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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Hebrews 13

 

 

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Verses 1-25

The first six verses of this chapter have a striking moral relationship to what has gone before. We have seen that though God's dispensational ways have undergone a mighty change in the advent of His beloved Son, yet His nature and character remain unchangeable. Now these verses show that moral responsibilities are not abolished either. "Let brotherly love continue." Dispensational change was not to change this at all: It is a character applicable to all ages. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Abraham's hospitality (Genesis 18:1-33) is a lovely example, not only for his earthly seed, Israel, but for ourselves. This is a general rule, though 2 John 1:8-11 is an important exception: one who comes propagating a doctrine that dishonors the Person of Christ, must be refused all hospitality, and not even accorded the cour­tesy of a common greeting.

"Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body." Thus, our present dispensation, though Heavenly and spiritual, does not relieve us from having to face the groans of creation: just as godly Israelites suffered for their faith in the Old Testament, so Christians also endured persecution and imprisonment for Christ's sake; and compassionate sympathy for such is but normal and proper Christianity.

"Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." Here again Christianity in no wise annuls the sanctity of re­lationships established in creation. Some have dared to teach this; but this involves the wicked denial of moral principles that remain unchanged through all dispensa­tions. Indeed, even the law allowed inconsistencies because of the hardness of men's hearts-not because God approved, - but Christianity reaffirms God's creatorial rights in this regard (Matt 19:39). But the law de­manded death for an adulterer. Such evil is no less ser­ious today than then, but judgment for it is in God's hands, not in ours. Of course, in the assembly of God, such abuse would require the firm discipline of the as­sembly as such, and putting away from fellowship, (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) but the actual judgment for such guilt God reserves for Himself, rather than now appointing His peo­ple to execute capital punishment.

"Let your conversation be without covetousness: and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." Personal godly conduct and character was not to be changed because of a changed dispensation, though "Thou shalt not covet" is replaced by the more gentle, persuasive language of grace. Two quotations are found in these verses from the Old Testament, first the blessed promise of God to Josh­ua, a man of faith, and seen here to be applicable to every child of faith, in every age. Secondly, there is the bold response of faith to such language of the Psalmist (Psalms 118:6), which every believer may adopt at all times, regardless of dispensation; and certainly ourselves, whose lot is fallen in a dispensation which is preemin­ently addressed to faith.

But if the first six verses have dealt with that which continues in spite of dispensational change, what follows now is characteristic of the new dispensation, to which no addition can be allowed, nor is advance possible. Let us consider this most thoroughly and digest well its im­plications.

"Remember your leaders who have spoken to you the Word of God; and considering the issue of their con­versation, imitate their faith: Jesus Christ is the Same yesterday, and today, and to the ages (to come)" (N. Trans.). In verse 17 we shall find that leaders are to be obeyed, but in verse 7 it is evident that deceased leaders are referred to, and to be remembered. Some had doubtless suffered martyrdom for Christ: their faith had stood fast even unto death. Blessed example! Their faith was worth following. This is no mere imitation of their methods, but acting upon the vital principle of faith, as they did. Let us remember today not to dismiss from our minds the godly example and faith of men of God who are now with the Lord. Leaders of this kind are those who have sought no following for themselves, but have directed souls to the Lord,-guided them in the paths of the pure Word of God. Their conversation, that is, their entire manner of life and conduct, had a definite end in view: it was no mere haphazard conglomeration of motives that moved them: there was a vital issue above all else that influenced their actions. This we are bidden to consider. What was the secret of their stability? Their faith was in "Jesus Christ, the Same yesterday, and today, and forever." Why ought a believer to change when he has a Master who does not? "Yesterday" would refer to the blessed manifestation in flesh of the Son of God, His entire earthly path of infinite grace and truth. "Today" at the right hand of God He is the Same. Of course, hav­ing died and risen again, He is changed in bodily con­dition, but in Person, in nature, in moral character, He remains unchangeable. Blessed, faithful Lord. "And forever!" No possible circumstance can ever alter this holy, gracious lord of glory. What an Object for faith! What a consideration for our souls! How comforting, refresh­ing, encouraging, strengthening, stabilizing! May we un­ceasingly adore His precious Name.

"Be not carried about with divers and strange doc­trines. For it is a good thing that the heart he established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein" The revelation of God in Christ is certainly infinitely better than the forms and laws of Judaism; but after such revelation, advance or improvement is impossible. Men may introduce new and diverse doctrines, but they are an insult to the blessed Person of Christ, and strange in the sense of being foreign to God's revelation. Unstable souls may be beguiled by them, but as we have seen, stability is found in the Person of Christ. The heart must he estab­lished with grace. May we know more fully and purely the sweet significance of that grace which has met the claims of a broken law, delivered us from bondage, and provided a liberty wherewith to serve God with wholehearted, voluntary devotion. How much more than con­scientiousness is this! Not indeed that conscience is ig­nored, but rather that, being exercised by the Word of God, the soul gladly acquiesces in that which conscience approves. Thankful affection for the Lord thus becomes the motive, not a mere sense of duty. The legal prin­ciple is banished, as are its forms and ceremonies. "Not with meats" is a word added here to insist that mere temporal instances of selfdenial must be no object in a believer's life. They are good indeed if practiced hon­estly for the Lord's sake, with no thought of spiritual merit in them; but refraining from certain meats will make a soul no better or no worse. "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats, but the Lord shall destroy both it and them" (1 Corinthians 6:13). A believer ought to be able to give up his rights easily, whether eating of meat or anything else, without attaching any sanctimonious virtue to it, or considering it a legal imposition. Let grace reign in it, and it is very simple and honorable, as well as profitable. But those who occupy themselves with those things rather than with the grace of God, do not find profit for their own souls.

"We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." The Person of the Lord Jesus is the altar that sanctifies the gift, that is, which gives value to His work of sacrifice. The believer partakes of this altar, as the offerer was privileged in Israel to eat of the peace offerings. But one who serves the tabernacle, that is, clings to Judaism (which was but a temporary order of things), by that very fact ignores the glory of the Person of Christ and the efficacy of His sacrifice.

What right then could he possibly have in the fellowship of Christianity? There was the clearest line of demarca­tion between the two.

"For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come." Here another comparison with Judaism serves to strongly illustrate the great contrast between this and Christianity. On the great day of atonement, once each year, the high priest must take the blood of the sin offering into the holy place, sprinkling it before and on the mercy-seat (Leviticus 16:11-19). But the body of the sin-offering, wheth­er bull or goat, was to be taken outside the camp and burned (Leviticus 16:27). None of this was to be eaten at all, but outside the camp all was to ascend in smoke, as it were, to God.

How strikingly beautiful is such a type as this. The blessed Lord of Glory, in order to fulfill the type perfectly, was rejected by His own earthly people, led outside the city of Jerusalem. and crucified. That which was solidly established as Cod's testimony on earth, having received the oracles of God, having the promise of the Great King, for Whom they professed to look with fervent anticipa­tion, has yet been guilty of completely refusing this holy, gracious Messiah, who came with every possible proof of His glory, in fulfilment of the Scriptures they revered. Totally rejected by Israel, He "suffered without the gate."

Is this not a clearest indication of the fact that both the world in general, and mere formal religion in particular, will allow no place for the blessed Son of God?

But in so suffering outside the gate, He sanctifies the people with His own blood. Indeed, His blood speaks inside the holiest of all, in such manner as to eternally satisfy and glorify God, and this is sanctification to God. Yet sanctification to God must also involve sanctification from the world,-a setting apart in a very real and holy manner. He Himself was forced apart from all that was considered dignified and honorable on earth, and His people must expect to share with Him the same rejection, if they would follow Him. Yet such a path will be actually sweet to the soul, in just such proportion as we appreci­ate and enter into the sorrows of our Lord as the One "despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." May we deeply meditate upon Him and upon the holy reality of His sufferings, both from man's hand of hatred and contempt, and from God's hand of perfect justice on account of our sins. How truly this will temper the trials of our own path, and give us actual joy in "bearing all things."

What then does it require but simple, decided energy of faith to heed the exhortation, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach"? For a Jew to leave the camp of Judaism was no light matter: he could expect the same reproach that Israel meted out to his Master. But it is well to insist that our going forth is to be "unto Him." There is no real comfort, no shelter, no strength at all for a path of reproach such as this, unless these are found in the very real presence of the Lord. His blessed Person is the only sufficiency for this, and thank God a perfect sufficiency. Do we love Him? Do we trust Him? Then let us gladly bear His reproach. If it pains us, let us rather think of His greater pain. If it incurs men's contempt or mockery, let us think of His patiently bearing that which was far worse.

The camp of Judaism was what had been previously established by God, but had degenerated into a mere formal religion, leaving no room for the gracious author­ity of the Lord Jesus. How similar to Exodus 33:1-23, where, on account of the sin of the golden calf, Moses pitched the tabernacle afar off from the camp, and everyone who sought the Lord went out to Moses. It was a case clearly demonstrated, of the Lord's authority being refused: then the believer must go to where the Lord's authority actu­ally is.

The same principle must apply at all times. If, for instance, Christian testimony should degenerate to such a state as to be comparable to formal Judaism, where religious ritual is observed, but the Name and authority of the Lord Jesus ignored, then it has become the mere "camp," degraded to an earthly basis, marked by worldly principles. The believer is called to go forth unto Him, from all such hollow profession. He may be reproached for it, he may be made to feel the loneliness of such a path, but if it is truly "unto Him," the recompense is infinitely sweet. His own presence will more than com­pensate for every present loss.

For, after all, our time on earth is exceedingly brief at the most: "here we have no continuing city," no place of settled fellowship, for all here is both greatly impaired, and rapidly passing away. "But we seek one to come." What a prospect of unspeakable joy!-a fellowship of perfect purity and blessedness, where the Person and authority of the Lord Jesus is the very basis of its holy unity and sweetness for eternity. In view of so marvelous an end, how small indeed in comparison is whatever re­proach and suffering we may bear in the present time, for Christ's sake. We shall welcome this in just such measure as our minds are set on things above.

"By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name. But to do good and communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." A proper stand for the truth of the Word of God will not tend to make us critical or bitter toward others, nor haughty and self-satisfied, but to rather fill our hearts with the lowly spirit of praise to God continually. This is said also to be a sacrifice, for is it not the willing giving up of confidence in the flesh, the refusal of personal honor in order that true honor and glory be given to the eternal God? If such praise and thanksgiving is our delight "continually," there will of course be no place whatever for complaint or cold criticism. But another sacrifice is closely linked with this, that is the active energy of goodness toward others, the willing sharing of our earthly goods with those who are in need. Blessed to have the assurance in this that "God is well pleased." Is it not the most blessed occupation on earth to please Him?

This will of course also be conducive to orderly conduct. "Obey your leaders, and be submissive; for they watch for your souls as those that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not groaning, for this would be unprofitable for you." These of course are living leaders, in contrast to verse 7; but the verse supposes a normal Christian character of godly concern for souls. If leaders depart from the faith, they must not be fol­lowed, but if seeking to walk with God and to watch for souls, it is a serious responsibility to obey them. A truly worshipping heart will find no difficulty in honest submission in matters of order and government. For let us remember that leaders must give account to the God whom they are responsible to serve. It would seem that this refers, not to the future judgment seat of Christ, but to a present accounting before God of the state and wel­fare of the assembly,-which may be with "anguish of heart," in which exercise before God the apostle wrote to Corinth, (2 Corinthians 2:4); or with profound joy, as in the case of the Thessalonians: "For what thanks can we ren­der to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before God" (1 Thessalonians 3:9). But though a leader may have to give account with groaning, let us mark that this is not said to be unprofitable for the leader, but "for you." It is the insubject heart that suf­fers loss, while godly leaders may be deeply pained for the sake of that precious soul, and pour out their hearts in humiliation and prayer before God. Indeed, this very exercise will prove spiritually profitable for the leader, but the disobedient child of God will lose.

"Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner." 'The lowliness of the apostle is a lovely example for us. He solicits the prayers of which he feels the need, but it is no request to be lightly made: the request ought to be backed up by an honest willingness to live rightly before God. To ask prayer while desiring a self-willed, self-pleasing course, is an effort to enlist God's help in wrongdoing. As to verse 19, it does not appear that he means release from prison, for it seems he was not in prison at the time; but evidently he had a longing to return to Judea, and sought their prayers to this end. Compare vs. 23.

"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ: to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." How full and appropriate this lovely closing prayer! For troubled Hebrews there was a God of peace, Who had laid the firm basis of peace in raising from among the dead Him whose heart was that of a faithful Shepherd, - great indeed also in the power of resurrection life. And this resurrection was consistent with the preciousness of His death: the value of the blood of the eternal covenant was such that resurrection was the righteous result. Again, let us mark, here is eternal virtue in contrast to all that was temporal in Judaism: the covenant is eternal because the value of the blood is eternal; and the blessed Shepherd lives in the power of an endless life. Wonderful fulness. and perfection of blessing for His sheep! With such a provision. how can our hearts fail to respond with real desire to be made perfect or mature in every good work to do His will? Yet again, the working of this must be on the part of God. Our resources are all in Him, through Jesus Christ; and practical results in our lives must be the result of submission to the working of His hand. Then we shall seek no credit for ourselves, but heartily ascribe to Him "glory for ever and ever."

"And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words." It is a tender appeal to his own nation, or at least to those in the nation who professed Christianity. Certainly any reasonable and thoughtful mind cannot but be amazed at the few words with which so great and wonderful a subject is expounded. The inspiration of God is the only answer.

"Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty: with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you." The apostle counts upon their affection for Timothy, and thankfulness for his liberty. Is there not a designed anal­ogy here? For the object of the entire epistle is surely to set at complete liberty from Judaism these Hebrew believers. And Timothy's name (means "honoring God") bears its bright witness to the fruits of true Christian liberty.

"Salute all your leaders, and all the saints. They from Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen." For the third time in the chapter leaders are spoken of, and as worthy of respect. For though the epistle sets aside mere officialism and ritualism, yet it would carefully guard against any ignoring of proper godly authority in the hands of those whom God has given to care for the sheep. But all the saints are to be shown kindly respect. And the saints of Italy too witness their unity with the Hebrew saints. Blessed the workings of the matchless grace of God! May it be with us all.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Hebrews 13:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/hebrews-13.html. 1897-1910.

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