The Heart of a New Testament ChurchRelated Media
At this point in this series, I start to feel a bit uneasy. I have been trying to say that we cannot “serve church cafeteria style.” The church is far too important to God to leave us to our own devices in these crucial matters. Thus, the New Testament Scriptures provide us with those doctrinal truths, principles, and commands to guide us concerning how to “do church.” In addition to this, the New Testament also provides us with examples to follow by describing how the apostles and the early church applied God’s instructions for the church.
But a New Testament church is not just a church that uses the right terminology and has all the right structures and procedures. A New Testament church manifests Christ to the world.104 Through the presence and power of Christ, the church ministers to itself and then to the world (see Ephesians 4:11-16). Thus, the church is not just about principles and procedures, but about people, people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, who have been joined to the church, and who are divinely indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. A New Testament church has New Testament life and power. It not only carries on the work of Christ, it manifests His character. In this lesson, I would like to focus your attention on the heart of a New Testament church by describing the heart attitudes which are necessary for a New Testament church to exist as our Lord intended.
I will begin by demonstrating the need for a new heart, first in the Old Testament, and then in the New. We will then see how God has graciously provided a new heart through the person and work of the Lord Jesus. While there are many characteristics of this new heart, I will focus on three of the primary ones: faith, hope, and love. Having done this we will conclude with a summary of what we have learned and a few suggested areas of application.
The Scriptures reveal the heart of God in both the Old and the New Testaments. One of my favorite texts is found in Exodus 34. Moses has been up on the mountain getting the Law on tablets of stone. Moses has been gone too long as far as the Israelites are concerned, and so they ask Aaron to fashion a visible representation of God for them, something God has already prohibited them from doing. Aaron complies, too quickly and too eagerly for me, and the Israelites now begin their revelry – which can be heard by Moses as he makes his way to the mountain to the Israelite camp. God threatens to destroy this stiff-necked people and make a new nation from the descendants of Moses. Moses intercedes for the Israelites, and God promises not to destroy the nation. God promises to see to it that the Israelites possess the land of Canaan, but He does not commit to be personally present, lest He destroy them. It was at this point that Moses asked to see God’s glory, and this is God’s response:
6 The Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).105
This is Israel’s only hope – that God would be gracious to His people and forgive their sins. Being gracious and merciful, forgiving men’s sins is God’s great glory. (We dare not neglect to say that God is also glorified when He judges sin.)106 God’s glory becomes the basis for Israel’s petitions for grace throughout the Old Testament.
When we come to the New Testament, we find that God’s glory is revealed in Jesus, the Son of God:
1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3, emphasis mine).
14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory - the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known (John 1:14-18, emphasis mine).
35 Then Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:35-38, emphasis mine).
Like the Father, the Son delights in showing mercy, particularly that mercy which saves lost sinners:
7 I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent. 8 “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search thoroughly until she finds it? 9 Then when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7-10).
1 First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, 2 even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, 4 since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
While God is not only good and gracious, the same thing cannot be said of man. Shortly after the fall of man in Genesis 3, we find this description of man in chapter 6, which sets the stage for the flood:
But the Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5).
From here, things only continue to go downhill. Man is not predisposed to do good, but to sin:
38 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them to make tassels for themselves on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and put a blue thread on the tassel of the corners. 39 You must have this tassel so that you may look at it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and obey them and so that you do not follow after your own heart and your own eyes that lead you to unfaithfulness. 40 Thus you will remember and obey all my commandments and be holy to your God (Numbers 15:38-40, emphasis mine).
Reading this reminds me of the statement which is found several times in the Book of Judges:
In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right (Judges 17:6).
More literally, this text informs us that men did what was right in their own eyes. In other words, they disregarded God’s law and did what they wanted to do.107
When God reiterated the law to the second generation of Israelites, He made it clear that He knew they would not be able to keep it because their hearts were evil:
28 When the Lord heard you speaking to me, he said to me, “I have heard what these people have said to you - they have spoken well. 29 If only it would really be their desire to fear me and obey all my commandments in the future, so that it may go well with them and their descendants forever (Deuteronomy 5:28-29).
When the next generation pledged to keep the law, Joshua made it clear that they could not live up to their commitment:
14 Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and worship the Lord. 15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!” 16 The people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon the Lord so we can worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God took us and our fathers out of slavery in the land of Egypt and performed these awesome miracles before our very eyes. He continually protected us as we traveled and when we passed through nations. 18 The Lord drove out from before us all the nations, including the Amorites who lived in the land. So we too will worship the Lord, for he is our God!” 19 Joshua warned the people, “You will not keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you; he will bring disaster on you and destroy you, though he once treated you well.” 21 The people said to Joshua, “No! We really will worship the Lord!” 22 Joshua said to the people, “Do you agree to be witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship the Lord?” They replied, “We are witnesses!” (Joshua 24:14-22, emphasis mine)
Jeremiah summed it up as well as words can put it:
The human mind is more deceitful than anything else. It is incurably bad. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Without the right heart, the best men can do is to perform empty rituals:
The sovereign master says, “These people say they are loyal to me; they say wonderful things about me, but they are not really loyal to me. Their worship consists of nothing but man-made ritual” (Isaiah 29:13).
When we come to the New Testament, we find that time has not improved the situation. Men’s hearts are still corrupt, and thus men cannot please God by their own efforts:
9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10 just as it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one, 11 there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.” 13 “Their throats are open graves, they deceive with their tongues, the poison of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 ruin and misery are in their paths, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9-18).
To summarize, the consistent assessment of the Old Testament is that man is corrupt from head to foot. It is a problem of the heart.
Jesus makes a point of the fact that the corruption of man’s heart is the true source of defilement, rather than something external to man:
17 Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 23 All these evils come from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:17-23, emphasis mine).
This works both ways. Just as the heart is the source of sin, it is also the source of that which is good:
34 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. 35 The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury. 36 I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak” (Matthew 12:34-36).
In Luke’s Gospel, we find an account of an incident that reveals the compassion of our Lord Jesus, while at the same time exposing the lack of compassion of the Pharisees:
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, 11 and a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” 13 Then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water? 16 Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?” 17 When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing (Luke 13:10-17).
The only solution for man’s corrupt heart was an entirely new heart. This would never come about by men’s efforts, but only as the result of God’s provision, apart from man’s merit or efforts. This would come about in the form of a New Covenant:
31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. 33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
25 I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave to your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36:25-28).
The New Covenant was fulfilled by our Lord through His death, burial, and resurrection.
19 Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:19-20).
And so he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).
The church is one of the fruits of the New Covenant. It would be impossible for the New Testament church to exist apart from the New Covenant. The New Covenant produces new hearts through the ministry of the Holy Spirit:
2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, 3 revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away - look, what is new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Three Manifestations of the New Heart
The Christian life requires a new heart, which I believe is virtually synonymous with a new mind. When we come to Romans 12, we are moving from doctrinal foundations to application. It is no wonder that the “practical” exhortations begin with these words:
1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice - alive, holy, and pleasing to God - which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God - what is good and well-pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
We see the same thing said in slightly different words in Ephesians 4:
17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image - in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth. 25 Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another (Ephesians 4:17-25, emphasis mine).
Before Paul sets down the conduct of the Christian, he first deals with matters of the heart and mind. One must think rightly and be rightly motivated before he or she can live in a way that pleases God. Three essential dimensions of the Christian’s new mind (or heart) are faith, hope, and love. We find these three elements in different places in the New Testament; sometimes they are all together, such as in the texts below:
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13, emphasis mine).
8 But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. 9 For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing (1 Thessalonians 5:8-11, emphasis mine).
I will first call your attention to various texts which include one or more of these three elements, and then I will focus on one larger portion of Scripture in the Book of Hebrews.
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. 14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited (Romans 12:9-16).
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, see also 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5:13-26).
Love is not to be hypocritical, and thus one who loves rightly must hate evil and cling to what is good. This kind of love is eager to honor and serve others. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul instructs us that as great as our spiritual gifting might be, our ministry without love is annoying at worst and worthless at best. Love is the condition of heart that makes ministry profitable.
18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility - not willingly but because of God who subjected it - in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:18-25).
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Hope is faith directed toward the future. We live in a world that is groaning from the effects of the fall of man. All creation, the Christian foremost, eagerly awaits a future day of redemption. The Spirit of God, dwelling within the Christian, prompts us to eagerly look forward to that glorious day when our Lord will return, and when all creation will be restored. That is known as hope.
In the first chapter of his first epistle, Peter speaks of the Christian’s hope by focusing on the certainty of our salvation and our security until the day when we will rejoice in the presence of our God. Because of the resurrection of our Lord, we have a “living hope.” Salvation awaits us, and we are securely in God’s grasp until that day. It is secured for us, and we are secured for it.
Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. 4 For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, 5 so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. 6 And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith (Romans 12:3-6, emphasis mine).
20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. For although all things are clean, it is wrong to cause anyone to stumble by what you eat. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith you have, keep to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who does not judge himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:20-23, emphasis mine).
The point I am trying to illustrate by these verses is that faith is not only the means by which one is saved (faith in Christ), but that faith is the means by which the Christian lives. And thus it is faith that is foundational to “doing church.”
I believe that faith, hope, and love are foundational heart attitudes or perspectives that are essential to doing church, and that no text of Scripture does a better job of expounding this than the closing (applicational) chapters of the Book of Hebrews – chapters 11-13.
I confess that I’ve never looked at Hebrews this way before, but it seems to make sense. Hebrews is all about Jesus (no problem with that!) and the New Covenant. The recipients of this epistle seem to be experiencing a measure of persecution, but it can hardly be considered severe:
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).
3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:3-4).
The author (I might as well confess that I think it was Paul) writes to encourage these Jewish believers not to turn back to Judaism in order to avoid persecution. He seeks to accomplish his purpose by reminding them of the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old, of the person and work of Jesus Christ to the Old Testament law and sacrificial system. Thus, one of the key words in Hebrews is the word “better.”108
Here is where things begin to get interesting. The first ten chapters of Hebrews are built upon contrast – the author contrasts the superior work of Christ and the New Covenant to the law and sacrificial system of the Old Testament (Covenant). The writer concludes the first section of the book in chapter 10, the application of which is best summarized by these words:
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:19-25, emphasis mine).
Notice that these verses apply to the church.
If the book stopped at the end of chapter 10, it might be possible for someone to conclude that the Old Testament – and particularly the law – was not just inferior to the New, but downright bad. That is a far cry from what the author is saying, which is that the Old was good, but the New is far better. But chapters 11-13 return to the Old, but from a different approach than we find in chapters 1-10. It’s like the author is starting over, but with an entirely different perspective. In spite of the weaknesses and deficiencies of the law, it served a good purpose. More than this, God saved a good many people in the Old Testament times. And so the author returns to the Old Testament, but this time he is focusing on the Old Testament saints – those who came to faith in the days before the coming of Christ. Rather than seeking to contrast the Old with the New, he compares these saints to New Testament believers, pointing out that both are saved by faith, the same kind of faith.
In the first part of chapter 11, the author begins at creation (Hebrews 11:2-3) then moves to Abel (verse 4) and Enoch (verse 5), and Noah (verse 7). Concluding the first segment of chapter 11, the writer moves on to Abraham and Sarah (verses 8-12). These first 12 verses define and illustrate faith. Faith is believing in something that is not seen, but rather in what God has spoken. So far as saving faith is concerned, seeing is not necessarily believing:
8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith - the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).109
In verse 6, we read:
Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
So faith believes that God exists, even though He is not visible, and that He rewards those who seek Him. Hope is faith looking forward. Hope is faith in what is not seen because it is yet future. But we can be sure of certain things in the future because God has given His word about them. When we come to verse 13, the author shows how faith (in what is not seen) leads to hope (regarding things not seen because they are still future):
13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16, emphasis mine).
The Old Testament saints looked forward to the salvation and rewards that would be accomplished by the Messiah. The author of Hebrews tells us that the Old Testament saints all110 died without receiving the promised rewards, yet they believed God and hoped for these rewards. Thus Abraham, when he was commanded to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, was willing to obey because he believed (in hope) that God would raise him from the dead.111 Likewise, Moses refused the temporal pleasures of position and power in Egypt and identified with God’s people, in hope that He would thus obtain eternal blessings.112
When we get to chapter 12, the Hebrew believers are encouraged to persevere, aware of the host of heavenly watchers and having their eyes fixed on Jesus, because His suffering puts all Christian suffering into its proper perspective.113 In addition, the readers should recognize that their sufferings have not been severe – no blood of theirs has yet been shed.114 Because God is sovereign, we must acknowledge that any suffering that comes to one of the saints has ultimately come from the hand of God as discipline for our good. Our suffering is yet further evidence that we are His children.115 Thus, we are to toughen up and persevere.
And so we began with faith, moved on to hope, and then finally we come to love in chapter 13:
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” (Hebrews 13:1-5, emphasis mine).
Brotherly love (love for others) will manifest itself in hospitality, and in identifying with those who are in prison or are otherwise suffering for their faith. In addition to faith, hope, and love, the author deals with other heart attitudes like submission to leaders and the joyful worship of our God.
It is true that we cannot “serve church cafeteria style,” but rather we must function in ways that are consistent with sound doctrine, and which are obedient to the principles and commands of Scripture, illustrated by apostolic practice. We have been given certain terms like elders and deacons, and we have seen how the early church functioned. But let us not err by concluding that being a New Testament church is primarily a matter of terms and forms. The essence of a New Testament church is more a matter of the heart.
The New Testament church is made up of those whose sins have been covered by the shed blood of Jesus, and who now have hearts of flesh, rather than hearts of stone. The New Testament church is one in which the Spirit of God dwells, empowering Christians to play their unique role in the body of Christ so that our Lord now ministers to the world through His body, the church.
We can use all the right terms and have all the right forms and traditions, but fail to be a New Testament church because we lack hearts that are filled with faith, hope, and love – not to mention many other attitudes that should characterize the Christian (like humility, servanthood, joy, and thanksgiving). This is why a church may not have all the right terminology or just the right forms, but may nevertheless manifest the life of Jesus.
The heart of a New Testament Christian (and a New Testament church) is the work of God’s Spirit, the outworking of the New Covenant inaugurated by the shed blood of our Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. It all begins with Jesus, just as it ends with Him. I pray that you have trusted in Him, and thus have become a part of His church. And I pray that you are maturing (being sanctified), and thus are being conformed to His image and likeness. The New Testament church is such because of what Jesus Christ has done, and what He continues to do in and through us by His Spirit.
103 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 6 in the series, Can We Serve Church Cafeteria Style?, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on March 9, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
104 The New Testament church should do corporately what the Christian husband is to do individually by loving his wife as Christ loved the church (see Ephesians 5:22-33).
105 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.
106 The gospel includes both of these elements. God graciously forgives guilty sinners (those who trust in Jesus) by pouring out His judgment for sin upon His sinless Son, Jesus.
107 Compare Deuteronomy 12:8.
108 “Better” is found 12 times in Hebrews, twice as often as any other New Testament book (Matthew = 6 times).
109 Compare Matthew 11:20-24, where Jesus condemns those cities that had seen His great miracles, yet would not believe.
110 We know, of course, that Enoch did not die (verse 5), and then there would be Elijah as well.
111 Hebrews 11:17-19.
112 See Hebrews 11:25-28.
113 Hebrews 12:1-2.
114 Hebrews 12:3-4.
115 Hebrews 12:5-11.
Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)