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).
IV. THE FAITH OF THE LEADERS (Hebrews 13:7-8)
“Remembering” (Hebrews 13:7) our leaders probably implies praying for those who are still with us, or honouring those who have since died by following their examples. Scan their lives, and look at the outcome of their conduct. They have spoken the word of God, and we are to follow their faith [as opposed to those who teach ‘strange doctrines’ (Hebrews 13:9)].
And what faith is that? That “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and will remain so throughout all the ages forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The book has come full circle to the changelessness of Jesus which was demonstrated in contrast to the malleability of creation (Hebrews 1:10-12).
V. CONCLUSION (Hebrews 13:15-16)
“The sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) recalls the ‘living sacrifice’ of Romans 12:1. This is “the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name” (Hebrews 13:15). This is what it means to ‘hold fast the confession of faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised)’ (Hebrews 10:23).
The exhortation continues, in effect, ‘Continue to show such kindness as is typical of you’ (Hebrews 13:16). This could refer back to the Hebrews’ ongoing ministry to the saints (Hebrews 6:10), or to the writer’s recollection of their companionship and compassion in his own affliction (Hebrews 10:32-34). And finally, “sharing” in fellowship is a sacrifice which marked out the early church (Acts 2:44-45), with which God is well pleased.