“Continue to love fellow Believers and be sure to show hospitality to strangers, for some have had angels as their guests without realizing it. Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and those who suffer maltreatment, for you are liable to endure similar trials. Marriage is to be respected by everyone. The marital bed must be kept sacred, for God will judge those who sin sexually – whether single or married. Let your lifestyle be free from covetousness and be satisfied with what you have, for God has promised never to forsake or abandon you. We can then say with confidence, ‘Because the Lord is my helper, who can harm me?’ Remember those leaders who have taught you the Word of God and observe and follow their lifestyle of faith.” (paraphrased)
Although the book of Hebrews is an essay, its conclusion resembles a personal letter. Having addressed a number of doctrinal issues, the writer now turns to some pragmatic admonitions. The opening verses of this chapter provide us with five exhortations, arranged in couplets:
1. Practice brotherly love – and be hospitable. vv. 1-2
2. Have empathy for prisoners – and extend mercy to those who suffer. v. 3
3. Venerate marriage – and abhor immorality. v. 4
4. Avoid greed – and cultivate courage. vv. 5-6
5. Honor Bible teachers – and emulate their faith. v. 7
Jesus’ “new commandment” was simple: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34). The writer encourages his readers to continue this practice. The word for “brotherly love” is philadelphia, a term derived from the blending of phileo and adelphos. Phileo means “affection” and adelphos means “from the same womb.” Believers are brothers and sisters because we all have the same Father (Jn. 17:11). Both Peter and Paul encourage their readers to display philadelphia to other members of God’s family (II Pet. 1:7 & I Thess. 4:9).
To “entertain strangers” (philoxenias) refers to simple hospitality. Paul encouraged Timothy to practice this (I Tim. 3:2). Jews regarded opening their homes to friends and relatives as a moral obligation. However, lodging throughout the Roman Empire was scarce, expensive, and often promoted prostitution. Travelers were dependent largely upon the benevolence of local residents. As a result, Believers welcomes pilgrims and strangers into their homes. The strong bias against Christians in the first century served to promote travel. Jesus said “if you are persecuted in one city – flee to the next (Mt. 10:23).
The writer’s reference to “entertaining angels without knowing it” may be an allusion to Abraham’s visit by three mysterious strangers. These angelic visitors informed Abraham and Sarah of the future miracle birth of Isaac (Gen. 18). Two of them later went to Sodom to rescue Lot and his family prior to the destruction of their city (Gen. 19).
Angels are active throughout the Old Testament. Gideon was visited by one at Ophrah who predicted his future victory over the Midianites (Jud. 6:11-22). Samson’s parents were told by an angel of the future miraculous birth of their son (Jud.13).
The writer is not suggesting unexpected guests are secretly angels, but rather strangers to whom they extend hospitality can be “blessings in disguise”. The influence of certain visitors can be mutually beneficial.
Those “in bonds” include anyone in jail. Visiting imprisoned Believers was dangerous because simply by associating with them one could be detained also. The writer earlier commended his readers for demonstrating empathy to their friends in prison (10:34).
<> Paul was blessed with a visit from Onesiphorus who “was not ashamed of my chains” (II Tim.1:16).
<> Herod imprisoned John the Baptist, but Jesus sent him a message of comfort and assurance (Mt. 11:2-6).
<> Paul’s Philippian friends supplied many of his needs during his incarceration (Phil. 4:15-16).
<> A nephew of Paul visited him in jail – and probably saved his life (Acts 23:16-21).
To “remember” prisoners involves more than merely calling them to mind. Inmates are often dependent upon friends and relatives to provide basic necessities. We are to identify with the oppressed by considering ourselves in bondage with them. Sympathy evolves into empathy when we imagine ourselves to be imprisoned as well. Those who visit a prisoner visit Christ, for “inasmuch as you have done this for one of my brethren, you have done it for Me” (Mt. 25:36-40).
The readers are exhorted to remember those who are maltreated or injured. We are exhorted to identify with those who suffer, for our physical bodies are also exposed to personal injury. Sympathy for the misfortunes of others is enhanced if we place ourselves in their situation – and imagine how we would feel. Paul reminds the Corinthians that when a Believer is hurting, others feel their pain (I Cor. 12:26).
After addressing prison life, the writer stresses the need to safeguard marital life. God knew it was not good for man to remain in solitude (Gen. 2:18). He created Eve and presented her to Adam (Gen. 2:22). Matrimony was the first thing God sanctioned after creation. Marriage is the extensive analogy employed to depict Christ’s love for His bride (Eph. 5:22-33). A man should love his wife as Christ self-sacrificially loves His people (v. 25). In the last book of the Bible, the church is pictured as the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 21:9).
Christian couples want Christ to bless their marital union with His presence. He was specifically invited to the wedding in Cana (Jn. 2:2). He further sanctified marriage when He stated, “From the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. These two shall become one flesh, so they are thereafter no more two but one. Therefore, what God has joined together let no man attempt to separate” (Mk. 10:6-9).
Such bold affirmations affirm the marital union as a God-ordained covenant which must be held in the highest esteem. It sacred parameters should never be violated by a third party. “Honorable” is timios and can be translated as “beloved; expensive; especially dear; very valuable.” All God’s promises are deemed timios (II Pet. 1:4). Placing an extremely high value on the marital relationship is a safeguard against sexual promiscuity.
Matrimony is not only to be highly esteemed; it is to be honored “in all things.” God views every aspect of marital life as holy. Finances, emotions, children, and all other concerns should be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. Having mentioned “all things” in general, the writer mentions the sanctity of the conjugal union. “The marriage bed” is a reference to sexual intercourse. The fact that God has ordained consensual sex within the bonds of matrimony is stated clearly and emphatically. This clause certifies the sacredness of a married couple’s sexuality.
In sharp contrast to the blessings of the marital conjugal privilege is sex outside the boundaries of matrimony. A “defiled marital bed” was a common expression for adultery. God will judge and punish sex offenders, even if civic officials do not. All fornicators and adulterers are barred from God’s kingdom (I Cor. 6:9-10). The Lord is pictured as the One who monitors marital fidelity and judges all who violate this covenant.
“Whoremongers” (pornuos) is elsewhere translated “fornicators.” Pornuos includes all forms of sexual sins, including pornography, sodomy, date rape, homosexual acts, prostitution, and premarital sex. Paul warned the Corinthians to “flee immorality” (I Cor. 6:18). When Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph, “he left his garment in her hand and fled” (Gen. 39:7-12).
“Adulterers” is moichous and refers to sexually impure husbands or wives. Extra-marital affairs are condemned by the seventh commandment (Deut. 5:18). A marriage is dishonored prior to the wedding by fornication and dishonored during marital life by adultery.
“Conversation” (tropos) refers to one’s daily life and conduct – not communication skills. Every Believer should enjoy a lifestyle free from covetousness, whether lusting for someone’s wife or his property (Ex. 20:14, 17). Paul also links immorality with covetousness (Col. 3:5 & Eph. 5:3). The writer urges his readers to rid themselves of all forms of greed. “Covetousness” (aphilarguros) is made from two words; phileo means “affection” and arguros means “silver.” Our lives should be liberated from the love of wealth and all other inordinate desires. Paul learned to be content in whatever situation he found himself (Phil. 4:11-13).
Jesus warned one’s life does not consist of possessions (Lk. 12:15). Riches are deceitful (Mt. 13:22). Wealth can bar men from the Kingdom of God (Mk. 10:23). Greed has caused many to fall from grace (I Tim. 6:10). Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Ministers must not be preoccupied with monetary issues (I Tim. 3:3). Such pointed admonitions should cause us to realize a balanced, godly lifestyle is our best asset (I Tim. 6:6-7). Focusing upon heavenly things helps diminish our desire for earthy things (Col. 3:2). We are to love the brethren (v. 1), strangers (v. 2), prisoners (v. 3), one’s spouse (v. 4)……but never money (v. 5).
Covetousness is diametrically opposed to contentment. Being satisfied with our current financial situation will help us avoid envy, anxiety, and fear of the future. But being content with what we possess is no excuse for lethargy, for we are admonished to not become lazy (Rom. 12:11). Believers can rest assured “God will supply all our needs through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Financial pressures can be overpowering, but greed only causes additional stress. Christians are not to be anxious, for God “will never leave us or forsake us.” We should be gratified to know our lives are not measured by the things the world tends to value (Lk. 12:15).
Several emphatic negative terms are grouped together here to give Believers absolute assurance. A more literal translation is, “I will not, I will not, I will not ever let you down, leave you destitute, helpless, or abandon you.” This triple admonition means God will never desert us, fail to sustain us, or relax His hold upon our lives. Moses assured the Israelites God will never fail or forsake them (Deut. 31:6-8). The Lord made an identical promise to Joshua, which David later passed on to Solomon (Josh. 1:5 & I Chron. 28:20).
The Psalmist fearlessly proclaimed Jehovah was on his side and no man could harm him (Ps. 118:6). Without doubt or hesitation, we can confidently claim the Lord’s help in any situation. Because He is our Shepherd, we need not fear the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4). Knowing God will help us in times of trouble, we should not be apprehensive (phobethesomai) of the pain or injury others may inflict.
Three times in this chapter the writer mentions Christian leaders. We are encouraged to imitate them (v. 7), obey them (v. 17), and greet them (v. 24). To appreciate those who have positively impacted our lives demonstrates gratitude to God for sending them to us. We should think of them often, recall their advice, and emulate their example.
The writer qualifies this remark by pointing to those teachers who personally taught them the word of God. As shown in verse five, the word “conversation” (anastrophe) refers to one’s lifestyle. The tenor of this verse seems to refer to leaders who have passed away. We should attentively observe and reflect upon the lives of former teachers. Each of us should fondly remember those who have helped us in our spiritual walk, carefully considering how each of them lived and died. To “follow” (mimesithe) their faith is to mimic or imitate it. Reviewing the way they conducted themselves should serve as a great encouragement, for those who have “obtained a good report through faith” continue to speak to us (11:4, 39).
QUESTIONS: HOSPITALITY, MARRIAGE AND RESPECT
1. What does Philadelphia mean?
2. What must be allowed to continue? (Hebrews 13:1)
3. What must we not neglect? (Hebrews 13:2)
4. Who should we remember? (Hebrews13:3)
5. According to I Corinthians 12:26, what happens when one member of the Body of Christ suffers?
6. What must our lives be freed from? (Hebrews13:5)
7. With what must we be content? (Hebrews 13:5)
8. Who blessed Paul and was not ashamed of his chains?
9. What is honorable? (Hebrews 13:4)
10. What was the occasion of Christ’s first miracle? (John 2:2)
11. What is the Church called in Revelation 21:9?
12. The word “fornication” includes which of the following?
B. date rape
D. premarital sex
E. all of the above
13. Who will God judge? (Hebrews13:4)
14. In what ways can you “divorce proof” your marriage?
What things should you be doing—or not doing—to enhance your relationship?