Summary: This seemingly random selection of exhortations follows on from Hebrews 12:29, and represents our part in the refining process which God is working in our lives (cf. Ephesians 4:1).
OUR PART IN THE REFINING PROCESS
I. PRACTICAL LOVE (Hebrews 13:1-3)
1. “Brotherly love” (Hebrews 13:1)
Jesus is ‘not ashamed’ to call us brethren (Hebrews 2:11-12). The readers of Hebrews are viewed as ‘holy brethren’ (Hebrews 3:1). This section begins abruptly: literally, “The brotherly love let abide” (Hebrews 13:1).
We do not know what gave rise to this particular exhortation. There is, however, an ongoing need to nurture relationships within the fellowship (Hebrews 12:14; cf. Romans 12:10). ‘Brotherly love’ is already at work in God’s people, and the writer is encouraging its development (cf. 1 Peter 1:22).
One way in which brotherly love is manifested is through hospitality. The writer speaks of “entertaining strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). Indeed, Jesus takes it a step further: ‘Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me’ (Matthew 25:31-40).
Abraham saw ‘three men’ - and offered them hospitality. Two ‘angels’ proceeded thence toward Sodom, but Abraham was left standing before ‘the LORD’ (Genesis 18-19). Similarly, Samson’s parents offered hospitality to one whom they perceived to be a ‘man of God’ - who turned out to be ‘the angel of the LORD’ (Judges 13).
The writer encourages a certain empathy with prisoners, and with those who suffer adversity. The Greek text reminds us that “we also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). Since the word used translates as ‘body’ (rather than ‘flesh’), I am drawn to the possibility that we are not just talking about physical identity with these sufferers, but mutuality as fellow-members of the church = the ‘body’ of Christ. (Some translations seem to miss this phrase altogether.)
II. MARRIAGE IS HONOURABLE (Hebrews 13:4)
Despite the rigidity of the Mosaic law, there had evidently been those who sought to wriggle out of its obligations: hence the Pharisees’ question to Jesus (Matthew 19:3). There were also those - on the other hand - who not only discouraged marriage, but went so far as to forbid it (1 Timothy 4:3). The law, of course, still stands: it is “immoral and adulterous” people whom “God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).
III. COVETOUSNESS (Hebrews 13:5-6)
‘The love of money’ is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19). Yet “covetousness” reaches beyond the financial, to discontentment in other areas as well. It is, basically, a lack of trust, betraying a faithlessness bordering on outright infidelity (Matthew 6:31-33).
So we are to be content with our present circumstances, knowing that the Lord has said, “In no wise will I leave you, neither in any wise will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). This promise resonates throughout Scripture (e.g. Joshua 1:5; Haggai 2:4-5), and is reinforced by Jesus (Mat 28:20). It also links with the following verse (Hebrews 13:6), where confidence replaces the fear of man (Psalm 118:6).