Hebrews 13:7-9… Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you; considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be bolstered by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.
Verses 7-9 speak of two more signs indicative of a genuine Christian. First, they remember their leaders. The term “leader” is a general one used for religious, military, and political heads. These leaders are not called elders, but the reference has religious leaders in mind, for they had spoken God’s word to them in the past. In this context “word of God” would be the entire corpus of the Christian message. The fact that this “word” is God’s word sets it in contrast to man’s word. God’s word isn’t an invention by man but rather the divine revelation of God Himself to man. Leaders worth remembering are those people who preach and teach Christ.
While remembering their Christian leaders, the audience was to “consider” the outcome of their lives. Consider means “to reflect or think upon.” Some think the author is referring to the death of these particular leaders, for that was the “result” of their lives. The result of some of their lives was indeed martyrdom, so the meaning was: “Remember your former leaders, the way they lived and died for their faith.” But it could also be referring to leaders who spoke God’s word who were currently living at that time a faithful Christian life – one to be mimicked.
A true and faithful leader of God’s people lives in such a way that people can follow and imitate them. The word for “imitate” means “to follow as an example; to use as a model.” It’s another imperative verb form in Greek, and it’s the same one Paul used in 2 Thess. 3:7, 9 to remind his audience to imitate him! Now that’s a faithful leader, one who follows Christ so closely that he can tell others to imitate his walk with the Lord. And that’s exactly what all Christians should expect from those who led them to Jesus Christ for salvation.
In v. 8 the author still has those former leaders in mind, but his focus turns again to Christ. Human leaders come and go, but they can change and shift opinions. Christ, however, is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” This phrase was one of encouragement because it reminded the audience that Jesus was immutable, and they need not fear that he was going to change from who he was into something different in the future. Past or present means little to the eternal Lord and Savior, for He is outside of time and space. “Forever” means “into the ages,” and it takes eternity as far as it will go. There is nothing that lies ahead that can or will change Jesus Christ who has existed for eternity and will exist into eternity. This certainty is one of hope and is meant to encourage God’s people. Their conduct would benefit from such knowledge.
Second, since Christ never changes, genuine Christians are not to be ensnared by “varied and strange teachings.” There have always been false teachings which are foreign to the gospel of grace. The author likely had Judaism in mind with all of its dietary regulations for cleanliness. This would have been one of the more difficult freedoms for Jewish converts to adjust to while being pestered by orthodox Jews. But those dietary laws were “strange” in that they could not make one holy, for the heart of man is strengthened by grace, not by foods.
Food for Thought
We live in a day where people claim to receive new revelation from God, and where cults run rampant. There are strange teachings everywhere! But if you first heard the gospel of truth from the Bible, then remember that person or persons who spoke it to you. Jesus never changes, nor do his teachings. So go and share the timeless gospel truth accurately with someone.
Hebrews 13:10-14… We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
Recall that on the Day of Atonement (DA) the Jewish high priest would offer a sin offering (a bull and a goat) of blood on the people’s behalf as part of the atonement ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, he would assign someone to take the dead animals outside the camp to burn their hides completely without being eaten. So the blood of those animals was brought into the holy place to atone for sins, but their bodies were burned outside the camp.
Now when the writer says, “We have an altar” he is referring to he and his fellow Jews who had an altar in the tabernacle and Temple – the altar where blood sacrifices were made. Normally, the priests would eat the meat from the offerings as their portion of the sacrifice due them, except on the Day of Atonement when the sin offering was taken outside the camp and burned completely (Lev. 16:27). The analogy the author is making for his converted Jewish audience is this: just as the Jewish priest could not take part in the sins of the people by partaking of their sin offering, so those Christians in the Hebrews audience should not take part in the worldly and sinful system where they lived. They, like the priests, should remain outside the camp of pagan society and remain separate from its immoral practices and its pagan ideas.
Jesus himself suffered crucifixion outside the city gate of Jerusalem on Mount Calvary. He did this “that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffer[ing] outside the gate.” Once again the writer parallels the DA sacrifice with Jesus Christ. Whereas the bull and goat on the DA suffered outside the city gate in order to atone for sins, Jesus Christ also suffered outside the city gate as the perfect sacrifice. In so doing, Jesus “sanctified” the people – he made them holy for eternity. The DA sacrifice outside the gate merely atoned for one year.
The idea of the author was to paint a picture of believers in Christ who follow Jesus and keep themselves from sin and worldliness. For just as Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem, so too are Christians to be spiritually separate from the pagan world system where they live. Jesus suffered reproach outside the city gate for simply being the Messiah and revealing God’s fulfilled promises in him as the Messiah. Likewise, Christians are to go to Christ, who is outside the pagan world system, and suffer the same reproach as he did for teaching the same truths.
Verse 14 seems to challenge all Christians who would remain inside the city gate, as it were, which is going to perish (12:26-29). True believers are to seek that which is unshakable and future, not that which currently exists (cf. 11:1-3). Christ’s example of bearing reproach outside the city gate, despising the shame of the cross for the joy set before him (12:2) in order to sanctify sinners who believe, is to be the model for all Christians to follow continually.
Food for Thought
There is no room in the New Covenant for material sacrifices, animal blood, sacred meals, abstaining from certain foods on certain days, and hallowed altars. None of these bring about salvation, nor do they impress God or draw us near to Him. We draw near to God by identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ who is outside of the worldly system we live in. We must leave our safe place and willingly suffer reproach for being Christians in our Christ-hating world.
Hebrews 13:15-16... Through Christ then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the single greatest moment in the history of the world. It marked the spot where all of history came together and where the salvation of mankind was accomplished. So it is only natural that through Christ, and through him alone, the sacrifice of praise should be offered up to God the Father. Only in the name of Jesus Christ can praise be offered to God, and that praise is to be offered “continually.” In Judaism the sacrifice of praise was brought to the priest who offered worship on behalf of the one who brought it. But in Christ, who is our only Mediator, praise is offered up continually. That praise comes in two ways.
The first way that praise is given to God through Christ is through “the fruit of the lips that give thanks to His name.” The Psalms reflect this kind of praise throughout. Consider Psalm 7:17: “ I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness And will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” And Psalm 8:1: “ O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” And Psalm 150:1-6 says, “Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” In Hebrew “praise the Lord” is Hallelujah!
Romans 12:1 exhorts Christians to offer their bodies as living sacrifices as a spiritual service of worship to God. And James 1:27 says that pure and undefiled religion is to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being stained by the world. That kind of worship is not reserved for set times; it is a lifestyle of worship. As a matter of fact, God’s will for His true children is for them to offer praise in every circumstance (1 Thess. 5:18).
In addition to offering the praise that comes from the lips, worship comes from not neglecting to do good and sharing. God is pleased with such! This kind of praise would include love for brethren and helping the needy (13:1-3), to also include sharing one’s wealth, giving food and clothing away, and even mowing a neighbor’s yard. All Christians must heed John’s warning: “Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). Works of charity, stemming from a heart desiring to please God, are truly works of praise, and He is pleased with them. New Covenant praise comes from ones mouth and life.
Isaiah 58:6-7 instructs God’s people as to what He has always desired: “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” Genuine Christians do this from a heart overflowing with joy.
Food for Thought
The Christian sacrifice of praise is continual and not contingent upon sunny days. It’s an offering made in any and every circumstance (1 Thess. 5:18). It’s not hypocritical, and it isn’t done so that God will bless, per se. It all starts with recognizing Christ as the Savior and Lord of all, and it results in a life of praise acceptable to God. Yes, it’s easy to find things to complain about, but when we fix our gaze upon Christ, it’s far easier to praise – praise that pleases Him.
Hebrews 13:17-19… Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. 18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. 19 And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.
What an incredible responsibility church leaders (elders) have, for they are to be mimicked (13:7) and obeyed (13:17). Therefore, they must teach the word of God and have a faith in Christ worth imitating. “Obey” in v. 17 means “to listen to,” so faithful Christian leadership must teach accurately. So if believers are commanded to listen, their leaders must teach something worth listening to. Church members must also “submit” to their leaders. “Submit” is “to accept or be subject to someone’s authority.” Now this comes right after the writer’s warning to steer clear of varied and strange teachings (13:9), so he is not advocating a blind obedience to leaders. They must simply follow those who teach the truth and love Christ.
The elders of the church “keep watch” over the souls of those they lead, and they “will give an account” before God for their leadership. “Keep watch” is literally “keep oneself awake.” With the imagery of a shepherd over his sheep, church elders literally stay awake at night praying for and thinking about the sheep God has put in under their leadership. These spiritual shepherds are watching over the souls of God’s people! This is a reference to the spiritual well-being of the flock as opposed to physical and/or surface needs they have from time to time.
These leaders, having been given the responsibility of leading God’s flock, will actually give an account before God for their leadership. Because of this, v. 17 exhorts church members to allow their leaders to give an account before God with joy and not with grief. It may well be that this is an eschatological reference to the last day when pastors stand before God to give an account of their leadership. They ought joyfully go before the Lord at that time and not with grief over a church that refused to submit. Of course the command is also for the present time where church members put aside their own ideas and submit to their leaders so as to allow them to serve their God-given positions with joy and not with grief. To bring grief to their lives “would be unprofitable for you” or “to no advantage.” In other words, there is no advantage gained for those who would oppose Godly leadership for the sake of pride or self-centeredness.
In v. 18 the author requests prayer for himself and his unnamed companion(s). Yes, the writer has rebuked his readers throughout his epistle, but he still relies on the faithful to pray continually for him. Some unknown accusation had apparently been thrown at the writer, for he asks for their prayers believing himself to be guilt-free; he had a clear conscience. Whatever it was he knew he was innocent and could ask for their prayers. He had a strong desire to obey all that he taught them and was determined to live in the way he indicated. The writer had some considerable obstacle in his way that prevented him from coming to his readers as v. 19 reveals. This was why he strongly urged their prayers for him, for that obstacle was outside his control.
Food for Thought
Church leaders have the task of teaching God’s word and exhibiting behavior becoming of a genuine Christian to the point where they can be mimicked. Church members have the task of submitting to and obeying those leaders without making their lives miserable. We must decide to trust our pastors if they are worthy of our submission. Then, no matter how powerful or rich we are in our own world, we must submit to them as those who watch over our spiritual lives.
The Application of Christian Doctrine
1. Be solid in your faith (7-9)
a. Remember your spiritual leaders
i. They speak God’s Word
ii. Consider the result of their conduct
iii. Imitate their faith
b. Christ never changes
c. Avoid foreign teachings to the Gospel
2. Be separate from the world
a. Going outside brings reproach
b. No union w/Christ inside the worldly system
i. Moses as an example (Heb. 11:26)
ii. No fellowship w/unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14-15)
iii. Nothing in common w/worldly system (2 Tim. 2:4)
iv. True separation is costly (2 Tim. 3:12)
v. All who sought the Lord went outside the camp to Him (Ex. 33:7)
3. Bring sacrifices to the Lord
a. Fruit of your lips (praise)
b. Labor of your hands (obedience)
i. Love your brother (1 John 4:20; Heb. 13:1)
ii. Help orphans/widows; unstained by world (Jas. 1:27)
iii. Use your life (Rom. 12:1)
iv. Give your money (2 Cor. 9)
4. Be submissive to your pastors
a. Make sure their doctrine is sound (v. 8)
b. Pray for them
i. They’ve earned it
ii. They require it