-8, emphasis mine).
5 Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
We must begin by noting that the author does not forbid having earthly possessions. It is not a sin to be wealthy nor is poverty necessarily a virtue. It is the love of money that is forbidden here, as elsewhere in Scripture:
The one who loves money will never be satisfied with money,
he who loves wealth will never be satisfied with his income.
This also is futile (Ecclesiastes 5:10, emphasis mine).
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13).
1 This saying is trustworthy: “If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.” 2 The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, 3 not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:1-3, emphasis mine).
9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains (1 Timothy 6:9-10, emphasis mine).
For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy (2 Timothy 3:2, emphasis mine).
The love of money is a matter of lifestyle. The beginning of verse 5 is translated in a number of ways:
“Your life should be free from the love of money” (CSB).
“Let your conversation be without covetousness” (KJV).
“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money” (NASB95).
“Your conduct must be free from the love of money” (NET Bible).
If one combines the different nuances of these translations, we might conclude that the issue is a state of mind that has become part of one’s character, and thus it produces a lifestyle that is not driven by the need to acquire and to hoard the things God has given us to manage as stewards.
The solution is to be content with what God has given us, based upon the assurance that God will never abandon us. The author’s citation, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you” (verse 6) calls three Old Testament texts to mind:
“I am with you! I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you!” (Genesis 28:15)
“Be strong and courageous! Do not fear or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who is going with you. He will not fail you or abandon you!” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
“No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone” (Joshua 1:5).
These three texts have something in common besides the assurance of God’s presence and provision. In the first text (Genesis 28:15), Jacob is fleeing to Mesopotamia to secure a wife, but also (and probably more important to Jacob at the moment) to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, from whom he swindled his birthright and his father’s blessing. As Jacob flees from the Promised Land, he no doubt has fears about his well being in Paddan-aram and may fear that he will never be able to return to Canaan. God assures Jacob of His presence and protection and thus of his safe return to the land of promise.
In Deuteronomy 31:6, God assures the second generation of Israelites to leave Egypt that He will be with them as they possess the land of Canaan. He will give them victory over the people of the land so that they can drive them out and possess the land. Doubting God’s presence and power is what caused the first generation of Israelites to seek to turn back at Kadesh Barnea.21
The same assurance of God’s presence and power is given to Joshua in Joshua 1. Joshua should be strong and courageous because God will give the Israelites possession of the land which He promised them.
Shouldn’t these promises of God’s presence and power, enabling His people to enter the promised land, serve as an encouragement to the Hebrew Christians regarding their entrance to the heavenly kingdom? God will be with them, and He will provide for them. And He will empower them to safely enter the heavenly kingdom – Mount Zion – to which the author has just referred.22
It may be well for us to recall that possessing great material wealth actually became a curse to the Jews in Jerusalem when Titus sacked the city in 70 A.D. Some short-sighted scholars have concluded that the early Christians were quite foolish to sell their property and give the proceeds to the apostles to be distributed to those in need. But divesting themselves of much of their wealth23 became a blessing to the Christians in Jerusalem. When the Romans sacked Jerusalem, they tortured the rich Jews, forcing them to tell where they had hidden their riches. The poor believers were of little interest to the treasure-hunting Roman soldiers.
So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
The psalmist gives thanks to the Lord for His goodness, repeating the phrase, “For His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psalm 118:1, 2, 3, 4). He then describes how he called out to God for help when he was in trouble in verse 5. It is because God is ever present to help those who trust in Him that the psalmist can express his boldness in the Lord, who is always near to help His people.24 Fearing (that is, trusting in) the Lord means that we need not fear what our enemies will do to us, for God not only protects us and provides for us materially, He likewise protects us from our enemies.
As I think about these references to the Old Testament which assure us of God’s care, I can see how they are not just the basis for our contentment with God’s provisions; these assurances are the basis for all of the expressions of brotherly love that are called for in verses 1-6. Showing hospitality to strangers not only costs us financially; it involves taking risks, for there may be those who come to us who intend to do us harm by seeking refuge in our home. Identifying with those in prison also puts the Christian at risk. If a Christian is imprisoned because of his faith, then those who identify with that prisoner also testify to their faith. Does our Lord assure us that He will never leave us nor forsake us? Then if marriage is a picture of the believer’s relationship with Christ, how dare we forsake our mate by divorce or sexual impurity?
These Hebrew Christians have already suffered for their faith. They have already practiced the things which the author calls them to do in our text:
32 But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. 33 At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way. 34 For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession (Hebrews 10:32-34).
Even more difficult days lay ahead for these believers (12:4), and thus they are exhorted to persevere in their love for one another. Since the qualifications for elders include these same character qualities and lifestyles,25 believers should follow the example of their leaders. Thus, we shall find three references to leaders in the verses which remain in this epistle (verses 7, 17, 24).
Our text should prompt us to ask ourselves some questions?
Who might be a stranger to me, thus providing me with the opportunity to obey this text?
When is the last time we had a stranger at our table, or in our home?
How much effort do I expend seeking to welcome and embrace newcomers to our church?
How well informed am I about those fellow believers who are currently suffering for the faith, close to home and far away? What am I doing to manifest brotherly love toward those who are persecuted or in prison for the faith?
Has our depressed economy changed my attitude towards material goods? Am I generous with what God has given, or do I seek to hoard wealth and acquire more so that I feel secure?
How do I honor marriage in a society that is becoming more and more tolerant of “same sex” marriages, immorality, and divorce?
If I am single, how is my lifestyle consistent with purity in marriage?
These questions and many others should be prompted by the words of our text. May God work in our hearts to manifest brotherly love to those who share the same faith in the Lord Jesus.
For any who may yet be outside the faith, you are not only separated from fellowship with Christ; you are also deprived of the family fellowship that exists among true believers in Jesus. I urge you to acknowledge your need of salvation, to accept the sacrifice Christ has made at Calvary for your sins, and to join God’s family.
1 Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 33 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on April 26, 2009. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: net.bible.org
4 In other words, either the verb is an imperative, or the context makes it clear that it is a command.
8 I realize that loving one’s neighbor and loving one’s brother may not be exactly the same thing. But if one is commanded to love his neighbor, then surely loving one’s brother follows.
14 I am tempted to begin with the story of our Lord’s birth in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2. Did the people of Bethlehem lack hospitality toward Mary and Joseph, so that the Christ child had to be born in a stable?
15 Hospitality is actually never named as spiritual gift, and I’m not certain that it is, or is not, a gift. But I am certain that it is a very important ministry and that almost anyone can do it (though some do it better than others).