Even the short summary of the impact people of great faith have had on mankind makes Hebrews 11 one of the most encouraging chapters in the entire Bible. Would that each of us could manifest that kind of faith in our lives. What great things could we accomplish for the Kingdom?
Fortunately, God doesn’t ask very many of us to do great things. He only asks us to do little things, like accepting His Son’s death as payment in full for our sins, and resisting the temptation to mess it up by trying to add to it with some form of religious work.
God Disciplines His Sons
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebr. 12:1-3)
Their faith in God’s promises caused these men and women to devote their lives to God’s work, often believing the impossible in doing so. They’re true examples of the admonition of Romans 12:1-2 to present our whole beings as living sacrifices, not conforming to the pattern of his world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds. And remember, their work wasn’t motivated by the acquisition of reward, but by faith in God’s promises. For the most part they died before receiving any reward at all.
Even the Lord Himself was cut off (executed) before receiving any of the Messianic promises, just as Daniel had foretold (Daniel 9:26). The promise Gabriel had made to Mary that her son would restore the Davidic Kingdom and rule over Israel forever still awaits fulfillment. It was His faith in His Father’s promise that helped Him endure the cross. And the joy set before Him was that He would receive you as His bride when all was said and done. (Psalm 45:11) Think about that!
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” [Prov. 3:11-12] (Hebr. 12:4-6)
Let’s clarify a couple of things here. First, the root of discipline is disciple. A disciple is a student under training. Is there any case in the Gospels where the Lord artificially brought sickness or torment or hardship upon His disciples to strengthen their faith? And yet He was training them to take on the most challenging job ever given to man. And isn’t punishment a function of disobedience? A good father would never punish his child undeservedly, but only following an act of disobedience and then only for the purpose of training.
Those who use verses like this to claim that their misfortune is some kind of test that God is putting them through to build their faith are wrong and are missing out on whatever lesson they might have otherwise learned. Remember, whenever we justify ourselves we’re condemning God. By claiming that we’re being tested just to build our faith, we’re inferring that we haven’t done anything to deserve what we’re getting. That means we believe that God is punishing us unfairly. And that means we believe He’s unjust.
There are only three possible causes for our misfortune. The first and by far most prevalent one is that they’re the predictable consequences of our own behavior. If you get caught robbing a 7-11 and wind up in jail you have no right to claim that God is testing you, or that He sent you there to get somebody saved, even though that might happen. He is a master at making our lemons into His lemonade, after all. Same if you smoke and get cancer, drink to excess and get cirrhosis of the liver, or eat too much fat all your life and plug up your arteries, etc, etc. Warnings against persisting in this kind of behavior are all around, but I’ve found that these are the folks who most often cry, “Why did God do this to me?” when their health fails.
The second cause is the fallen, sinful world we live in with it’s infestation of sickness, disease, mean people, etc. These things can afflict anyone at anytime. Blame them on the devil, not God.
And the third is that we’re out of fellowship with God and therefore outside of His protection. This is the one we can refer to as discipline, and it can only result from misbehaving. Unconfessed sin, even if it’s just our unwillingness to forgive someone else, is misbehavior and leaves us open to attack. The attack comes from the devil, but God can’t act to prevent it because our sin causes a disconnect in the relationship. The cure for this one is 1 John 1:9. Confess and be re-connected.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebr. 12:7-11)
I know it shouldn’t, but it always shocks me to learn how many Christians are willing to believe that God loved them enough to give His life to save them while they still hated Him, but that after they came to Him, humble and contrite, He began arbitrarily subjecting them to all kinds of hardship and disease to build their faith. I think it’s a classic case of attributing our motives to His behavior. I’ll say it again. When we justify self, we condemn God. We all need training because we all sin and its purpose is to bring us closer to God, who works everything together for the good of those who love Him.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebr. 12:12-13)
Here’s the only one out of 28 appearances in the New Testament where the Greek word for healing is used figuratively, meaning that by our good example, the lost can become saved. In every other case it’s used literally, meaning “to cure, or heal, or make whole”. But believe it or not some are willing to disregard all the others and cite Hebrews 12:13 to prove that the New Testament doesn’t promise a physical healing to anyone.
Warning Against Refusing God
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. (Hebr. 12:14-17)
In reading the account of this in Genesis 27:30-40, you’ll see that Esau expressed no repentance, only regret. He didn’t believe that what he had done was wrong, but he was angry because it caused him to miss out on some benefits. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness, because to repent means to change our mind and realize that something we did was a sin. If we don’t believe it was a sin, we won’t ask to be forgiven. How many times have you said, “I forgive you” to someone, only to have them give you a blank look, wondering what you’re talking about, or try to justify their behavior to you? They don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. This is why David asked the Lord to forgive the sins he wasn’t even aware of committing. (Psalm 19:12) He knew that we don’t realize how much we sin.
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” [Exodus 19:12-13]The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” [Deut. 9:19]
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12: 18-24)
The contrast between these two views could not be more stark, unmistakably confirming the overriding importance of the cross. I believe the sprinkled blood is a reference to the Blood of Jesus that He sprinkled on the altar in Heaven, while the blood of Abel refers to the animals he brought to the altar in Eden. The first has made us perfect forever while the second only set their sins aside temporarily.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” [Haggai 2:6] The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” [Deut. 4:24] (Hebr: 12:25-29)
Those who don’t believe don’t do what’s been commanded and fall away when things get difficult. In the Old Covenant it was obey the commandments, in the New it’s believe in the one He has sent. Once again the writer issues a warning against unbelief and then reassures his readers that he wasn’t talking about us. To us he says, “Since you’re receiving something that can’t be taken away, worship God accordingly”.
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebr. 13:1-3)
The writer began his letter saying that angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. (Hebr. 1:14) Now he says that when they come, they’ll look just like us. We have no idea how many times the ordinary looking person who appeared out of the blue to give us a hand had been standing at the throne of God just a few seconds earlier. Nor do we know how many other times it happened without us even noticing it. We should be more aware, and thank all those who offer help as if they were ministering spirits. And instead of shunning those who are in trouble as if they have a communicable disease we should treat them as we would want to be treated. These are specific examples of a general principle, the Golden Rule.
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” [Deut. 31:6]
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”[Psalm 118:6-7] (Hebr. 13:4-6)
The two most common marriage killers are sex and money. Both are exacerbated by a society that tells us that to be successful, lots of both are necessary. But the Lord knows what we need and has promised that we’ll never want for anything. If we seek first his Kingdom, everything else will follow. (Matt. 6:33)
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebr. 13:7-8)
Look at the great men of faith for inspiration, but also at those among your contemporaries who’ve had the greatest spiritual impact on you. Emulate them. The Lord’s promises don’t change. What He did for them, He’ll do for you.
Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (Hebr. 13:9-10)
The letter was written primarily to Jews and the writer reminded them that the dietary restrictions did them no spiritual good. As an example, with all their ritual cleanliness, the priests could not partake of communion.
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebr. 13:11-16)
He was sacrificed outside the city alongside the basest of criminals, of no more value to the religious leaders than the carcasses of their discarded sacrifices. The idea is that if they were looking for Jesus they’d have to go outside of Judaism to find Him. God is no longer pleased with the ritual sacrifices. What He most desires is our acknowledgment that the perfect sacrifice to which they all pointed has come, and that we’re kind to others as an expression of our gratitude for that. This is our sacrifice of praise.
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebr.13:17)
Paul admonished us to obey the heads of our governments. They were set in place by God Himself. (Romans 13:1) Now we’re being told to obey our ecclesiastical leaders as well. As we are the flock they’re the shepherds and have to account for each of us. Being an undue burden upon them doesn’t do anyone any good.
Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.
I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.
Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.
Grace be with you all.(Hebr. 13:18-25)
In this chapter we’re given 7 elements of brotherly love.
1. be kind to strangers
2. remember those in prison
3. remember the mistreated
4. keep the marriage bed pure
5. avoid the love of money
6. obey our church leaders
7. maintain the purity of the Gospel
We’re also given several clues that Paul was the writer. His mention of Timothy, his request for their prayers that he’d be able to visit them, his mention of those in Italy, and his use of the word grace. It was his distinguishing mark, appearing in the closing of every one of his letters. No other writer made such use of the word.
I hope that from this study, you’re beginning to agree with me that the letter most often quoted in denial of eternal security is in fact its most ardent supporter. Saved by grace and justified by faith, we have been made perfect forever by the blood of Jesus.