MENU

Where the world comes to study the Bible

34. Give Me That Old Time Religion (Hebrews 13:7-9)

Related Media

7 Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! 9 Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings. For it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not ritual meals [foods],1 which have never benefited those who participated in them (Hebrews 13:7-8)2

Introduction

A number of years ago, my parents took my grandmother with them when they made a trip to Taiwan, where my sister Ruth and her husband, David, served as missionaries. It was perhaps the greatest time in my grandmother’s life. Her life had not been easy. She lived through the depression and had to work hard to provide for her family. What made her time in Taiwan so special was that the Chinese people have a great respect for age. Everywhere she went, she was treated like royalty. She loved every moment of it.

That’s a far cry from the way our Western culture views the elderly. Wisdom and maturity are looked upon with disdain, and sometimes the elderly get the impression that they are taking up oxygen and real estate that would be better used by others. The deplorable conditions in many of our nursing homes are but one example of our lack of respect and compassion for the aging. As a result, our culture tends to look down on anything old, preferring that which is “new and improved.” Sadly, this attraction to that which is new applies to religion. Ironically, this fascination with the “new” isn’t really “new” at all:

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was greatly upset because he saw the city was full of idols. 17 So he was addressing the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue, and in the marketplace every day those who happened to be there. 18 Also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him, and some were asking, “What does this foolish babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods.” (They said this because he was proclaiming the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took Paul and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some surprising things to our ears, so we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there used to spend their time in nothing else than telling or listening to something new.) (Acts 17:16-21, emphasis mine)

In this lesson, I will seek to demonstrate that the only true religion is “that old time religion” described in the Bible – a personal faith in Jesus Christ as the Mediator of the New Covenant by means of His once-for-all-sacrifice for our sins on the cross of Calvary. We shall see that the Hebrew believers were instructed to remember their former leaders, to contemplate the example of their lives, and then to imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). They are to recognize that the Lord Jesus does not change; He “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And because of this, they are to avoid the new and novel departures from the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Hebrews 13:9; see also Jude 3).

Our Text In Context

Chapter 13 is a very practical text, for here the author spells out for his readers what “running with endurance the race set before us” should look like. In verses 1-6, the author calls upon his readers to persist in practicing brotherly love. Brotherly love is worked out when Christians show hospitality to strangers (13:2), remember those in prison and those persecuted because of their faith (13:3), when we hold marriage in honor by maintaining sexual purity in marriage (13:4), and when we have a lifestyle which is free from the love of money (13:5-6). As I have previously indicated, the manifestations of brotherly love spelled out in verses 1-6 of Hebrews 13 are similar to the qualifications which Paul sets down for elders in 1 Timothy:

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. 4 He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. 5 But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? 6 He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. 7 And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap (1 Timothy 3:1-7, emphasis mine).

Since the Lord Jesus is the same, and will not change (13:8), then not only is our hope sure and certain, our doctrine never needs revision, and thus we know better than to be drawn away by that which is new and novel (13:9). In particular, the author focuses on deviations from sound doctrine (grace) that are based upon distortions related to foods. The thought of foods leads the author to transition in verse 10 to the theme, “Outside the Camp” in verses 10-14, the subject of our next lesson.

Remember Leaders Of The Past
Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith. Hebrews (13:7).

Allow me to make several observations concerning what is said in verse 7.

First, we have seen from the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 that elders are to model brotherly love as it is described in Hebrews 13:1-6. It is therefore not at all surprising to find this instruction to remember and to imitate the faith of leaders of the past.3

Second, leaders worthy of our remembrance and imitation are those who have spoken God’s Word to us. This is clearly the case with the apostles,4 but it should also be true of any elder or church leader.

Third, worthy leaders are those who have finished well, men whose lives and leadership were completed in the past.5 We should remember that chapter 12 began with the exhortation to run with endurance the race that is set before us. One does not do this without finishing well. When the author urges us to “reflect on the outcome of their lives,” he implies that these leaders have “finished their course” (to use Paul’s words).6 In plain language, these leaders have died, and the ways that they handled dying and death were consistent with the faith, not unlike the Old Testament saints spoken of in Hebrews 11:13-16. I believe that some, if not most, of these leaders died well under adverse circumstances (such as the persecution described in Hebrews 10:32-34). Some may very well have died as martyrs. Just as the failure of leaders can adversely affect others,7 so the faithfulness of leaders in difficult circumstances can be a blessing to others.

Fourth, the author speaks of more than one leader, using the plural “leaders.” This is very consistent with our understanding of church polity. The church is not ruled over by one man, but is governed by a plurality of elders. The plural “leaders” may also broaden the category of “leaders,” something I hope to demonstrate shortly.

Fifth, the word “leaders” is a rendering of a present participle, which explains the more exacting translation of the New King James Version: “Remember those who rule over you.” Why would the author use a present participle when referring to leaders of the past who finished well, but are dead? Let me suggest an explanation that is consistent with what we have read earlier about Abel in Hebrews 11:

By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings. And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead (Hebrews 11:4, emphasis mine).

We know that all the Old Testament saints died without having received God’s promises because these are spiritual blessings that we inherit after death (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16). Because of their faith, the Old Testament saints still “speak.” So, too, those men who have led in the past continue to lead by our memory of them, of appreciation for their ministry, and our imitation of their faith. Thus, the leaders the author is referring to are those who led in the past, but whose example and teaching persists in the present. I’ll have more on this point in my conclusion.

The Immutability Of Jesus Christ
Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! (Hebrews 13:8)

Bear with me a moment while I remind you of the way space (distance) can impact our faith. In Genesis 20, Abraham once again8 passed off his wife Sarah as his sister – and thus as a woman who was eligible for marriage (and this not long before she was to bear the promised child). When Abimelech learned of Abraham’s deception, he rebuked him and asked him what had prompted him to lie. In effect, Abraham blamed geography:

9 Abimelech summoned Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? What sin did I commit against you that would cause you to bring such great guilt on me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done!” 10 Then Abimelech asked Abraham, “What prompted you to do this thing?” 11 Abraham replied, “Because I thought, ‘Surely no one fears God in this place. They will kill me because of my wife’” (Genesis 20:9-11, emphasis mine).

It was as though Abraham was saying, “I know that God promised to take care of me in the land of Canaan, but here I am in this God forsaken place. Who can protect me here? I had to look out for myself the best way I could, and that was by asking Sarah to lie by saying she was my sister.”

Another example of geographical rationalization is found in 1 Kings 20. Ben-hadad, king of Syria had attacked Israel, but God gave the Israelites the victory.9 How could they explain the defeat of such a large and powerful army by such a small Israelite force? The Syrians found a way:

26 In the spring Ben Hadad mustered the Syrian army and marched to Aphek to fight Israel. 27 When the Israelites had mustered and had received their supplies, they marched out to face them in battle. When the Israelites deployed opposite them, they were like two small flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the land. 28 The prophet visited the king of Israel and said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Syrians said, “The Lord is a god of the mountains and not a god of the valleys,” I will hand over to you this entire huge army. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 29 The armies were deployed opposite each other for seven days. On the seventh day the battle began, and the Israelites killed 100,000 Syrian foot soldiers in one day (1 Kings 20:26-29, emphasis mine).

The Syrians explained their defeat by claiming that Israel’s “God” was a “god of the mountains and not a god of the valleys.” In other words, if the Israelites fought in the mountains, their “God” would give them the victory, but if they were to fight on the plains, the Syrians would have won. So it was that the Syrians staged a rematch and were once again defeated. My point here is to show how some people use geography to rationalize their decisions, actions, or failures.

Nowadays, “time” seems to be the better basis for rationalization. Think about it; evolutional theory is based on the premise that over time everything will change and that given enough time, life will change from one form to another. Thus, evolutionary theory is used to explain the existence of creation.

But Christians have their own variation of this error. Time becomes my excuse for tossing aside a very clear command of Scripture. When Paul sets forth the way the church is to conduct itself when they gather weekly for worship,10 there are many who don’t like his instructions. And so they tell us, “Well you must understand that the Corinthians had a certain kind of error that we don’t experience today.” Or they may say, “Well, that was just Paul, addressing those people in that time and in their circumstances. Now, times are different, so Paul’s instructions don’t apply to us.” The passing of time thus becomes our excuse for disobedience.

The false teachers Peter warns about in 2 Peter also sought to use time as their excuse for sin:

3 Above all, understand this: In the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges 4 and saying, “Where is his promised return? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

In this instance, the argument is that over a very long period of time, God has done nothing to judge sin, which proves (so they assert) that God doesn’t care about sin or that God is unable to act. Peter explains that the delay is not that long and that it is prompted by grace.11

So as time passed, it would seem that some of the false teachers were suggesting that things needed to change; indeed, they would appear to be claiming that Jesus Christ changes, and this is why new teaching is needed, teaching that moves on from Jesus.12 But our author sets the record straight: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

We need to understand the great truth of verse 8 in the light of a couple of important observations.

First, the author has been very precise in designating our Lord by His name: Jesus Christ. He refers to our Lord by linking two important names, Jesus and Christ. “Jesus” is the earthly name of our Lord, the name He is given at the time of His incarnation. Christ” is the name which identifies Jesus as the “anointed one,” the Promised Messiah who would come and bear the sins of men. To refer to Jesus as the Christ” was to identify Him as the Messiah. Together, these two terms, Jesus Christ,” refer to the incarnate Son of God who came to earth as the Promised Messiah. Both our Lord’s humanity and His deity are thus implied by the name Jesus Christ”:

For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human (1 Timothy 2:5, emphasis mine).

There is a second observation which should help us to understand what the author is seeking to emphasize here: The promise of an unchanging God-man begins with “yesterday” and continues “forever” (literally “unto the ages” or “unto eternity”). Why did the author begin with “yesterday,” rather than with eternity past, as we see, for example, in Micah 5:2?

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

Too little to be among the clans of Judah,

From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.

His goings forth are from long ago,

From the days of eternity (Micah 5:2, NASB95, emphasis mine).

The fact is that the incarnation was a huge change: Undiminished deity (the Second Person of the Godhead) took on unblemished humanity for all time. In terms of His character and attributes, the Second Person of the Trinity was the same. In this sense, Jesus Christ did not change. The author of Hebrews points this out in chapter 1:

10 And,

You founded the earth in the beginning, Lord,

and the heavens are the works of your hands.

11 They will perish, but you continue.

And they will all grow old like a garment,

12 and like a robe you will fold them up

and like a garment they will be changed,

but you are the same and your years will never run out” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

But in chapter 2, the author makes a big point of the incarnation and its importance, for it is the incarnation of our Lord that qualified Him to become our Great High Priest. This is foundational to the author’s development of the theme of Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest, the inaugurator of the New Covenant, and the once-for-all offering for sin. The incarnation was essential to the work of our Lord at Calvary. The point the author is making here is that our Lord will be the God-man for all eternity, thus making His offering and priestly ministry eternal. Because He does not change, He will not change. And because He will not change, all of the benefits of His mediatorial work are certain and eternally secure. Notice how this eternal/unchanging theme is played out in chapter 7:

14 For it is clear that our Lord is descended from Judah, yet Moses said nothing about priests in connection with that tribe. 15 And this is even clearer if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not by a legal regulation about physical descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For here is the testimony about him: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. 20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation – for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,You are a priest forever’” – 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness, but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:14-28, emphasis by underscoring mine).

Let’s think of verse 8 this way: Perfection does not need change; only imperfection does. Our Lord is the perfect High Priest. If Jesus Christ does not change, then He must be God, for God does not change. And if He will never change, then His work, in addition to His person, is perfect. And if He is both perfect and changeless, then all of His work, His promises, His purposes, His provisions, and His protection are certain and secure. No wonder the author can speak of an unshakable kingdom that awaits us.

28 So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. 29 For our God is indeed a devouring fire (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Having an unshakable kingdom, founded and secured by a perfect and unchanging Great High Priest, gives us every reason to finish the race set before us with endurance, knowing that He is the author and finisher of our faith. Or, as the writer to the Hebrews put it elsewhere,

17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:17-20).

Foods, Fads, Falsehoods, And Faith
Hebrews 13:9

Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings. For it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not ritual meals [foods], which have never benefited those who participated in them (Hebrews 13:9).

Of all that the author could have written about, why did he choose to address the matter of food? If we are honest, we would all have to admit that we have a strong attachment to food, especially to “good food.” We see also that food is a prominent subject in the Bible. For example, God seems to use food as an indication of a change of dispensation. As we move through the Bible, we move from eating only green things in Genesis 1:29 to eating meats (minus the blood) in Genesis 9:3-6, to eating only clean foods in the Law of Moses. Then in Mark 7:19 and Acts 10 and 11, we find that all foods are declared clean.

Food often got the people of God into trouble. His desire for food cost Esau his birthright. The Israelites “groused” (complained) in the wilderness and got quail – lots of it. They wanted to turn back to Egypt because of the foods they could eat there. Eating the wrong food made the Israelite unclean. At Mount Sinai, the Israelites had Aaron fashion a golden calf, and their worship of this idol was accompanied with food and “fun” (illicit sex). In the New Testament, some Christians got themselves into trouble by participating in heathen idol worship ceremonies, which included “meats offered to idols” – something God had forbidden.13 The Corinthian church got into trouble for its conduct around the Lord’s Table.14 And last, but not least, there was a fair bit of false teaching regarding the eating (or non-eating) of certain foods:

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days – 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! 18 Let no one who delights in humility and the worship of angels pass judgment on you. That person goes on at great lengths about what he has supposedly seen, but he is puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind. 19 He has not held fast to the head from whom the whole body, supported and knit together through its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world? 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” 22 These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings. 23 Even though they have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body – a wisdom with no true value – they in reality result in fleshly indulgence (Colossians 2:16-23, emphasis mine).

1 Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, 2 influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. 3 They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 5 For it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5, emphasis mine).

We can tell from our text in Hebrews 13:9 that there were various and sundry teachings regarding foods, none of which contributed to true godliness and spiritual growth (contrary to the claims of their advocates). Neither the eating nor non-eating of these foods profited one spiritually. These were matters of Christian freedom and conscience and were thus not to be imposed upon others or allowed to become a source of division. This is entirely consistent with what the Apostle Paul taught:

1 Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. 2 One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day does it for the Lord. The one who eats, eats for the Lord because he gives thanks to God, and the one who abstains from eating abstains for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For this reason Christ died and returned to life, so that he may be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But you who eat vegetables only – why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything – why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” 12 Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:1-12, emphasis mine).

Now food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do (1 Corinthians 8:8).

From our author’s choice of words, we can discern that there was not just one variety of false teaching on foods, but various and sundry errors abounded. We might say (if you’ll pardon a pun) that teachings about foods came in all flavors. And the worst of it was that a number of saints were being “carried away” by these errors. Debates and divisions abounded, and all over a matter of freedom.

I might insert at this point that a particular teaching or practice regarding foods might not be heretical in and of itself. That is why foods are dealt with as a matter of Christian liberty in the New Testament. There is nothing wrong with eating a vegetarian diet or with trying to eat organically-raised food. But sometimes people can get so carried away with their food (or other) fetishes that they give it far too prominent a place, and it consumes too much time, energy, or money.

Lest I leave the impression that teaching and practice regarding foods is always a matter of liberty, I must also say that this can become a matter of serious doctrinal error. One only needs to read the Book of Galatians, and especially chapter 2, to see that serious error can be involved. From our author’s point of view, strange teachings about foods are especially wrong when they place too much emphasis on what we do, or do not do (legalism/works), as opposed to grace. We are saved by grace, and we are also sanctified by grace. It is not about our doing (or not doing) so much as it is about our dependence on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

6 Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).

Many are the teachings and practices which consume our time and energy but are really unprofitable:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, quarrels, and fights about the law, because they are useless and empty (Titus 3:9).

Satan is the great deceiver, but he is also the master of distraction. The real issue is this: is the teaching we hear and embrace based upon the Scriptures, Christ-centered, and enabled by grace?

Conclusion

The author’s argument thus far in Hebrews 13 can be summarized in a few words: Those who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation and are living the Christian life with endurance and perseverance should persist in their practice of showing brotherly love to one another. This love should be characterized by hospitality to strangers, identification with, and ministry to, those believers who are being persecuted (and who may be imprisoned) for their faith in the Lord Jesus. Brotherly love will be evident as we honor marriage and practice the sexual purity that the divine institution of marriage requires. Brotherly love is demonstrated by a love for the brethren, rather than a love of money. Practicing brotherly love involves risk, but we are assured that our Lord will never leave us or forsake us. Thus we need not fear men, but only reverence God (verses 1-6).

Brotherly love should be apparent in the lives of Christian leaders. We are to reflect on the lives of those whose lives were lived well and have ended well. The faith demonstrated by such leaders should provide us with examples of faith to imitate (verse 7).

While human leaders come and go, and their lives are subject to change, we should focus on the fact that our Great High Priest does not change. He will ever be the God-man whose ministry on our behalf is not subject to change over time. Unlike the Old Testament priests who came and went, our Lord is eternally our High Priest, whose atoning sacrifice at Calvary saves and keeps us for all time (verse 8).

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is God’s full and final revelation to man (Hebrews 1:1-4). And since He never changes, the revelation we have from Him, recorded in the Scriptures (Hebrews 2:1-4), does not change either. Thus, all the new and novel teachings which appeal to the gullible are not only unnecessary, they are false. God’s Word never needs to be edited or updated because “times have changed.” And so new teachings about foods (or anything else) that set aside Scripture and sidetrack Christians are to be avoided like a plague. They contribute nothing to our spiritual lives; rather, they turn our attention from Jesus and from the grace that God has provided in and through Him (verse 9).

So what did our text mean to those who first received and read it, and what does it teach us? The first thing we should learn is the importance of godly leaders. Godly leaders encourage the saints in a way that enables them to “run with endurance the race set before them.” They do this by continually proclaiming the Word of God and by setting an example of godly living and biblical faith. Ungodly leaders seek to obtain and maintain a following by departing from the Scriptures, blazing a trail of their own making.15 In this case, some of the false teachers were advocating practices related to foods that turned people from Christ and from grace.

The fact that church leaders are mentioned on three separate occasions in chapter 13 (verses 7, 17, and 24) should signal us about the important role that leaders play. It also indicates to us the importance of following the right kind of leaders, leaders committed to practice and to teach the Scriptures, who point men and women to Jesus and the grace that is available through Him.16

As I read verse 7 and its teaching regarding leaders, I think that a number of these leaders will be those men who have led these saints in the past, who have set a godly example of perseverance in the midst of persecution, and have finished their course faithfully. By inference, verse 7 also instructs us about the leaders we currently follow. Their commitment to the Scriptures and to living by faith is an essential qualification (not to mention those set forth in verses 1-6 of chapter 13).

But I am also wondering if there is not a larger group of leaders in the author’s mind. Would it not be right for us to think of the apostles as leaders of the past who continue to guide us with the Scriptures they penned (by the Holy Spirit), whose faith we should imitate? And what of the great men of church history? Wouldn’t Augustine, Calvin, and Luther also be considered men who have impacted our lives and continue to do so? What I am suggesting is that we may need to remember a much larger number of “leaders” whose faith we are to imitate. Since we did not live when these men lived, we will find it necessary to observe their teaching and manner of life by reading. There are many wonderful books that will help us here. Let us make good use of them as we seek to obey the instruction of our author in our text.

What an encouragement and challenge verse 7 leaves for those of us who are currently leaders or who aspire to the work of leadership. If we would lead well, then we must be grounded in the Scriptures, and we must speak God’s Word, rather than our own insights and novel ideas. We should be leaving a legacy through our leadership so that those who remain after our death may be challenged and encouraged by our faith and practice. Surely this challenge also applies to every parent.

Let us seek to take the words of verse 8 to heart and to put them into practice. The fact that our incarnate Savior is the same yesterday, today, and forever is a solid and unshakable foundation on which to base our lives. It is an anchor for our souls:

17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:17-20).

Because the living Word of God will not change, neither will His words need revision, updating, or supplementation. The canon of Scripture is closed, and there is no need to seek for revelation other than what our Lord has revealed.

A changeless Savior and a changeless revelation means that we should be suspicious about that which is new and novel and which has no clear foundation in God’s Word. These are changing times, but we are to live according to changeless truth, and a changeless Savior.

The last election in our country was all about change, and change is certainly taking place. I have never seen change occurring at such a rapid pace as I have seen in the past few months. Quite frankly, most of it is distressing, because it is a departure from the teaching of the Word of God. But in a changing world, we have a changeless Savior who is still “the way, the truth, and the life.” He is still the only means of forgiveness of sins and our only assurance of spending eternity in heaven. He is still seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us, and preparing a heavenly city in which every one of His blood-bought children will dwell for all eternity. Though false leaders arise and godly leaders pass away, our Great High Priest leads forever as He who is perfect and changeless.


Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 34 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on May 3, 2009. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

1 While the NET Bible renders the Greek word for food “ritual meals” and the NIV renders “ceremonial foods,” I am not convinced that this specialized meaning is the author’s intent. The error was not merely concerning “ritual meals” but foods in general.

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: www.netbible.org

3 The NASB actually renders, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7, NASB95, emphasis mine). While I agree with the sense of this translation, it is not exactly a precise rendering of the Greek participle, which is in the present (not past) tense. More on this later in this lesson.

4 See, for example, Acts 20:17-32; 2 Peter 1:12-21.

5 Note that in Hebrews 13:7, “spoke” is in the past tense and also that “remember” implies thinking about something past.

6 2 Timothy 4:7.

7 See Psalm 73:15.

8 See Genesis 12:10-20.

9 See 1 Kings 20:13-21.

10 See 1 Corinthians 11-14.

11 In this instance, as in Hebrews 13:9, false teachers seek to turn grace into a pretext for sin.

12 We see this in 1 Corinthians 1 as well.

13 See 1 Corinthians 8-10.

14 See 1 Corinthians 11.

15 See Acts 20:28-32, especially verses 29-30.

16 See 1 Corinthians 16:15-18.