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Hebrews 13.1-8 NOTES

Heb. 13:1-8 - EXEGESIS (Donovan)

CONTEXT:  In chapter 12, the author contrasted Moses' experience at Mount Sinai (12:18-21) with what we can expect to experience at Mount Zion-the city of the living God-the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22-24).  Then he counseled his readers "not to refuse him who speaks" (12:25a)-and not to be like the ancient Israelites who offended God by their repeated disobedience.  God punished them for their unfaithfulness.  He warned, "For if they didn't escape when they refused him who warned on the earth (Moses and Aaron), how much more will we not escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven" (Jesus) (12:25b).  Given that his readers had inherited a kingdom that could'nt be shaken, he called them to "have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe" (12:28). 

In chapter 13, he exhorts his readers to uphold certain values so that God will be pleased with them.


1 Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.  Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WIILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,"  6 so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID.  WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?"

"Let brotherly love (Greek: philadelphia) continue" (v. 1).  The word philadelphia combines two Greek words: (1) phileo (to love) and adelphos (brother).  The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is therefore known as the City of Brotherly Love.

  • This is the first of a series of exhortations in these verses.  It is appropriate that it should be first, because the person who loves brother and sister (broadly defined) will be hospitable, will remember those in need, will honor marriage, and will love people instead of money.
  • With the word "continue," the author reveals his assumption that his readers already manifest brotherly love for one another.  He tells them to keep up the good work.

"Don't forget to show hospitality (Greek: philoxenia) to strangers" (v. 2a).  Note the similarity between Philadelphia (brotherly love) and philoxenia (translated hospitality here).  Philoxenia also combines two words, philos (to love) and xenos (stranger).  Thus, philoxenia literally means "love the stranger or the foreigner."  In practical terms, that means showing hospitality to strangers.

  • The opposite of philoxenia is xenophobia, which is a fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners.  The Israelites were often xenophobic, and part of that was God-inspired.  God told the Israelites to slay particular populations lest the foreigners tempt Israel to worship foreign gods (Exodus 23:23-24; Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 20:16-18; Joshua 3:10; 9:24; 1 Samuel 15:2-3).
  • That happened.  As one example, Solomon, in his later years, loved many foreign women who enticed him to worship their gods.  Therefore God raised up adversaries against Solomon, who were disruptive both for Solomon and for Israel (1 Kings 11).
  • On the other hand, Jewish law required Israelites to treat resident aliens with kindness (Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19; 14:28; 16:10-11; 24:19).

Hospitality blesses both the one who gives and the one who receives.


"for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it" (v. 2b).  This alludes to the story of

Abraham and Sarah who provided hospitality to three strangers-who turned out to be messengers from God (i.e. angels) bearing the message that Sarah would have a son in her old age (Exodus 18; see also the story of Lot in Genesis 19:1-22).


"Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you are also in the body" (v. 3).  These are two groups of especially vulnerable people-those in bonds and those who are ill-treated.

  • The author appeals to his readers based on the common humanity that they share with the vulnerable person.  We have all been vulnerable at some point, and we can expect to be vulnerable again.

Consider the prayer requests that surface at many congregations during morning prayers.  We hear of illnesses, death, loneliness, financial difficulties, and the like.  No matter whether we are rich or poor, black or white, young or old, we are vulnerable.  It is appropriate then, as Christians, that we demonstrate our brotherly/sisterly love by reaching out to others who are vulnerable.


"Let marriage be held in honor among all" (v. 4a). We are to honor marriage-both our own marriage and the marriages of neighbors and co-workers.  This means honoring the vows that we made at our wedding-and the vows that our neighbors made at their weddings.  It means treating our spouse with respect.  It means avoiding the temptation to have sex with someone other than our husband or wife.

  • Just consider what a different world it would be if people would honor marriage.  Husbands and wives would not have to fear that their spouse was committing adultery.  There would be far fewer broken hearts and broken marriages.  More children would have both a father and a mother in their home.  There would be less poverty, because divorce divides assets and impoverishes both parties.
  • But some people will protest that this would take all the fun out of life.  No doubt, adultery can be pleasurable for the moment-but its' long-term effects are more likely to be heartbreak, poverty, and less than ideal parenting.

"Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled" (v. 4b).  Jews went to great lengths to avoid ritual defilement-in particular by avoiding contact with anything unclean.  People could also be defiled by adultery, idolatry, unfaithfulness to God, and unethical behavior in general.

  • Keeping the marriage bed undefiled means avoiding sexual intercourse with persons other than our spouse.  However, it also means treating our spouse with respect and consideration both in and out of bed.  It means giving as well as receiving pleasure-and not demanding anything that our spouse would find gross.

"but God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers" (v. 4c).  The word "judge" in this context equates to condemnation.


"Be free from the love of money (Greek: aphilargyros), content with such things as you have, for he has said, 'I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you'" (v. 5).   The word aphilargyros breaks down into three parts.  The alpha (a) at the beginning reverses the meaning of what follows.  Phil equates to philos, which is brotherly love.  Argyros is money.  So aphilargyros means "Don't love money."

  • Jesus said, "You aren't able to serve God and Mammon" (Luke 16:13).  Paul says, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:10).  Greedy people also pierce others through with many sorrows.

"content with such things as you have" (v. 5).  Paul said that he had learned to be content with what he had (Philippians 4:11).  That is a prescription for happiness.  Love of money and material things is a prescription for life on a treadmill-fearing the day that we will stumble.  It's also a prescription for spending one's life climbing a ladder that proves, at the end, to be leaning against the wrong wall.  The person who always wants more can never be satisfied.


"So that with good courage we say, 'The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?'" (v. 6).  He is quoting Psalm 118:6, "Yahweh is on my side. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"  Paul expressed the same idea:  "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31).  In other words, "If God is for us, what does it matter who is against us?"  One person plus God equals a majority.


Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.


"Remember your leaders, men who spoke to you the word of God" (v. 7a).  The author has mentioned a number of the historic giants of the faith:

  • Moses (3:5).
  • Joshua (4:8).
  • Abel (11:4).
  • Enoch (11:5).
  • Noah (11:7)
  • Abraham (11:8, 17).
  • Sarah (11:11).
  • Isaac (11:20).
  • Jacob (11:21).
  • Joseph (11:22).
  • Moses (11:23-29).
  • Rahab (11:31).
  • Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets (11:32-35).
  • Women who received their dead by resurrection (11:35).
  • Others who were tortured, tempted, and slain (11:36-38).

Those were men and women of faith whose faith is worthy of emulation.


"and considering the results of their conduct, imitate their faith" (v. 7b). However, there are other leaders that these believers should respect and emulate.  These are the leaders who shared the Gospel with them in the first place-and who continue in leadership roles in the church.

To be sure, not all church leaders are worthy of emulation.  Not all are faithful.  We need to use discretion-to consider the results of their conduct.  But men and women of honest faith whose lives reflect that faith are worthy of respect, support, and emulation.


"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (v. 8).  Other leaders come and go-live and die-but Jesus Christ was in the beginning (John 1:1), was born in human form to minister to us, and ascended to his throne in heaven, where he reigns today.  He has been the same throughout that journey, and will be the same throughout eternity.






OVERVIEW:  This final major section of the book perhaps grew out of the writer's reflection on the Greek text of Proverbs 4:26-27. He specified how his readers could "make straight paths for your feet" (Hebrews 12:13).

"In the final division of the homily the writer provides the members of the house church with a fresh orientation for life as Christians in a hostile society. The new people of God are engaged in pilgrimage to the city of God. This world is not their home; their goal is 'a kingdom that cannot be shaken' (Hebrews 12:28) or 'the city that is to come' (Hebrews 13:14). The metaphor of the journey to the city of God characterizes men and women of committed faith as pilgrims and implies an understanding of Christian life as commitment to pilgrimage. It also implies fidelity to the covenant." [Note: Ibid., pp. 433-34.]

The sections of this final division all contain these themes of pilgrimage and covenant privilege and obligation. As in the first division (Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 2:18), there is much emphasis on God speaking and the importance of listening to His voice.

The writer offers his readers advice on how to live as a community of faith, between well-founded hope and the dangers which surround them." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 661.]

The writer concluded his written sermon with specific exhortations, requests, and greetings to enable his readers to continue to worship God acceptably under the New Covenant (cf. Hebrews 12:28).

The emphasis in this last section of the book is on living by faith. The writer presented the great examples of faith in Hebrews 11, and the encouragements to faith in Hebrews 12. In Hebrews 13, he presented the evidences of faith that should appear in our lives if we are really walking by faith and not by sight." [Note: Ibid., 2:326.]

The four evidences he identified are enjoying spiritual fellowship (Hebrews 13:1-6), submitting to spiritual leadership (Hebrews 13:7-9; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24), sharing in spiritual wisdom (Hebrews 13:10-16; Hebrews 13:18-19), and experiencing spiritual Lordship (Hebrews 13:20-21).

The last chapter has two parts. Hebrews 13:1-21 develop the idea of thankfulness expressed in service motivated by the fear of God, which the writer introduced in Hebrews 12:28. Hebrews 13:22-25 constitute a personal note to the readers that lies quite outside the argument of the homily proper.


Instructions regarding morality 13:1-6


v. 1: Let love of the brethren continue. - When love for Jesus Christ falters, love for the brethren normally fades as well (cf. Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7; 1 John 2:9).


NOTE:  This section consists of parenesis: reminders of what the readers already knew or were doing or of what they knew they should avoid. As in the Mosaic Law, moral directions (Hebrews 13:1-6) precede religious instructions (Hebrews 13:7-19).

v. 2: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. - Abraham entertained angels when he showed them hospitality (Genesis 18). Hospitality (Gr. philoxenia, lit. love to strangers) is a concrete expression of Christian love today, as it was in the first century (cf. 3 John 1:5-8). [Note: For an overview of hospitality in the early church, see J. H. Elliott, Home for the Homeless: A Sociological Exegesis of 1 Peter, pp. 145-50, 165-200; and G. Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience, pp. 123-93.] Abraham received a special blessing because he showed hospitality, and we may, too (cf. Matt 25:35). All Christians should practice hospitality (Rom 12:13), especially Christian leaders (Titus 1:8).

  ▪ Have you ever entertained an angel? Since the word "angel" means "messenger," in one sense any time we entertain someone who brings a message from God (e.g., a visiting preacher or missionary) we entertain an angel. In the sense of entertaining a spirit being who comes to us in human form with a message from God, perhaps some have that privilege even today.


v. 3: Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. - The prisoners in view were evidently Christians who were suffering for their testimonies (cf. Hebrews 10:34; Matthew 25:36; Matthew 25:40). Often prisoners in the Roman world had to depend on friends outside the prison to provide them with food and other necessities. The existence of a significant number of prisoners supports a date for writing after A.D. 64, when an empire-wide persecution of Christians began. In July of that year, Emperor Nero set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians, resulting in much persecution of Christians. The readers might suffer the same fate as these prisoners themselves one day since they were still leading a mortal existence. Paul urged Timothy not to be ashamed of him when he was a prisoner (2 Timothy 1:8). All the Christians in the province of Asia had abandoned Paul then except for those in Onesiphorus' household (2 Timothy 1:15-18).

v. 4: Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. - Christians also need to maintain a high regard for marriage and to remain sexually pure. God's judgment will follow the sexually impure (cf. Hebrews 12:29). Under the Old Covenant the Israelites were to punish fornicators and adulterers, but under the New Covenant God does it.

  ▪ How does God judge fornicators and adulterers? Sometimes they are judged in their own bodies (Romans 1:24-27). Certainly they will be judged at the final judgment (Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15). Believers who commit these sins certainly may be forgiven, but they will lose rewards in heaven (Ephesians 5:5 ff). David was forgiven, but he suffered the consequences of his adultery for years to come; and he suffered in the hardest way: through his own children." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:327.]


vv. 5-6: Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WIILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,"  6 so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID.  WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?" - Greed has lured many believers away from a life of faithful discipleship, as has sexual temptation. We need to cultivate a spirit of contentment so we do not apostatize. Contentment really has nothing to do with how much money we have, though the world generally thinks it does. We have the Lord, and with Him we have all we need (cf. Luke 12:15; Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:6-10). Furthermore, He has promised never to abandon us (Matthew 28:20).

  ▪ One of the results of persecution has been the loss of property (Hebrews 10:34). In these circumstances, the Christian response is not to grasp all the more eagerly at material wealth, but to rely quietly on God's provision, even in the face of human opposition." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 698.]

v. 7: Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering theresult of their conduct, imitate their faith.  - The example of our spiritual leaders is one we should follow (cf. Hebrews 12:1; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24). They, like the heroes of faith in chapter 11, set a good pattern. The outcome of their life, if they had died, was that they were now with the Lord and already beginning to enjoy some of their eternal inheritance. They may have been the founders of the church to which this letter went. [Note: Guthrie, p. 270. Cf. Hebrews 13:17.] People tend to forget or to idolize their former leaders, but we should remember them and their godly teachings and examples (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

v. 8: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. - Jesus Christ is the content of the message that the leaders had preached to these hearers (cf. Hebrews 13:7). [Note: Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary . . ., pp. 570-71.] That message and its hero is what this writer had urged his readers not to abandon. The leaders had preached the Word of God to these readers, and that preaching culminated in Jesus Christ.

  ▪ According to this verse, Jesus is not the object of faith but the supreme model of it.  

  ▪ 'Yesterday' the original leaders preached Jesus Christ, even as the writer does now; the present time can tolerate no other approach to the grace of God (Hebrews 2:9).

  ▪ "Forever" recalls the quality of the redemption secured by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 9:12, 14-15;; Hebrews 13:20) and of the priesthood of Christ (Hebrews 7:24-25): it is 'eternal.'"

  ▪ Another less probable interpretation of this verse sees Jesus as the leader who is perpetually available in contrast to the leaders who had preached to these readers but who were now dead.  Jesus had also died and gone to heaven (cf. Hebrews 12:2). His example of faithfulness, as expounded in this epistle, should be a continuing encouragement to all believers. He is as faithful to His promises now as He ever was, and He always will be faithful to them.

  ▪ "This, I think, is the key message of Hebrews: 'You can be secure while everything around you is falling apart!'" [Wiersbe]





Heb. 13:1-8 BibleRef Commentary


CONTEXT:  Chapters 1-9 explained how the new covenant in Jesus Christ is superior to the old covenant of animal sacrifices. This comparison drew on extensive use of Old Testament Scripture. Chapters 10-12 applied that evidence to encourage Christians to ''hold fast'' despite persecution. The summary of these applications was that believers ought to trust in their faith, and choose to obey God, during times of struggle. Chapter 13 adds a few specific reminders about Christian conduct. This passage also reiterates the idea that Christ is meant to be our ultimate example. The letter concludes with a request for prayer and words of blessing.  Heb. 13:1-6 contains practical, real-world instructions for Christian believers. These mirror some of the more common themes in the New Testament. Brotherly love, hospitality, care for the abused, sexual morality, and contentment are all commended. The writer ties the ability to be content, and faithful, to our trust in Christ to be there with us, and for us, in all of our circumstances. This grounding is strengthened in the following passage.  Heb. 13:7-17 contains practical instructions for the Christian believer. These follow major themes from the rest of this letter, including perseverance, peacefulness, and praise. This text also continues to parallel components of the old covenant with the ministry of Jesus Christ. Specifically, these verses compare the disposal of sacrificed animals with Jesus' crucifixion; both occurred outside the borders of the community. The writer also encourages good works and for believers to cooperate with their spiritual leaders.

v. 1: Let love of the brothers and sisters continue. - The end of chapter 12 saw the writer explain, yet again, how the new covenant in Jesus Christ is superior to the old covenant. As with prior passages, this came with a reminder: there are consequences for disobedience. Echoing other passages in the New Testament, earlier verses described how Christ offers us something eternal, which "cannot be shaken," instead of something temporary and earthly.

• This passage continues giving practical instructions, though these are much more specific than the prior chapters. The writer is closing up this message to persecuted Jewish Christians with some final thoughts.  

• The New Testament routinely identifies love for fellow Christians as evidence of a person's relationship with Christ. These indications come from Jesus (John 15:12), Paul (Romans 12:10), Peter (1 Peter 3:8), and John (1 John 4:20), making it among the most well-established teachings of Christianity. In a biblical context, this kind of love implies more than an emotion. "Love" for a Christian means a sincere, selfless concern for others, exhibited in actions. In other words, the Bible calls on us to "show" love, not merely to "feel" it.

v. 2: Do not neglect hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. - This part of chapter 13 includes several practical, specific instructions from the writer. After using most of the book to explain the supremacy of the new covenant, the writer then turns to applying that knowledge. The prior verse referred to the need for "brotherly love." In a scriptural context, this means an active, selfless, lived-out care for fellow believers. This kind of behavior is frequently mentioned in the Bible as a hallmark of genuine Christian faith (John 15:12; 1 John 4:20).   • Jesus taught that every word or action we take in this life is subject to scrutiny by God (Matthew 12:36). He also explained that how we treat others says much about how much we truly love Him (Matthew 10:40-42). Christ even tied this expectation of good works to how we treat the needy, strangers, and those in prison (Matthew 25:34-40). This passage in Hebrews touches on a very similar set of persons: fellow believers (Hebrews 13:1), strangers, and those in prison (Hebrews 13:3).  

• The suggestion that our behavior towards strangers might be directed at angels is not a random thought. Scripture makes reference to actual instances where people were visited by angels, seemingly unaware of to whom they were speaking (Genesis 18:1-3; 19:1-3). 

v. 3: Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are badly treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. - Prior verses listed practical instructions for Christian believers. These included demonstrating brotherly love (Hebrews 13:1) and care for strangers (Hebrews 13:2). Love for fellow Christians is consistently mentioned in the Bible as proof of one's faith (John 15:12; 1 John 4:20). Scripture not only contains Jesus' teaching that our attitude toward strangers reflects our attitude towards Him (Matthew 25:35-40), it also includes stories where those strangers were actually angels (Genesis 19:1-3).  

• This verse completes a series closely resembling Jesus' words in Matthew 25. There, He indicated the need for Christians to care for the needy, strangers, and those in prison. Prior verses mentioned fellow believers and strangers, and here Christians are commanded to care for those in prison. This letter was written to persecuted Jewish Christians, though it pointedly notes that those originally reading the letter have not suffered as much as have other believers (Hebrews 12:4). Those who are actually being deprived of freedom, rights, or property deserve the support and sympathy of believers.  

• The writer of Hebrews also includes those who are "mistreated" in his commands. This is from the Greek term kakouchoumenōn, used only twice in the New Testament. The other occurrence is in Hebrews 11:37; it applies to examples of those with godly faith suffering persecution and martyrdom. This meshes well with a major theme of the book of Hebrews: that believers ought to "hold fast" through suffering, while keeping in mind the sufferings of others for the sake of Christ. 

v. 4: Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers. - This passage focuses on specific, practical instructions for Christian believers. Earlier verses included the concept of showing love to fellow Christians (Hebrews 13:1), care for strangers (Hebrews 13:2), and concern for those experiencing persecution and mistreatment (Hebrews 13:3). • This verse presents another common teaching of the New Testament: the critical importance of sexual purity. In the modern world, sexual sins are often brushed aside as minor, or irrelevant. History, however, shows that sex and its consequences are a powerful force in a person's life. Few urges are as universal as sex, and so it is crucial for believers to maintain a godly, healthy approach to sexuality. This includes fidelity within marriage, as well as abstaining from sex until a person is married.   • Other Scriptures, such as Romans 1:24-27, explain how sexual sins lead to natural, inevitable consequences. That passage explains how one form of God's judgment is to simply "hand off" a person to the damaging results of these offenses.

v. 5: Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER ABANDON YOU,' - This chapter lists particular points on which the writer wants to encourage proper Christian behavior. These have included brotherly love (Hebrews 13:1), hospitality (Hebrews 13:2), support for the abused and imprisoned (Hebrews 13:3), and an emphasis on sexual morality (Hebrews 13:4). Other places in the New Testament echo the importance of avoiding sexual sin, given its allure and power (Romans 1:24-27). The consequences of immorality, often, are simply the natural consequences of those risky behaviors.  

• Here, the writer mentions another common theme of biblical morality: the danger of greed. The phrase "money is the root of all evil" is not actually biblical, since wealth can be properly used and enjoyed without sin (Romans 14:14). What the Bible does say, in 1 Timothy 6:10, is that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils." That verse notes that unhealthy desire for wealth has led to the ruin of many lives.  

• Unhealthy obsession with money is closely related to discontent. This is something the Bible implies using words such as "covet" (Exodus 20:17; James 4:2) and "jealousy" (James 3:16). Rather than being unhappy over what we do not have, Christians ought to be thankful for what we do have and hopeful for what we will one day obtain (Hebrews 11:14-16).  

• A foundation of this trusting, content, forward-looking perspective is the believer's relationship with Christ (Hebrews 12:2). The phrasing here might be a reference to God's promise to Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5). The following verse will amplify this trust by quoting specific Psalms which proclaim the security we have in God. 

v. 6: so that we confidently say, 'THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?' - In this passage, the writer of Hebrews has offered direct, practical instructions for Christian living. Among these are concepts such as love, hospitality, purity, and contentment (Hebrews 13:1-5). The prior verse tied a Christian's ability to be content with his trust in God to provide for his needs. That reference was, most likely, a reference to God's promise to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:6 and Joshua 1:5.

• Here, the writer further supports the claim that a believer ought to trust in God, rather than being unhappy with his current circumstances. The point made here is one that's very reasonable, but hard to remember when we're in a crisis. If the Creator of the universe, the one true God, says He will care for us (1 Peter 5:7) and work out all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), then what possible reason would we have to fear circumstances on earth? The words quoted here by the writer are from the Old Testament, possibly Psalm 118:6 or Psalm 56:4.

v. 7: Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their way of life, imitate their faith. - The prior passage mentioned a series of practical instructions. These were all aimed at Christian behavior and followed major themes offered in the rest of the New Testament. Among these were brotherly love, charity, sexual purity, and contentment (Hebrews 13:1-6). The ultimate source of confidence for Christian living, despite hardship, is our knowledge that Christ is on our side.  

• Here, the writer continues offering instructions, but with a more theological approach. The first instruction involves respect for Christian leadership. This might be a call for cooperation under the spiritual guidance of those leaders, similar to what Paul expressed to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17) and Titus (Titus 3:1). Spiritual growth is meant to come via discipleship, which involves a more mature believer helping to grow the faith of a less-experienced Christian (Matt 28:19-20; Eph 4:12-15). Reasonable respect is a necessity for learning.  

• However, the intent of this passage might be something more historical. Chapter 11 gave an extended list of figures who attained victory through faith, despite persecution. The ideas of remembrance, outcomes, and imitations seem to mirror earlier depictions (Hebrews 12:1). Context, then, suggests remembering the specific spiritual leaders in our lives, and their examples, when living out the Christian life.  

v. 8: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever. - This verse connects two ideas: honoring living examples of faith and the importance of consistent doctrine. To make this transition, the writer describes a crucial truth. Earlier, this chapter offered directions for Christian living (Heb 13:1-6). That included looking to the example of Christian leaders (Heb 13:7); such instruction echoes the depiction of legendary heroes given in chapter 11. A key theme of the book of Hebrews, in fact, is the idea that God's plan does not change. Using Old Testament Scripture, the writer showed how the new covenant is not about God changing His mind, or His nature. Instead, it was always God's intent to replace the old covenant (Heb 8:6-8).

• In the same way, it's important to realize that the Christian faith is complete. Everything we need to know has already been revealed, even if some things we might want to know are yet to be seen (Mark 13:32; 1 John 3:2). Humanity may grow in our understanding of the truth (1 Timothy 3:9; 2 Peter 3:18; Colossians 1:26), but truth itself does not change. As the book of Jude phrases it, this was a faith given "once for all" to the world (Jude 1:3). Jesus instructed His disciples to pass along His teachings (Matt 28:19-20), not to develop their own. Paul sought to confirm that the gospel he preached was exactly the same as that of the disciples (Gal 2:1-10). Paul even declared a curse-twice over-on anyone who would change that message (Gal 1:8-9).  

• This leads to an important application: the first step in recognizing false doctrine. Over time, self-labelled teachers have introduced "new" interpretations of the Bible, or of God, which overturn the basics of the faith itself. Sometimes, these relate to doctrinal issues. In other cases, they are claims about changing moral principles. By their very nature, all such claims are absolutely false. Jesus Christ does not change-and neither does His gospel. God does not change-and neither does His truth (Isaiah 40:28). This doesn't mean we can't come to a better understanding. It's good to move our beliefs closer to what God actually intended (Acts 17:11). But if a "new" teaching requires us to believe the apostles and Bible writers were mistaken, that claim is subject to the curse mentioned by Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  

• In other words, if someone claims to know better, or differently, than the Bible, or to have a more accurate perspective than writers such as Paul, John, or Peter, that person is wrong. Period. Full stop. The following verses add to this point, warning Christians not to stray from established teachings. Other New Testament passages note this as one purpose for which God provided us with a written Word (1 Corinthians 4:6).  

• In its most immediate context, these words are meant to inspire confidence. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the writer has called on Christians to "hold fast" to faith despite hardship and persecution (Heb 3:6; 4:14; 6:18; 10:23). Knowing that God is constant, and unchanging, is a cornerstone of that trust. For the same reason, being reminded that Jesus and His gospel are timeless, changeless, and eternal should inspire believers to trust in what is true, rather than chasing fads or succumbing to fear (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Timothy 4:3).



Heb. 12:1-8 - EW Commentary

  A. Instructions for body life.  

1. (Heb. 13:1-3) General love among believers: express brotherly love.

1 Let love of the brethren continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.

a. Let brotherly love continue: The writer to the Hebrews used the ancient Greek word philadelphia here. He assumed there was brotherly love among Christians, and simply asked that it would continue among them.

        i. In the ancient Greek language of the New Testament, there were four words at hand that we might translate love.

  • Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love, referring to sexual love.
  • Storge was a second word for love. It referred to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child or between family members in general.
  • Agape was another word for love. It is the most powerful word for love in the New Testament, and was often used to describe God's love towards us. It is a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected. Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given - it gives because it loves, it does not love in order to receive. Agape love isn't about feelings; it is about decisions.

        ii .But the word for love used in Hebrews 13:1 is philadelphia, coming from the root philia. This ancient Greek word spoke of brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. There should always be plenty of this kind of love among Christians, and it should continue.

b. Do not forget to entertain strangers: This is a simple and practical way that brotherly love should continue among believers. Hospitality is an important virtue and often it is commanded of Christians and leaders (Romans 12:10-13, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7-8, 1 Peter 4:9). In the ancient world, where inns did exist, were notorious for immorality. It was important for traveling Christians to find open homes from other Christians.

        i. Because of this command of hospitality, Christians had to watch out for people just masquerading as Christians so they could leech off the generosity of God's people. As time went on, Christian leaders taught their people how to recognize these deceivers.

        ii. The Didache was an early church "ministry manual," written perhaps somewhere between A.D. 90 and 110. It had this to say about how to tell if a false prophet abused the hospitality of those in the church:

Let every apostle that comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain except one day; but if there be need, also the next; but if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread... but if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet that speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this one sin shall not be forgiven. But not everyone that speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the true prophet be known. (From The Ante-Nicean Fathers, Volume 7, page 380)

c. Strangers: The point was that they were to do this for other Christians who are strangers to us. If you invite your best friends over for lunch, that is wonderful - but it doesn't fulfill this command. A wonderful way to fulfill this command is to meet and befriend strangers at church and to entertain them with hospitality.

        i. The ancient Greek word for hospitality (used in passages like Romans 12:13) is literally translated, "love for strangers." Brotherly love means love for all our brothers and sisters in Jesus, not just those who are currently our friends.

d. For by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels: When we are hospitable to others, we really welcome Jesus (Matthew 25:35), and perhaps angels. Abraham (Genesis 18:1-22) and Lot (Genesis 19:1-3) are examples of those who unwittingly entertained angels.

e. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them: Prisoners here probably has first reference to those imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. But it can also be extended to all who are in prison. We must serve them with a sympathetic heart (as if chained with them). This is just another way to let brotherly love continue.

        i. We do this by doing what we call prison ministry, bringing the truth and love and hope of Jesus to those imprisoned.

        ii. We do this by remembering those who are imprisoned for the sake of the gospel, such as the many now imprisoned in the Middle East.

2. (Heb. 13:4) Honor marital love.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

a. Marriage is honorable among all: The Bible holds high the ideal of married life and the institution of family.

        i. This is difficult to speak about today, because many who aren't married feel put off by an emphasis on marriage and family in the church.

        ii. This is difficult to speak about today, because this (marriage is honorable among all) is becoming less and less true in the society as a whole.

  • Marriage is dishonored by divorce, justified or not.
  • Marriage is dishonored by living together outside of marriage.
  • Marriage is dishonored by adultery.
  • Marriage is dishonored by neglect.
  • Marriage is dishonored by re-definition.

b. Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled: This is another place where the Bible celebrates sex as an expression of married love. This is the consistent teaching of the Bible, in such places as The Song of Solomon.

        i. The Bible speaks powerfully about the purpose of sex.

  • Not just for reproduction, though that is an aspect.
  • Not just for pleasure, though that is an aspect.
  • The main purpose is to bond together a one-flesh relationship. This is what gives sex meaning, beyond a pleasurable experience; this is what God offers in sexual expression according to His will, what the world can't offer or match.

         ii. With this perspective, we see why God commands what He does in regard to sex and why God says,

c. and the bed undefiled. It also explains why the enemy of our souls wants to do everything he can to encourage sex outside of the marriage bed and he wants to do everything he can to discourage sex inside the marriage bed. Christians must recognize this strategy and not give it a foothold.

iii. Though God allows great freedom in the variety of sexual expression in marriage, all must be done with a concern for the needs of their spouse and in love (1 Corinthians 7:2-5 and Ephesians 5:21-33).

d. But fornicators and adulterers God will judge: As the Bible celebrates sexual expression in marriage, it also condemns sex outside of the marriage commitment. God does this because fornication and adultery work against God's greatest purpose for sex (though they may fulfill the pleasure purpose).

  • In this context, fornicators refers to those who have sex without the commitment of marriage.
  • In this context, adulterers refers to those who are not faithful to their marriage vows and have sex outside of their marriage vows.

        i. "Fornication and adultery are not synonymous in the New Testament: adultery implies unfaithfulness by either party to the marriage vow, while the word translated 'fornication' covers a wide range of sexual irregularities." (Bruce)

3. (Heb. 13:5-6) Learn contentment over covetousness.

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," 6 so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DDO TO ME?"

a. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content: Covetousness is the opposite of contentment. Often covetousness and greed are excused or even admired in today's culture, and are simply called ambition.

b. Be content with such things as you have: Contentment has much more to do with what you are on the inside rather than what you have. The Apostle Paul had the right idea in Philippians 4:11-13: Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

        i. Someone asked millionaire Bernard Baruch, "How much money does it take for a rich man to be satisfied?" Baruch answered, "Just a million more than he has."

c. I will never leave you nor forsake you: This promise from God (from Deuteronomy 31:6) is the foundation for contentment. We can't count on material things, but we can depend on God and His promise.

        i. "You that are familiar with the Greek text know that there are five negatives here. We cannot manage five negatives in English, but the Greeks find them not too large a handful. Here the negatives have a fivefold force. It is as though it said, 'I will not, not leave thee; I will never, no never, forsake thee.'" (Spurgeon)

        ii. "Here it is - 'For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.' This is the reason why we must not be covetous. There is no room to be covetous, no excuse for being covetous, for God hath said, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.' We ought to be content. If we are not content, we are acting insanely, seeing the Lord has said, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'" (Spurgeon)

iii. "I cannot under the influence of this grand text find room for doubt or fear. I cannot stand here and be miserable to-night. I am not going to attempt such a thing; but I cannot be despondent with such a text as this, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.' I defy the devil himself to mention circumstances under which I ought to be miserable if this text is true. Child of God, nothing ought to make you unhappy when you can realize this precious text." (Spurgeon)

d. So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" This quotation from Psalm 118:6 points to the truth that real contentment comes only when we trust in God to meet our needs and to be our security. Strangely we are often more likely to put security and find contentment in things that are far less reliable and secure than God Himself is.

4. (Heb. 13:7) Follow your leaders.

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.

a. Remember those who rule over you: We are told to recognize and follow godly leadership in the body of Christ, leadership shown to be legitimate by faithfulness to the word of God and by godly conduct.

i. Paul advised Timothy along the same lines: Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)

b. Whose faith follow: Such leaders should be recognized (remember those) and followed. Just as much as a church needs godly leaders, it also needs godly followers.

c. Considering the outcome of their conduct: Leaders don't need to be perfect, but they should be able to show with their life that the power of Jesus is real as it impacts and transforms the individual life. That demonstrates a faith that can actually be followed.

B. Instructions in worship.  

1. (Heb. 13:8) The enduring principle: the unchanging nature of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.


a. Jesus Christ is the same: The unchanging nature (which theologians call immutability) of Jesus Christ could be inferred from His deity, even if it were not explicitly stated. God doesn't change over the ages, so neither does Jesus, who is God.

b. Yesterday, today, and forever: His unchanging nature provides a measure for all Christian conduct, particularly in the word and in worship. We should not expect something completely "new" as if it were from a "new Jesus." The nature of Jesus as it is revealed in the Bible is the same nature of Jesus that should be seen in the church today.