The closing chapter of this book admonishes the readers to live out their faith in specific ways. They apply to us also.
The writer says to “let brotherly love continue”. (13:1) The body of Christ is to be marked by love for each other. We have seen this in many texts. We are to love our brothers and sisters who follow Christ with us. Even though we are different sizes, shapes, colors, nationalities and vary in looks, intelligence and abilities, we are to love each other. Jesus said to love each other as he loves us. In fact, we are to love to such a degree that people will know we are his disciples when they see it. (John 13:34-35) In the life of a congregation, love matters more than anything else.
How do we love our brothers and sisters? Paul gives us a pretty good list in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. We love our brothers and sisters by being patient, kind, not envying or boasting, not being arrogant, not being rude, not insisting on its own way, not being irritable, not rejoicing at wrong doing, rejoicing with truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things.
This writer tells us we also express love in hospitality and empathy for the persecuted.
Verse 2 says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. In Old Testament times, If a Jewish family traveled and had to stop for the night, another family was to take them in. They might come to the center of town and wait until someone passed by. That person would bring them home, feed them and let them sleep in their house even though they did not know them. There is an example of this in Judges 17, where a Levite is taken in by a man named Micah. By the time this book was written, inns were expensive and often centers of immoral activity.
We show this kind of hospitality sometimes by taking in a youth group or a visiting choir. We once put up several Brazilian women from a seminary choir. None spoke a word of English. But we ate together and sang hymns together and had a great time.
The reference to entertaining angels is to Abraham and Lot. Abraham fed 3 strangers who appeared at his tent. It turned out it was the Lord and 2 angels on the way to Sodom. Because Abraham offered his hospitality, he was able to intercede for Lot and his family. (Genesis 18) Lot took in two men who came to the gate of Sodom and protected them from a crowd. These men were likely the same 2 angels seen by Abraham. These angels delivered Lot from the destruction of Sodom. (Genesis 19)
You do not, however, have to limit your hospitality to traveling Christians. Right in your church and even in your Bible study class are people you do not know, or know well. Invite them over for Sunday lunch or week day dinner. Be hospitable. Get to know them and build the bond of love in your church.
Empathy with the Persecuted
Verse 3 tells us to remember those in prison and those being mistreated as if we were suffering along with them. You may not live where Christians are persecuted. But many Christians suffer around the world. One of the current examples that is practically unmentioned is the killing of Christians in Syria by the opponents of the government. We should remember them, pray for them and support them as we can there and everywhere else Christians are persecuted.
Marriage is to be held in honor. Our culture in American certainly denigrates marriage. Television shows and movies are usually based on bad marriages. Divorce is rampant. There are now more single people in America than married people. Many married people do not honor their marriages. They neglect or mistreat their spouses. They have sex with other people. They view pornography. In the midst of this decadence, Christians need to work even harder to honor marriage and honor Christ with our marriages.
The marriage bed is to be undefiled. The only sex God approves of and promotes is among spouses in a marriage. Verse 4 tells us God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous. No sex outside of marriage is in God’s will.
Verse 5 tells us to free ourselves from the love of money. This is difficult in an affluent society. There are so many wonderful things to buy. There is always an updated version of the thing you already own. It is tempting to buy more than we need. But this verse tells us to be content with what we have.
Some people do not buy a lot of things, but love their money and hoard it. It gives them great pleasure to have it. But this verse tells us to keep our lives free from the love of money.
Why is this important? It is because we are to trust in God and be satisfied with him, not with money or possessions. Tis verse reminds us that God has said he will never leave us nor forsake us. We trust him to give us what we need and we are satisfied with it, because we are satisfied with Christ and know he is sufficient for us.
Have role models
Verse 7 tells us to remember our leaders and teachers and imitate their faith. Certainly, we see leaders fall. But we have many Godly leaders to imitate today and from the past. I am fond of the Puritans for this reason. They sought to bring every aspect of life under the rule of Scripture and the worship of God.
Stick to the truth
Verse 8 reminds us that Jesus never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. God does not change and his truth does not change. Theologians call this the doctrine of immutability. So, beware of new secrets and never before discovered truths. Do not be led away from the truth of the Bible. For example, scores of Bible study groups in Germany were led astray when taken over by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Had they stuck with the truth, they would not have fallen into apostasy.
Colossians 2:8 says “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ.” Any teaching that leads you away from Christ and into something else, is an empty deceit and will harm you.
Hebrews 13:9 goes on to give an example. The writer says it is good for your heart to be strengthened by grace and not by foods. This might be a reference to the Jewish tradition of eating some foods and not others, as commanded in the Old Testament. Some Jews tried to force the rules upon the Gentiles. But the writer says foods are not going to make or break your spiritual life. Instead, live by grace and find your heart strengthened and encouraged. Again, the writer points us to Christ as our satisfaction.
In fact, verse 10 tells us we have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. The Old Testament Levitical priests served the tent. The “tent” means the Tabernacle. The priests sacrificed animals on the altar and were allowed to eat some of the meat from the sacrifices. New Testament believers, however, live through the sacrifice of Christ. The cross is our only altar. The Old Testament priest has no right to participate in that as long as he is living only for the law.
To live by grace is not a license to sin. It is to live for God and with God: loving him, believing him and trusting him.