I always thought of myself as a “people guy” – that is someone who thrives in fellowship with fellow humans – and I still do. But, I tell you, there are some people out there with whom it is hard to have fellowship or who are so strange (unlike me, right?!) that I find it impossible to relate to them.
But in all of this we need to be reminded by God’s Word what we are supposed to do and why we are not gone yet. Have you ever thought about that? Why are we not directly transferred to the heavenlies once “we are saved”? There are multiple possibilities and answers to that question but let us today focus on that which the author of Hebrews teaches us.
Though this last chapter of the epistle is segmented with many imperatives which are “seemingly without coherence” (Lane, 499), it may be broken down the following way (adapted from Morris, 145-56):
a. vv. 1-6: Love and Contentment
b. vv. 7-8: Leadership and Perseverance
c. vv. 9-16: Genuine Christian Sacrifice
d. vv. 17: Obedience
e. vv. 18-19: Prayer
f. vv. 20-21: Doxology
g. vv. 22-25: Final Exhortations
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
This section itself might be broken down the following way:
i. Brother-Love v.1
ii. Stranger-Love v.2
iii. Suffering Love v.3
iv. Married Love v.4
v. Money Love & Savior Love vv.5-6
1 The word for brotherly love is literally “brother-love” (Gr.: philadelphia; note the American city Philadelphia as a transliteration). “[Philadelphia] is not to be understood as figurative, brother-like love, but as the mutual love of those who are united in the Christian [adelphotēs] (1 Pet. 2:7; 5:9; cf. [philadelphos], 1 Pet. 3:8). A distinctive note in Hebrews is that Christians are brothers not only of one another but of Christ himself” (Ellingworth, 694). This love is not “mere sentiment” but “it can be a very costly thing” (Bruce, 370) as we read in 1 John 3:16-18 (see also John 13:34-35 and especially 15:13):
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
The readers are to continue in such. This continuing suggests that there is some measure of this kind of love in the community of the readers but it might be on the verge of being neglected.
2 Here the author instructs the new-covenant community to also show love to strangers (Gr,: philoxenia) and alludes to Gen. 18 where Abraham and Sarah entertain the Lord and two of his angels. Bruce observes that “[a]mong Jews and Gentiles alike hospitality to strangers ranked high in virtue” and continues that “it was, indeed, a religious obligation” (370). It is of interest to observe that one of the qualities of Christian leaders is to be hospitable (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8).
This kind of hospitality was of special need in the early church, since “Christians travelling abroad on business might be to poor to afford a local inn” (Moffatt, 224). John again sheds some further insight into the issue at hand (3 John 5-8):
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
3 One further expression of such love is the concern for those who are in prison and those who are mistreated. Lane rightly connect the eschatological parable of Christ in Matt. 25:31-46 (esp. vv. 35-36) to the tradition of the Christian community: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” This kind of love is not foreign to the community who experiences similar circumstances (10:32-34).
The concluding phrase since you also are in the body (ἐν σώματι) is not to understood as being the church “for ἐν σώματι refers to the physical condition of liability to similar ill-usage” (Moffatt, 226).
4 To hold marriage in honor and the marriage bed undefiled is of utter importance in the Christian walk. How often do we see this being lightly taken and immense consequences overseen?! Like marriage the Christian walk is meant for life and thus should be guarded against inside or outside attack. There might be some link to 12:16 were we already noted that sexual immorality “could be used in a metaphorical way, to describe Esau’s apostasy as a ‘prostitution’ of his relationship with God (cf. Dt. 31:16; Jdg. 2:17). After such a wholesale rejection of the grace of God, when Esau wanted to inherit the blessing of the firstborn son, he was rejected (Gn. 27:30–40)” (Peterson, in loc.). Idolatry and sexual immorality are often linked in both OT and NT (e.g. Rom. 1:18-32).
5-6 The author turns now to love of money and the contentment we should have as being adopted children of God. Since covetousness “in its New Testament connotation can refer to illicit sexual desire as well as to the love of money” the transition from v.4to vv.5-6 are easily established (Bruce, 373). [Note: Again such a quality is required of a leader in the church (1 Tim. 3:3)].
The community is persecuted and as seen in 10:32-34 suffer for they faith. The allusions to Gen. 28:15; Deut., 31:6, 8; 1 Chron. 28:20; and Josh. 1:5 are of major encouragement to the audience: for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Besides then the “strangeness” of some people (or should we say: especially because of their “strangeness”) we ought to love one another. Christian love takes very physical means (e.g. visiting those in prison, providing food etc.) and is expressed as a love to God (something more fully elaborated in 1 John). We have to learn to trust Him for what is needed in our lives and let Him use us to do the same for others.
We have a faithful and trustworthy God. And as the following words were of encouragement to the recipients of the letter, so are they to us:
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Ellingworth, P. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids; Carlisle England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993.
Guthrie, George H. “Hebrews.” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Ed. G.K. Beale and D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007.
Lane, William L. Hebrews. 9-13. Word Biblical Commentary, v. 47B. Dallas, Tex: Word Books, 1991.
Moffat, James. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Edinburgh: Clark, 1948.
Morris, Leon. “Hebrews.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. With the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Hebrews–Revelation Volume 12. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, v. 12. Ed. Frank Ely Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981.
Peterson, David. “Hebrews.” New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. Ed. D.A. Carson, et al. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.