Hebrews 13:1-8


The first ten chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews are a grand exposition of the person and work of Jesus Christ, with emphasis on His work as our Great High Priest. It is one of the most beautiful passages in Christology in the New Testament.

Toward the end of this section, 10:19-25, the writer appeals to his readers to approach the throne of grace boldly and to cling tenaciously to their confession of faith. He tells them to love one another and to join each other frequently in worship because the day of judgement is approaching.

Chapter eleven is devoted to faith. It is the grandest single chapter on this topic in the Scriptures.

In chapter twelve the writer reminds Christians that the love of God and Christian chastisement come to us as one package. We can endure that which the Lord lays on us because our motivation is what He has done for us and, furthermore, we are in the fellowship of redeemed saints and angels, as well as Christians on earth.

Toward the end of chapter twelve the writer again reminds us of the passing away of creation as we know it. But there is no need to fear because we have an unshakable kingdom. That brings us to the pericope appointed for this Sunday.

Note that our text is divided into five sections:

Verses 1-3 concerning personal relationships;

Verse 4 concerning marriage;

Verses 5-6 concerning our attitude toward personal possessions;

Verse 7 a reminder to remember our leaders who have gone before us;

Verse 8 concerning Him Who is basic to everything, Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 13:1 Keep on loving each other as brothers.

John 10:35 has been called the shortest verse in the Bible, three words in the original Greek. This verse is no longer, also three words in Greek. But it is a very important thought.

Bruce: In the biblical area the classic passage is Psalm 133:1 "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!'

But the very fact that the writer says "let it remain," sows that it can easily be lost. Christians are very much aware of their own sinful flesh, their old Adam, Romans 7. Satan attacks them often and when they least expect it. He is a master at causing division among Christians. St. Paul says that love never fails, 1 Corinthians 13:8, and will always remain, 1 Corinthians 13:13. But our text here implies that it must be carefully nurtured. It is so easy to neglect Christian affection.

Guthrie: Brotherly love expresses that special mutual regard for one another irrespective of race which is particularly characteristic of Christians.
Lenski: It is the new commandment give us by Jesus in John 13:34 and repeated again and again, 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 2:10; 3:11,23; 4:7, 11, 12, 21.
Bruce: The grace of brotherly love itself, whatever terms be used, is inculcated throughout the New Testament.

Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

"Keep" in verse 1, "forget" in verse 2, "remember" in verse 3. Christians need constant reminders. They need Law and Gospel constantly. The preacher should never take anything for granted.

"Entertain strangers" literally means "love of strangers." The world is not inclined to love a stranger. In fact in many cases it is not inclined to love the one who is well known.

Lenski: Public hotels and lodging places were unknown at this time.
Guthrie: In the environment of the early church it was essential, since alternative facilities for travellers were such that Christians would not choose to make use of them. Wayfarer's hostels, where they existed, were notorious for immorality.
Kretzmann: The hospitality of the early Christians was commented upon favorably even by heathen writers.
Bruce: In the New Testament hospitality is incumbent on all Christians, and Christian leaders in particular must be 'given to hospitality, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8.

Christians should open their homes to each other. This was a common practice in the early days of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Pastors, with their whole families, would often stop at each other's houses and even spend the night or two with each other. In those days people would often spend Sunday afternoons visiting each other. Modern living has curtailed much of earlier hospitality.

The second part of verse 2 explains the first part. That is the purpose of the word "for."

Lenski: In Genesis 18:3 Abraham, and in Genesis 19:2, Lot actually entertained angels unawares.
Bruce: The incidents of Gideon, Judges 6:11ff, and Monoah, Judges 13:3ff, and Tobit, Tobit 3:17ff; 5:4ff, at a later date, may also have been in our author's mind.

There are two important points in this verse: kindness to strangers and the blessing which God may have in store for us.

Lenski: It is sufficient to say that, as some were unexpectedly blessed by receiving strangers, so we, too, may be thus blessed. Matthew 25:38, 40.
Bengel: An unknown guest is often more worthy than he appears, and has angels as attendants, although they are unseen. Matthew 25:40, 45.

Love for strangers is not limited to welcoming people into our houses. Love for strangers can be exercised just about any place.

Hebrews 13:3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Two classes of people are mentioned, the prisoners and those who are mistreated. What do they have in common? Those who are down and out, the helpless, the defenseless. A man's real attitude toward others comes out when he is confronted with situations like this. Jesus says in Matthew 25:36: "I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me."

Guthrie: Prisoners are out of sight and apt to be forgotten, hence the exhortation to remember.
Kretzmann: The believers should feel a prayerful sympathy for all those that were languishing in prison for the sake of the Gospel.

"Remember" in your prayers and charities.

Westcott: Public intercession for 'prisoners' has formed part of the Church service from the earliest times down to our own Litany.
Lenski: 'As having been made fellow prisoners' is not to be understood in a physical but in a spiritual sense: feeling their imprisonment as if it were your own. 1 Corinthians 12:26 'Whether one member suffer, all members suffer with it.'

A paraphrase of the second part of the verse might be: "Share the sorrows of those being mistreated, for you know what they are going through."

Though this verse stresses attitudes toward fellow Christians, it is not limited to Christians.

Guthrie: The words 'since you also are in the body' are added to remind the readers that they too could be exposed to the same treatment. The words draw attention to the physical limitations to which all are subject.
Lenski: 'As being yourselves also in the body' refers to our susceptibility to the same sufferings.
Bengel: One man experiences much misfortune throughout his life, as Jacob; another in youth, as Joseph; another in manhood, as Job; another finally, in old age: and this admonition is especially adapted for such an event.

Verses 1-3 are a beautiful passage on sympathetic affection.

Hebrews 13:4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

There are two views of the meaning of this verse. Some translations consider it a definition of marriage. Other versions understand it of the correct attitude toward marriage. On the one hand, we are being told that marriage is precious and that there is nothing wrong with what goes on between husband and wife in their intimacies but that God will judge those who violate the sanctity of the marriage bond. On the other hand, this verse tells us how to regard marriage and not forget that God will judge and punish violators.

Both Gentiles and Jews in the early New Testament times were quite lax in their sexual morals. We are living in times similar to those of the first century. Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8.

Kretzmann: Whether a person has already entered the state of holy wedlock or is still unwed, marriage should be held in honor, sacred as an institution of the Lord. There must be no violation of its sanctity either by the unmarried or by married.
Bengel: All should value marriage highly, so that if a man does not marry himself, he should not prevent other from doing so, 1 Timothy 4:3.
Westcott: In all respects means in all circumstances, so as to be guarded not only from graver violations but from everything which lowers its dignity.

The defilements that dishonor marriage are fornication, which dishonors marriage in advance, and adultery, which dishonors marriage after it has been entered into.

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

In verses 1-3 the writer spoke to us about the proper attitude toward other people. In verse 4 he spoke about the proper attitude toward marriage. In verse 5 he speaks about the proper attitude toward material goods. It is dangerous to put our trust in earthly goods. God Himself must have our confidence and trust. All else fails. He will never fail us.

In Luke 16:14 we learn that love for money is attended by self-righteousness. We can't have the proper character or the right attitude toward money unless we trust the Lord as we ought.

God categorically denies that He will ever forsake us.

Guthrie: The words appear to come from a mixture of sources, Joshua 1:5; Deuteronomy 31:6, 8.
Kretzmann: This contentment has a firm foundation in the promise of God that HE will under no circumstances leave His own to want, nor will He in any manner forsake them, Deuteronomy 31:6,8; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Genesis 28:15; Joshua 1:5; Isaiah 41:17.
Bengel: What was said to Jacob, to Joshua, the people, and to Solomon, applies also to us . . . He will neither withdraw his assistance nor his presence.
Lenski: Contentment with whatever little God has given or left us is the cure for all money-love, all worry about money and the like . . . He have what is far better than all earthly wealth.

Here one can apply 1 Timothy 6:9-12 and Philippians 4:11. And the words of Jesus found at Matthew 6:25-34 are very applicable here. This one verse, Hebrews 13:5, contains more than enough material for one sermon.

Hebrews 13:6 So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"

In verse 5 we have a sentence spoken by God. In this verse we have the Christian's response. These two verses are antiphonal. The quotation is from Psalm 118, a Thanksgiving Psalm.

Guthrie: A famous Jewish thanksgiving psalm which was regularly used at festivals.
Westcott: Psalm 118 formed an important part of the Jewish Festival services, and is quoted several times in the New Testament.

Psalm 118 was one of Luther's favorite chapters of Scripture.

The Lord is constantly speaking the Gospel in verse 5b. And the Christian should constantly be responding with the confession of verse 6. Here is the best antidote to avarice, covetousness, the love of money, materialism. Verses 5 and 6 make a beautiful text for a number of occasions, even for a stewardship sermon.

Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

Verse 8 can be taken separately or in conjunction with verse 7. Hebrews 12:1-2 implies that we should emulate the faith of the Old Testament saints. Here in 13:7 we are told to imitate the faith of the leaders who have gone before.

"Leaders" used previously meant "spiritual leaders." In verse 7 it denotes those who have died whereas in verses 17 and 24 it speaks of those who are still living. Note that in all three cases the writer speaks of your leaders.

Lenski: His description brings out the two facts that they spoke 'the Word of God' and that they had 'the faith.'

Lenski thinks that the leaders were put to death because of their faith, and that the leaders in this verse were Peter and Paul.

Guthrie: There is value in remembering the human agencies through whom God speaks even if the revelation itself is infinitely more important. . . . Evidently not only their words, but their behavior was worthy of attention.

This would be a fine text on the occasion of the death of a faithful pastor or professor.

Kretzmann: These men had sealed their teaching with their lives; they had remained steadfast in their belief in the Gospel to the end, and had thus exhibited a faith worthy of imitation.
Westcott: The spirit and not the form of their lives is proposed for imitation; the faith by which they were supported and not the special actions which the faith inspired in their circumstances.
Lenski: Take 2 Timothy 4:6-8 as a commentary and an illustration . . . We thus take 'your leading ones' to be Paul and Peter, both of whom were martyrs when this epistle was written. Peter suffered martyrdom in 64, Paul probably late in 66 or very early in 67.

Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

This verse reads literally: "Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, the same and forever." The stress in this verse lies on the word "the same." In stanza 3 of the hymn "Abide With Me' we read:

Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

Everything that we deal with in this world is constantly, though imperceptibly, changing. Times, people, circumstances and conditions constantly change. And we soon learn that people are fickle. They change quickly. But not so with Jesus Christ.

Bengel: Jesus Christ, a solemn title: the sum of the Gospel, which is to be maintained by faith . . . Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday -- before He came into the world, before His passion, before His ascension -- and today, in heaven.
Luther: Yesterday is the time before His incarnation, today is the time of His revelation in the flesh. Thus it is now and in eternity the same Christ, through whom, and through whom alone, all believers in the past, in the present, and in the future are delivered from the Law, justified, and saved.
Guthrie: The connection of thought may well be that since Christ is the same, the faith is equally the same. . . . A profound truth, which is in fact basic to the argument throughout the epistle. Only a changeless high priest could be spiritually acceptable. 'And forever' includes the other two concepts 'yesterday and today' . . . It does not imply that God has no interest in time . . . Jesus Christ need never be replaced.
Westcott: The thought of the triumph of faith leads to the thought of Him in whom faith triumphs. He is unchangeable, and therefore the victory of the believers is at all times assured.

Christ and His Word continue. The immutability of Jesus is a great comfort. Note how the changeless Christ and correct doctrine stand side by side. Look at 1 Corinthians 2:2, 2:13, and John 7:16.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 74-78. Used with permission.

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