Summary: By Christ we offer the sacrifice of praise, do good works, submit to the word, and pray for each other.
We’re going to go back a little bit and start in verse 15:
15By him therefore
This ties everything that follows back to the previous verses: Christ doesn’t change and all our doctrine and hope rests on Him. There’s no amount of animal sacrifice or priestly work that can save us, but He’s purified us and promised us a future city.
By Him therefore.
This has everything to do with the heart settled on grace. You have to catch this: He’s our Savior, Intercessor, Priest, Redeemer, Sacrifice, Tabernacle, Altar, and everything else you can think of. “By Him” doesn’t stop or change when we get to the results produced in us. Faith is by Him, life is by Him, and good works are by Him.
This isn’t a new law—it’s the royal law of love, and it’s been the only real law since the beginning.
let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
How can this be a sacrifice when it’s all done by Him? Think about Abraham when he offered Isaac. This was said to have been done by faith, and faith is the work of God. Faith and praise are things that come from us because of His work. That’s why we’re called God’s workmanship.
The idea of “continually” is that it goes from the beginning to the end. It goes throughout. Keep in mind the context of running the race set before us and phrases like, “You have need of patience.” It doesn’t mean that the only thing we ever do is praise; it means we praise until the end. Don’t give up on praising Him—this is our sacrifice.
The Greek word for “thanks” is omologountwn. It comes from two words: “homo” (same) and “logos” (word). In other words, this means to agree with or to allow or to confess. I think that within the context of Hebrews we see how this fits. The sacrifice of praise isn’t necessarily giving thanks so much as it is confessing His name. We’re on the same page. We agree with what He’s said. We trust in His promise. We know He’ll do as He said.
16But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
“But” can also be translated as “and” or “moreover” which just makes more sense: Moreover, “Don’t forget about charity and fellowship (or sharing). ” Another fruit produced by faith is the provision of each other’s needs. This is what we saw last time in Matthew 25. The world knows we’re His disciples when we love each other, and it’s a sacrifice which pleases God.
17Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls,
Some cults have taken this and run with it. Their followers have to do whatever their told, but we know it’s tempered with “whoever will be first is last” and that the least is the greatest. Philippians 2 sets the tone for how leaders are to be.
However, we also know that the authority of the leaders is something real and it comes from Christ. He has appointed these men to watch over your souls until He returns. I think this is the key to understanding the meaning. Submission to leaders is for the sake of our souls, so we’re talking about spiritual things. They teach us what we know about righteousness from the Scripture. Leaders don’t have the right to make up rules for you, they can’t use you for profit, and they’re not supposed to be nosing around your private matters, but they do preach the Scriptures (c.f. 13:7) to build us up and to help our faith, and they do watch over the order of the church.
What he’s saying is “obey what you hear.” They’re not telling you how to live because they want to control you; they are those who lead:
as they that must give account,
The church is Christ’s kingdom on earth. One day He’ll return and bring His reward with Him. Those who’ve lived wickedly will suffer the fate of the wicked, but the righteous will receive a good reward. Your leaders must give an account as stewards for their care over your souls. Part of your good fruit is to obey the word and not refuse it:
that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
You see, this whole thing is really about the benefit of the hearer. His point is to show them why they should listen to the men encouraging them to finish their race. If the leaders’ task is full of grief it’s not going to be a benefit for you. I can tell you from experience that nothing is more vexing than a group of people who constantly refuse the word. I think of Moses when he said it’d be better to die than to have to lead those people all through the wilderness (Num. 11:10-15).