Lesson Number 25
THE GRAND SUMMATION
"Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them; those who are mistreated; since you yourselves are in the body also. Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we may boldly say: 'The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?' Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words. Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly. Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Grace be with you all. Amen." (Hebrews 13:1- 25, NKJV).
The book of Hebrews provides a spiritual perspective a persuasion that is essential to living by faith. This perspective has been founded upon two great pillars of truth: (1) The Person of Jesus Christ, and (2) The superiority of the New Covenant. These two mainstreams of revelation are woven throughout the book. In their light, every affirmation can be perceived. As the glory of Christ and the New Covenant illuminate the exhortations of this book, they make perfect sense to us. Remove these pillars of truth (Christ and the Covenant), and the structure of Scripture falls to the ground.
Godliness makes no sense without these foundations (the better High Priest and the better Covenant). The promises become void of power if we have not seen them within the light of the Son of God and the new and living way. As a mere manual of conduct, or a road map to heaven, the Bible exerts no moral power over those subjected to it. The landscape of religion is cluttered with the spiritual carcases of people who approached the Word of God as though it were only a book of rules, a historical document, or an empty creedal statement. Such approaches have produced legalism and institutionalism, impotent twins.
Because God is a "Living God" (Matt 16:16; 2 Cor 3:3; 1 Tim 3:15), our approach to and fellowship with Him must be living. Vitality, response, and progress must characterize them. Spiritually dead people cannot meet together with God! A lifeless religion cannot be the means of enjoying Divine fellowship! We cannot employ a dead means to reach a Living God. These are spiritual principles that CANNOT be effectively contradicted. The tragedy of the situation is that such attempts are regularly made in the nominal church. This book expounds the reality of a Living Savior (Heb 7:8,25), and a covenant that is a "new and living way" (Heb 10:20). They are the means to "the Living God" (3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22).
Apart from fellowship with God's Son (1 Cor 1:9) and identity with the New Covenant (Heb 9:8-12), all religious activities are "dead works" (Heb 6:1; 9:14). Such works are NOT acceptable to the Living God and an Intercessor that "ever lives." It makes not difference how consistently they are performed or how fervently they are pursued. Our fellowship with the Father is through the Son or not at all! When the rain of God's grace falls upon us, a good crop is expected, or that very grace is received in vain. If men do not "go on to perfection," growing in their involvement with God, they will fall back into sin and condemnation (6:1-8). This book has alerted us to this reality. The possibility and existence of spiritual slothfulness and indolence required that these words be written.
Now we come to the conclusion the grand summation of the Divine message. The Spirit will associate human conduct with the message. He will show the relevancy and necessity of embodying the life of God in every aspect of life. At no point can men live in disregard of Jesus Christ and the "better covenant" provided for them. Spiritual life is applicable at every level of our existence. Every expression, every attitude, and every initiative can be impregnated with the life of God. We are now urged to thorough participation in the "great salvation" provided for us by God, in Christ Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit. We must be immersed in the will of God. No other posture is acceptable!
IMPLICATIONS FOR LIVING IN THE WORLD
The word "implications" is not intended to be a weak word. By it, I mean the "essence," or "gist" of the message for saints in the world. This is the practical heart of the message--how it is translated into life. As far as what we are to DO is concerned, the following things are the crux of the matter. They are the embodiments of application. I summon you to behold the absence of details. These are broad kingdom generalities, to be developed by faith, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. They are more than mere suggestions, and, strictly speaking, are not commandments.
These are exhortations--a Divine summons to avail ourselves of the grace provided in Christ Jesus and the New Covenant He is mediating. To put it another way, the grace of God and the power of the Spirit find expression in these activities. These are the sanctified outlets for Divine power!
"Let brotherly love continue" (Verse 1). Brotherly love is a deep affection for the people of God. It is a appreciation and preference for those who are "in Christ Jesus" (2 Cor 5:17). As the old song "Take Time To Be Holy" says, "make friends of God's children." These are the people God prefers. They are the people He hears, blesses, and directs. Jesus Christ is interceding for them, and the angels of God are ministering to them (11:16; 7:25; 1:13-14).
Notice, the Spirit does not say "START loving the brethren," but "LET brotherly love continue." The wording of this verse sounds peculiar in English. The phrase "Let brother love" is translated from H filadelfia (ha fil-ad-el-fee'ah). The first word ("Let") is a definite article, sometimes translated the, this, or that. In this context, however, it means in order that, so that, or with the result that. The idea is this: In view of the foregoing affirmations, this is what will occur if we embrace what has been said, and the One who has said it. The Spirit has declared where we have come (12:22-24). We have been admonished not to resist the One speaking from heaven (12:25). The end of the natural order has been asserted (12:26-27), and the availability of grace to serve God acceptable (12:28). We have also been apprized that "God is a consuming fire," and will not allow for conduct incompatible with His own holiness (12:29).
If our hearts are tender to these things, the grace of God will erupt in the love of Christ's brethren (2:10-11). Nevertheless, we must allow it to happen by not refusing the One speaking from heaven! Our advantage is that the new birth is attended by a preference for the Lord's people, and a desire to bless them. It is written, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1). As surely as it is not possible to be born again without loving God, so it is unthinkable that we could love God without loving others begotten of Him. This is another view of the "unity of the Spirit," which conjoins the redeemed together. It is something we are given, and which is to be kept "in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1).
This admonition is necessary because of our current situation. We are in a cursed realm (1 John 2:17), inhabiting a body that "is dead because of sin" (Rom 8:10), and hounded by a fierce adversary (1 Pet 5:8). We are NOT in a moral vacuum or a spiritual void. Satan, as the "accuser of the brethren" (Rev 12:10) seeks to disrupt the spiritual coalition created in Christ Jesus. He makes every attempt to cause us to have contempt for the people of God. One of his master strategies is found in sectarianism, sometimes called denominationalism. In this spiritual monster the devil has created a means whereby "brotherly love" can be discontinued. He shrinks the circumference of brotherhood, thereby excluding vast numbers of God's children--even causing hatred of the same. Hurling the "fiery darts" or "flaming arrows" of "imaginations," "high things" (pretensions) and "thought" (2 Cor 10:5), he seeks to disrupt "brotherly love." He aggressively promotes selfish interests over Kingdom advantage, and worldly recognition over concourse in heavenly places. He is tireless and consistent in these efforts, as every sensitive soul can attest.
And what is the response of faith to these conditions? How will those who hears the One speaking from heaven react to this Satanic initiative? What will the Holy Spirit enable people to do? How will the intercession of Jesus become effective in the people of God? What will the New Covenant enable us to do? "LET BROTHERLY LOVE CONTINUE." The Word from heaven admonishes us to allow "brotherly love" to go on. To put it another way, we are not to permit anything to disrupt that love, that preference, that desire to "do good . . . especially to the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). The intercession of Jesus, ministry of angels, empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and effectiveness of the New Covenant enable this to be accomplished!
"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels" (Verse 2). Here is an admonition that sharply conflicts with the philosophy of a selfish age! This is hospitality, which all believers are to practice (Rom 12:13). No person lacking this quality is to be allowed a position of leadership among God's people (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:8). It is also to be practiced without "grudging" or "without grumbling" (1 Pet 4:9). Here is a Kingdom perspective that is exceedingly rare in our time--at least in the Western world. There are countless examples of hospitality in Scripture. A table is providing listing some of them.
ACCOUNTS OF HOSPITALITY
When it came to the support of widows by the church, several requirements were given. Pertinent to this discussion, some of them were "if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted" (1 Tim 5:10). It ought to be clear that God does not take the matter of hospitality lightly. Here is a ministry that has sustained prophets and refreshed Apostles. During an occasion of hospitality, Zaccheus experienced salvation coming to his house (Luke 19). A Gentile widow, because of her hospitable attitude toward a prophet of God, received her son back from the dead (1 Kgs 17:20-23). The door of faith was opened to the Gentiles while Simon the tanner was hospitable to Peter (Acts 10:8-23). An island of barbarous people experienced a wave of healing and a three-month visit of Gospel influence when they were hospitable (Acts 28:2-11). Do not doubt the effectiveness of hospitality.
Our text says, "Do not forget to entertain strangers" people you do not know, and are not members of your family or circle of friends. Do not allow the business of life and the demand of earthly responsibilities to push hospitality from your consideration. And why not? Because the Kingdom of God relies upon this expression to carry the work of God forward. Much of Paul's effectiveness was owing to the hospitality of the brethren (Acts 18:2,15; 28:2-11; Rom 16:2; 2 Tim 1:18). The current ministry of Jesus and the effectiveness of the New Covenant are realized in this activity.
To stimulate our involvement, the Spirit adds, "for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels." Both Abraham and Lot experienced such visitations (Gen 18:2-10; 19:1-3). Samson's parents, Menoa and his wife, also entertained an angel "unawares" (Judges 13:15-25). The modern church does not even think of the possibility of such things. Some would dare to scoff at the likelihood of such a visit but the Spirit has spoken! The redeemed, if they will allow it, can have transcendent involvements in the Kingdom of God. In such an apparently small thing as hospitality, the course of history has been affected. The ministry of Jesus and participation in the New Covenant are realized in this unselfish activity.
Remember Suffering Believers
"Remember the prisoners as if chained with them; those who are mistreated; since you yourselves are in the body also" (Verse 3). Just as the Lord Jesus did not think only of Himself, so the lives of those in Him do not center in themselves. We have been called into heavenly interactions! Some of our brothers and sisters are suffering extraordinary opposition. Some are incarcerated, restricted with chains, and experiencing incomprehensible maltreatment and cruelty. Throughout history, portions of the holy remnant have been asked to pass through uncommon suffering and trial. History is choked with the blood of God's people. Their abuse and persecution are some of the blotches upon the pages of human chronology.
It is true that God is with chained and battered saints, and that grace is being given to them. But that is not the end of the matter. As members of Christ's body, we have been called into participation in the government of the Kingdom. We have been constituted "kings and priests unto God" through the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 1:5-6). There is an interdependency in this Kingdom that requires our interaction. God sustains His people, among other things, through the prayers and intercessions of the saints (1 Tim 2:1). The unity of God's people is so intimate that we can, in a sense, participate with our brethren in their sufferings. Hear this remarkable word, "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them." The High Priesthood of Christ and the nature of the New Covenant provides for such involvements.
I have personally experienced a measure of this participation. In 1996, one of my daughters (Leah Ann Oney) was called to glory. She passed from this world with Lou Gherig's disease, in a state of physical debilitation. Her faith grew during this time, but not without difficulty. She experienced claustrophobia during this time, a dreadful feeling of confinement that is highly distracting. During the latter part of her illness, I was called to fellowship with my daughter in this trial. This phobia so gripped my soul that I thought I would die. For a short season, I did not understand what was happening. Then, by the grace of God, I realized I was experiencing the same feelings as my daughter. Although nearly unbearable to me, I only experienced a fraction of what she was enduring. I knew this was an occasion to pray for God to sustain and strengthen my daughter. I thus recalled, and prayed for, my daughter "as if chained with" her.
It is possible to live close enough to the Lord to be drawn into situations requiring an abundance of grace. We must not shrink back from such things. This is one of the appointed means whereby Christ's intercession and participation in the benefits of the New Covenant are realized.
Our recollection of, and interest in, this group of sufferers is within the framework of holy consideration: "since you yourselves are in the body also." This reference is not to the mystical body of Christ, the church, but to the vessel of clay we presently inhabit. This is another way of saying we are still in the world. Those in harsh tribulation and those in relatively peaceful climes are in a cursed realm--a cosmos of conflict. Although we may dwell in peaceful realms now, it may not always be so. If we remember our suffering brethren, we ourselves will be remembered if summoned into the arena of suffering. Our Savior and the Covenant He mediates are adapted for such participation.
The Honorableness Of Marriage
"Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Verse 4). It may appear strange for such a statement to be found in this context. Remember, the Holy Spirit is showing the practicality of the Reigning Savior and the New Covenant. Both have immediate relevance to us. At no point of time, nor in any occasion of life, are the Savior or the Covenant to be ignored. Both are suited for every aspect of life. To put it another way, there is no point in time or condition of life where we may step outside of a consciousness of the Lord Jesus and the provisions of the New Covenant. A particular point is now made of the involvements of man and woman.
The point of this statement is twofold. First, the blessing of God has been placed upon "marriage." Second, the judgment of God is pledged against all intimacy of men and women outside of the bond of marriage. To put it another way, the current ministry of Jesus and the provisions of the New Covenant become resources to those who are joined together. Also, neither King Jesus nor the benefits of the covenant are available to fornicators. The blessing of God is for those who live within Divine provisions. No blessing is available for those choosing to live outside the circumference of Divine will.
The word from which "marriage" is translated is gamoj (gam-os). It refers to the married state, chosen in preference to immorality. It is noble to believe and conform to the words of the Lord Jesus. "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matt 19:5-6). That is an honorable state, the wisdom of the world notwithstanding. Duly embraced, it will forbid fornication, adultery, sodomy, and divorce. By saying "God hath joined together," the honorableness of marriage is underscored. It is not honorable because of men, but because of God. Every other form of physiological intimacy is sinful, and will be judged by God. By saying "among all," God has allowed marriage in a universal sense. This is a general mercy permitted for all people.
Within the framework of marriage, the ministry of Jesus and the benefits of the Covenant may be realized. That is how gloriously practical salvation is! Of marriage Peter said, "You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Pet 3:7). Notice, the wife is a "fellow heir of the grace of life." Also, prayers can be hindered by inappropriate consideration of the wife. This is another way of saying the intercession of Jesus and the benefits of the Covenant can be appropriated within the framework of marriage. They cannot be obtained in a state of moral defilement.
A brief explanation of the phrase "weaker vessel" is in order. Often this is viewed as a derogatory expression, as though the wife were simplistic and inferior. However, this is not the case at all. If she is a "fellow heir" and her husbands attitude toward her can help or hinder prayer, she is certainly not inferior. The word "weaker" comes from asqenesterw| (as-then-ace-te-row). It is a general word, with a variety of uses. It is translated "sick" (Matt 25:39), "weak" ("the flesh is weak," Matt 26:41), "impotent" (Acts 4:9), "without strength" (Rom 5:6), and "feeble" ("those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary," 1 Cor 12:22). In this context it means delicate, sensitive, or vulnerable. On this verse, Adam Clarke makes an excellent observation. "Being more delicately, and consequently more slenderly, constructed. Roughness and strength go hand in hand; so likewise do beauty and frailty. The female has what the man wants-beauty and delicacy. The male has what the female wants-courage and strength. The one is as good in its place as the other: and by these things God has made an equality between the man and the woman, so that there is properly very little superiority oneither side."
In man and woman, we have a revelation of the nature of God. Together, they comprise the Divine image. As it is written, "This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created" (Gen 5:2). Together, therefore, they were called "Man." As personalities, they were "twain" or "two" (Matt 19:5). In essence, or substance, they were "one flesh," or "Man"(Gen 2:24; 5:2). Together, they provide an index to the Divine Nature: beautiful, yet courageous; strong, yet able to be effected by our condition and need. Let every man who thinks it proper to lord over his wife take due note of this aspect of the Kingdom. Just as Jesus does not lord it over the church, and shepherds are forbidden to lord it over the Lord's flock, so the husband is not permitted to conduct himself as a tyrant over his wife. Such comportment will hinder his prayers, remove the honorableness of marriage, and incur the judgment of God. Jesus will not support such manners, and the New Covenant has no provisions for such an inconsideration.
Little wonder, therefore, that God pronounces marriage "honorable among all." Therein is a revelation of His Person, made visible to the sons of men. Too, a glorious picture of the union between Christ and His church is seen (Eph 5:22-29). For this reason, the present ministry of Christ Jesus and the benefits of the Covenant can be realized within the framework of marriage.
"Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we may boldly say: 'The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'" (Verses 5-6). Salvation involves extrication from the environment of sin as well as from sin itself. It equips us to live in a cursed realm, but also prepares us for deliverance from it. Those who live by faith are being sustained by their High Priest. They are enjoying the benefits of a "better covenant, established upon better promises" (Heb 8:6). As such, they are being weaned from the world and its desires. Jesus is mediating the New Covenant from heaven, for which the covenant is preparing us. He summons us to hear the One speaking from heaven (Heb 12:25), to seek things that are in heaven (Col 3:1-3), and to lay up treasures there (Matt 6:19-20). Our manner of life, or citizenship, is "from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 3:20). Faith confirms to our heart that we "in heaven a better and an enduring substance" (Heb 10:34).
"Covetousness," in this case, is the desire for things disassociated from heaven. It is the strong desire for things belonging to the temporal order things that are seen, which last only "for a season." The word "covetousness" is a strong one, denoting preference and primary thrust. It dominates the heart that dares to welcome it. It drives the stakes of preference into the world, and lives as though permanency was beneath the heavens. Covetousness results from a lack of consideration of our condition in Christ Jesus. When we cannot comprehend the things provided for us in Christ Jesus, we will desire the passing fancies of this "present evil world" (Gal 1:4).
Note the strength of the statement. "Let your conduct be without covetousness." The Lord makes absolutely no allowance for the domination of earthly appetites--particularly greediness for money, which is the particular emphasis here. They must be subordinated. Those who choose to be ruled by them forfeit the ministry of Jesus and the benefits of the New Covenant. The reign of grace cannot be implemented in the heart ruled by worldly desires! Were this single truth to be heartily embraced by every professing believer, the walls of spiritual Babylon would crumble to the ground. Religious careers and superficiality would be exposed for what they are. False and fruitless religion thrives on covetousness!
What is the antidote for covetousness? What posture of life will loose the blessings of the Covenant for us, and ensure the effective ministry of Jesus in our behalf? It is "being content with what you have." This is contentment coupled with godliness. As it is written, "But godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim 6:6). This is a condition that is "learned" it is not an arbitrary gift. That is why Paul said, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil 4:11).
This learning comes from a due consideration of the affirmation of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. "I will never fail you nor forsake you" (Verse 5). How frequently the Lord has spoken in this refreshing manner. God told Isaac, "I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee . . . " (Gen 26:24). To Jacob, He said, "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you" (Gen 28:15), and "I will be with thee" (31:3). Moses said, "Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee," and "And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed" (Deut 31:6,8). The Lord promised Joshua, "as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (Josh 1:5). Samuel, knowing the nature of God, said, "For the LORD will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it hath pleased the LORD to make you his people" (1 Sam 12:22). David said to Solomon, "fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (1 Chron 28:20). David affirmed, "For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints" (Psa 37:28). The Lord speaks comfortably to the righteous: "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness" (Isa 41:10).
This is how God desires to be known. He is a God that will not forsake His own. He will uphold them, strengthen them, and guide them. All others may forsake the trusting ones, but God will not! This is a resounding emphasis in Scripture! However, it is never more precisely and thoroughly declared than in the Person of Jesus Christ and the nature of the New Covenant! Those who perceive and embrace the Christ, and who avail themselves of the "better promises" upon which the New Covenant is founded, will obtain power to abstain from covetousness.
Inordinate appetites are not compatible with life in Christ. They are inhibitive, and have the capacity to separate us eternally from God. Let us therefore "be content with such things" as we possess, knowing they have been given to us by our Father. He will never leave nor forsake us, and everything belongs to Him. We are in safe and caring hands! The Presence of the Lord gives us the advantage, not the possession of earthly things.
Those Over Us in the Lord
"Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Verses 7-8). Here is a word concerning spiritual leaders. This text has been used to justify political-type authority in the body of Christ. Such an application, however, is a flagrant abuse of this text. There is no provision in the Kingdom of God for lording it over the people of God. Jesus has spoken plainly on this subject. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt 20:25-28, NASB). Forever purge from your mind the notion that the church has earthly "bosses." It does not. There are those with "rule," but it is not after the carnal order.
Our text says to "REMEMBER those who rule over you." This is an act of recollection. Think upon them. Ponder them. Recall them. The exhortation assumes a spiritual maturity in "those who rule over you" that is stimulating and brings profit when remembered. This word (Mnhmoneu,ete, mnay-mon-yoo'-et-ee) is used throughout Scripture. It always denotes pondering, thinking upon the implications, and dwelling upon a thought. The idea of frequency and regularity is in the word; i.e., keep in mind, speak of, and make mention of. "Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand" (Matt 16:9). " . . . do ye not remember?" (Mark 8:18). "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32). "Remember the word that I said unto you" (John 15:20). "Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles . . . " (Eph 2:11). "Remember my bonds" (Col 4:18). "For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail" (1 Thess 2:9). "Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" (2 Thess 2:5). The use of this word postulates profitable results. It is as though the Spirit said, "You will find profit for your souls in recalling those who have the rule over you."
He further identifies who these rulers are. They are not duly elected officials, but those "who have spoken the word of God to you." These were primarily departed leaders, who had gone on to their reward, although the reference is not limited to them. Here the MEANS through which the rule is accomplished is identified. Their power was in their ministry, not their office!--"who have spoken the word of God to you." The remembered ones did not rule by personal authority over the individuals, but by the Word of God. The ability of these rulers to bring the Word of God to bear upon the conscience of men is what made them "rulers." They were spiritual leaders who walked close enough to God, and were exposed to God's Word to such a degree, they had "the mind of Christ" on the matters of which they spoke. In the Kingdom of God, no person is a ruler in any sense who is not so characterized. It is not possible to rule or lead the people of God in a state of aloofness from the Living God. This is in sharp conflict with the government of most churches with which I am familiar.
The word "ruler," as has been pointed out, does not refer to an authoritarian in the earthly sense of the word. The term, taken from hgoumenwn (hayg-eh'-om-ev-on) means leader. It is used to describe the "chief speaker" in Acts 14:12. "And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker." The "ruler" is the one who "leads out," entering into the New Covenant as a spiritual pioneer. He leads the people where they have not gone before, showing, through the Word of God, spiritual territory that can be occupied by the grace of God. This is not a person who decides what people can do, but who shows people the path that has been sanctified for them. A person incapable of doing this is not a ruler in the house of God, regardless of the authority supposedly delegated to him. The New Covenant does not provide for formal leaders lacking acquaintance with God and His Word. The structure of the body of Christ does not allow for people living at a distance from God to exercise any form of authority or leadership over the people of God. The "rulers" of reference are members of the body "among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). They "shepherd" by speaking the Word of God.
The Fundamental Activity
When it comes to leading the flock of God, the superior activity is speaking the Word of God. The adage "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any time" is an "old wives fable." Faith comes "by hearing," not by seeing (Rom 10:17). Spiritual life is sustained by "every word of God" (Luke 4:4). That is a matter of revelation that cannot be successfully contradicted by human folklore. When Jesus sent a message to "the seven churches which are in Asia" (Rev 1:4), He did not send it to the church board, or even the duly elected elders. Rather, He sent it to "the angel" of each church (Rev 2:1,8,12,18, 3:1,7,13). The word used here (aggelw|, ang'-el-o) means "messenger," or "one sent with a message." It is used of human messengers, sent by Jesus to prepare the way for Him, in Luke 9:52. It is also used of John the Baptist, the messenger sent to prepare the way for Messiah (Matt 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27). Paul commended the Galatians for receiving him as "an angel [or messenger] of God" (Gal 4:14).
C. Jerdan, from the latter part of the nineteenth century, said: "The main function of the ministry is to preach the Gospel, and to teach Christian truth. The Gospel is a definite 'word;' and it is enshrined in a Book which is called 'The Word.' The preacher's text-book is not the newspaper, or the current literature of the day, but 'the oracles of God.' The great design of the Christian pulpit is to promote the intellectual and experimental knowledge of the Bible. And no minister shall have lived in vain if it can be written over his grave, 'He made the people understand the Scriptures.'"
It is tragic beyond description that entertainment and "serving tables" has now taken the precedence over declaring the Word of the Lord. Such things ought not to be. We have the Apostles as examples of speaking the Word of God, and of the preeminence of this activity. When, at the first, they were confronted with difficulties in administration, they backed away from involvement in the same. Their response is poignant, and worthy of extended consideration. "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:2-4). Contrary to the suspected response of religious institutions today, that saying "pleased the whole multitude" Verse 5). They sensed the priority of speaking the Word of God. O, that such an attitude were more prevalent in our time!
But these men are not merely formal speakers. Their speaking comes from the wellspring of personal faith. We are admonished, "whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct." Because they have availed themselves of the ministry of Jesus and the benefits of the Covenant, they can be followed. The word "follow" means "imitate." Such men are examples for us, because of their spirituality and focus. "Consider," we are exhorted, the "end," or outcome of their faith. This refers to a consistent life of faith, persistence unto the end. Some of these "rulers" had no doubt been martyred for their faith, keeping it to the "end." Leaders who have passed on does seem to be the focus of this verse. But whether martyred or not, these "rulers" were noted for their spiritual consistency and constancy. They did not vacillate, but held on to the Lord "with purpose of heart" (Acts 11:23). In the hour of crisis, they consistently sided with the Lord. When a word was needed from the Lord, they knew how to give it. They personally triumphed over the devil in both life and doctrine. Such men, elected or not, are "rulers," or "leaders" in the body of Christ. They have been "placed" in the body by God (1 Cor 12:18), given to the church by Jesus (Eph 4:11), and made rulers by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). Remember them, and consider the outcome of their faith.
This activity is perfectly harmonious with New Covenant life. The intercession of Christ will bring grace and power to those following this exhortation. The benefits of the New Covenant will be realized in our reception of this word from God.
Verse eight may appear strange in this context. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Here is the essence of sound doctrine, the focus of the believer, and the emphasis of the those who have the rule over us. The Kingdom of God is Christocentric--Christ centered! Every Word of God is clarified in the Son of God. The fullest meaning of the Word is found in Him. When we are urged to remember those who have the rule over us, it is assumed their words have brought a Christ-centered focus to us. God uses teachers to point us in the right direction, and enable us to lay hold on eternal life.
The nature of focus demands that the object upon which we focus is constant. It cannot be a variable or fluctuating target. Such is the case with the Lord Jesus Christ. He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." He Himself is unchanged. His character remains the same. Like the Father, He is one in "whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). This verse has been used to emphasize that Christ's works remain the same today as they were "yesterday." While there is an element of truth to this, it is not altogether true, nor is it the meaning of this text. Jesus intercedes today, He will not do so "forever." Like the High Priest of old, His intercession will end when He leaves the holiest place to gather His people unto Himself. Once they are with Him, there will be no further need for intercession as we now know it. The meaning of the text is this. Although leaders come and go, Jesus Christ does not. Generations of those having the rule over us change, but the Lord does not.
Good rulers point us to the unchanging One. Their word anchors us to the Christ Who remains the same. Their ministry does not tie us to themselves, but to the Lord Who gave them to us. When the Word of the Lord is spoken faithfully to us, the Son of God will be seen as preeminent, and the New Covenant as superior. As our lives are integrated with His, we ourselves will become spiritually consistent, to the glory of God.
"Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them" (Verse 9). The Person of Christ and the nature of the New Covenant forbid the embrace of things not true. In Christ and through the New Covenant we are brought to "the God of truth" (Deut 32:4; Psa 31:5). He is "abundant in . . . truth" (Ex 34:6). Lies, error, and erroneous emphases can have no part with Him. Yet, Satan is aggressive to perpetrate doctrines that are both "various" and "strange." They do not blend with the truth, but oppose and contradict it. These doctrines have the ability to carry men away from Christ and the blessings of the Covenant, as a strong gale move people from a location. We are strictly charged to see to it we are not drawn away from the Savior by novel and peculiar teachings. These are teachings that do not center in Christ. They encourage people to adopt a position that does not require a Living God, and moves them away from the benefits of the New Covenant. They are "strange" to the Kingdom as dirt is to drinking water. They contaminate those who embrace them. They distort spiritual vision, harden the heart, and make us dull of hearing. Such doctrines move us from the center to the periphery of the Kingdom, and eventually into spiritual darkness itself.
The heart can truly be established, or strengthened, only by the grace of God. Divine favor, not liturgical routine, makes us spiritually stable. The secret to a godly life is NOT a discipline or routine, but affiliation with the Living God. Jesus did not die so we could have a proper diet or observe external routines. The Spirit has shown us in this book that those who so served the Lord gained no eternal profit from such an approach. Even the appointed sacrifices for sin left those approaching God with a defiled and condemning conscience (Heb 10:1-4). With great strength, the Spirit witnesses to us of the Old Covenant, and the lack of spiritual benefit realized by those within it. "It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience; concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation" (Heb 9:9-10).
With great solemnity, our text warns us not to return to the old order. Too, we are not to adopt a form a godliness that denies the power thereof a religion of externals. And why are we to avoid such things? Why avoid doctrines that conflict with Christ and the New Covenant? Why abstain from a religion of empty form? Because God has made no provision for the embrace of such vanities! They exercise an alienating influence upon the individual, and disqualify the soul for the blessing of the Lord. The Intercession of Christ will not allow such things! The New Covenant has no place for such diversions. Either we come through Christ and by means of the New Covenant, or we cannot come. There simply is no other way. What is more, this solitary way has been sanctified for our use, as a highway raised in the desert for our travel (Isa 35:8).
Having alerted us to the danger of being "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph 4:14), the Spirit now shows the reasonableness of the exhortation. Some would have us believe our standing with God is based what we eat or drink in the flesh. However, we are apprized, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17). There is a higher form of diet by which the life of the believer is sustained. It is made accessible to us through the High Priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and the New Covenant, "through which we draw near to God" (Heb 7:19).
We Have An Altar
"We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate" (Verses 10-12).
"We have an altar." The clear allusion is to the eating of the sacrifices offered under the Law. The priests ate portions of the sacrifice offered upon the altar (Lev 6:18,26-29; 7:6; 10:12-14). The Spirit refers to this ordained practice in 1 Corinthians 10:18. "Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" Other references to this exercise include 1 Corinthians 9:13; 1 Samuel 2:13-14; and 9:12-13). What was offered to God was eaten by the priests! There was, however, a single exception to this practice. The sin offering could NOT be eaten. That was expressly forbidden! As it is written, "But no sin offering from which any of the blood is brought into the tabernacle of meeting, to make atonement in the holy place, shall be eaten. It shall be burned in the fire" (Lev 6:30).
In Jesus Christ and the New Covenant, we come to a better altar, upon which was offered a better sacrifice. As under the Law, the priests partake, or eat, the sacrifice. Here is a spiritual feast that is unparalleled. In the Spirit we "eat" Christ's flesh and "drink" His blood. This is of critical importance. Our Savior said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:53-58). This is not an option, but a necessity. Those refusing to eat at this alter "have no life." They are not recognized by God, and their names are not written in the Lamb's book of life. Those, however, who avail themselves of this sacrifice have "eternal life," and will be raised "up at the last day" by the Lord Jesus Himself.
Here is a sacrifice made for consumption: "My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed." If, however, it is not eaten, there is no hope--no vital connection with Deity! "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." This sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ, is God's provision for life. The individual who "feeds upon" Jesus "will live because" of Jesus! The vicarious atonement of Christ accomplishes two requirements for our salvation. First, it satisfied God, taking away the sin of the world. Second, it made Jesus accessible to our spirits. Our salvation not only depends upon the satisfaction of God the Father, but upon us availing ourselves of the accessibility of the sacrifice. There is no salvation without the ingestion of the Son of God. As simplistic as that may appear, this is not commonly known in the Christian community. Myriads of people suppose themselves to be saved who are not eating at the altar provided by God. They are in a state of delusion. There is no salvation apart from eating the sacrificed Lamb of God!
This is partaking of the Divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). It is being made "partakers of Christ" (Heb 3:14). Subjectively, it is being "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29), and being changed "from glory unto glory" (2 Cor 3:18). Put another way, it is "putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, and making no provision for the flesh" (Rom 13:14). Here is a condition that finds Divine qualities, called "the fruit of the Spirit," within the believer (Gal 5:22-23). Where Divine life is not found, there is no salvation, no remission, no cleansed conscience, and no living hope!
Note, those "who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat" from the redemptive altar. It is not possible to be saved by grace [and there is no other way to be saved] under a system of Law! Nor, indeed, can one partake of Christ while living under an Old Covenant economy. Those who serve only outwardly cannot sit at the table of redemption! Their souls cannot be sustained by the life of Christ, and they cannot be conformed to the Divine image. The alarming thing about this observation is the dominance of merely external religion in our day. The reason for is given, and it is arresting. "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." Here is an allusion to the sin offering on the day of atonement--the bullock for the high priest, and the goat for the people. We have already mentioned that men were forbidden to eat the sin offering. "But any sin offering whose blood is brought into the Tent of Meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place must not be eaten; it must be burned" (Lev 6:30, NIV). This is the point referenced by this text. The sin offering was burned without the perimeter of the camp--away from the people. The clear allusion is this: under the Law, sins were not removed, and thus the sacrifice could not be eaten by the priests. However, Jesus did remove the sins, and therefore His body and blood can be eaten spiritually.
Jesus suffered outside the Jerusalem gate. To put it another way, His death was "accomplished" (Luke 9:31) entirely apart from the Law. He was not sacrificed according to the Law, but according to a Divine purpose conceived before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8). Isolated from the people and from the ceremonies of the Law, the Lord Jesus laid down His life "a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Tim 2:6). He did not accomplish His sacrifice within a religious system, but within the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23).
This being the case, it does not make sense to attempt to serve God within the framework of a law, or a written code. If the means of reconciliation was achieved apart from the Law, the experience of that reconciliation cannot be realized by Law. Jesus "suffered outside the gate" in order "that He might sanctify the people with His own blood." "The people" refers to those receiving the atonement, or reconciliation (Rom 5:11). They were "sanctified" by being set apart to and for God--dedicated to Him. God could not receive "the people" as He desired under a system of Law. The means through which their acceptance was accomplished was entirely apart from the Law. The "Law was weak through the flesh," being impotent to accomplish reconciliation (Rom 8:3). Appropriately, Christ's blood is called, "the blood of the covenant by which we are sanctified" (Heb 10:29). For man to be blessed, Christ had to be cursed (Gal 3:13). For man to be made the "righteousness of God," God had to make Jesus "to be sin for us" (2 Cor 5:21). The humiliation and death of Christ, epitomized in His blood, is the exclusive means of our reconciliation. The forfeiture of His life was necessary for our obtainment of eternal life.
IMPLICATIONS FOR LIVING GODWARD
More is involved in this treatise that a doctrinal statement. The formation of sound theology IS essential, for we are NOT to be carried about with "strange doctrines." Spiritual life, however, goes far beyond that. The proper statement of the case is necessary for the proper embracement of the "great salvation." We have seen in the prior section the implications of salvation as regards interpersonal relationships. Now we see the essence of the doctrine regarding our relationship to the Lord. Once again, these are not options, but absolute requirements.
Let Us Go To Him
"Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come" (Verses 13-14). This is an aggressive requirement, yet is scarcely recognized among professed believers. It is not only necessary to come away from fruitless forms of religion. We must also "go forth to Him," coming as close to the Savior as the Covenant allows. He came to us in His humiliation--when "the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Now, it is our business to go to Him! Everything about salvation is conducive to this activity. Drawing near to Him is imperative! The grace of God cannot be received from a distance, so to speak.
Do not miss the nature of this approach to Jesus. We go to Him "outside the camp, bearing His reproach." There are earthly repercussions when we go forth to Him. Institutional devotees will not applaud your action, because you must leave them to come to Christ. You simply cannot linger in the presence of those who have no right to the altar, and partake of it yourself. Let us put it in the words of Scripture. " . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" (2 Tim 3:4-5). A religion of form, whatever its make-up, that lacks Divine power must be abandoned in order to fellowship with Christ. This will be occasion of reproach, like it was for the Lord Jesus. While He attended the synagogues, went into the Temple, and honored the Jewish feasts, there was a sense in which He was not part of them, and the people sensed it (John 7:15,46) . In the fullest and more precise sense of the Word, He was "separate from sinners" (Heb 7:26). Sometimes that required cleansing the Temple of moneychangers and religious businessmen (John 2:13-17), rebuking religious leaders (Matt 23), and sending multitudes away (Matt 15:39). Other times, it mean refusing to go to his mother and brothers in preference of those hearing His word (Matt 12:46-50). Finally, in His vicarious death, He went "without the gate," to the "Place of a Skull" (John 19:17).
To go to "Him," we must leave the world in general, and the corrupt church in particular. We must leave the encampments of the pleasures of diversion and the defilement of lifeless religion. Although many do not take this matter seriously, neither Christ Jesus in all of His saving efficacy, nor the New Covenant with all of its better things, can be obtained if we do not "go to" the Son. Remember, Jesus is not in this world. As it is written, "He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19). We go to Him by setting our "mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col 3:1). Essentially, we become other-worldly in our perspective and preference. By so doing, we incur "His reproach" from the world. As it is written, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).
Paul evinced the way in which we go to Christ without the camp. I never tire of the passage because the preciseness of its expression and the clarity of its message. "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:7-14).
It may be that some consider this an unusual frame of spirit, only possessed by a relatively few in the heavenly kingdom. That it is unusual to see such aggression in the professed church cannot be denied. However, this is the standard mode of living in Christ Jesus. Clarifying this very point, Paul continues, "Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you" (verse 15). There will be varying levels of this attitude. However, those that are spiritually mature are to have "this mind." If there be some who cannot see this, "God will reveal even this to you." Maintaining a good conscience before God will eventually bring the awareness of these things to the heart. It is the manner of the Kingdom.
No one should balk at "bearing His reproach." This is the ordinary manner of the Kingdom. As it is written, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim 3:12). As with Noah, the activity that identifies us with God "condemns the world" (Heb 11:7). The repercussions of commitment to God are very personal, and are called our "cross." Spiritual life requires self denial--refusing to take the easy and accommodating road. Hear the Master speak to this issue. "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:23-24). Discipleship is seriousness business, indeed! We dare not approach it casually.
You may be sure, if you will bear your cross for Him, Jesus will bear you, fulfilling the word of the Prophet. "Even to your old age, I am He, And even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; Even I will carry, and will deliver you" (Isa 46:4). Take the word of the Lord seriously, and He will take you seriously. Our great High Priest and the New Covenant are designed to support and strengthen such individuals.
"Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Verse 15). Under the Law, there were periodic sacrifices and seasonal times of focused commitment. While the fire upon the altar was never to go out (Lev 6:12-13), there was not always a sacrifice upon that altar--to whit, when it was in transit (Ex 27:7; 38:7). But it is not so with the New Covenant.
The effectiveness of Christ's atonement, and the thoroughness of the New Covenant provide for us to "continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God." This parallels the "thank offerings" instituted under the Old Covenant (Lev 7:12). For believers in Christ, they are offered by those who have perceived the "the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Tim 2:10). These people trace God's acceptance of their sacrifices to Christ's atonement and intercession, both of which are required for our salvation. The sacrifices are "continual" because our participation is "continual." Our High Priest's ministry is "continual." Our access to the throne of all grace is "continual."
Notice the nature of our sacrifice. It is "the fruit of our lips." What a transformation this reveals! Of those outside of Christ--natural men--it is said, "Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness" (Rom 3:13-14). As with Moses, so it was with us. We were a people "of uncircumcised lips" (Ex 6:12). Now, thanks be unto God, those same "lips" become a fountain of praise to God. Thanksgiving comes from the well from whence cursing once flowed. Those in the New Covenant fulfill the words of Hosea, "so will we render the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2). Other versions render the latter phrase of this verse, "sacrifices of our lips" (NKJV), "fruit of our lips" (RSV, NRSV, NRSV, NIV). In strict keeping with the meaning of the word, the ASV translates it, "so will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips." Webster's and Darby's translations also render it "calves of our lips." The point is this: your sacrifice is yourself, not an impersonal offering of an animal. The fruit comes from us because the life has been given to us. The sacrifice is offered by us because we ourselves have been delivered, and we know it.
The "sacrifice of praise" includes open confession of our identity with and appreciation of the Lord (Rom 10:9-10). When grace takes root in the hearts of men, it will bear fruit through the lips. Insightful expression in words brings glory to God, honor to Jesus, and edification to saints. This is intelligent praise, requiring the involvement of heart, soul, mind, and strength. No gathering of saints should be without it. No believer should spend a day without bringing this fruit to God. The sacrifice and intercession of Christ, when comprehended to some degree, will produce such fruitage. The New Covenant is also conducive to such sacrifices.
Observe that "giving thanks to His name" is specified. The salvation in which we have participated is so "great" it must never be forgotten or placed into the background of our thinking. This is insightful thanksgiving, proceeding from the illumination of the magnitude of redemption. It is not a mere formality, but the lively response of a tender heart. Thanksgiving is to praise what salt was to the meal offerings of old. As it is written, "And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt" (Lev 2:13). Thanksgiving is to be continual, lest we become deceived by sin (Eph 5:20; Col 1:12; 3:17). It is to be mingled with every "request" we make known to God (Phil 4:6-7). If we cannot come to the conclusion that this is requisite, we have not seen Jesus or the New Covenant in the proper light.
"But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Verse 16). The ministering Jesus and the New Covenant are exceedingly practical. They touch every aspect of our lives. We not only sacrifice directly to God, we also sacrifice by meeting the needs of our brethren. Here are two things that can, in the bustle of life, be forgotten: doing good and sharing! Neither the interceding Christ nor the nature of the New Covenant will allow us to live only for ourselves! David once said, "Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security" (Psa 37:3, RSV). Our blessed Lord said, "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6:35). It was said of Dorcas, who was raised from the dead, "This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did" (Acts 9:36). Do not forget that is said of our Savior, He "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38).
The scope of our goodness is to include "all men" (Gal 6:10). Rather than being noted for rendering evil and causing trouble, believers are to "ever follow that which is good" (1 Thess 5:15). Lest we suppose such activity is profitless, and that it is not appreciated by men, we are admonished, "But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good" (2 Thess 3:13). In a most poignant statement, the Spirit declared, "He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God" (3 John 11). The point to be seen here is that Christ's sacrifice and intercession, together with the New Covenant, are conducive to doing good. Divine strength is imparted for this most practical activity. We are here enjoined to avail ourselves of the extent of God's grace, not limiting ourselves by self-imposed delusions.
Not forgetting to "communicate" ("share," NKJV, NAS, NIV) has to do with sharing our goods. The word used here is koinwniaj (koy-nohn-ee'-as), and means partnership, participation, communion, distribution, or fellowship. This is more than simply giving an offering of money--although that is involved. It is sharing from the heart--giving out of a sense of involvement with the Lord and His work. It is an expression of brotherhood and recognition of membership in the body of Christ. The same word is used for an offering taken for poor saints (Rom 15:26; 2 Cor 9:13). It is also used for "the right hand of fellowship" in Galatians 2:9. Paul admonished the people of God, "Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches" (Gal 6:9). The people of God are not to be known for inconsideration toward the needy or those who instruct them in the Lord. They are part of a covenant that encourages and strengthens for godly consideration and sharing. The reigning Christ also provides for such expressions of kindness.
Obeying Those Who Watch For Our Souls
"Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Verse 17). The Word of God encourages a high regard for those who have brought the Word of God to us. God has graciously provided every one of us with "ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one" (1 Cor 3:5). They are not to be worshiped, as though we were under their feet, but honored as gifts of God, provided to orient us for glory. Their feet are "beautiful" because of the conciliatory message which they have brought (Isa 52:7; Rom 10:15).
These are the leaders who have "spoken the word of God to you," and whose faith can be followed (13:7). They are not authoritarians, charged with providing us with details about daily living. They have not been appointed to tell us who we should marry, where we should work, and where we should live. Those are all matters addressed by the indwelling Spirit, who "teaches is all things," adapting the truth to our personal lives. In such matters, we "do not need that anyone teach" us. It is the Spirit Himself Who instructs us on abiding in Christ (1 John 2:20,27). This text is not teaching a hierarchy in the body of Christ as exists in the governments of this world.
Those who have the "rule over" us have been appointed by God for our edification (2 Cor 13:10; Eph 4:11-12). Their exclusive ministry deals with readying us for glory. Their solitary source of authority it the Word of God. Such leaders are to be "obeyed" because of the Word, not because of their authority. They have been provided by the King "for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:12-13). That is the reason we submit to them! If they bring no word from God, we will not submit! Their only power is their acquaintance with our Lord, and the ability to bring us His Word and perspective of things. As you may know, this is not a commonly known truth among us. Just as godly leaders, possessed of strong faith, direct us into the ways of the Lord, so ungodly and unlearned ones bring about confusion and every evil work.
Note the reason for our submission to God-appointed leaders. " . . . for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account." If they do not watch for our souls, they have not been sent by God. Such unsent men are imposters, imposing their wills upon the saints of the Most High God. God gives no honor to such, and neither can we! There are, however, faithful men who "watch out for" the souls of men. They are not content to see people wander in the darkness, or remain deficient in spiritual awareness. Such men are cognizant of their accountability to God. They WILL give an account for the flock of God, over which "the Holy Spirit has made them overseers" (Acts 20:28). These are under-shepherds, functioning under the "Great Shepherd of the sheep" (Heb 13:20). They are charged with the responsibility of bringing spiritual advantage to the people of God. There is no other reason for their existence or work. They will be called to account for how the flock faired under their "rule." In my opinion, were this single aspect of spiritual life to be known more fully in our churches, there would be a mass resignation of "elders." The "office of a bishop" (1 Tim 3:1), as I see it, is not generally perceived in the light of this perspective.
The thought of someone "watching" for our souls is refreshing. This is the New Covenant equivalent some aspects of the prophetic office of old. Those who have oversight over the flock of God are "watchmen." As it is written, "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel . . . " (Ezek 3:17; 33:2). The role of these leaders in the body of Christ prompted the Apostle to say to a group of them from Ephesus; "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). No person of sound spiritual thought will object to submitting to such thoughtful shepherds.
The attitude of the flock has a direct bearing upon those leading them. "Obey those who rule over you . . . Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you." The greatest handicap to a spiritual leader is recalcitrance among those he is leading. One of the great advantages for the leader is receptivity among the saints. Either joy or grief can be produced in the person speaking the Word by those to whom he speaks. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, yet rejoiced over the receptivity of the seventy He sent out with power (Luke 19:41; Luke 10:21). Paul wanted to come "with joy" to the believers (Rom 15:32). The submissiveness of the Philippians caused him to seek their fellowship "with joy" (Phil 1:4). The spirituality of Timothy caused Paul to rejoice at the prospect of being with him (2 Tim 1:4). Ah, but for the Jews who rejected his teaching, Paul had "great heaviness and continual sorrow" (Rom 9:2).
On one occasion, Paul wrote to the Corinthians of their impact upon his spirit. "I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you" (2 Cor 2:3-4). Earlier, he had revealed the impact of their waywardness upon his spirit, and the effect it would have upon them. "What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?" (1 Cor 4:21). Let us prefer to be an encouragement to those delivering the Word to us. Let us be such as will encourage them to deliver their message, and give an account to God, with great joy. That will bring great advantage to us.
It is important to see the nature of Christ's intercession and the New Covenant in this regard. Both are most effective in a spiritually responsive environment. Where a joyful proclamation of the truth is matched by a glad reception of and obedience to the Word, the blessing of God will be realized. This can be seen in the events of the day of Pentecost. When the people "gladly received the Word" (Acts 2:41), steadfast continuance in the Apostles' teaching was realized. One of the greatest contributions a flock can give to those who proclaim God's Word is to be receptive of and obedient to the message. Both Christ and the New Covenant will enable sch a response.
Praying For God's Messengers
"Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner" (Verse 18). Spiritual life involves the interdependence of God's people. Not only do the teachers provide needed resources to the people, they also provide for them. The prayers of the saints are indispensable to the spread of the Gospel! It is true of teachers, as surely as it is of those who are taught. "For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord" (Rom 14:7-8). The servant of God must realize he is not isolated. He needs, and can have, the prayers of the saints. The New Covenant postulates this interdependence, and our Great High Priest will dispense grace to that end.
The real nature of spiritual life is unveiled in this text. The Apostle affirms his conscience is pure, and that he is "in all things desiring to live honorably." For some, that would be sufficient. Thinking themselves to be more capable than they really are, they would launch out in self-energy to do the work of the Lord. But it was not so with the man of God. He realized "God sets the solitary in families" (Psa 68:6). Leaders, and those who are led, alike "have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God . . . to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven . . . " (Heb 12:22-23). The informed ones rely upon this affiliation, counting on the inter-involvements of the body of Christ. Those within the New Covenant have been brought into accord with the Living God, and become "laborers together" with Him in various aspects of His purpose (1 Cor 3:9).
Having been "joined to the Lord" (1 Cor 6:17), they participate in His work. Their prayers play a role in the government of the world, the edification of the saints, and the upholding of spiritual leaders. Intercessions rising from the household of faith produces a fragrance in heavenly places, appealing to the good will of the Lord they serve. As it is written, "Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand" (Rev 8:3-4). Again, in a depiction of the government of Jesus as revealed in Divine judgment, the prayers of the saints play a vital role. "Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Rev 5:8). This is the manner of the Kingdom! The government of God, placed upon the shoulder of Jesus Christ, is carried out within influence of godly prayers, raised by faith into the very throne room of God!
The Apostle, knowing the manner of the Kingdom, relied on the prayers of the saints (Rom 15:29-31; Eph 6:18-20; Phil 1:19; Col 4:3-4; 1 Thess 5:25; Philemon 22). Again, Christ's present ministry and the nature of the New Covenant are made effective in this activity. There was even a note of unusual practicality in the request: i.e., "But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner." Here as an opportunity for people who had actually been shrinking back to press in to the throne of grace. The man of God was not ashamed to implore them to do so. He knew the manner of the Covenant. He knew the purpose of God. He knew the nature of Christ's atonement and intercession. He therefore summoned people into holy involvements, willing to subject his own ministry to their activities. That, dear brethren, declares a Savior and a Covenant worthy of the most hearty embrace. You glorify Christ by receiving them.
DIVINE DESIRES FOR US
Apostolic benedictions are a special source of strength and encouragement for believers. They set before us "the manner of the Kingdom" (1 Sam 10:25). They unveil the magnitude of Divine consideration, the extent of the love of God, and the availability of grace to every believer. They are more than mere desires. These supplications are revelations of the heart of God, the ministry of Jesus, and the provisions of the covenant. They are uttered from heavenly places, where saints have been seated together with Christ (Eph 2:6). These are not mere laws, or things we are obligated to pursue. They represent Divine provision, accessible in Christ Jesus, and provided in the New Covenant (Rom 15:13; 16:24; 1 Cor 16:23; 12 Cor 13:11; Phil 4:23; 1 Thess 3:12-13; 5:28; 2 Thess 1:11-12; 3:16,18; 2 Tim 4:22; 1 Pet 5:142 John 3; Jude 24-25).
That We Might Be Made Perfect
"Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete . . . " (Verses 20-21). Why is such a strong desire expressed--"make you complete (perfect)"? It is because that is the objective of God. His "great salvation" will not produce spiritual inferiority, withdrawal from God, or insensitivity to Divine provision. If these things exist (and tragically they do), it is NOT because of the nature of salvation. The intercession of Christ does not produce slothful and unresponsive spirits. Where these despicable qualities are found, the Spirit has been grieved and quenched. Also, men must be torn away form the notion they can make themselves suitable to dwell with the Lord. If they are to become spiritually mature, God will have to do it in them. However, our Father will not accomplish this work without our consent. If we do not submit ourselves to God, the work will not be accomplished within us. Thus, the man of God had first shown us the nature of salvation, and the provision of grace. Now he fastens it with nails, so to speak (Isa 41:7), by showing us the outcome we are to seek.
God loves us, as demonstrated in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 3:16). But when He works in us, it will be because of His love for the Son of God. That will be the preeminent motivation. He will do so as "The God of peace," whose wrath has been assuaged by the atoning work of His Son. This is an appellation often ascribed to God--"The God of peace" (Rom 15:33; 16:20; 1 Cor 14:33; 2 Cor 13:11; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Thess 3:16). He will not perfect us because of our achievements in the flesh, but because of Christ's glorious accomplishments. He will not perfect us in order to be at peace with us, but because, through faith, we now have peace with Him (Rom 5:1).
Divine Working Within
Precisely how will our Lord make us "perfect"? Herein is a herculean objective, utterly impossible apart from Divine activity. "Now may the God of peace . . . make you complete [perfect, KJV] in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Verses 20-21). Both the aim and the means to its realization are stated. First, the intercession of Christ and the New Covenant are thorough, having to do with "every good work." No partial solution here! The Lord desires that every expression of the redeemed be characterized by "perfection"or "completeness." What is the meaning of this phrase?
The locution "make you perfect," or "make you complete," comes from a single Greek word: katarti,sai (kat-ar-tis-ai). In this precise form, the word is used only one other place. Its usage there clarifies the meaning here. "Night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face, and may perfect that which is lacking in your faith" (1 Thess 3:10). The word used in our text, and this passage, means thoroughly prepare something to meet demands; (1) put in order, restore to a former condition, mend, repair (MT 4.21; GA 6.1); (2) prepare, make ready, complete (Heb 13.21); (3) create, arrange, prepare (Heb 11.3); (4) as thoroughly equipping and adjusting Christian character perfect, fully qualify, make fully adequate"
Here, a most glorious picture is provided for our consideration. Sin is seen as having ravished our race. It has diminished our abilities, clouded our minds, and contaminated our consciences. It has rendered us impotent in the realm of God's good pleasure. Under its dominion, we were without God and without hope in the world (Eph 2:12). Salvation rescued us from that dilemma, praise the Lord! But there is something more to this matter. Those who revert to the flesh once again become contaminated. Their works become faulty, their hearts defiled, and the minds clouded. While drawing back from God, not availing ourselves of Divine provisions through Christ and within the New Covenant, Divine displeasure is inculcated. This was happening to the Hebrew believers! By reverting to Law for justification, and resting in lifeless procedures, they now stood in eternal jeopardy. Solemnly, they were told of the possibility of drifting away from the things they had heard (2:1). With trumpet sound, the impossibility of escaping the wrath of God while neglecting His great salvation was affirmed (2:3). The Spirit advised them it was possible they might "come short" of the promise of entering God's rest (4:1). They were therefore warned of a condition from which repentance was not possible (6:4-6). Hear the Spirit as He says, "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries" (10:26- 27).
The point of our text is that God was capable of restoring the work! Although, like the church at Sardius, their works were not "perfect before God" (Rev 3:2). But it did not have to remain this way. Their works could be "made perfect," brought to a point that God would again take delight in them. There is, after all, a "Potter's house" where marred vessels can be made whole again. On one occasion, the Lord revealed this Aspect of His nature to the weeping prophet, Jeremiah. What was shown to that man of God is the condition for which the Spirit seeks in our text. "Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make" (Jer 18:2-4). Here, the nature of the Almighty was revealed. He desires to remake flawed vessels, re-strengthen weakened works, and rekindle dying embers!
That is the meaning of our text! The prayer was for the recovery of the Hebrews--that they might return to their "first love," and "do the first works" (Rev 2:4-5). The New Covenant has been provided as an arena in which this can be accomplished. The High Priest has been provided as the just and pleasing means through which full recovery can be realized. There is no satisfactory reason for any of God's people to remain deficient in their persons. There is no justification for remaining in a fallen state! God has provided for full recovery and perfect works through the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the end to which the ministry of Jesus and the effectiveness of the New Covenant are devoted.
Notice the precision of the statement: " . . . working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." If ever our works are to be acceptable, God Himself must work within us. Apart from the Lord Jesus, this is an impossibility. With the Lord Jesus, there is good ground for joyful expectation! It is, after all, "God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). Do not doubt it, child of God. Do not doubt it! God is "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us" (Eph 3:20). The effectiveness of Christ's death has freed God to put the power in us. His continuous intercession enables the power to always be active. The New Covenant provides a framework within which the power will work.
This powerful working, however, requires our consent. If we are looking toward the earth, God will not employ the power. If our hearts are not focused heavenward, we at once become unsuitable for Divine working, without which we cannot be saved! This is why considerable doctrine and exhortation has preceded this notable prayer.
We have heard preaching, and been subjected to teaching. Strong warnings have been issued, and glorious promises have been affirmed. The nature of God has been declared, together with the effective ministry of the Son of God, and the superiority of the New Covenant. We have heard God's desire for us, and the possibility of its realization. Christ has been lifted above every spokesman ever employed by the Almighty! We have been apprized of the voice of the Spirit, speaking to those who have ears to hear. The Father in heaven has been seen as thoroughly satisfied with the accomplishment of Christ's death and His present intercession. What must our response be to these things?
"And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation . . . " (Verse 22). Do not put the book aside? Dwell upon what has been said, and take it into your spirit. As Jesus said elsewhere, "Let these words sink down into your ears" (Luke 9:44). Literally, the word means "put into your ears." It is a phrase denoting deliberate and prolonged thought: contemplation, meditation, or cogitation. The reasoning is thus: This is your work, to consider what I have said. If you will do so, God will do His indispensable work! The message is called "a word of exhortation" because it is designed to stir us up. He urges us to take hold of what God holds out to us. "Bear with the word of exhortation." If it seems hard to you, bear long with the word. It is for your salvation. Do not see sternness in the message, but the heart of the Almighty! See what marvelous provisions He has made for your salvation, and throw yourself into appropriating them. God will honor your effort!
As lengthy as this letter may have appeared, it is called a message "written to you in few words." Compared to the "treasures of wisdom and knowledge" hidden in Christ, this has been "few words" (Col 2:3). Were we to lay along side this book the "abundance of grace" provided through Christ Jesus, it would seem but a "few words" (Rom 5:17). A due consideration of "the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1 Cor 2:9) will make these words seem "few."
The demands are small in comparison to the benefits. The commands are small when laid along side the exceeding great and precious promises (2 Pet 1:4). The glory that awaits us far outshines the difficulties with which we now grapple. No! These are but a few words, infinitely disproportionate to the greatness of the amalgamation of heavenly personalities and benefits to which we "are come" (Heb 12:22-24). O, do not refuse Him Who is speaking from heaven. Give Him your ear and your heart, and He will give you a place in His throne!