Thursday, October 1, 2009

Closing Comments on Christian Character - Hebrews 13

I've always read these closing verses of Hebrews and wondered what in the world was going on. They've seemed somewhat disjunctive, unconnected, and as if the apostle was running out of time in his sermon and just needed to rattle off some random thoughts. This morning, I'm seeing them differently.

While it is true that these are his closing thoughts to the people of God, they are thoughts with a purpose. Here he is holding out to us a final list and a firm call to those duties which belong to us as the called of Christ. I noted 10 specific duties today.

1. Brotherly love. "Let love of the brethren continue."

Henry writes: "The spirit of Christianity is a spirit of love. The true religion is the strongest bond of friendship. Christians should always love and live as brethren and the more they grow in devout affection to God their heavenly Father, the more they will grow in love to one another for His sake."

Do I love the brethren and if I answer yes to the question, then what does it practically look like in my life? We are to love in action and in deed and not simply in word and tongue.

2. Hospitality. "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."

We are to allow our brothers and sisters not only into our hearts but into our homes. Are our homes open to the body of Christ and if not, why not?

3. Christian sympathy. "Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body."

We may be free now, but freedom is not a promised privilege this side of heaven. Many across our world are suffering in bonds for the cause of Christ. How are our hearts towards them and how fervent are our prayers for them?

4. Purity and chastity. "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge."

Here's a cultural argument starter for you! Yet clearly, that which is a flagrant and flamboyantly proud sin in our day and time was an issue in theirs as well. There is nothing new under the sun. God has created man and woman. God has instituted marriage. God has invented sex. Who knows best how and in what context we should relate to one another? Clearly it is God! He who thought up this intimate idea of pleasure and procreation certainly knows best how it should be used.

Years ago when I was in youth ministry this issue regularly came up, particularly with my kids who were from non-Christian families. "What could it hurt?" they would ask. I often responded to them in this way: "If I were to toss a pile of wood in the middle of the room and set it on fire would that be a good thing?" "NO - you'd burn the church down!!" "Come on though, it's just a fire. It'll be the same light and heat that we often enjoy in front of the fire place - what's wrong with it?" "It'll burn down the church, Lori. There's no fire place to keep it contained." "Oh, so burning the fire in the context of the fireplace is a good and safe thing that will bring us light and heat in a wonderful environment and we will find much joy and peace through using that wood and that match as it is intended. But if we do it outside the bounds of the fire place we'll be in a big mess."

Sexual intimacy is the same. In the context in which God has created and intended it (the fireplace of marriage) it is a good and wonderful thing that will bring much pleasure - without pain or guilt - for a lifetime. However, when done outside of the bonds of marriage (the fire in the middle of the room) it will most certainly bring some form of destruction. Either it will burn down the whole house or will at a minimum bring about smoke damage and a burned hole in the carpet.

Keep the marriage bed pure - before and after marriage. Keep it pure in your actions and in your thoughts. Trust the God who created it to know best how to use it!

5. Christian contentment. "Let your character be 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,' so that we confidently say, 'The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid, what shall man do to me?'"

This one truly struck a note with me this morning. I have MUCH need for contentment as do we all. I can grumble and complain witht the best of them - and sadly, often do! On this issue, Mr. Henry wrote:

"We must take care to keep this sin down and root it out of our souls. We are to be satisfied and pleased with such things as we have. What God gives us from day to day we must be content with. Paul, though abased and empty, had learned in every state and in any state, to be content."

Friends, the text here gives us the grand motivation for contentment. It is because God will never desert or forsake us. We can be content with our lot because we always have God in our lot. Our discontentment boils down to idolatry. We want something more than God. We deem that He is not enough for us and therefore we are discontent and covetous. Oh Lord, help us to repent of this sin and to see you as our all in all. You are our helper and our provider - what more could we need - what better could we devise for ourselves than what You have ordained?!

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

We are not to forget those who have built us up in the faith. We need to pray for them, encourage them and follow them as they follow Christ.

7. Duty to suffer. "Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach."

A servant is not above his master and we are not above the suffering Savior. May we be willing to follow in His footsteps and carry whatever cross our calling demands.

8. Duty to praise God. "Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name."

We were created to worship God. We were saved by Christ that we might be able to. Are we serious about this duty? Do we relegate it to one hour, one day a week or is the praise of God continually on our lips, in our hearts, and reflected in our lives? It is a continual sacrifice of praise that we are to offer to this glorious God!

9. Duty of giving. "And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased."

For the Christian, life is not about getting but about giving freely from the grace we have received. God has given that we might give.

10. Duty of obedience and submission to leaders. "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will given an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Prya for us...."

It is interesting to me that our ecclesiastical ministers are mentioned twice in this chapter. Here we are reminded that "Christians must submit to and be instructed by their leaders and not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great to learn from them. They must obey them. " The duties of leaders are also held forth. "Ministers are to watch over the sould of their people. Watch against all that is hurtful and watch for all opportunities that will be helpful."

This is a duty that is often disdained but may we delight in it and seek to be in a church whose leaders are truly carrying out their duties that ours may not be a drudgery. May we learn from, submit to and pray for those whom God has placed in authority over us.

10 duties. I can NOT do them on my own. They will weigh me down and wear me out if done in my own strenght. I will falter and fail repeatedly if I strive to do them myself. However - I can do all things THROUGH Christ who strengthens me. So, to Him I flee this day in humble reliance for the grace and power necessary to do my duty and to live as He would have me. I pray you will do the same.

In His glorious grace,

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