Volume 11, Issue 5: Exegetica
In the Body Also
We have now reached the beginning of the end of this epistle. In these verses the author exhorts his readers to fulfill their duties concerning brotherly love, hospitality, visitation, marriage, and contentment – duties which may appear to be somewhat disconnected. But if we recall the purpose of this letter and the situation of the original readers, we should find a common theme upon which all these duties rest.
Hebrews is a New Testament Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy was written on the eve of the conquest of Canaan to remind God’s covenant people of what He had done for them by setting them free from Egypt, and to prepare them for the imminent invasion of the promised land. Similarly, the book of Hebrews was written on the eve of the destruction of Jerusalem to remind the members of this better covenant of what God had done by setting them free from sin, and to prepare them for the imminent conquest of the world, a conquest to be accomplished through the preaching of the word once the old covenant had faded away.
“Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). The evangelization of the world, the final commission given by our Supreme Commander (Mt. 28:18-20), must be carried out through Christians working in cooperation. Broken fellowship among brothers hinders us from fully obeying this command. How many battles have been lost because allied forces did not work together effectively? In the same way, how often do efforts in evangelization fail because missionaries do not continue in brotherly love? How can the world know the love of Christ, if it does not see that love among those who are called by His name? This is why Jesus prayed “that they may be one just as We are one: I in them and You in Me; that they may be perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me” (John 17:22-23). We have been taught by God to love one another; let such love continue.
This love is not to be reserved only for those whom we know. We must also be ready to help those we do not know, but who are fighting the battle with us. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, and those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also” (Heb. 13:2-3). Great saints of the past have been honored for their hospitality: Abraham entertained not only two angels but the Lord Himself (Gen. 18:1-5); his nephew Lot showed the same fervor (Gen. 19:1-3). When Paul was in chains for the gospel, he commended the Philippians who shared in his distress (Phil. 4:14-19), and prayed that God would show mercy to Onesiphorus, who sought him out and ministered to him, for he was not ashamed of Paul’s chains (2 Tim. 1:16-18). And though the Lord may not bring angels to our door, when we take strangers into our homes and visit those who are imprisoned for the name of Christ, He has given us this greater promise: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40). If one member of the body suffers, all the members suffer with it. As we are in the body, then, let us bless others as we have been blessed, looking to the promise.
“Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). Sin hinders our effectiveness in spiritual warfare, and sexual sin is chief among all. We serve in the world, and fall prey to the lusts of the world. How many ministers of the gospel fall in this way! But from the arms of the adulteress, God has provided a way of escape in the embrace of a godly wife. Marriage is to be honored, for the covenant between man and wife is a picture of the Lord's covenant with His bride, the church. Those who sin sexually by seeking pleasure outside the covenant of marriage will be judged not only for their disobedience, but also for the lies they tell about this glorious union between God and His people.
Contentment within marriage is a specific application of this more general rule: “Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5). Soldiers in a foreign land must not lust after their delicacies, but must trust in God, lest they be defeated. Would Henry have conquered at Agincourt had not Bardolph been hanged as a thief? And do not the Scriptures say the same? For surely the conquering army under Joshua was defeated at Ai because of Achan’s lust for the devoted things. There the Lord warned them, “Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you (Josh. 7:12). This is indeed the context of the verse quoted by our author, for God told Joshua before he crossed the Jordan, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh. 1:5). In the same way, the Lord Jesus has promised His presence among us as we disciple the nations (Matt. 28:20). Let us not forsake the good things of our God, but be content.
“So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:6). The Hebrew Christians were facing persecution in the last days, so the author here reminded them of King David’s faith in the face of his enemies (Ps. 118:6). Confident that the Lord is with us, we can boldy go into the world, and with David in this psalm say, “All nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. . . . The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”