Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 13

“Let Brotherly Love Continue”

A CASUAL READING of this final chapter of the Book of Hebrews might give one the impression that its subject matter is made up of various unrelated admonitions and warnings, with some doctrinal truths interspersed. However, the first sixteen verses are closely related in thought, presenting the manner in which one of the typical services of the Tabernacle represents practical Christian living—how we present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, and our reasonable service.—Rom. 12:1


VERSE 1  “Let brotherly love continue.”

The Apostle Paul’s masterful treatise on Christian love contained in I Corinthians 13 shows that without love all Christian endeavor would be in vain. In view of the subject matter presented in the next fifteen verses, we might properly consider this opening verse as Paul’s ‘text’ for the chapter.

VERSE 2  “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Hospitality is one of the evidences of brotherly love. Those who are in a position to share their homes and food with others when an opportunity and need arises, but do not do so, would manifest a lack of this particular grace of love. Abraham is the one referred to as having entertained ‘angels unawares.’ This was the occasion when three angels, appearing as men, called on Abraham and made the final announcement that his wife Sarah was to bear a son. It was on this occasion also that Abraham was informed concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.—Gen. 18

VERSE 3  “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”

In this verse Paul reminds us how love is manifested by our interest in those who are ‘in bonds’ and those who ‘suffer adversity.’ In the days of the Early Church it was not an uncommon thing for the brethren to be imprisoned, to be in bonds. Paul is urging a close attachment to these. Remember them, he says, with the same degree of concern as though you too were bound.

We are also to remember those in ‘adversity.’ We are all members of one ‘body,’ the ‘body of Christ.’ In a physical body, when one part suffers they all suffer, and so it should be in the body of Christ. So it always is when ‘brotherly love’ continues.

VERSE 4  “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”

At first glance this verse may seem out of place in the subject matter being presented. However, due to the prevailing conditions of his day, it might well be a reminder by Paul that the love which he was discussing was not the sort that finds expression in sensuality.

VERSE 5  “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.”

When brotherly love fills the heart there is no room for covetousness. In the Greek text the word translated ‘conversation’ includes one’s whole manner of life, not merely his words. If we are ‘content with such things’ as we have, our manner of life will not be motivated by selfish desires to acquire that which may belong to another. Christians are the ‘richest’ of any people in the world, for regardless of how much or how little of this world’s goods we may possess, we have God’s promise, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ With God as our caretaker, what more do we need?

VERSE 6  “That we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

Fear is one of the contributing causes of covetousness—fear lest we may not have resources to meet needs which may arise, and fear that we may not be properly prepared to meet the competition of life. Love casts out fear, and besides, since the Lord is our helper, and has promised never to leave nor forsake us, we will not need to fear. Our enemies may be permitted by God to injure us temporarily, but he is able to overrule all such experiences for our eternal good, and to his glory.

VERSES 7,8  “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

I Timothy 5:17 states, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour.” The Greek word translated ‘rule’ in this letter to Timothy means to ‘stand before,’ that is, to take the lead, through teaching and example. The Greek word for rule in the text in Hebrews seems somewhat stronger. The marginal translation uses the word “guides.” The Lord has appointed the members in the body of Christ as it pleaseth him, and brotherly love will manifest itself by a humble recognition of the Lord’s arrangements, and a desire to cooperate therewith.

There must be an evidence of the Lord’s choice in those whom we thus ‘remember.’ They must speak the ‘word of God,’ and not their own theories. Their faith in what they teach must be demonstrated. The end for which they live and strive must ever be ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.’ True followers of Christ, qualified to be our guides, will be like him in all ways, including his unchangeableness. True Christian guides will not vacillate—they will not be influenced by any and every flight of fancy of the imagination of fallen men.

VERSE 9  “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.”

The trend in Christian churches is away from being ‘established.’ One of the contributing reasons for this is probably a recognition on the part of leaders in all denominations that their creeds cannot be proved by the Bible anyway, so why be bigots by attempting to support them? The opposite swing of the pendulum takes them to the position that it makes little difference what one believes.

Those who have forsaken the creeds and returned to the pure Truth of the Bible rejoice to stand fast in the faith. They will not permit themselves to be carried about by ‘divers and strange doctrines.’ Their hearts have been established by ‘grace,’ that is, by the favor of God in opening the eyes of their understanding to see the mysteries of the kingdom Gospel.

‘Not with meats.’ The question of ‘meats’ and ‘drinks’ as ordinances of the old Law Covenant was a controversial one in the Early Church. Writing to the Galatian brethren regarding the same general controversy, Paul said, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” (Gal. 1:6) In those early days of the church, the expression ‘grace’ was often used in contrast to the supposed necessity of observing some or all of the ordinances of the Law in order to obtain salvation through Christ; and as Paul explained, it was ‘a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats.’

VERSE 10  “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.”

An altar was always intended for sacrifice, not as a table from which to eat. The priests were permitted to eat, and were supposed to eat, certain portions of some of the sacrifices they offered, but apparently they did not eat from the altar in the sense of using it as a feasting board, or table. There are other pictures in the Bible which suggest that we feed upon Jesus—‘eat his flesh’ and ‘drink his blood.’ (John 6:53,54) This is a beautiful and meaningful illustration, but seemingly Paul does not have this in mind in this reference to the ‘altar.’ He is not saying that we have the privilege of eating from an altar of which the typical servants of God were not permitted to eat. What he does mean is that it is an altar of sacrifice.

VERSES 11-13  “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.”

It is always important to note the words ‘for’ and ‘therefore’ in our study of the Bible. It is especially so in this case. First, Paul identifies the ‘altar’ and service of the Tabernacle which foreshadowed our privilege of sacrifice, emphasizing that it was the one in which the typical priests were forbidden to eat. For, instead of eating them, as was done in connection with some sacrifices, ‘the bodies of those beasts … are burned without the camp [Lev. 16:27] … Let us go … unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.’

Just as they ‘which served the tabernacle’ were not permitted to eat the sin-offering animals, so our part in this arrangement is not to receive restitution blessings, but to become cosacrificers with Jesus, sharing with him in the great sin offering feature of the Divine plan. Instead of remaining by the altar to eat, we are to go … unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach—that is, to be ‘burned’ with him.

The typical service to which Paul is referring in this lesson was the one performed annually on Israel’s Day of Atonement—the tenth day of the seventh month. In that service there were two animals sacrificed as sin offerings—a bullock and a goat. The bullock was first slain. Its fat was burned on the brazen altar in the court of the Tabernacle; its blood was taken into the Most Holy of the Tabernacle and sprinkled on the mercy seat; and its carcass was taken outside the camp and burned. The goat for the sin offering was treated in the same manner.

Since the Apostle Paul clearly shows that we, as followers of Jesus, have the privilege of sharing his reproach, suffering with him ‘without the camp,’ and since he also explains that the altar on which we offer our sacrifice is typed by the one from which the priests had no right to eat, it seems clear that the two animals used in the typical Day of Atonement service represented the sacrificial work of Christ and the church. The bullock, being sacrificed first, would represent Jesus’ perfect sacrifice; while the goat, would represent the church. The fact that both animals were handled in the same manner would illustrate our being “planted together in the likeness of his death.” (Rom. 6:5) This viewpoint gives vital meaning to Paul’s invitation, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, … present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1) Our ‘bodies’ would not be acceptable for sacrifice except through the merit of the blood of Christ.

VERSE 14  “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”

Again the little word ‘for’ continues the sequence of thought. If we should accept the benefits of Christ’s sacrificial work merely for ourselves, it would mean that ours would be a hope of restoration to life on the earth—restitution. In that case we would have here on earth a continuing ‘city,’ or a permanent home. Instead of this we give our bodies to be burned, as Jesus did. This, in addition to symbolizing the reproaches of Christ in which we share, suggests also the giving up of our human life. While we know that going to Jesus ‘without the camp’ means that the earth cannot be our permanent home, we seek a city to come. Jesus promised to prepare a place where his disciples might be together with him. Thus, ‘if we die with him, we shall live with him’—at the right hand of the throne of God.

VERSE 15  “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.”

In the typical Atonement Day service, before the priest sprinkled the blood of the bullock upon the mercy seat, he took a censer full of live coals from the fire which was burning on the brazen altar in the court—where the fat of both the bullock and the goat was burned. Then, “his hands full of sweet incense beaten small” he went into the first Holy of the Tabernacle, sprinkled the incense upon the coals of fire, thus causing a rich perfume to fill the Tabernacle, penetrating into the Most Holy. The coals of fire were placed on the golden altar, which was in the Holy.—Lev. 16:12,13

Since Paul shows so clearly our privilege of participating in the antitypical Atonement Day sacrifices insofar as the burning outside the camp is concerned, it seems reasonable that when he speaks of offering the ‘sacrifice of praise,’ he is drawing a lesson from this incense feature of the Atonement Day service. This represented God’s viewpoint of the sacrifice. It was sweet perfume to him. So in the antitype, while our bodies are being burned without the camp, where by the world we are considered to be the “filth” and “offscouring” of the earth, our hearts are going out to God in praise for all that he has done for us, and for our privilege of being workers together with him.—I Cor. 4:13

It is more than merely a thankful feeling in our hearts. This sacrifice of praise, Paul says, is ‘the fruit of our lips.’ Lips are a symbol of speech, or utterance. It is a beautiful way of illustrating our ambassadorship, that we are ‘witnesses of Jesus,’ the ‘light of the world,’ commissioned to preach the Gospel to all nations. Peter puts it plainly, saying that we “should show forth the praises” of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. (I Pet. 2:9) This is the fruit of our lips, our sacrifice of praise, and we may be sure that it is sweet incense to God.

VERSE 16  “But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

This is a practical summary of the thoughts Paul associates with the admonition in the first verse—“Let brotherly love continue.” This means having a solicitous interest in the ‘body’ members, going to Jesus without the camp, and offering the sacrifices of praise. Therefore, we should ‘do good,’ and forget not to ‘communicate,’ that is, to give—our time, talent, strength, money, our all—that others might be blessed. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10) ‘With such sacrifices God is well pleased,’ says Paul. We may think of animals being burned, or of incense burning on a golden altar, and it is wonderful to understand these symbols and types. Such knowledge alone is valueless unless it is translated into practice by doing good and communicating, through the use of our all in Divine service. This is the exercise of brotherly love. May we all let brotherly love continue!

VERSE 17  “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

The ones who have the ‘rule’ over us are the elected elders of the ecclesias. But this rule is not to be in the nature of lording it over God’s heritage. The Greek text gives the better thought of their being ‘guides,’ or ‘leaders.’ We are to follow the leadership of our elders in so far as they follow Christ. Even the Apostle Paul did not ask more than this.

Spiritual guides, or leaders, are worthy of this position in the church only if they meet the qualifications mentioned in this admonition; that is, if they sincerely ‘watch’ for the ‘souls’ of the brethren. A true elder will have the interests of the brethren at heart, and will watch over them to prevent false teachers from preying upon them. He will be humble in his service, and willing to sacrifice his own comforts and conveniences in order that the best interests of his brethren may be served. Should we fail to follow the leadership of such, we would be sure to lose many rich blessings which the Lord has provided for us.

VERSES 18,19  “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.”

In Acts 23:1 Paul speaks of having lived in “good conscience.” The particular blessing which he sought through the prayers of the brethren was that he might be restored to them. This might indicate that Paul was imprisoned at the time he wrote the epistle.

VERSES 20,21  “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 wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

What a wonderful benediction with which to close a letter! It would not be possible to commend the Lord’s people to a better source of care and blessing than ‘the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus.’ Paul desired that the Lord would make the Hebrew brethren ‘perfect in every good work.’ The Greek word here translated ‘perfect’ is defined by “Strong’s Bible Concordance” as “to complete thoroughly, that is repair (literally or figuratively) or adjust.” It is used by Paul in Galatians 6:1, and translated ‘restore.’ The text reads, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.” It is also used in Matthew 4:21 and Mark 1:19 to describe the repairing or ‘mending of nets.’

The spiritual lives of the Hebrew brethren needed ‘repairing’ in order to be complete. They had started out well, but failing to give proper heed to the things they had heard, they had let them slip; so much so that they needed to be taught again the first principles of the oracles of God. Paul had urged them to call to remembrance the ‘former days’ when they were first enlightened, and when they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods. He reminded them that while they had suffered for the Truth they had not yet ‘resisted unto blood.’ Nevertheless, Paul realized that even after he had done his best to revive the faith and zeal of these brethren, his effort would be ineffective unless the Lord blessed it; so this was his wish for them, his benediction, that the Lord would restore them to every good work.

VERSE 22  “I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.”

Much of the information of the Book of Hebrews on Old Testament types, and on the covenants of God, was written as an ‘exhortation’ in an effort to stimulate greater faithfulness to the Lord and the Truth on the part of the Hebrew brethren. Paul was concerned lest they fail properly to ‘suffer the word of exhortation,’ that is, that they might not appreciate his motive, hence fail to profit as they should from the things which he had written. He hoped that he had not overdone the matter, and reminds them that after all his letter contained only a ‘few words.’ Surely there was much more he could have written.

VERSE 23  “Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.”

This reference to Timothy, indicating that he was a fellow worker with the writer helps to confirm Paul’s authorship of the epistle.

VERSE 24  “Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.”

There was a wonderful bond of Christian fellowship and unity among the brethren in apostolic days. It meant much for the brethren in Judea to receive a message of greeting from those in Europe. This same common interest and love is experienced among the true followers of the Lord even today.

VERSE 25  “Grace be with you all. Amen.”

After all is said and done, if we have the grace, or favor, of the Lord in our lives, nothing else can really matter; for “if God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) God’s grace takes care of every situation; cheers us in every trial, and keeps us humble in every joy. It covers our imperfections, and gives us strength to overcome. And when we reach the end of the way and hear that welcome, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant,’ we will know that it was only because God’s grace sustained us all the way that we were able to finish our course victoriously, and to the glory of God.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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