Love One Another As Brothers
Key Verse: 13:8
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
We have no come to the closing of this great Book of Hebrews which we have been studying for a whole year. It was a truly remarkable journey of learning new truth, a journey of self reflection, of warnings and encouragements. Most of all, it has been a journey to know who Jesus our High Priest is and to embrace what he has done for us. We have come to see that Jesus is superior to everything and everyone in heaven and on earth— superior to angels— to Moses— to the priesthood— to the temple sacrifices and much more. Our Great High Priest is exalted above all to the right hand of God. He is the mediator of a new covenant and has made us better promises. The apostle urged these Hebrew Christians to keep the faith and to live the faith in Christ. He urged them and us to overcome any temptation we have to looking back, but rather to press on forward in our race towards the end of the journey. Now as he closes his letter to them, he clearly wants that we all imitate Jesus— the same Jesus who never changes— who’s the same yesterday, today and forever. Let’s see what kind of last advice he gives us all.
We’ve read this chapter. We know that there seems to be many different exhortations. Yet what they have in common is that they all lead to imitating the Lord Jesus. What does it mean to imitate Jesus? It certainly means much more than just following his example. It’s more like a union with him as the source of my life— as the source of our lives, following him day after day to learn how to be shepherds like him. Why is that necessary? Because it makes you as a person different from others— a person just like him, and a blessing on others. Here’s the difference between Jesus and others, and why God wants us to imitate Jesus. All people are selfish; they want to make some progress in their lives; they want to accomplish something— make a name for themselves so that others may envy them and praise them; they want success and happiness and ease and comfort in the short life that they live. They also want to live longer so that they might enjoy life a little more. But because of inherent selfishness, they do these things even if it means using or sacrificing others for their own benefit and advantage; even if it means losing loved ones— even their own children to achieve their own ends. In no way are they a blessing; rather they are a curse on each other. But Jesus is different! Jesus sacrificed his life to show us the way of salvation and blessing and goodness. And he calls us to imitate him and be good shepherds like him in this cold and selfish world. Those who only receive his blood for salvation and continue living a selfish life are like vampire Christians who suck the Lord’s blood for their own benefit and then do nothing to imitate him. That’s why we need to imitate Jesus so that we might serve his purpose in our lives. Let’s see how we might imitate him then.
Please read verses 1-6. Here the apostle gives them some practical teachings about love, marriage and money. How a person deals with these will actually determine their happiness— whether they will be happy or not. And this is definitely true for Christians as well. For this reason, the apostle tells us what we need to know about them. The first thing he talks about is love. He wants them and us to keep on loving one another as brothers (1). Love was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. And when Christians love each other— really love each other— then people on the outside cannot but see Jesus and the love of God through them. We have to ask ourselves a question. If we reach out to others and invite them into our fellowship, what kind of fellowship or community are we bringing them into? If we bring them into a fellowship of ordinary people, they have no reason to stay. Christians are far from ordinary people. They are a people of love, resting in the love of God, and above all, loving one another as well. That’s what shows that we are Christians. Loving one another is crucial to our calling as evangelists, shepherds, Bible teachers and missionaries in this world. Actually it’s Jesus’ command to love one another so that his gospel may reach others. And we can love them best when we listen to them and to try to understand their problems. After that, we should do our best to help them prayerfully with the word of God. Don’t think that you are sacrificing too much— it’s the way of love. Love is sacrifice. It is completely opposite to the way of selfishness.
Love should also go beyond our own Christian fellowship and community. It should go as far as to embrace total strangers (2). In that first century when the apostle wrote this letter, Christians were already being persecuted and abused. And many of them were made homeless. They wandered here and there like strangers not having a place to lay their head. They depended on the kindness of other Christians. It didn’t matter whether the other Christians had homes or not, money or not, a place in society or not. What mattered is that they suffered and needed love and care. They were strangers to one another. But in reality they were no strangers at all but actually brothers and sisters in the Lord. Showing them hospitality with love and servantship was often the difference between life and death. Showing hospitality to strangers is always a good sign of Christian love, the love that is in Christ himself. And we don’t only show hospitality to those we know are Christians, but to all people who need the compassion of Christ. This was on the apostle’s mind when he thought about us learning and growing to imitate Jesus our Lord. Jesus loved us and showed us hospitality even when we were his enemies. How much more should we love those in need and extend to them Christian hospitality. And there are many of these. Look at verse 3. In any generation God’s people suffer for no other reason than they confess the name of Christ. Some suffer imprisonment while others are mistreated. Perhaps this hasn’t happened to us in the USA yet, but we know that it is happening all over the world. What can we do. We have a responsibility to love them practically by praying for them and doing what we can to alleviate their suffering.
Look at what verse 4 says: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Why mention marriage and the marriage bed in his final exhortations? Because marriage is sacred to God, and the marriage bed is sacred to us. God is the one who created man and woman, and joined them in holy marriage. And he did it for a purpose. Marriage was to be God’s instrument to propagate God’s grace and blessing and godliness to the whole world. That’s how sacred, important and precious marriage is. First of all, human beings are not allowed to redefine marriage and the meaning of marriage at all. Second, marriage belongs to God and so do men’s relationships with women. Especially if a man marries a woman in Christ and by faith in God, then that holy union is blessed of God and belong to him. When men and women of the world redefine marriage and change its purpose and meaning for their own corrupt purposes, they defile the marriage bed and it’s an abomination before God. When Christians do this, they invite God’s judgment. Today many Christians are caught up in all kinds of sexual sins, following the ways of the world, ignoring the truth of God— and all this in order to satisfy their own sexual appetites. We should have nothing to do with that. Rather we must honor marriage and keep the marriage bed pure. It is God’s will. It’s also the way of blessing.
Verse 5a reads: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have….” This doesn’t mean that you ought to reduce yourself to poverty. But it’s surely a warning to guard your hearts against the love of money. It’s the wisdom of God to guard your heart against greed. But as the Bible tells us: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1Timothy 6:10). Greed is our enemy. It drains our spirits of what is more important in our lives than money and riches. Greed is never satisfied. It always wants more. Even if it has more than it needs, it wants more and more. Usually when people love money, it’s a spiritual problem, and not a material problem. They do not trust God to take care of their needs. They do not trust God with their future security. So the apostle tells us: Don’t worry! God promises you: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (5b). And if you believe this, you can wholeheartedly confess that “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (6) Our life and security are absolutely in God’s hands, and not in other. We need to trust him, and give our hearts to serving his purpose in our lives rather than build a secure financial future that can easily crumble at a moment’s notice.
Now, the second part of this chapter, verses 7-25, is mostly an exhortation to imitate Christ as the leaders of the church have done so before us. The apostle guides these Hebrew Christians in what church community life is all about. The first thing he tells them is to imitate the faith of their leaders. Look at verse 7: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” How precious is this advice! The leaders he is talking about have already departed to be with the Lord. They were in no way perfect. But here’s what they did with their lives They preached the word of God faithfully and obeyed the word of God in their own lives. In that way, their faith became an example to everyone to follow. If one does, then he or she can grow spiritually. We cannot count the many who have gone before us and have lived lives worthy of the faith— whose lives are worthy of imitation. Abraham, David, Paul, Ruth, Mary, Martha, Hudson, Livingstone and so many more. In our UBF community we do not have many who passed on yet, but certainly there are many whose lives of faith are worthy to be emulated. We have for example M Rene and M Remy who have lived a life of faith from first to last. They have gone through more hardship than one can tell. But they never blamed anyone, nor complain to God about their situation. Certainly their faith is to be imitated. On the younger side, we have our own elders and their wives who have endured all things in the joy of the Lord, opening their homes and serving the church without fail. Their faith is also to be imitated. There is no better life of faith to imitate than those who have left behind everything in order to serve the flock of God with his words of life. As Peter tells us all: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers— not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3-4)
But there’s a clear point in imitating the faith of our leaders. And the point is certainly to follow Jesus as they did and to imitate him as they do. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and also the one in whom we put our faith. Read verse 8. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” All church leaders, regardless of who they are, serve God for a while and then pass away. Most of them should reflect the character of Christ. But none of them is perfect nor can reflect Christ perfectly. But Jesus is perfect. And he lives forever. And that same Jesus who worked in our leaders to bless them and to nurture their lives is the same Jesus who works in us today to nurture our lives. He is not just an example for us to emulate. He is also the living source of everything that we need. Usually leaders are extremely limited in time, in energy, and in resources. Their faith is worthy of imitation. But none of them can embrace everyone and do everything. Jesus, on the other hand, is not limited. He is eternal. His love is unconditional. His resources are limitless. We should imitate him, as we live in him and as he lives in us. Most of all, we must remember that in this changing world, only Jesus remains the same for us.
Look at verse 9. The apostle warns us to watch out for all kinds of strange teachings which corrupt our faith in Jesus. He specifically warns against legalistic dietary restrictions rooted in the law. There were those who taught that what you eat or don’t eat can be the difference between you being sanctified or not. But of course, what you eat or don’t eat has absolutely no spiritual value. The one thing that can truly strengthen or sanctify us is God’s amazing grace to us in Christ Jesus, whether we trust Jesus’ cleansing blood and forgiveness or not. Many of these false teachers took great pride in their ceremonial eating habits. But in reality, it doesn’t make a difference to a person’s inner person and holiness. The apostle here reminds us that Christians have a great privilege that goes way beyond rituals and ceremonies that one tries to keep. And what’s that great privilege? What else can it be except the privilege of coming to the altar— which is the cross of the Lord Jesus (10). Look at verse 11. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering. But the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. What does all that mean? Look at verses 12. Jesus himself suffered outside the city gate and our sins were laid on him. That’s how he made all those who trust him holy through his blood shed on the cross. So the only way to be purified is to have communion with him. That’s a great privilege, much greater than that of the High Priest of the Jews who entered into God’s presence bearing the blood of animals.
But the apostle doesn’t stop there. He calls us to come to Christ. Read verse 13. “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” What does it mean to go to him outside the camp bearing the disgrace he himself bore? For the Hebrew Christians, it meant to separate themselves completely from the old Jewish ways and to hold on to Jesus, even if it meant the discomfort of being shamed and branded as heretics. But it was the right thing to do, because Jesus suffered outside the city in a great humiliating way in order to save them, and they ought to bear the shame of identifying with him. As for us, it meant to separate ourselves from our old lives completely and never look back. It meant to separate ourselves from this world and it’s ways and customs, even if we are shamefully labeled old fashioned and as misfits of society. Suffering with Jesus outside the camp, bearing his disgrace should be our brand of honor and glory. Suffering as a Christian is not an accident, nor is it unfortunate. It’s an honor because Jesus’ cross is the altar which brought us so lovingly to God to worship and praise him. (15-16) It blesses us in the long run. As verse 14 says: “For here we dot have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” In other worlds, this world is not our home. We have a home in heaven and that day is coming soon.
Look at verse 17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Or as the New NIV uses for the word obey: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.” Earlier he wanted us to remember our leaders who have passed on and imitate their faith. Now he talks about the current church leaders and tells us to have confidence in them and to obey them. Why does he say this? Because leaders are usually in the forefront, exposed to everyone. And what we usually see is their weakness and shortcomings, and hen we are quick to criticize them. But it’s important to remember that it was God who called them into their leadership positions. Criticism and dissent doesn’t benefit anyone, and rather displeases God. It hinders many things, closing our hearts to God’s word and to sound advice and promotes superficial prayers. But if we see leaders from God’s point of view, and have confidence in them because we have confidence in God, we can submit to their authority and mature through that into godly leaders ourselves. The apostle asks them very sincerely in verse 18: “Pray for us”, he says. He was sure that he had a clear conscience and desired to live honorable before God.
Read the apostle’s benediction in verses 20-21: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” He refers to God as the God of peace because that is what Jesus came to do, to make peace between God and us and between ourselves as well. That’s why Jesus died a horrible death and shed his precious blood. It was for peace. Peace with God and peace with each other. And peace means forgiveness, so as God has forgiven us our sins in Christ Jesus, so also we have a holy duty to forgive each other in order to maintain the peace. He also mentions Jesus as “that great Shepherd of the sheep.” He is our shepherd because he led us in the way of forgiveness, holiness and salvation. He is our shepherd also because he would have us follow in his footsteps and be good shepherds of God’s flock. So let’s do that in honor of Jesus and his calling in our lives. He concludes with these words: “Grace be with you all.”
Through Hebrews study we have learned that Jesus is our Great High Priest. He opened a new and living way to God through his perfect sacrifice once for all. He is seated at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. He wants us to come to him boldly and with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess, fix our eyes on Jesus and imitate Jesus, love one another especially as devote ourselves to live as the shepherds of his beloved sheep.