The Warnings (2)

As was stated in the first article, the writer to the Hebrews weaves various warnings to his readers alongside the important doctrine relating to the person, offices, and work of Christ. Coming to the latter chapters in the Epistle, the writer considers something of the life of the believer in Christ, comparing and contrasting it with what the Hebrew believers had been saved from.

Profiting from chastening, 12. 1-13

It is imperative that the lessons of scripture are not lost. In quoting from the writings of Solomon to his son, the writer reminds his readers of the value of discipline. He wants them to appreciate that the quotations with which they should have been familiar are not merely historical but are a present voice to the generation to which he wrote, v. 5. Indeed, the scriptures are a living word to every generation and events, then as now, are designed to shape the saint. But the warning remains.

It is important that the readers are able to distinguish between the Old Testament position, where God’s judicial dealings were a sign of His displeasure, and the New Testament situation, where God’s discipline is a symbol of His love.

Discipline is a mark of our sonship. Love administers rather than withholds judgement, v. 6. It is also impartial in that every son is scourged, vv. 6, 8. Although chastening is not pleasant, see ‘scourgeth’, v. 6, it must be endured, v. 7, if we are to learn the lessons He would have us to learn. We must remember that it is out of the hottest furnace of affliction that the purest metal is formed.

Discipline is to develop in us ‘the peaceable fruit of righteousness’, v. 11. If a Christ-like character is to be developed within us, it will be through the positive discipline of God. As the wise God, He knows best, and as a loving Father His chastening is for our good. Unlike natural fathers, God, as our heavenly Father, does not relinquish responsibility or care over us as we grow older. Equally, He is not just fitting us for this life but particularly for the life to come. His will is perfect and His desires for us are equally perfect.

However, at the time of discipline, these experiences seem grievous but, if we are prepared to accept the training they are intended for, we can learn much and grow more. But let us also remember the ministry of restoration and support in which fellowship is key. When we, or others, are flagging or feeling faint, let us ‘lift up the hands which hang down’, v. 12.

Pursuing peace, 12. 14-17

If there are things in the Christian life that might discourage us, then the exhortation of the writer is to press on - pursue peace and holiness, v. 14, and have a mutual care one for another, v. 15.

As an example of one who valued such spiritual things lightly, the writer mentions Esau. Although not all expositors agree, it would appear from the mention of the two points of fornication and profanity that Esau was marked by both evils. Genesis specifically states that Esau married two wives, both of whom were a cause of great trial and distress to his parents, 26. 34, 35. He also valued his birthright as virtually worthless. As the elder of the two sons, he had the title to the family inheritance, the privileges of the firstborn, and the ability to act as the family priest. For the provision and consumption of one meal, Esau gave all this away. Though he may have realized his folly at a later stage, he showed no genuine repentance for his deeds. The construction of the Darby translation, which puts the phrase, ‘for he found no place for repentance’, v. 17, in parenthesis, helps us to appreciate that what Esau sought with tears was not repentance but the blessing he had so foolishly given away. The danger for these Hebrews is that they too might value lightly that which is of such great spiritual import and that they might return to the empty ritual of Judaism. Although we may not be drawn back to Judaism, it is clear from a cursory glance at many Christian groups that ritual and liturgy have their appeal. The tangible and the visually grand attract and fascinate many, drawing them away from the simplicity that is in Christ and the biblical pattern of gathering.

Promoting reverence, 12. 25-29

Building on the failure of Esau and with such a clear testimony in this Epistle to the superiority of the new covenant and the basis upon which it is founded, how could certain Jews refuse to hear the voice of God speaking so clearly? In such a situation, the writer warns that there is no escape from the judgement of God, v. 25. The only means of escape and salvation, once rejected, leaves the rejecter exposed to the eternal punishment of God. It must be remembered that God has not changed, v. 29. He is still a consuming fire. The voice that shook the earth at Sinai will shake it again, v. 26.

Are we linked with the unshakeable kingdom through grace, vv. 27, 28? Are we serving God acceptably with reverence and godly fear? Or are we part of that which, having been shaken for a second time, will pass away? There is no middle way. There is no middle ground. These Hebrews are exhorted to make their calling and election sure and avoid the message of those who had hardened their heart.

Protecting purity and contentment, 13. 1-6

How might the believer serve God acceptably?

We start by what we do to fellow saints. The exhortation is to allow brotherly love to continue, v. 1. Love in our hearts is an essential manifestation of our genuine Christianity, something that should be nurtured and continued.

We follow that with hospitality to strangers, v. 2. Here is an expression of love to those visiting an area where they are largely unknown. The entertaining of angels reminds us of the ministry of Abraham in Genesis chapter 18, which was volunteered, personal, and generous.

As well as caring for those strangers, we should also express our sympathy to those suffering imprisonment for the name and testimony of Christ, v. 3. The degree of sympathy suggested is that we sympathize ‘as bound with them’, that is, taking their case to heart.

Our responsibility in verse 4 is moral - to uphold marriage, holding it in honour. By avoiding fornication, it is honoured by those who are unmarried. By not indulging in adultery, we do not defile marriage once it is entered into.

Finally, the writer says, do not allow the love of money to mar your fellowship with God as well as with one another, v. 5. Covetousness can be an all-consuming attitude which will not bring satisfaction but will bring spiritual disaster. We need to generate a sense of contentment with those things that God has given us.

These are abiding practical truths for all the people of God!

Practising obedience, 13. 7-17

This chapter mentions our responsibility to shepherds. These shepherds were characterized by their ability to teach and expound the scriptures, ‘who have spoken unto you the word of God’, v. 7. They were faithful men, ‘whose faith follow’. The word has the idea of imitating -their lives were worthy of the closest scrutiny in terms of their faithfulness. Their stance had not changed and their faithfulness had not wavered. In that sense, these leaders were pointers to the person of the Lord Jesus who is unchanging, ever the same, v. 8.

The shepherd has responsibilities to fulfil, ‘they watch for your souls’, v. 17. The picture is of one who is wakeful, concerned for a critical case in a situation where danger is known to exist. Their desire, as faithful shepherds, is to be able to give account with joy. To do so, these shepherds wish to see that progress is achieved and the individual is profited for eternity!

There was a real danger to these Hebrews. Rather than progressing, they were wavering under the ceaseless pressure of those who followed the archaic ritualism that they had left. It offered and emphasized externalism through ceremonies and observances. The true faith in Christ is not concerned with the external but the internal -the establishment of the heart. Yet that does not impoverish the believer. Rather, says the writer, we Christians ‘have an altar’, v. 10. It is not a material altar but Christ. As Vine puts it, ‘What the material altar was to the Israelites Christ Himself is to believers’.1 We have something better than, superior to, that enjoyed by the Jew.

What, then, should be our response to this religious system? ‘Let us go forth therefore unto him’, v. 13. Salvation is impossible within the camp of Judaism. These Hebrews must make the irrevocable step of leaving their systems and ceremonies behind and accept the reproach of Christ. The writer would emphasize that we are to go forth ‘unto him’. Our citizenship is in heaven and therefore we have no continuing city here, v. 14. We are earnestly seeking and moulding our lives by the hope of the city that is coming.

Our activity is also different, ‘By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually’, v. 15. We note that the nature of the sacrifice is ‘praise’ or giving thanks to His name. The extent of the sacrifice is ‘continually’ or in every circumstance. The object of the sacrifice is ‘God’. The means of our sacrifice is ‘the fruit of our lips’, v. 15, and ‘to do good and to communicate’, v. 16, and submission, v. 17. If the first is from our hearts through our lips, the second and third are from our heart through our lives.

We live in days when ‘the poison of asps is under … [the] lips’, Rom. 3. 13, when ‘there is none that doeth good’, v. 12, and when insubjection and disobedience characterize many. It is in that context that the believer is enjoined to live differently. May we allow God to shape our lives that we might be ‘perfect in every good work to do his will’, and that He might work in us ‘that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever’, v. 21.



W. E. Vine, The Epistle to the Hebrews - Christ All Excelling, Oliphants, 1958.


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