By Blake E. Jones
HEBREWS CHAPTER XIII
One of the great beauties of holiness is its natural expression of gracious love in everyday living. Holy people should endeavour to cultivate a refinement of character and culture that is befitting the name "Christian". There is a sweet reasonableness, that should exude from the life of the entirely sanctified heart, which will bless friendships. As a child of God, I have cherished friends who are not saved, but closest to my heart are those who share the love of Christ and His great Spirit in their lives. Christian friendship is an invaluable prize in this pilgrim walk. The verses at hand lay out some excellent principles for holy friendships.
It might be noted that in chapter 12, there was the proof of sonship (12:7), the purpose of sonship (12:10-14), and the pact of sonship (12:22-25). Here, in chapter 13, we are discovering the performance of sonship (13:1-7).
I. Maintain Loving Unity (13:1)
It seems there is never a time that the Christian is not vulnerable to the devil's attacks in the area of his friendships. A slight misunderstanding, a supposed clash, an imagined hurt, a careless word and, soon, if we do not purpose to love, friendship is strained and gasping for survival. Keep your hearts and friendships guarded against intrusions. The writer has already called for a keen pursuance of peace. Maintain unity without the stain of suspicions, evil speaking, gossip, envy, and whatever other blights might destroy the love that ought to demonstrate to the world that we are Christ's disciples.
Too often we do not realize the importance of Christian friendships until some issue has severed the ties. Then we limp along without the lift and sharpening of mutual love. Friendship will mean making apologies, at times, to maintain unity. At times it will involve making concessions to the opinion of others. It seems that the older we get, the more set are our opinions and ideas. Oh, how important it is that we learn to yield and bend a little, in areas that are not moral issues, so that brotherly love may continue.
The wise old adage says that familiarity breeds contempt. The better you get to know your Christian friends, the more careful you will have to be to protect that friendship. You will find that they have some bumps and twists in their personalities. Remember, while you are finding difficult adjustments to make with them, they are discovering the same with you. It may be the thing that irritates you most about your friend is simply a reflection of your own characteristics which you are seeing. So, guard that friendship!
II. Demonstrate Hospitality (13:2)
In some circles it certainly would appear that hospitality is a lost art. Friendliness to strangers is extinct and cold formalism is all that lingers in its place. How many times have people lost the blessing of a beautiful and blossoming friendship because they would not put themselves out to entertain a stranger, a visitor at church, or a new person in town. Think what Mary, Martha and Lazarus would have missed had they had not befriended Jesus.
In our day fear of transients, and their use of offered money, is an area of legitimate concern. Probably as families we need to establish guidelines for properly fulfilling our duty to strangers. It is seldom wise to simply hand over money to those crying for help. But that should not stop us from taking food to their homes or caring for other physical needs. May the Lord help us not to turn away one to whom we might minister through some simple material means.
III. Love at All Times (13:3)
The wise man said, "A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Prov. 17:17). Don't stoop so low as to simply be a "fair weather friend". How unchristlike such an approach would be. Weep with those who weep, and laugh with those who laugh. Imagine how you would feel if you were the one in bonds or experiencing hardship of some sort. Let us put our lives where our mouths are! Of what good are Sunday's declarations of love without Monday's practical expressions of sympathizing affection?
IV. Keep Friendships Pure (13:4)
In this age of broken homes and blighted relationships, we cannot be too careful to maintain respectable and upright relationships among those we count as friends. God has ordained marriage and the home as the basis for society. Outside of marriage, there is no place for what is being called "free love". Friend, it is not "free love" by any stretch of the imagination. This kind of loose and promiscuous living is very, very costly. It costs a man and a woman their respect for one another. It costs respect for oneself. It charges the soul with a great debt of remorse and condemnation. It strikes a crippling blow on the very society in which the individuals choose to participate, and from which they hope to receive benefit. On top of it all, where children are involved, the cost of such activity escalates beyond what we are able to comprehend.
To young people the call is clear. Keep yourself pure for your future spouse. God has grace and help for you if you will set some guidelines and boundaries before you start dating.
Intimacy is blessed and smiled upon by God in the bounds of His definition. Outside of that, judgment can be expected! It behooves Christians to keep their friendships pure. Do not become so attached to another family that you cannot do things on your own. If you sense some improper affection growing within you, for Jesus' sake, for your sake, and for the sake of your family, nip it in the bud. Do whatever is necessary to escape the devil's trap. Be drastic, if need be, but maintain your home.
V. Accept Differences in Social Standing (13:5-6)
Happy friendships can grow even across diversified, social standings. Do not allow your heart to become gloomy and dark because of what other people have. On the other hand, do not flaunt a new "toy" or gadget every time your less fortunate friend pays you a visit.
God's people are still proving, over and over, that He is sufficient for every need that may present itself in their lives. Some may be driving new cars while others are trying to rest in God's promise to provide a used "flivver" they can afford. Maintain a proper attitude to your friend, on whichever side of the picture he stands.
The media has set itself as the master proponent of discontent. Billboards, advertisements, magazines, newspapers, catalogues, sales jingles, all militate against a contented and peaceful heart. Let's not be caught in the "give-me" spirit of our age. In our friendships, may the Lord help us to minimize the differences that may exist and promote mutual love and co-operation.
VI. Memorialize Friendships (13:7)
Commentators are generally agreed that the rulers being referred to are leaders who have passed the scene of action, and now are a warm memory in the hearts of these believers. Do not forget their work and labours of love, but keep the memory of their devotion and friendship alive in your heart. Let it be a spur to faith and love as you recall their leadership, their admonitions and teaching, and their end which in some cases may have been martyrdom.
It seems to me, that too often in our attempt to serve our present age, we forget the cost that was paid to hand the torch down to us. We walk away from our heritage with no thought or appreciation for the friendship of former pastors, superintendents and denominational presidents. Their friendships need to be memorialized, lest in reaching out to our generation, we sidestep from our founder's faith and tread the old road of social reform, thus having "a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (II Tim. 3:5).
I. Established in Christ (13:8-9)
After all that the writer has laid out so plainly, a call is given to leave behind the outward rituals and ceremonies of the Old Testament system. The whole unprofitable arrangement of meats, offerings and sacrifices has been folded up and discarded. It has been replaced by the unchangeable One "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and forever". These dear Hebrews must be rooted in the keeping favour and grace of Christ lest they be drawn away to some "strange doctrine".
It has proven true that those who reject light become extremely vulnerable to winds of false doctrine. Light and truth cannot be disdained without blocking the flow of God's grace. In the lives of many who call themselves Christians, there is a dangerous conflict of spiritual warfare. Often we see them struggle over a particular issue or hear them argue endlessly about some detail; but the real issue at hand is not these areas of dissent. The heart of the problem is in their spirit's fight against the Spirit of God. This is the real battle and all the rest is a sideline or an outgrowth of this unsettling, miserable conflict.
In order that a believer may be established in grace there must be a yielding to the Holy Spirit's prompting and leadership. Outside of this submission, there can be no establishing or rooting in grace. Stiffen and balk, and you will immediately find that the flow of grace and power is staunched. "You have no power, victory, or authority of your own," notes Wesley Duewel. "All is by grace."1 Oh for open and yielded hearts that God's mighty, marvellous and magnanimous grace might keep our spirits victorious and vibrant in the subtle storms of strange doctrine.
The writer has expressed the great value of being "established in grace". Mr. Vine helps our grasp as he states that this is a "confirming of the heart by grace" with the added explanation: "to make firm" and to "make secure".2 One does not have to observe the church ranks for too long to arrive at the conclusion that the grace of entire sanctification working in the heart of the believer is a wonderful aid to establishment in grace. It firms up the soul, and though it does not rule out backsliding, it certainly does confirm the soul in God.
It has been suggested that the practice of confirmation in some denominations is the remaining shell of the doctrine of entire sanctification.3 How sad it is that so many who profess the name of Christ reject the "firming up" grace that He is so wonderfully able to provide, in the work of entire sanctification.
II. Partakers of Christ's Sanctification (13:10-11)
The high glory of the Christian is his humble partaking of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as his own Substitute and Saviour. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper draws this spiritual eating and drinking to our attention. This blessed privilege of partaking of Christ's death by faith as full of merit for our own soul, is not extended to those who refuse Christ and continue in the old system of rituals and rites. Since Jesus has fulfilled all of the tabernacle program, tenacious clinging to the old system negates personal appropriation of Christ's death.
We will note that the Old Testament makes various references to the area outside the camp, and each adds meaning to the Hebrews' writer's enlargement upon this practice. The area outside the camp was the "unclean" place for human refuse (Deut. 23:12-14); it was where the death penalty was to be inflicted upon criminals (Num. 15:35-36); it was dreaded as a place of punishment (Num. 12:14-15); it was the confines of those with disease and physical contagion (Num. 5:2-4); and, finally, it marked the place of transferred defilement for here the sin offering was to be burned (Lev. 4:3-12).
Jesus too, "suffered without the gate". He bore the spiritual uncleanness of humanity; He died as a criminal in our place; He bore the abhorrent contagion of sin's disease which has passed down to every one of Adam's race; He suffered the punishment of justice to effect reconciliation with a Holy God; and He, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God, carried the transferred sins and defilement of sinners to the cross, outside the city of Jerusalem. Can it not be readily seen that Jesus bore not only acts of sin when He died on Calvary, but also the contagious nature of sin that has been passed down since Adam. He died to forgive sinners and also with the high purpose of sanctifying His people. This is the message of the cross! There is a perfect remedy provided in the blood of Christ.
Thus, the believer may come to the "altar", the cross, and by faith partake of the blessings that Jesus died to procure.
III. Embracing Christ's Reproach (13:13-14)
In the call to the experience of entire sanctification, we are given the practical admonition to follow Jesus to the place of His death. This might well be called the "death route" to spiritual victory. The pursuit of holiness will lead the seeker to depths of consecration and surrender that he did not experience in seeking forgiveness.
In Romans 6:6 Paul speaks of the crucifixion of our sinful nature in order that it might be destroyed. This is such a verity to him that he declared, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20). Daniel Steele, commenting on this makes these lucid observations:
"The power of divine grace had nailed him to the cross, but he had sought this very crucifixion, and willingly yielded his hands to the spikes, his side to the spear, and his head to the thorn-crown. The hostility of the self-life to this sudden and violent extinction is the chief hindrance to faith....Jesus indicates that the self-life finds its chief nutriment in the esteem and applause of our fellow-men. It is not by accident that in every age those who have fully consecrated themselves to Christ, and have been entirely sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and have proclaimed this as the privilege and duty of all Christians, have been under a cloud of reproach. Christ has set reproach and persecution as two cherubim at the gate of the Eden of perfect love, to test the consecration, courage, and confidence of all who seek to enter. They who lack any one of these qualities must be excluded from this paradise. Dear seeker of soul-rest, are you willing to have your name cast out as evil, meekly to wear opprobrious nicknames, to be accounted as the filth and offscouring of all things for your testimony to Christ as a perfect Saviour, able to save unto the uttermost? But, say you, is this the indispensable condition? In this age of enlightenment and religious liberty has not the offense of the cross ceased? Nay, verily, except to world-conforming sort of Christians, who keep up a state of peace with the world and a truce with the devil by declaring that they consciously sin every day, and that there is no efficacy in the blood of Christ to cleanse the heart of its depravity, and no power in the Holy Spirit to keep the trusting soul from sinning....Hence total and irreversible self-abandonment is the indispensable condition of that oneness with Christ, that harmony with God, which, in scriptural phrase, is called perfect love."4
Ralph Earle aptly states that "sanctification is self-crucifixion. Ultimately, we either let self be crucified and Christ crowned as Lord of all; or, refusing to do this, self is crowned as Lord of all in our lives, and Christ is crucified afresh by our self-will."5 We cannot strike the death blow to the sin that has stained the very fiber of our soul, but we can surrender it to Christ to crucify. Carnality will resist the death blow and the reproach of Christ to its last breath, for that is its very nature. It will do anything to postpone and procrastinate the crucifixion, but right here is where our will must choose to press through to victory.
As a help to understanding self-crucifixion, Dr. Dale Yocum comments on three areas of consecration that must be made by the heart of the seeking soul. There must be "the surrender of every human tie to the claim of a higher love--the love of Christ....There is the surrender of all earthly possessions....There is the surrender of self to God."6 In other words, I must die to my claims on my family and friends, my possessions or hoped for assets, and my claim on myself. Outside of this, God is unable to strike a death blow to the carnal mind that "is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7). This mind or nature in the unsanctified Christian is basicly a God-hating principle that cannot be remodelled or retaught. It knows no other response to God than that which the image of Satan has brought to bear upon mankind. It is pride in its raw and defiled form as it defies the authority and lordship of Christ. It is rebellion that cannot find tolerance for the law of God, for it hates the Master of the Universe. This nature has so intricately attached itself to the soul of mankind that only the Holy Spirit, through the power of the blood of Christ, can cleanse, purify, crucify and purge this warp from the believer; and yet not destroy or kill the person. Hallelujah for the power of the blood! Thank God for freedom from the drag of a nature that hates God!
It must be noted that bearing the reproach of Christ is not merely a part of the crisis experience of entire sanctification; but it is the life and embrace of the sanctified Christian. In fact, it is the call to all who would be followers of Jesus Christ, for He said, "He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:38). Bearing Christ's reproach means to be "excluded from social and religious acceptance. We must forgo the approval of the world and accept the reproach of Jesus if we wish to find that continuing city established by God."7
I. The Offering of Praise (13:15)
A high mark of Christians surely ought to be a spirit and attitude of continual praise. This will naturally be expressed in words of praise to our God. We would do well to examine our words of complaint and chronic grumbling.
First, we should cultivate a growing realization of the glory of the cross and the provisions of Christ for our poor, blighted souls. May we see afresh Jesus dying in our place. A lack of praise cannot but incriminate us in our deficiency of spiritual fellowship with the Saviour. The clearer we see our own unworthiness and Christ's great condescension, the more prolific should be our adoration.
Second, it seems to me that we hinder our testimonies by whining and muttering about the weather, the taxes, the inflation, our government leaders and a long list of other peeves. God forgive us for getting caught in the habit of "praiselessness". May we be found continually offering the sacrifice of praise to the Lord.
II. The Offering of Goodwill (13:16)
Jesus said, "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8). As the benefactors of the New Covenant, we should be reaching out to those around us with both our temporal and spiritual means. A miserly heart and a stingy soul have no place in the worship of the One Who gave His life for us. It seems to be in the economy of the Gospel, and in the plan of the Trinity, to extend benevolence to others. We must espouse this attitude to be pleasing to the Lord. For "whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (I John 3:17)
III. The Offering of Obedience to those in Authority (13:17)
How often has a pastor poured out his soul before God in behalf of his people, and then with trembling heart and a nervous stomach visited a parishioner whose spiritual life is lacking health and vigour. Where there has actually been a falling away in the one being approached, it is not uncommon for the backslider to raise a host of criticisms and complaints, and point at all the supposed hypocrites. These things did not seem to be on his mind when he was in victory and enjoying the presence of the Lord. May those who are prone to wander, receive warning and submit themselves to the ministry of God's servants and the Holy Spirit, as they work together to raise the level of spirituality in the body of Christ.
Preaching is not merely some social lecture without eternal weight. Real preaching is anointed by the Lord, backed by His Word, and aimed toward spiritual profit. Heed it then as coming from one who will someday answer for his message and faithfulness to the Chief Shepherd.
IV. The Offering of Prayer (13:18-19)
Prayer is certainly the high privilege of the Christian and a New Testament offering. "Prayer is not begging God to do something which He is loath to do. It is not overcoming reluctance in God. It is enforcing Christ's victory over Satan,"8 says Paul Billheimer. Prayer most definitely involves the cross and blood of Christ, for without it we would have no access to the Father. Clearly, then, prayer does belong to the Christian's sacrifices of New Testament performance.
In this fast food age and rapid transit era, we tend to degrade prayer to just quick commands and thoughtless, heartless orders. The MacDonald's counter "give-me" has filtered into the church's altar and throne approach, until prayer has lost its beauty as a sacrifice and offering. Sleepy preachers standing behind pulpits, leaning on their Bibles, drone out some list of meaningless "give-me's". Where is the fervency of holy praying that marks it as inspired by the Holy Spirit? E. M. Bounds wrote, "Enflamed desires impassioned, unwearied insistence, delights heaven....heaven is too busy to listen to half-hearted prayers."9
"Here is the wonderful benediction of the writer to the Hebrews....It will be noticed that this perfection is in the sight of God. It is not a human achievement, but a divine performance in and through the individual. We should also observe that perfection is not something simply attributed to us because of the work of Christ; it is worked in us, and not simply for us. God produces in the heart of the fully sanctified person a supreme desire to do His will. There is no higher motive than to do what 'is well pleasing in His sight'. This does not imply that no mistakes are ever made, but that all the motives and actions are directed in conformity to the will of God."10
This observation of Dr. Yocum's points out the relationship of Christian perfection and the proper motive for performance of the will of God. Apparently the word translated "perfect" in verse 21 suggests a joint being put back in place. Actually, the unsanctified Christian walks with a spiritual limp until God cleanses his heart and heals him of an inherited, crippling, spiritual disease.
Mr. Carter makes a very interesting observation when he writes:
"Wherever the title 'God of peace' is used in the New Testament, it is without exception related to the holiness of the believer made perfect in love. It signifies God as the author and giver of peace. The ultimate redemptive purpose was to make peace between God and man, and between man and man, through the destruction of the discordant elements of sin and the perfection of the soul in love. Nowhere is this more explicit than in I Thessalonians 5:23: 'The very God of peace sanctify you wholly.' It is undeniably essential that man be made holy before he is qualified to stand in the presence of the holy God."11
As this great holiness epistle draws to a close, the prominence and pre-eminence of Christ are again underlined. He is the resurrected Lord, the "great Shepherd of the sheep", the One Who shed His blood to provide an everlasting covenant, and the One through Whom God works His good will and purpose in our lives. If we have failed to see Jesus, high and lifted up, we have not caught the message to the Hebrews. If our hearts have not burned with the message of full salvation through Christ, we have totally overlooked the intent of the epistle.
With a full heart and a happy soul, the writer pours out the adoration of his spirit as he cries, "To whom be glory for ever and ever". Glory be to God the Father Who loved twisted humanity enough to take the first step in reconciliation and send His Son to die in our place. We fall in worship as we contemplate the mercy that He extended to us through the propitiation of Jesus. That ever a plan was made for the complete rescue of the human soul, we shall be eternally grateful. God could have aborted the plan for the human race and started again, but He chose to redeem what was lost. He provided for the healing of what had been effaced through the fall.
We raise our hearts in expressing glory to Jesus, the Son of God, Who humbled Himself and came down so very low to wrap Himself in limited flesh and then bear the rejection of His own creation. For me He assumed the criminal's place on the cross and bore the sins I have committed and the rottenness of my sin disease. All that was so repulsive and unholy, He carried as if it were His own; and through His blood opened a way for us to come to God. For the merit of His blood to provide forgiveness and cleansing, we shall forever honour Him, proclaiming, "Worthy, worthy the Lamb".
To the Blessed Holy Spirit, the Inspirer of this Epistle, we bow in humble worship as to Him we offer our heartfelt love. He it is Who has been showing us the way into the throne room of God's presence. He it is Who has been drawing our hearts to holiness and convincing of "sin, and of righteousness and of judgment" (John 16:8). He "is the personal agent who touches us in power, making the inner man every whit whole as the touch of Christ made diseased bodies every whit whole."12 To Him be everlasting glory and praise for indwelling the believer and instructing him in righteousness.
1. Wesley Duewel, Mighty Prevailing Prayer, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press, 1990) p. 49.
2. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966) p. 226.
3. Source not known.
4. Daniel Steele, Milestone Papers, (Salem, Ohio: Convention Book Store, 1973) pp. 84-85.
5. Ralph Earle, Sanctification in the New Testament, (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1988) p. 30.
6. Dale Yocum, The Holy Way, (Salem, Ohio: Schmul Publishers, 1976) pp. 89-90.
7. Albert Harper, Gen. Ed., The Wesley Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,1990) p. 1863.
8. Paul Billheimer, Destined for the Throne, (Fort Washington, Pennsylvania: Christian Literature Crusade, 1975) p. 17.
9. Quoted in Wesley Duewel, Mighty Prevailing Prayer, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press,1990) p. 75.
10. Dale Yocum, The Holy Way, (Salem, Ohio: Schmul Publishers, 1976) p. 60.
11.Charles Carter, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972) Vol. VI, p. 182.
12. J. P. Taylor, Holiness, The Finished Foundation, (Winona Lake, Indiana: Light and Life Press, 1963) p. 27.